MANILA – President Rodrigo Duterte on Tuesday said Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) founding chair Nur Misuari appeared amenable to the proposed shift of the form of government to federalism but that he may not give land to the Moro leader.
Duterte said he asked Misuari in a meeting in Davao City on Friday if he had any objection to his administration’s plan to change the country’s form of government from unitary to federal, where certain powers of the national government will be devolved to self-governing states or regions.
The President and his allies are eyeing the shift to spur greater countryside development, saying centralized governance has stunted growth in the provinces.
“Sabi ko, ‘Nur prangkahan mo ako, are you still interested ng federal government? Wala ako ibigay sa iyo na bayan, it’s not mine to give,’” Duterte said in a speech before soldiers in Carmen, Cotabato.
(I said, ‘Nur, let’s be frank with each other, are you still interested in a federal government? I cannot give you your own land. It’s not mine to give.)
Duterte told Misuari, however, that he could “carve a new setup” under a federal government, where Misuari’s group could exercise greater control over its jurisdiction.
The President said, Misuari appeared receptive to the idea and even offered to send his fighters to aid government troops currently battling with Islamist militants in Marawi City.
“Alam mo naman okay ako. As a matter of fact, I’m offering 2,000 of my men to join your forces,” Duterte quoted Misuari as saying.
Duterte, the first Mindanaoan president, has been seeking to forge a deal with Mindanao’s fractured Moro groups, which once sought to secede from the Philippines.
Misuari is facing rebellion charges over the 2013 Zamboanga siege, but the government has asked the court to give him a temporary pass so he could participate in the peace negotiations.
During the Zamboanga siege, Misuari’s group declared independence from the government, angered that it was shut out of the then Aquino administration’s peace deal with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) in 2014.
Misuari also once served as the governor of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, the establishment of which former President Benigno Aquino III had described as a failed experiment.