MANILA (UPDATE) – President Rodrigo Duterte received Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) founding chairman Nur Misuari in Malacanang on Thursday, seeking to widen support for his efforts to end the decades-long Muslim rebellion in the south.
The Misuari-led MNLF claimed it was shut out from the peace deal forged by Duterte's predecessor, Benigno "Noynoy" Aquino, with its rival, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) in 2014. Duterte is pursuing peace with both rebel groups.
“It is with great happiness that I announce to the nation that Chairman Nur Misuari, our brother, who heads the MNLF, has finally decided to just accept my invitation for him to talk to us,” Duterte said.
“We would like to ask that we work together with our Moro brothers and create a country that is really just, good. And that would be for the next generations to come,” he said.
Misuari traveled to Manila from his lair on the remote southern island of Jolo after a local court suspended a warrant for his arrest over a bloody siege on Zamboanga City in 2013.
Speaking on the President's podium, Misuari assured Duterte of his support for the peace process.
“I told President Duterte, I was determined to stay put in the mountains were it not for his invitation. I cannot reject his invitation. Because I respect him too much. And now I came here to thank him, first for restoring my freedom, if only partially,” Misuari said.
“I know for a fact, he will not abandon his pledge to the people. He said I will give you peace in Mindanao. Is that so, Mr. President? So I support him for that.”
The MNLF leader had accused Aquino of setting aside a peace deal he forged with former president Fidel Ramos in 1996 in favor of the MILF.
The peace deal with the MILF, however, was placed in limbo after Congress failed to pass a law to implement it before Aquino's term ended last June 30.
The Bangsamoro Basic Law or BBL would have granted the country's Muslim minority wider powers in an expanded autonomous region.
Congressional debates on the BBL stalled after 44 police commandos died in an encounter with the MILF in Mamasapano, Maguindanao in January 2015. The troops had targeted Malaysian terror suspect Zulkifli bin Hir who was hiding in MILF areas.
Misuari on Thursday also expressed support for Duterte’s anti-narcotics campaign, saying illegal drugs "are destroying our children, the youth who will succeed us after this."
"I’ve always been saying that drug is a restless, creeping threat to humanity," he said, adding, "This is one of the biggest sources of crimes to humanity."
Misuari also mentioned the Jabidah Massacre, which he said was a pivotal moment in his life that led him to establish the MNLF.
On March 18, 1968, hundreds of young Moros were brought to Corregidor to be trained by the military for a secret mission to help the Marcos government seize control of Sabah from Malaysia. They refused to go and were killed.