MANILA - President Rodrigo Duterte can turn Mindanao into a federal state within his term, a Mindanao-based scholar and longtime peace advocate said Wednesday.
Fr. Eliseo Mercado Jr., senior policy adviser of the Institute for Autonomy and Governance, said Duterte has the popularity and will power to do so.
"Congress is within the grips of the President. I don't know if I can say the same with the Supreme Court, but seemingly there is what we call the President’s strong influence over the management and control over the structures of the government," Mercado told ANC's Early Edition.
Last week, the President met with Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) founding chairman Nur Misuari in Davao City, in which they agreed to form a coordinating committee to discuss peace efforts in Sulu.
Duterte has repeatedly said he hopes to reach an agreement with Misuari, whom he earlier said warned him of war should government fail to pursue a shift to federalism.
Mercado said Misuari's vision of "one Mindanao," is inclusive, with the newly-formed Bangsamoro Autonomous Region allowed to function as a separate entity.
"Ang perception ni chairman Nur Misauri is one Mindanao, we are all stakeholders in Mindanao beyond religion, ethnicity tsaka mga territories na 'yan," he said.
Mercado added that the President could bring together the MNLF and its splinter group Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) in a coordinating council.
"I believe may kakayahan ang Presidente because si Nur Misuari is good friend ni Duterte at ang MILF naman good friend also ni Duterte," he said.
"Ang common ground nila ang Presidente na hindi nagawa ng OIC (Organization of Islamic Cooperation)."
He, however, said the OIC has a "very crucial role" in peace negotiations, citing its assistance in the 1996 peace accord between government and MNLF.
"It’s for this reason I think President Duterte believes OIC is another elephant that we have to harness in the peace and development of Mindanao," he said.