COTABATO CITY, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / Apr. 25, 2008) – Former Muslim separatist rebel group Moro National Liberation Front has praised Manila on Friday for allowing its deposed leader Nur Misuari to post bail for his temporary liberty, but cautioned the Libyan firebrand against dividing the MNLF.
The Department of Justice said a court granted Misuari temporary freedom.
Misuari is facing rebellion charges after his forces tried, but failed to overrun a major military base in the southern Sulu province and another group held hostage over 100 people in Zamboanga City in 2001 in an attempt to stop the elections in the Muslim autonomous region where he was then the governor.
Misuari then escaped by boat to Malaysia, where he had been arrested and deported to the Philippines. He is now under house arrest and facing rebellion charges in Manila.
“We welcome the news of his release. And we hope this will bring unity and peace to the people,” Muslimin Sema, the new MNLF chieftain, told the Mindanao Examiner newspaper.
Misuari previously accused Sema’s group of removing him as chairman of the MNLF. His followers in Sulu said Misuari never recognized Sema as the new chieftain of the MNLF.
“Sema expects resistance to his leadership only by those whom he called as having different direction in the pursuit of the MNLF’s goals. He stressed that the Front is not fractured and that reorganization is in the offing,” Abdullah Cusain, Sema’s spokesman, said.
A former rebel leader, Sema, now the mayor of Cotabato City in Mindanao Island, has been elected earlier this month by the MNLF Central Committee as its new chieftain. It was the second time in nearly a decade that Misuari, who founded the MNLF, was removed by his own commanders.
In 2000, Misuari was also ousted by his Foreign Affairs chief Parouk Hussin, who along with Sema and other senior leaders, made up the so-called Council of 15. Sema’s group previously appointed Misuari as chairman emeritus, but he rejected the position.
The Council of 15 accused Misuari of being incompetent as governor of the Muslim autonomous region in Mindanao.
Misuari signed a peace deal with Manila in September 1996 ending decades of bloody war. After the peace agreement was signed, Misuari became the governor of the Muslim autonomous region. But despite the peace accord, there was a widespread disillusionment with the weak autonomy they were granted.
Under the peace agreement, Manila would have to provide a mini-Marshal Plan to spur economic development in Muslim areas in the south and livelihood and housing assistance to tens of thousands of former rebels to uplift their poor living standards.
The 58-year old Sema has criticized Misuari for dragging the MNLF into disarray. “Misuari wanted to bring down the MNLF with him and that’s why we are all working hard to unify the MNLF and bring peace and development in Mindanao,” he said.
Government peace adviser Jesus Dureza also welcomed Misuari’s temporary freedom. “We welcome the decision of the Makati Regional Trial Court allowing Chairman Nur Misuari to post bail. We hope that with his temporary liberty, Chairman Nur will continue to be an important player in the Mindanao peace process,” Dureza said.
But Misuari's fall had severely affected the MNLF which is now heavily divided and rift among its leaders is becoming more apparent. Misuari also ran twice for governor in Sulu province even while under detention, but lost.
Misuari also supported Arroyo's election bid and her allies in the Senate and Congress in 2004 in exchange for promises that he would be pardoned and freed.
Sema has vowed to “put into track the peace process with the government and make good the relations between the MNLF and government and convert it as vanguard of our people against exploitation and oppression and also as vanguard for good governance, transparency and accountability”.
Sema said he intends to work further with local and international non-government organizations to bring peace and development in Muslim areas in Mindanao.
Sources close to Misuari earlier said that he may be freed this year on condition that he will go to exile in Libya, which had previously supported the MNLF struggle for independence in the Philippines.
It was unknown whether Tripoli was aware or part of the plan, but Seif al Islam, the son of the Libyan strongman Muammar al-Gaddafi and former Libyan ambassador to Manila, Salem Adam, were in Manila last year and met with government and MNLF leaders and discussed about Misuari’s case. (Mindanao Examiner)