Misuari thanks Duterte for 'freedom,' vows to help

MANILA, Philippines – Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) leader Nur Misuari personally thanked President Rodrigo Duterte on Thursday, November 3, for “partially” restoring his freedom.

Misuari met with Duterte just hours after a court order suspending arrest warrants against him was publicized on Thursday. Chief Peace Adviser Jesus Dureza fetched him in Sulu in the southern Philippines.

While the court order was only made known on Thursday, Pasig City Regional Trial Court Branch 158 promulgated it on October 27.

Misuari’s presence delighted Duterte, who even offered his presidential podium to the MNLF leader, who is facing charges of rebellion and crimes against humanity over his role in the 2013 Zamboanga siege.

“It is with great happiness that Nur Misuari finally accepted my invitation to talk to us. May I ask you to just give a short talk using the podium of the President of the Republic of the Philippines?” Duterte told Misuari, who was seated with other guests at the Palace Rizal Ceremonial Hall where the brief event was held.

The President earlier said he does not want the 77-year-old Misuari, who has warrants of arrest in relation to the Zamboanga siege, to be pursued and detained due to his "fragile" condition.

"There is a pending warrant against Misuari which is lifted now upon my orders so we can talk," Duterte said in his remarks at the Palace event.

The warrants, however, are not "lifted" but only suspended by the Pasig court. It is effective for a period of 6 months unless sooner lifted by the court. On the President's orders, the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process and the Department of Justice filed the motion to suspend the hearings and enforcement of warrants of arrest against Misuari.

In September 2013, supporters of Misuari occupied coastal villages of Zamboanga City to protest the Aquino administration's peace talks with the MNLF's breakaway group, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). Over 200 people were killed and more than 24,000 families were displaced during the 3-week siege.

'Sense of gratitude'

Speaking from the presidential podium, Misuari had nothing but good words for Duterte, who, in his words, is “the man whom I respect and trust.” He then repeatedly thanked the President for freeing him.

“I came here to thank him for restoring my freedom, if only partially. I am so happy to be free again, owing to the initiative of our President,” Misuari said.

The MNLF leader reiterated his praises for Duterte, whose presidential bid he had supported. For Misuari, only Duterte can solve the long-standing problem of peace and order in Mindanao.

Misuari then assured Duterte he has the backing of his people in the administration’s peace initiatives, as well as on the war on drugs – a subject of local and international controversy because of the spate of extrajudicial killings linked to the state campaign.

“Just allow me to reiterate my sense of gratitude to the President and my promise that should he need our cooperation in his campaign for peace, you can count on us, Mr President,” Misuari said.

It was not Misuari's first time in Malacañang. In 1996, he was with other MNLF members at the same Ceremonial Hall for the signing of the final peace agreement between the MNLF and the Philippine government. 

Duterte is expected to sign an executive order creating an expanded Bangsamoro Transition Council (BTC) that will revise a proposed law creating the Bangsamoro region.

Duterte earlier committed to implement the 2014 peace agreement signed by the Aquino administration and the MILF, which seeks to create a new Bangsamoro region that will replace the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).

But Duterte said the peace process should be "inclusive" of all interest groups in the Mindanao, including the MNLF. – Rappler.com

Camille Elemia

Camille Elemia is Rappler's lead reporter for media, disinformation, and democracy. She won an ILO award in 2017. She received the prestigious Fulbright-Hubert Humphrey fellowship in 2019, allowing her to further study media and politics in the US. Email camille.elemia@rappler.com

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