Nur Misuari as leader of the ARMM and MNLF

John Unson - The Philippine Star

COTABATO CITY - Nur Misuari could have long evolved into a powerful leader of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao if not for his lack of understanding of governance that made him and his lieutenants fail when they were at the helm of ARMM from 1996 to 2005.

Misuari, founder of the Moro National Liberation Front, was elected as third ARMM governor on September 9, 1996, exactly one week after he signed, along with then President Fidel Ramos, the vaunted government-MNLF final peace agreement.

It was during Misuari’s 1996-2001 stint as regional governor when foreign donors and international humanitarian outfits poured in massive assistance to war-torn communities in the region and extended technical interventions to local communities to hasten the implementation of the peace agreement.

Misuari was succeeded in 2001 by physician Parouk Hussin, who was his chief foreign affairs aide in the MNLF and whose tenure as ARMM governor lasted until 2005.

It was during the MNLF’s nine-year rule of ARMM that local officials complained noisily about mismanagement of the regional government and outspokenly wished to have their towns and provinces returned to Administrative Regions 9 and 12.

Even before Hussin could take over the ARMM's gubernatorial post from Misuari, 15 of his followers, among them then Cotabato City mayor Muslimin Sema, Hatimil Hassan of Basilan, and several others from Sulu, formed the “Council of 15” and took over the MNLF central committee due to loss of confidence in Misuari's leadership.

The move created a wedge in the solidarity of the once monolithic MNLF and, subsequently, resulted into gaping factional divides after an irate Misuari, still governor of ARMM, fired members of the regional cabinet identified with the 15-man council and replaced them with either his relatives, or followers with “canine loyalty.”

Absentee leader

Misuari only reported for 187 days at the Office of the Regional Governor (ORG) in Cotabato City, touted as the ARMM’s “Little Malacañang, during his five-year stint as the region’s chief executive.

Misuari spent most of his time hopping from one country to another, along with his entourage, to attend activities of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, and to entice foreign investors and prospective donors to help improve the ARMM’s economy and rebuild communities from the devastation wrought by the bloody MNLF uprising.

A big chunk of the ORG’s yearly budget was spent for the travel and hotel accommodation of Misuari and his core staff who tagged along as he traveled anywhere in the country and abroad.

Complaints on Misuari’s mismanagement of ARMM had even prompted President Ramos to provide him regular tutorials, right in Malacañang, on public administration and correct use of state funds.

Due to what seemed as strange “monopoly of trust,” which was quite normal for a revolutionary leader, Misuari was not open to enlisting his supposedly intelligent, promising followers to key positions in the ARMM government.

He designated an ophthalmologist as his agriculture secretary and named as regional local government chief a Karate instructor who taught physical education at a state university.

Recalcitrant, uncompromising

There was so much reason for Misuari to be so untrusting of the people around him.

Sometime in 1978, more than 50 MNLF commanders in mainland Mindanao, among them the foreign-trained cleric Imam Salamat Hashim, Al-Haj Murad, Muhaquer Iqbal, and Ghadzali Jaafar of what is now the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, converged in Pikit town in North Cotabato to execute the so-called “instrument of takeover,” declaring their separation from the Misuari-led group due to irreconcilable differences with its central committee.

Copies of the document were forwarded by Salamat to the OIC and the MNLF's private benefactors abroad, escalating Misuari's animosity to the former.

Misuari was quick to complain about the government’s having started its formal talks with the MILF on January 7, 1997, less than four months after he and President Ramos signed the September 2, 1996 GPH-MNLF final truce.

“The ink of the pen used in the signing of our peace agreement with government has not even dried yet and here’s another peace talks now with another group,” a griping Misuari said then.

Salamat, who studied Islamic theology at the secular Al-Azhar University in Cairo, Egypt had said repeatedly, in clandestine interviews at his jungle hideout in Camp Abubakar before it fell on July 9, 2000, that he was ready to fuse ranks with Misuari and recognize the ARMM government if he can, as regional governor, convert it into a truly viable Moro-led self-governing mechanism based on the political and religious aspirations of Mindanao’s Moro people.

Failure, mutiny

Misuari and Hussin, who had served as regional governors under the banner of the MNLF for an inclusive period of nine years, both failed miserably to even expand the region’s fiscal and political powers, despite having its Regional Legislative Assembly, also known as ARMM’s “Little Congress” and the patronage of their supposedly powerful principals, President Ramos and then President Gloria-Macapagal Arroyo, respectively.

It was President Arroyo’s having anointed Hussin as Malacañang’s favored candidate for ARMM governor during the 2001 regional elections that incensed Misuari, who was qualified to seek re-election, which emboldened him to lead a mutiny in Jolo, Sulu two weeks before the electoral exercise.

More than 70 people, among them soldiers, were killed while more than a hundred others were injured in the uprising, which eventually led to Misuari’s incarceration for years at a police detention facility in Sta. Rosa, Laguna.










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