Red flag in Misuari’s return
The residents of Zamboanga City have reason to be concerned about the special treatment being given to Moro National Liberation Front founder Nur Misuari by President Duterte.
Upon the government’s request, the Pasig City court that is hearing the rebellion and crimes against humanity cases filed against Misuari and several MNLF rebels in connection with the 2013 attack of Zamboanga City by the MNLF temporarily lifted his arrest warrant. Then he was flown to Manila from Sulu in a private airplane by Presidential Peace Adviser Jesus Dureza for a meeting with Mr. Duterte in Malacañang.
In the presence of top government officials, Mr. Duterte warmly welcomed Misuari and exchanged, Arab-style, cheek kisses with him. For his part, Misuari thanked the President for his temporary liberty and expressed support for his efforts to bring peace to Mindanao.
A day after Misuari’s “resurrection,” the President signed an executive order giving the MNLF representation in the committee that will lay the groundwork for a Bangsamoro region.
To allay the apprehension of Zamboanga City officials about the effect of these events on their quest for justice for the victims of the MNLF attack of their city, the President’s spokesperson Ernesto Abella said “at the right time, all of those issues will be answered and addressed.”
This assurance is cold comfort to the people who suffered the horrors of a three-week fight between government soldiers and MNLF rebels that resulted in mayhem and the destruction of communities.
From the way it looks, the public’s mind is being conditioned into treating Misuari as an indispensable element in the resolution of decades-old peace and order problems in Mindanao.
Apparently, the administration is working on the premise that the proposed Bangsamoro concept will not be workable unless the MNLF is actively involved in its organization. Despite criticisms against Misuari for his self-centered style of leadership, he continues to be held in high esteem by MNLF members.
If a new Bangsamoro structure is agreed to by the MNLF, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, the lumad and other stakeholders in the proposed areas, and passes muster in Congress, it is reasonable to expect Misuari to ask—nay, demand—that he be given the opportunity to participate in its formation and operation.
In this scenario, the criminal cases filed against Misuari in connection with the Zamboanga siege will bar him from freely participating in the Bangsamoro region.
The temporary reprieve from arrest extended to him by the Pasig City court has to end at some point. The criminal cases cannot be suspended indefinitely; sooner or later, they have to be tried and resolved in accordance with existing judicial rules.
To enable Misuari to play a meaningful role in the proposed political entity, the cases will either have to be withdrawn by the complainants or dismissed by the court.
It is doubtful, however, if the complainants will agree to withdraw the cases, or put the tragic event behind them, without the responsible parties being punished. It will not be easy to convince them to look at that action as a small price to pay to obtain lasting peace (which may be a big question mark) in their region.
To get around this “problem,” the government may have to reduce the criminal cases to simple rebellion and drop the “crimes against humanity” portion.
Under Philippine laws, rebellion is considered a political crime and therefore can be forgiven or absolved by way of a grant of amnesty by Congress without need for the accused to admit to or deny the accusation.
Thus, if President Duterte’s peace overtures to the MNLF, MILF and National Democratic Front succeed and Congress agrees to grant amnesty to their members as part of the agreement, the victims of the Zamboanga siege may wind up as collateral damage.
Raul J. Palabrica ([email protected]) writes a weekly column in the Business section of the Inquirer.
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