If the climate change issue is any indication, President Duterte appears to be inclined lately to include the consensus of his Cabinet in his official decision-making. He had previously declared his dislike for the Philippines to commit to the Paris Agreement on Climate Change and help in the international effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, saying this was a lopsided, onerous and even hypocritical imposition on a poor country by developed nations. But he has since changed his mind and announced that the government would ratify the agreement, and crediting his Cabinet’s recommendation for the shift in policy.
He may want to consult his official family again, especially his national security cluster, on the wisdom of his forceful embrace of the discredited Nur Misuari. The former governor of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao and founder of the once-secessionist Moro National Liberation Front has been a fugitive from the law since 2013, when a faction of the MNLF loyal to him laid siege to Zamboanga City.
The reason? Misuari was furious at having been excluded from the peace talks that the administration of President Benigno Aquino III had initiated with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front—talks that appeared to be going swimmingly for a period that the contours of a new Bangsamoro political entity replacing the ARMM was under serious discussion. Misuari threw a tantrum at what he felt was his enforced irrelevance by sanctioning his followers’ rampage in Zamboanga. After 18 days of tension and violence, Zamboanga, a major economic hub in the South, lay bleeding from the enormous damage—parts of it in rubble, a number of civilians dead, more than 100,000 people displaced.
A warrant was issued for Misuari’s arrest but he disappeared, reportedly hiding out in Malaysia. But early this year, sensing the political winds shifting with the elections near and a sympathetic Mindanaoan candidate, Mayor Duterte of Davao, bidding fair to become the Philippines’ next president, he emerged from his jungle fastness and preened before his followers in an MNLF “plenum” in Sulu.
Despite his wanted status, Misuari was apparently confident that his political exile was about to end. True enough, among the first things the newly inaugurated President Duterte signaled was his willingness to set aside the law and reinstate Misuari as a serious partner in the peace process he envisioned for Mindanao. Soon he called for the suspension of the warrant for Misuari’s arrest and invited the MNLF leader to visit Malacañang.
That visit came to pass a week ago, with Misuari flying out of Jolo in a private plane and meeting the President in the Palace. Mr. Duterte even allowed him to make his statement from the presidential podium—an unprecedented breach of protocol, but one that Misuari lapped up as he expressed profuse thanks for the political resurrection granted him by the administration.
Mr. Duterte may know something about Misuari that the public doesn’t, hence his fulsome accommodation of the former rebel. But there is the public record: Aside from the Zamboanga carnage for which he still has to account, Misuari was a failure as ARMM governor, frittering away the billions of pesos poured into the region and basically botching the job that was given him as a virtual reward for forging a peace agreement with the Ramos administration in 1996.
In other words, he had his chance, and he blew it. Why is the Duterte administration now rehabilitating someone who has, at the very least, failed his own people? If Mr. Duterte’s aim is to be inclusive in his Mindanao peace campaign, where are the similar overtures to the MILF and other stakeholders in the region? How come Misuari appears to enjoy the favored ear—as if the country hasn’t learned its painful lesson from his track record?
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