Is federalism such a lost cause that its supporters would desperately resort to intimidation tactics just to push it on a skeptical public?
This thought comes to mind at the news that former Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) governor and Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) founder Nur Misuari was said to have delivered an ultimatum on the subject last week: It’s federalism or war, he said to President Duterte in a meeting in Malacañang.
Or at least that’s how the President recalled it: “Misuari said last night, ‘If you do not give it to me, let me be very honest, I will go to war.’”
Next thought: Why is Mr. Duterte even giving this discredited leader the time of day? Why the deference to and overt support for Misuari, despite the havoc the man’s hubris has wreaked on Mindanao and his fellow Muslims?
The threat of war, first of all, was a resounding slap on the faces of Presidential Peace Adviser Carlito Galvez Jr. and National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr. who were also at the meeting.
How could the President just stand there and allow such an insult to the country’s vanguards of peace and order? Where is the respect for men of the law and the soldiers who routinely risk their lives when they face down Muslim rebels led by one such as Misuari?
This is the same Misuari who has yet to account for the Zamboanga siege of 2013, when he unleashed forces from the MNLF on the city to show his alleged displeasure at then President Benigno Aquino III’s decision to negotiate with the rival Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) in peace talks with the government.
The 20-day siege left 240 people dead, hundreds wounded and damage estimated at more than $73 million. As of 2017, about 585 families still stay in temporary government shelters.
For this act of war, Misuari and his followers were charged with violating Republic Act No. 9851, also known as the Philippine Act on Crimes Against International Humanitarian Law, Genocide and Other Crimes Against Humanity.
On Oct. 8, 2013, a Zamboanga City court issued an arrest warrant against Misuari, but a Pasig court ordered its temporary suspension.
This is the same Misuari who had botched his chance to fulfill his vision of an autonomous Muslim Mindanao. Made the head of the ARMM, he frittered away billions of funds and the goodwill of the nation with a tenure marked by poor governance and blatant corruption, leaving ARMM as impoverished as it has ever been.
Typically, he resorted to armed battle in 2001 in Jolo, Sulu, in an attempt to disrupt the incoming ARMM election that would have replaced him as its governor.
This, after he was ousted as MNLF chair for his “incompetent performance” and replaced with the Executive Committee of 15, the central leadership of the MNLF. The 2001 attack left some 100 people dead and many others wounded.
This is yet the same Misuari who is on trial before the Sandiganbayan for two counts each of graft and malversation due to the alleged anomalous purchase of P77 million worth of educational material when he was ARMM governor. He posted bail in March this year.
So where does this man get off threatening war on the country, let alone using that threat to push for federalism?
As opposition senator Franklin Drilon pointed out: Misuari’s threat is “the single most important argument against federalism… (as) no one should be allowed to threaten the very existence of the Republic if [their] demand is not granted by the government.”
The correct response to Misuari’s bellicose threats is to rebuff him in the strongest terms, but the craven House leadership, for one, saw in his words only an opportunity to pat itself on the back.
Don’t blame us if war happens, the House said, since we’ve already done our part — referring to the draft federal Charter they had proposed, which in truth had less to do with the brass tacks of a genuine federal setup and more with removing the term limits of elected officials and enshrining political dynasties. Shameless, every time.
The question of changing the present form of government is too crucial for the country’s social, political and economic future to be held hostage by the overweening ambitions and extortionist whims of entitled politicians, especially a spectacularly failed one fomenting disruption for yet another chance at political relevance, now that Mindanao is taking fresh steps to peace without him.
And yet Mr. Duterte is according Misuari’s talk of war virtual legitimacy by trumpeting it himself, when his task as President is to sic the full force and authority of the Republic on this incorrigible warmonger.
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