COTABATO CITY - Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) founder Nur Misuari will not attend congressional hearings on the draft Basic Bangsamoro Law in keeping with his declaration of “Mindanao independence” last year, senior leaders of the group said.
Misuari’s self-styled declaration of independence was done two months before his followers pulled off the deadly September 2013 siege of coastal barangays in Zamboanga City, which left dozens dead and caused the dislocation of more than 100,000 villagers.
Former Cotabato City Mayor Muslimin Sema, chairman of the largest and most politically active MNLF faction, said on Wednesday that they welcome insinuations to allow Misuari to attend hearings on the draft BBL.
Sema, however, said they are convinced Misuari will definitely not participate in the process.
“It would be good if they can convince Mr. Misuari to attend the hearings. But I don’t think he will respond positively. It would be a meaningless move on the part of the government because he has already declared independence,” Sema said.
Sema said there is also a standing communication protocol between the government and the MNLF, which enjoins both sides to deal with each other only via the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC).
The OIC, a bloc of more than 50 Muslim states, including wealthy petroleum exporting countries in the Middle East and North Africa, helped broker the Sept. 2, 1996 government-MNLF peace agreement.
The OIC has also been helping resolve since 2007 the misunderstandings, between the MNLF and the government, on some of the sensitive provisions of the peace agreement.
“The MNLF has to seek first the imprimatur of the OIC before deciding to attend the BBL hearings because that has something to do with the Mindanao peace process,” Sema said.
A senior MNLF leader in Basilan said it is unlikely for Misuari to attend congressional hearings on the BBL without observers from the OIC’s Southern Philippines Peace Commission.
The commission is comprised of representatives from several OIC-member states, including Turkey, Senegal, Bangladesh, Libya, Brunei, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Somalia and Indonesia.
“We are sure Brother Nur will not attend any congressional hearing on the proposed Bangsamoro law,” said an MNLF leader in Basilan, who had served as regional official when Misuari was governor of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.
Cagayan de Oro Rep. Rufus Rodriguez, head of the 75-member congressional panel tasked to handle the draft BBL, had told reporters that they want to get insights from Misuari and the figurehead of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), the foreign-trained cleric Ameril Umbra Kato.
BIFF officials, who asked not to be identified for lack of authority to speak on the issue, said it is also impossible for Kato to participate in any activity related to the on-going peace efforts of the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.
“Our group is fighting for an independent state based on the Islamic principle of oneness of religion and governance,” said one of the BIFF sources, who requested anonymity.
Kato, who studied Islamic theology in Saudi Arabia, started as chief of the MILF’s 105th Base Command, but was booted out in 2010 due to insubordination and other offenses.
Kato launched in late 2010 the BIFF, known for its enforcement of a Taliban-style justice system in areas where it operates.
Misuari is wanted for the 2013 bloody MNLF forays in Zamboanga City while Kato, now debilitated after a hypertensive stroke in 2011, is facing dozens of criminal cases in connection with the BIFF’s violent incursions in several towns in the second district of Maguindanao in the past three years.
“I have already talked to (Justice) Secretary (Leila) de Lima for the filing of motion for the suspension of warrants for at least three days,” Rodriguez said, referring to the warrants for the arrest of Misuari and Kato.
He said the presence of Misuari and Kato in the congressional hearings would greatly help the panel in fine-tuning the proposed law.
He said Misuari specifically could help make the BBL compatible with government-MNLF 1996 peace accord brokered by the OIC.
Rodriguez also said that they would ask Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin to issue safe conduct passes to the two rebel leaders for their travel to and from Manila.