The Philippine president met MNLF founder Nur Misuari in Manila in an effort to resuscitate the stalling peace process
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte met with Nur Misuari, the founder of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), a Muslim separatist movement in the country’s south, yesterday in an attempt to find a solution to the sectarian conflict that has plagued the country’s southern territories for decades.
Last week, a Pasig City judge suspended the warrant for Misuari’s arrest – issued in response to his involvement in the 2013 siege of Zamboanga City – allowing Misuari to travel freely to Manila to meet the President.
“Without integrating Nur Misuari as a partner in that peace process, Duterte understands that there will be no real peace in Mindanao,” said Rohan Gunaratna, an international terrorism expert and editor of the Handbook of Terrorism in the Asia-Pacific. “The previous administration focused on the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), because the MILF presented the greatest threat to the security and stability of the Philippines at that time… but they should have also integrated the MNLF.”
Founded in 1972, the MNLF’s main aim was to create an independent Filipino-Muslim nation and, to this end, it has achieved a measure of success, with President Corazon Aquino establishing the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao in 1986.
However, the region has continued to be defined by instability and conflict. The three biggest rebel groups in the area are the MNLF, the MILF and Abu Sayyaf, which split from the MNLF in 1991 and has gained notoriety for carrying out bombings and numerous kidnappings for ransom.
According to Teresa Jopson, a PhD candidate at the Australian National University, “ethnic differences and varied loyalties colour the divisions, even if the major groups have common goals and are fighting for largely the same territory”.
“As founder of the unified MNLF in 1972, Nur Misuari may be able to unify many of the various groups in the new round of talks,” she added.
Gunaratna believes that reaching agreements with both the MNLF and MILF is becoming all the more important, given the emergence of numerous Islamic State-affiliated groups in the southern Philippines.
“In the case of the 16 Filipino groups that have pledged allegiance to the so-called Islamic State, they are determined to attack the Philippine government and security forces and they are determined to create a nucleus of Islamic State in the southern Philippines,” he said. “This is going to be a major security challenge in the coming months and years unless President Duterte dismantles it at this early stage. For him to do that, he needs the support of everyone, including the MNLF and the MILF.”