Aquino: 'Cultural sensitivities' complicate Nur capture

MANILA, Philippines - The government's search for Nur Misuari continues, but President Benigno Aquino III admitted there are certain issues hampering his capture — including respecting "cultural sensitivities."

On Wednesday, October 23, Aquino told reporters that aside from still being unable to locate the fugitive Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) founder, the government was also proceeding with care to avoid aggravating the post-Zamboanga crisis situation. READ: How to arrest a rebel like Nur Misuari

"Well, you have to identify exactly where he is. You also ask some loyalists with him. We have to be careful about treating cultural sensitivities of others who are not presently involved but who might find common cause in protecting a fellow Muslim. So you have to craft it in such a way that you’d come up with a solution and not exacerbate the problem," he explained.

Aquino said latest reports indicate Misuari is still in the country, likely in Sulu, "and transferring from island to island." He said he still issued a reward for any information on his whereabouts but with the warrant of arrest out, it could be the last step to hasten his capture.

Aquino said government troops also continue to find Habier Malik, a Misuari loyalist who led the rebels in Zamboanga and who is at large.

"The important thing is, they as a force have been greatly reduced," Aquino offered.

Misuari is facing rebellion charges for masterminding the three-week siege of Zamboanga City in September. The conflict killed at least 12 civilians and 18 soldiers, and damaged about 10,000 houses.

The 71-year-old rebel leader wants the government to re-open negotiations on the unimplemented provisions of the 1996 peace pact. He is opposed to the current negotiations between the MNLF's breakaway group, Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and the government, branding it as a form of "betrayal."

Peace talks

Meanwhile, Aquino said he is confident the government and the MILF will complete its peace talks before the end of his term in 2016.

Two more annexes – on power sharing and on normalization – await discussion and approval to complete the comprehensive agreement. The Annex on Revenue Generation and Wealth Sharing, signed on July 13, came 5 months after the first document, the Annex on Transitional Arrangements and Modalities, was signed in February.

Earlier, the government panel expressed confidence it would sign the remaining annexes "within the year." The past two talks in Kuala Lumpur, however, ended in impasse.

"The bottom line is, both parties acknowledged that the annexes will have the most contentious issues and we are progressing. Of the four annexes, we’ve concluded discussions on two. We have the remaining two left. That doesn’t stop us from having the Sajahatra program and actually acting on it and showing them the benefits of peace," he said.

"Are we delayed? Crafting the correct agreement that is livable and doable by all will necessarily take time, and we are cognizant of that fact. And better to have the good deal rather than to have any deal that is not livable by all parties," he said.

As the government and the MILF continue negotiations on the comprehensive peace pact on the Bangsamoro, both parties have agreed to start the process towards normalization, and launch Sajahatra Bangsamoro, a basic services program for MILF communities.

To be implemented within one to two years, the program will bring Philhealth services to MILF communities, as well scholarships from the Commission on Higher Education and the Technical Education Skills Development Authority, among others. -