ZAMBOANGA CITY , Philippines – Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) founding chairman Nur Misuari has revived the secessionist movement and formally established their federated state, naming himself president following the declaration of independence last Monday in Sulu, according to an MNLF official.
Habib Muhahab Hashim, chairman of the MNLF Islamic Command Council (ICC), said Misuari’s chief of staff Murshi Ibrahim had confirmed in a statement that Misuari declared last Aug. 12 the independence of the Bangsamoro Republik in Daira, Barangay Lampaya, in Talipao, Sulu.
Hashim said Misuari also designated himself as the commander-in-chief of the Bangsamoro Armed Forces (BAF).
“For all peace and freedom loving people of the world and oppressed Bangsamoro, Salam. For the sake of peace and egalitarian democracy, H.E Prof. Nur Misuari of the Bangsamoro Republik and commander-in-chief of the BAF, has declared the independence of the Bangsamoro Republik in Daira Lampaya, Talipao Autonomous Federated State of Lupah Sug,” Hashim quoted the statement of Ibrahim.
The Bangsamoro Republik covers the whole of Mindanao, Sulu and Palawan.
Misuari’s legal counsel Emmanuel Fontanilla, however, claimed that the new state also includes Sabah and Sarawak.
Fontanilla said the Bangsamoro Republik is eyeing Davao City as capital and seat of government.
Hashim said Ibrahim explained that the declaration of independence by Misuari is in line with the United Nations General Assembly Resolution 1514 of 1960 granting independence to all colonized countries.
Ibrahim added that the MNLF faction led by Misuari would pursue its independence only through peaceful and legal means.
Hashim’s ICC is another MNLF faction that is separate from Misuari’s group.
Hashim said it was not clear from Misuari’s group if the declaration was also meant as a call for hostility.
Misuari’s faction had initiated its plan to declare an independent state due the reported plan of the Philippine government to cancel the tripartite review that would fully implement a 1996 final peace agreement between the government and the MNLF signed during the Ramos administration.
The group of Misuari opposed the peace agreement between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), which they believed would sideline them even though the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) recognizes the MNLF as the sole representative of the Bangsamoro people.
Sources said Misuari has left the country to lobby for the support of the OIC for the Bangsamoro Republik. “Now, we are a sovereign nation under a colonial occupation of President P-Noy’s regime,” Ibrahim stated, according to Hashim.
Hashim said they have received unconfirmed reports of movements in several key areas in Mindanao in support of Misuari. He declined to name the areas to avoid causing panic among residents.
Hashim said his group remains neutral on Misuari’s declaration of independence.
“However, if the MNLF-government final peace agreement is already abrogated, the MNLF is left with no option but independence,” Hashim said.
According to Hashim, he was not aware of the move of another MNLF faction led by former Cotabato City mayor Muslimen Sema, who chairs the MNLF executive council (EC), a group that ousted Misuari from leadership several years ago.
Meanwhile, Fontanilla told The STAR that the “interim Constitution” of the Bangsamoro Republik was already submitted to the United Nations in New York a day after Misuari declared independence.
“The Declaration of Independence has the blessing of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation which transmitted the Constitution to the UN,” he said.
Fontanilla said the action of the OIC was an offshoot of the letter of the Philippine government declaring that 1996 peace accord with the MNLF was already completed despite the two remaining unresolved issues.
He said the OIC in a resolution has urged the government to synchronize the framework agreement with MILF and the 1996 peace accord with the MNLF.
Under the proposed Bangsamoro Republik Constitution, the form of government will be a federal system with the Muslims, Christians, and highlanders sharing equal powers in the government.
Fontanilla assured the people that the MNLF would exhaust all peaceful and legal means to attain their political objective.
He also hinted the setting up of a government in exile pending the full independence of the Bangsamoro Republik.
At least five countries in the Middle East have offered sanctuary to Misuari and the other officials of the government in exile while the UN deliberates the status of the new republic.
AFP hopeful for peace
The military is optimistic that the MNLF will honor its peace agreement with the government but is ready to support the police in the event that Misuari’s acts would lead to violence.
Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) public affairs chief Lt. Col. Ramon Zagala said they are hopeful that MNLF would continue to be a catalyst for peace and development.
“The AFP remains hopeful that our brothers and sisters in Mindanao will remain patient with the ongoing peace process. We are optimistic that the MNLF will respect and abide by the rule of law,” Zagala said. “We will continue our intensified operations to contain and isolate auxiliary threat groups that seek to spoil the gains of the peace process,” he added.
AFP Western Mindanao Command spokesman Col. Rodrigo Gregorio said they would support the law enforcement operations of the police in the event that Misuari’s actions result in violence.
“It’s (violence) the least that we want to happen and probably Misuari does not want it to happen too,” Gregorio said.
Give peace efforts a chance
Cagayan de Oro City Rep. Rufus Rodriguez appealed to Misuari to give a chance to current administration efforts to bring peace to Mindanao.
“I am pleading with chairman Nur: You’ve fought so hard for Mindanao. We have a real chance under President Aquino to bring peace and development to our island. So let’s make it work for the benefit of the Mindanaoans,” he said.
He made the appeal in the wake of reports that Misuari has launched an independence movement that aims to separate some parts of Mindanao from the republic.
Rodriguez, president of the Centrist Democratic Party of the Philippines, said he received information that Misuari is recruiting people for his supposed independence movement even in non-Muslim provinces, including Rodriguez’s home province of Misamis Oriental.
“Chairman Nur’s campaign is counter-productive and would jeopardize the peace process that we’ve worked for in the last three years,” Rodriguez said.
“I am from Mindanao. Our people are tired of fighting. They want peace and development. At no other time in our history that peace is possible than now. So let’s move forward,” he said.
He said the peace process with the MILF is now in its homestretch after the government and the MILF signed an agreement on wealth sharing.
The agreement will benefit the proposed Bangsamoro region and its people, he added.
Under the agreement, 75 percent of revenues from certain minerals will go to the region with 25 percent going to the national government, while on other mineral resources, the sharing is 50-50. With Perseus Echeminada, Jess Diaz, Alexis Romero, John Unson