Nur Misuari, left, and Muslimin Sema, both claiming to be the chieftain of the Moro National Liberation Front. (Mindanao Examiner Photo)
ZAMBOANGA CITY, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / May 12, 2008) – Some 300 former Moro National Liberation Front rebels gathered Monday in Zamboanga City in the southern Philippines to campaign for peace.
“We are here gathered to unify our people and to work for everlasting peace in Mindanao,” said Muslimin Sema, the new leader of the MNLF, once the largest Muslim rebel group fighting for independence in the southern Philippines.
The MNLF Central Committee named Sema, the group's Secretary General, as its new chairman, replacing Nur Misuari. But Misuari did not recognize Sema as the legitimate ruler of the MNLF.
It was the second time in nearly a decade that Misuari, who founded the MNLF, was removed by his own commanders. Sema is a member of the so-called MNLF Council of 15, which first ousted Misuari. The Council of 15 accused Misuari of being incompetent as governor of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.
Misuari signed a peace deal with Manila in September 1996 ending decades of bloody war. After the peace agreement was signed, Misuari became the governor of the Muslim autonomous region.
And in November 2001, on the eve of the elections in the Muslim autonomous region, Misuari accused the government of reneging on the peace agreement, and launched a new rebellion in Sulu province in an effort to stop the elections.
Misuari then escaped by boat to Malaysia, where he had been arrested and deported to the Philippines.
Sema's group previously appointed Misuari as chairman emeritus, but rejected the position. The Council of 15 accused Misuari of being incompetent as governor of the Muslim autonomous region.
The three-day summit, Sema said, is also aimed at strengthening the MNLF and to review the provisions of the peace agreement.
He said a new MNLF charter is expected to be approved by the MNLF Central Committee at the end of the summit. Sema said a “twelve-point policy of direction” of the MNLF will be presented during the conference.
Sema said they would also propose to President Gloria Arroyo to appoint a member of the MNLF as governor of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao instead of holding elections every three years.
He also insisted that the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao was created as part of a peace deal the MNLF with Manila. And under its provisions, an MNLF member must sit as governor of the six-province autonomous region.
“Admittedly the existence of the ARMM is the product attributed to the Bangsamoro people's struggle for self-determination in a way to address the age-long political conflict. Undoubtedly, therefore, the MNLF is the legitimate claimant to ARMM to speak of its role in governance,” Sema said.
He said the MNLF has endorsed Alvarez Isnaji, the mayor of Indanan town in Sulu province, to be the governor of the autonomous region.
“In order to get rid of election related violence, excessive spending and corruption, the MNLF is seeking preferably the prerogative of the President to appoint MNLF candidate to be the ARMM governor. Anyhow, the President plays a vital role insofar as ARMM governorship is concerned," Sema said.
Zaldy Ampatuan, a former town mayor in Maguindanao province, is the current governor of the Muslim autonomous region after he won the polls against Parouk Hussin, a senior MNLF leader.
Ampatuan, as governor of the Muslim autonomous region, introduced reforms and fought corruption in government. He also prioritized development projects in areas where there are MNLF communities in support to the peace agreement.
Sema said the MNLF has been eased out from the mainstream of governance in the ARMM. “This situation is an obstacle to the peace agreement. In as much as the MNLF is still aspiring for active participation in all levels of governance appropriate both in regional and national political mainstreams, power sharing in governance to involve the MNLF principally should be taken as a measure to erase the obstacle,” he said.
Although Sema is pushing for an MNLF leadership in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, he also praised Ampatuan because of his many accomplishments in the Basilan, Sulu, Tawi-Tawi, Lanao, Maguindanao and Shariff Kabunsuan. (Mindanao Examiner)