‘Nobody Can Blame Me Anymore’

Sep. 05, 2006

September 2001

Nur Misuari, the 61-year-old founder of the Moro National Liberation Front, retreated to his hometown in Jolo after he was sacked by President Arroyo as chairman of the Southern Philippines Council for Peace and Development (SPCPD). That firing came on the heels of the insurrection by a group of MNLF officials called the Council of 15, which retired him as chairman of the MNLF.

The councils leaders argued that Misauris ouster was meant to preserve the supposed gains of the 1996 Final Peace Agreement between the front and the government. Misuari, stung and bitter, called it a betrayal and a product of Malacanangs manipulation of the council members, who have axes both personal and political to grind against him.

Misuari singled out Norberto Gonzales, Arroyos adviser on special concerns and the leader of Partido Demokratiko-Sosyalita ng Pilipinas (PDSP), a political party dominated by the Jesuits and identified with the camp of former President Fidel Ramos. It was Gonzales who actively organized and supported the councils betrayal of Misuari. Gonzaless reason for taking part in the coup is not yet fully known, although he told this writer two weeks ago that they only wanted to get Misuari out of the way so Mindanaos development can go full swing. Nonetheless, Misuari rued the fact that the PDSP is now expanding in Muslim Mindanao, appointing as chairmen in provincial chapters people who are also with the MNLF. There are some critics who are convinced that this is part of President Arroyos consolidation of forces in preparation for the 2004 elections. The reasoning is that, since Mindanao had been an Estrada country, the administration needs to establish a good enough machinery early on to counter the oppositions candidate in the next presidential election.

Misuaris critics and enemies are convinced that he is the one singular hindrance to the development of Mindanao. Anything he touches turns to failure, said Parouk Hussin, a member of the Council of 15. Even his friends and sympathizers are convinced that Misuari is an incompetent leader who didnt have the managerial and administrative skills to run the autonomous region and the SPCPD. But they are likewise convinced that the government is at fault, mainly because the SPCPD structure is faulty and that autonomy in the ARMM has been a farce, to say the least. Misuari may be incompetent, they said, but he didnt deserve this kind of treatment.

Misuari is understandably upset. He could not see how the government can promote peace in Mindanao without him. Can they solve the problem without Misuari and company? he said last month. After his firing from the SPCPD, he sought sanctuary in Jolo and refused to talk to the media. The following excerpts were taken from the authors interview with him in Zamboanga City on his first day outside of Jolo.

You spent three weeks in Jolo since that tumultuous week

It was providential that I was present in Jolo. Before I went there, there was bad news. When I arrived, two young men had just been salvaged and thrown under an acacia tree. It was a sign that Jolo was on the verge of anarchy, when life had become something without value at all.

Was it a portent of things to come?

It could have been. At that time, I thought government was preparing for war because just one day before that fateful referendum, the officers manning the (Army) brigade sent some junior officers to talk to me, to tell me that I should not be alarmed by the posture being taken by the AFP at that time because they said government forces were not going to attack the MNLF. I told them that, before I came here, there were lots of talk regarding plans to disarm the MNLF, in our Kilometer 4 headquarters, the nerve center of our revolutionary authority.

I told them that it seems to me there is something queer about the (troop) movement. I said it occurs to us as though the government forces on the island are gearing for war. In broad daylight that morning, they brought three 105 Howitzers to the top of the mountain in Kilometer 4, in Buod Datu. They moved and dismantled their camps in Ipil and concentrated their forces (in Kilometer 4) and this was done in broad daylight, in the eyes of my people. So it heightened the tension.

I told them Im afraid that civilians and the MNLF might misunderstand, might misinterpret the movement of troops, even if what they were saying was true that they were not preparing for an attack. What aggravated this was, after they left, at 1:30 in the morning, the commanders or the rangers were trying to climb up the wall that separates us from the brigade. They were doing may be some exercise but they were carrying their arms, in full battle gear.

Do you think it was a reaction to what you have been saying? (Authors note: Prior to the plebiscite, Misuari had been telling the media, albeit cryptically, that somethings going to happen if the plebiscite pushes through.)

I have been away and I never said one word to the media. In fact, even when I was in Manila, I was running away from the media.

But there was a sense, based on media reports, that you were a little bit more, should we say, verbally offensive and there was a sense of There goes Misuari again, acting belligerent.

No, no, no! Actually, I (accused) them (the government) of aggravating the situation. I said, I cannot understand. You know very well that you are at fault. You violated the peace agreement. You disregarded the OIC (Organization of Islamic Conference) resolutions (that urged the government to postpone the plebiscite). And yet, despite all this, you still have the gall to (take) this kind of military posture, which can easily be interpreted as preparing for war?

Because of all those threats, they said, they were going to confiscate our weapons. And this is another blatant violation of the peace agreement because the peace agreement does not give any authority to the AFP to confiscate our arms because if that is the case, then we should also have the right to confiscate their arms and that could lead to chaos. So that is the real situation and I told them, Kayo pa ang nagkasala, bakit ganun pa ang posture ninyo? You are provoking (us), you are putting yourself in a provocative posture. I told them, you might be misunderstood. The people and the MNLF might prepare themselves for any kind of defense. And defense they did! On the morning of August 14, they (the MNLF) massed their forces and they said that they did not want to be caught unawares. They wanted to put themselves also in active defense.

I think (the government is) laboring under the impression that the MNLF has become a spent force and so its leader, the founding father of the MNLF. Perhaps that is the basis of their policy in trying to cause this showdown and confrontation with us.

Theres this theory that says the reason the Arroyo administration allied itself with the Council of 15 is because the councils leaders and members earned mandates in the last elections and that the President would use them in the 2004 elections.

Perhaps but that does not hold any water at all. Perhaps that is true in the case of (Cotabato City mayor and new SPCPD chairman Muslimin) Sema but all the (MNLF) officials who ran lost in the elections. Cong Saharin, Hatimil Salem they all lost, except Sema, but only because we helped him.

Semas gambit was to make Cotabato City a member of the ARMM because he would run for ARMM governor.

I know. He wanted to become governor.

But that fell through because Cotabato City voted against inclusion in the ARMM.

Because he does not own Cotabato City. We helped him to become mayor. We did everything to make him mayor of this city and to make him mayor again. But these are very ungrateful people.

Have you been contacted or has the President tried to reach out to you ever since your removal as SPCPD chairman?

Not the President herself, but Vice President Teofisto Guingona had a talk with me before the referendum. I explained to him that holding the referendum was probably one of the worst blunders this government can ever do.

My conscience is clear. If anything happens in the future, nobody can blame me anymore. I did everything to open their eyes but they refused.

After all that has been said and done, what do you think the best the government can do at this point?

I dont know. I cannot be any wiser than they are. We have developed this belief that we, the Bangsa Moro people, no longer have any place in the system and, therefore, since government is not willing to mend its ways and to concede to us even under the best of conditions like the peace agreement, we should explore other possible options. (Bulatlat.com)

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