Misuari had his chance and bungled it-A A +A
Wednesday, September 11, 2013
THE ongoing siege in Zamboanga City has again brought into the limelight the “forgotten” Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF). Yes, the same MNLF that was founded in 1969 by a group led by University of the Philippines professor Nur Misuari and which waged war for Bangsa Moro independence against the government of then president Ferdinand Marcos.
It’s the same MNLF that entered into a peace agreement with the government of then president Fidel V. Ramos in 1996, a pact that, in a way, gave birth to the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM). The ARMM embraces the predominantly Muslim provinces of Basilan, Lanao del Sur, Sulu, Maguindanao and Tawi-tawi.
The same MNLF “sired” the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). In 1976, one of MNLF’s leaders, Hashim Salamat, led a faction that split from the main rebel group to wage their own war for Bangsa Moro liberation.
The MILF negotiated with the government of then president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo for a peaceful settlement of the conflict, but the talks are moving nearer to conclusion under the current government of President Noynoy Aquino. The siege in Zamboanga City is a product of the MNLF’s supposed frustration with being left out in the said talks.
When the MNLF is around, Nur Misuari won’t be far behind. But for me, Misuari has long lost his credibility as leader of the Bangsa Moro struggle. He was given a chance to walk the talk for six years (from 1996 to 2002) as ARMM governor but he threw it away.
He became an example of a rebel who, when given the chance to rule, fails miserably as leader.
As governor, Misuari was described in a story by the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ) as having big dreams. He talked of “10-lane highways, a seaport in Sulu, railroads crisscrossing Mindanao, foreign investments streaming in and factories springing up like mushrooms.” But governing is different from waging war.
Misuari’s rule was marred by accusations of his being an inept administrator. He was described by critics as acting like a sultan, a feudal lord, and of spending more time speaking in conferences overseas than governing the autonomous region. He spent millions of pesos in government funds living in hotels with his large entourage of followers.
In the end, it became apparent that Misuari was not up to the task of making autonomy work for his Muslim brethren. ARMM provinces under his governorship remained mired in poverty. When the next ARMM elections in 2002 neared, MNLF forces attacked an Army headquarters in Jolo, Sulu, leaving some 100 people dead.
Days after, Misuari fled to Malaysia but was captured near Sabah. Before that, Misuari’s comrades, ousted him as chair of the MNLF and replaced him with the so-called Committee of Fifteen. Misuari was imprisoned (he once stayed at the famous Fort Sto. Domingo in Laguna) and then later placed under house arrest. In 2008, a Makati Regional Trial Court allowed him to post bail.
To be fair, Misuari has remained popular to a segment of the Muslim populace opposed to the negotiated settlement of the conflict being agreed to by the MILF and the Aquino administration. This year, he consolidated his forces and in August declared an independent “Bangsamoro Republik” with him as chief of the Bangsamoro Armed Forces. His armed followers began acting up everywhere in Mindanao.
I agree that it is still too early to say that Misuari is involved in the current siege in Zamboanga City. It’s possible his leadership in the current tumult in Mindanao is merely symbolic and that actual power is in the hands of leaders of the various MNLF armed factions.
But whether his leadership of the radicalized MNLF factions is real or has become symbolic no longer matters. He is no longer a credible spearhead of the Bangsa Moro struggle for independence.
Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on September 11, 2013.