News Analysis: Declaration of independence of another Muslim group threatens peace process in S. Philippines

Updated: 2013-08-17 12:50:00

(Xinhua)

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MANILA, August 17 (Xinhua) -- Even before the Manila government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) could finalize a peace agreement designed to end the decades-old armed conflict in the Southern Philippines, a new development has threatened to disrupt the peace process and revive the hostilities in the region.

The Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), through its spokesman, Habib Mujahab Hashim, confirmed last Thursday that MNLF founder and chairman Nur Misuari has declared independence in Talipao, Sulu on August 12.

The MNLF is the original Muslim secessionist group in Mindanao founded by Misuari, a former professor at the University of the Philippines, in the early 1970s.

In signing a peace agreement with the government in l996, the MNLF agreed to forego its goal of establishing a separate state in Mindanao. In protest over the decision, some MNLF top commanders bolted out and founded what is now the MILF.  

Hashim said that Misuari believes that the signing of the framework agreement between the government and the MILF in October last year was technically tantamount to an abrogation of the 1996 peace agreement.

According to Hashim, after declaring the independence of the Bangsamoro Republik in Talipao, Sulu, Misuari also designated himself as the commander-in-chief of the Bangsamoro Armed Forces ( BAF).

The supposed Bangsamoro Republik covers the whole of Mindanao, Sulu and Palawan. But Misuari's legal counsel Emmanuel Fontanilla claimed that the new state also includes the Malaysian states of Sabah and Sarawak.

Fontanilla said that under the proposed constitution of the Bangsamoro Republik, the form of government will be a federal system with the Muslims, Christians and highlanders sharing equal powers in government.

He also hinted that Misuari and the MNLF would be setting up a government in exile abroad.

Malacanang, the seat of the Philippine government, has reacted strongly to the report, saying that Misuari is "misguided" and that he should forget his own interests so that Mindanao can finally attain peace.

"We are for peace in Muslim Mindanao and that's the thrust of the Aquino administration so that the peace dividends can flow to the people of Mindanao," presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda said during a press briefing Wednesday.

The agreement that is being finalized by the Aquino government and the MILF calls for the establishment of the Bangsamoro political entity that would have some sovereign powers but would still be under the Manila government.

The political entity will replace the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) which was formed as an offshoot of the l996 peace accord with the MNLF and the 1976 Tripoli agreement signed during the martial law regime of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos.

Lacierda said that the Bangsamoro framework agreement "is very doable, very viable, and would ensure the development and massive growth in Mindanao."

"That's the same thing that we ask from Nur Misuari, not to look at his own personal interest but for the national interest or the interest of the people of Muslim Mindanao,"Lacierda said.

Deputy Presidential Spokesperson Abigail Valte said that so far they have not monitored any untoward development in Mindanao as a result of Misuari's declaration of independence.

But if the situation worsens, the government is ready to take action, Valte said.

Valte said that the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) continues to hope for peace in Mindanao.

She said that while the military is supportive of the ongoing negotiations with the MILF it has assured the people that in case there is violence they would be ready to protect the citizens.

AFP spokesman Lt. Col. Ramon Zagala said that they are hopeful that the MNLF will honor the l996 peace agreement with the government.

"We are optimistic that the MNLF will respect and abide by the rule of law," Zagala said but added that the military is" continuing its intensified operation"to monitor and isolate any possible disruption of peace in the predominantly Muslim areas in Mindanao.  

In a separate interview, Representative Rufus Rodriguez of Cagayan de Oro City in Central Mindanao appealed to Misuari to recall his declaration, saying that it "will jeopardize" the peace process.

Rodriguez said that the reported action by Misuari is counter- productive and would nullify all the efforts done by the government during the past three years.

The Mindanao lawmaker said they got information that the MILF is "recruiting people" in Misamis Oriental, Cagayan de Oro and Bukidnon to join in Misuari's Mindanao independence.

Rodriguez said he sees that Misuari just "wanted to be part of the process," urging the government to "bring in Misuari to the talks."