Monday, April 28, 2008

Special Report: Nur Misuari, Muslimin Sema And The Future Of The MNLF

SULU, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / Apr. 28, 2008) – Freed former Moro National Liberation Front chieftain Nur Misuari will begin touring Muslim communities in the Philippines to campaign for peace.

His followers in Sulu province said they will prepare a big welcome party for Misuari, who is accused of rebellion after his forces attacked a major military base in Jolo town in 2001 in an effort to stop the elections in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, to which he was governor.

“We are waiting for our one and only leader and we will give him a big welcome in Sulu,” Abdul Sahalul, one of Misuari’s loyal followers in Sulu, told the Mindanao Examiner.

Misuari’s other leaders here, among them Ustadz Habier Malik, are still in hiding after they clashed with security forces last year and held hostage a group of military officers in a failed effort to pressure Manila to free Misuari.

Misuari was granted a P50,000 bail by a court last week after spending more than five years under house arrest in Manila. He said he would not run for governor again in the autonomous region, whose system he branded as “dirty” and ran by Malacañang.

“I don’t want to be part of a system which is dirty,” said Misuari, who also ran as governor in Sulu province twice and but lost.

Misuari maintained the ARMM was created as part of a peace deal the MNLF with Manila in September 1996.

Zaldy Ampatuan, a former town mayor in Maguindanao province, is the current governor of the Muslim autonomous region after he won the polls against Parouk Hussin.

Hussin, a senior MNLF leader, was one of those that made up the so-called Council of 15 that deposed Misuari as chairman of the organization that was once the largest Muslim rebel group in the Philippines.

Ampatuan, as governor of the Muslim autonomous region, has introduced reforms and fought corruption in government. He also prioritized development projects in areas where there are MNLF communities in support to the peace agreement.

Just this month, the MNLF Central Committee named Muslimin Sema, the group’s Secretary General, as its new chairman, But Misuari did not recognize Sema as the legitimate ruler of the MNLF.

Misuari has been criticized for his tough stance and his refusal to abide by the MNLF decision that catapulted Sema into power. Sema, who originally belonged to the Council of 15, said Misuari should stop bickering and work for peace and unity in the southern Philippines.

“We should to put things in their order and work for lasting peace in the country. This is our direction now and we will make ourselves available to the government to achieve peace and unity and bring development to our people,” Sema said in a separate interview.

Sema also praised the current governor of the autonomous region because of his many accomplishments in the six provinces that comprise the ARMM – Basilan, Sulu, Tawi-Tawi, Lanao, Maguindanao and Shariff Kabunsuan.

“Through these accomplishments, we can see his many achievements in the ARMM,” Sema said, referring to Ampatuan.

The MNLF, in a resolution, also criticized Misuari and branded him as a dictator and said he is no longer effective in running the group.

“We strive against the divisive dictatorial leadership, callousness and incorrigibility of Brother Nur Misuari that keep on weakening the MNLF and giving us the impediment to attain meaningful peace and development and against his disposition by repudiating senior MNLF members credibility and barring their participation in the tripartite meeting as members of the MNLF panel delegation because he enlisted non-MNLF members to replace them both in domestic and international forums,” it said.

The MNLF said Misuari appointed Yolanda Stern to represent him in meetings abroad instead of senior MNLF leaders. A streamer was also put up in Sulu saying: “Misuari has no right to send Yolanda, a Yahudi (Jew), to head the MNLF delegation to the last OIC summit meeting in Dakar, Senegal.”

Stern, head of an international foundation that helps the poor in the Philippines, said the sign is anti-female and an anti-Jewish remark directed at her name and husband, Dr. Tom Stern who is an American of Norwegian ancestry, but whose father was of Russian-Jewish heritage.

Misuari, as the official invitee to the Dakar summit of the Organization of Islamic Conference in March, was not allowed to go by the Philippine government for fear that he would never return. So he sent his emissaries, Ustadz Zain Jali and Abdul Muhaimin and Stern and her husband were the support team.

Stern said she is a senior adviser of the MNLF to the Americas. “My husband and I went as a support team because he speaks French and I know the Secretariat Staff. Dakar is a French speaking country.”

“I signed a memorandum of agreement with the MNLF in 1996 after the (signing of the) peace agreement (with the Philippine government). I will continue working with Chairman Nur Misuari towards peace for Mindanao until the leadership is determined by the Peoples Congress and not by underhanded treachery. Our foundation works hard to serve the people of the Philippines, especially Mindanao. I am a daughter of Mindanao, a free woman. Pity those who still resort to medieval thinking,” she said.

Aishah Fatima, of the MNLF, said Stern is not a member of the former rebel group and criticized her for underestimating the current leadership.

“That's reality and you had to accept it. Do not underestimate the new leadership now of the MNLF because without these leaders, Misuari is nothing and neither you have the right to scrutinize their decisions.”

“Misuari already made a big blunder by exchanging the struggle of the MNLF for a piece of paper where implementation never became a reality and where it only made rich foundations like yours, non-MNLF individuals who grab the opportunity of being close to Misuari and some government officials and NGOs,” she said.

Adler Heirman, a blogger who had followed Misuari’s political career, said the former rebel leader failed to bring unity to the MNLF.

“The problem with Nur Misuari is that he never values the efforts of those people who placed him to the top. The truth is, he is not the only founder of the MNLF, but just one of them and he now claims he’s the only founder of the MNLF. He should accept now that his excesses of dictatorial decisions and arrogance resulted to his situation now.”
“And Misuari’s allowing Yolanda (Stern) to represent the MNLF is a total betrayal of the noble cause of the MNLF. If we only follow Islamic way of punishing traitors of Jihad, what happened to Misuari now is not enough punishment for his treachery. Yolanda should call her boss the one perpetrating “underhanded treachery” not those leaders who were sincere in their Jihad Fi Sabillillah. Of course, you can’t understand this because you are not a Muslim and never became a Muslim,” he said.

The MNLF said Misuari is not interested in unity and neither is he interested in adopting a Charter (for the MNLF) that will govern the conduct and behavior of its members and set a clear direction to where the Front is heading.

“The worst thing that could happen to a ship full of passengers is to have a captain who is indifferent and hostile to them and does not have a compass by which to navigate the ship,” it said, adding, Misuari wanted a perpetual leadership with nothing to guide it and no one to question it.

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 supported President Gloria 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 previously 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.

Seif’s Gaddafi Foundation said it would invite Misuari to a series of meeting in Libya next month to discuss the peace agreement it signed with Manila.

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.

The Organization of Islamic Conference is worried that the MNLF under Sema would further fragment the group and set back the efforts of the peace accord. The MNLF is a permanent observer to OIC. Misuari has repeatedly announced that the peace deal the MNLF signed with the Filipino government is long dead and buried and that he named himself as President of the Bangsamoro Republik. (Mindanao Examiner)

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