Federalism or war? Gov’t ready for Nur Misuari
Christina Mendez (The Philippine Star) - March 22, 2019 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — Saying he is ready to fight for the country’s independence and protect it from insurgents, President Duterte rebuffed Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) chairman Nur Misuari, who threatened to go to war if the shift to federalism falls through.

Quoting the President, spokesman Salvador Panelo said the government would be ready to respond accordingly if Misuari makes good his threat.

However, Duterte will continuously reach out to the MNLF founding chairman in the name of peace in Mindanao.

“In other words, what he’s saying is… because the (MNLF) chairman said, ‘I will go to war’ – which means if he goes to war, then he will be fighting the government. So if he is fighting the government and the head of the government is the President, they would be fighting with each other – that is what he meant,” he said.

“But certainly, let me add to that – we would not want to reach that stage. Both sides would want peace, and that is precisely why we had the BOL (Bangsamoro Organic Law) and we had to deal with other Muslim rebellious groups,” Panelo added.

Panelo said the President has ordered the creation of a panel that will deal with Misuari’s aspirations for federalism.

“He said that he understood where the chairman was coming from, and he reminded him that the federalism issue would be up to Congress. And he suggested that his group create a panel of five members and the government’s side the same number, and they will meet and discuss,” Panelo said.

“Whatever the product of that discussion, they will have a one-on-one meeting. And then he said, ‘After which, we will celebrate for its success; and if it fails, we will die together...’ – that was the response of the President,” he said.

He added the President would assert Philippine sovereignty and respond to any threat.

“Because he was saying that if federalism fails, we’ll go to war and assert our independence. That is tantamount to fighting the government,” he said.

Another revolution?In his speech during the Partido Demokratiko Pilipino-Lakas ng Bayan (PDP-Laban) rally in Marikina City the other night, Duterte mentioned details of his conversation with Misuari in Malacañang last Tuesday.

“So meron ako isang revolution pa. Sabi ni Misuari kagabi, ‘If you do not give it to me, let me be very honest. I will go to war’,” Duterte said

“Sabi ko, ‘I understand that, Nur. So ganito na lang gawin natin. Let’s form a panel because you have to inform the people. We cannot negotiate secretly here’,” the Chief Executive said.

According to the President, Misuari has been insisting on the adoption of a federal form of government, which former president Corazon Aquino promised to the Moros after the EDSA revolution in 1986.

Duterte said he also reminded Misuari that the shift of government needs the approval of Congress.

Apart from Duterte, Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Secretary Carlito Galvez Jr., National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr. and Interior Secretary Eduardo Año were present during the meeting.

Earlier in his speech, Duterte said the MNLF leader was frank and straightforward during their meeting.

Misuari continues to hold on to the promise made by then president Aquino on shifting from presidential to federal form of government, Duterte added.

The MNLF signed in 1996 a landmark peace agreement with the government that saw the creation of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, which has recently been dissolved.

It was during the Duterte administration when the peace agreement with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) materialized that led to the creation of Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM).

Senate President Vicente Sotto III said yesterday that Misuari could face charges for threatening the government.

Sotto was reacting to the statement of Duterte that Misuari threatened to go to war if federalism is not implemented nationwide.

“I wonder if there is a law against threatening the government. You are threatening the government with rebellion. We should research if there is a violation that is close to inciting to sedition,” Sotto said during the Kapihan sa Senado forum yesterday.

Sotto advised Misuari to just be open in dialogues with the government instead of issuing threats.

He questioned the sudden passion of Misuari for federalism for the entire country. “Bakit idadamay mo ang (why include) Luzon at Visayas?” added Sotto.

Military ground forces understand and empathize with the frustrations of Misuari.

“Everyone has the right to express. If the President can tolerate it, why can’t we? Right?” said Col. Gerry Besana, spokesman for Western Mindanao Command (Westmincom) when asked about the ground forces’ reaction on the threat of Misuari.

“For as long as there is no commission of violent act then there is no problem,” Besana added.

The military said they are closely in touch with the ground forces of the MNLF and observed the commanders and members will not resort to armed conflict.

According to Besana, the MNLF forces in Basilan, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi, and even those in Zamboanga peninsula, Central Mindanao and Palawan, prefer to talk and discuss peace and development measures.

The military, however, is not discounting the threat and capability of Misuari, citing previous incidents where the MNLF launched violent uprisings.

The most recent attack was the September 2013 siege in Zamboanga where Misuari allegedly resented the government forging peace with its breakaway faction MILF and declared the establishment of an independent republic from his enclave in Sulu.

Besana said the Westmincom has its contingency plan “whatever happens,” following the threat of Misuari if federalism does not push through.  With Cecille Suerte Felipe, Roel Pareño

MORO NATIONAL LIBERATION FRONT NUR MISUARI RODRIGO DUTERTE
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