Thursday, September 19, 2013

Gov't, MILF extend peace talks another day

From Rappler (Sep  19): Gov't, MILF extend peace talks another day

RACE AGAINST TIME. The government peace panel. Photo by Rappler

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (Updated) – After 10 days of discussions in the longest round of talks between the Aquino government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), both sides are still struggling to find common ground.

As they race against time to beat their 2016 deadline to complete the transition toward the proposed Bangsamoro political entity, the panels on Thursday, September 19, decided to extend the session for one more day.

But it is unlikely that a document would be signed and completed this round.

"There is no way we can finish because, as I said, when we are now overstretched and when people are overstretched, they are no longer resourceful," MILF chief negotiator Mohagher Iqbal said.

The issues are just "too many" and "very difficult," Iqbal added.

The talks are being held while government troops and members of the rival Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) continue to fight it out in Zamboanga City. The MNLF faction of Nur Misuari seized the city's coastal villages on September 9, on the same day the talks here were scheduled to resume.

Sensitive, emotional

The government and the MILF are threshing out the final details on how power will be shared between the Bangsamoro government and the central government, as well as the process of normalization.

Power, Iqbal said, is the "heart" of the negotiations, while normalization is the most "sensitive" and "emotional" aspect as it includes issues on security.

Government peace panel chair Miriam Coronel Ferrer said their aim for Friday is just to come up with a completed text for the annexes.

They would most likely come back for another round, Ferrer said, since there are new items that still need to be presented to their principals – President Benigno Aquino III for the government and Chairman Al Haj Murad Ebrahim for the MILF.

Before flying to Kuala Lumpur, where the Malaysia-hosted talks are being held, both parties had high hopes details on power-sharing and normalization would be signed this round. They comprise the last 2 annexes of the final peace pact.

But both sides have conceded it is unlikely that any annex would be completed by Friday after the first few days of the talks started slow. Iqbal earlier described it as "snail-paced."

Power-sharing annex

The Framework Agreement signed in October 2012 defined the relationship of the central government and the future Bangsamoro government as "asymmetric."

Considered the "heart" of the negotiations, the power-sharing annex discusses how this assymetric set up would work. It includes 3 kinds of power-sharing arrangements:
  • · Reserved powers for the central government
  1. · Concurrent or shared powers between the Bangsamoro government and the central government
  1. · Exclusive powers for the Bangsamoro government
Before this round of talks, both sides had a working text listing about 60 exclusive powers for the Bangsamoro and 15 to 16 concurrent powers between the national government and the proposed entity.

The government decided to "seek further clarity on the language" to ensure that both sides have "common understanding on how we intend to operationalize the mechanism under the law for the future Bangsamoro government," Ferrer said.

From a mere "listing," the government came up with "sentences" on concurrent items under the power-sharing annex.

"The provisions we are working on aims to ensure inclusivity as to the fact of multiple stakeholders in the area and also the kind of shared concerns of the central government and the Bangsamoro government and the Bangsamoro people," Ferrer said. "It should be reflected in our understanding of each provision."

Iqbal earlier said the MILF does not mind working with just a list of powers under the annex, since additional details could be furnished in the Bangsamoro Basic Law to be crafted by the Transition Commission, which Iqbal also heads.

An example of this "list" can be found in the "Powers" section of the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro or FAB, which lists down the reserved powers of the central government.

The FAB includes the initial list of reserved powers of the central government. What the annex on power-sharing will define are mostly items under concurrent and exclusive powers.

Coming from the experience of the failed Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domains, government peace panel member Yasmin Busran-Lao said the government wants to ensure that any document that will come out of this peace talks will stand the scrutiny of legal experts.

"We don't want people to see loopholes in the document right away," Lao said in a mix of English and Filipino.

All their aspirations

The MILF, on the other hand, wants include all their "aspirations" in the power-sharing annex.

"We know that it might not be possible at this time, Ferrer said. "This is the kind of balancing act we have to do. All aspirations have a maximum, we're not saying a minimum but some kind of a middle ground within the flexibilities of our politics and our Constitution."

Protocol prohibits panel members from disclosing specific details of the talks while negotiations are ongoing.

Other contentious issues over power-sharing include jurisdiction over internal or territorial waters, described by Iqbal as "the most difficult part of power sharing."

The importance of setting the parameters over whether the national government or the Bangsamoro government should have authority over which part of internal waters can be seen in the case of the Malampaya natural gas operations in Palawan.

During the Arroyo administration, the government argued that the Malampaya operation is offshore and part of national territory, not Palawan. The government has used this argument to defend its stand that Malampaya revenues, which should be split 60-40 in favor of the national government under the law, should go to the national government only.

There is more at stake for the Bangsamoro.

Under the historic wealth-sharing deal signed in July, revenues from energy sources, such as gas and oil, should be split 50-50.


PEACE PACT. How the panel envision the peace talks to come together. Graphics by OPAPP
PEACE PACT. How the panel envision the peace talks to come together. Graphics by OPAPP
The talks might be in its final stages but the issues are not getting any easier.
Both sides wanted to finish the annexes on normalization and power-sharing this round, shifting back and forth in discussing the two annexes in the early part of the talks.
But in the last 3 days, both sides decided to just focus on the annex on power-sharing.
One of the most contentious issues in the normalization annex is the issue of phasing the decommissioning of arms.
An MILF panel member said the MILF wants other groups, including the MNLF and the MILF breakaway group Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters, to decommission first before they do.
The government, meanwhile, wants a "gradual and phased" approach as what has been stated in the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro.
Asked whether he is disappointed over the progress of talks, Iqbal said: "No. I've been here for so many years. I've been doing this for 14 years. It's all part of the negotiations."
The Aquino government wants the transition from the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao toward the Bangsamoro government to happen before the President steps down from office in 2016.
In his State of the Nation Address, Aquino asked Congress to pass the Basic Law that would provide the legal basis for the new political entity by 2014.
Both sides are aware of the pressures of coming up with a final peace pact that will stand scrutiny with only less than 3 years left in their roadmap.
"That's what we both have to weigh. Do we want a perfect agreement that will not get you to 2016 or you have to take leaps of faith and keep the trust and really really go full blast in implementation?" Ferrer said. "These are questions that I'm sure are at the back of their minds and are also in our minds."
Iqbal, for his part, said he "hopes" their timeline is still on track. To make up for lost time, he has tasked the Transition Commission to conduct preliminary work on provisions regarding wealth-sharing, which has earlier been signed.

Malik's troops down to 30-40

From Rappler (Sep 20): Day 12: Malik's troops down to 30-40

'TIRED ANG HUNGRY': This batch of 15 MNLF rebels surrendered to combined forces of military and police on September 19. Photo by LeAnne Jazul

'TIRED ANG HUNGRY': This batch of 15 MNLF rebels surrendered to combined forces of military and police on September 19. Photo by LeAnne Jazul

Between 30-40 followers of rebel commander Habier Malik holed out in Sta Barbara and Sta Catalina continued to engage government troops in a gun battle on Friday, September 20, the 12th day of the standoff.

"Press on kami," said Armed Forces public affairs chief Lt Col Ramon Zagala.

"Walang atrasan po it. Tuloy tuloy ang laban na ito hanggang ma-rescue natin lahat ng civilian," he added.

At least 6 more members of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) surrendered late Thursday night, September 19, according to police deputy director general for operations Gen Felipe Rojas Jr.

READ: Aquino: MNLF diminished, other groups be warned

Rojas said this batch comes from Basilan, distinguishing it from the Sulu group of Malik, the top aide of MNLF founder Nur Misuari.

Government believes Malik's remaining forces are holding some 20 to 50 hostages. Neither Malik nor Misuari could be found however.

Fifteen rebels also surrendered on Thursday. Commercial flights also resumed that day.

President Benigno Aquino III is still here to oversee military operations and rehabilitation efforts for the city and its more than 100,000 evacuees.

According to Aquino, the government needs at least P3.89 billion to rebuild Zamboanga.

6 MNLF men killed in latest Zamboanga City clashes

From the Philippine News Agency (Sep 19): 6 MNLF men killed in latest Zamboanga City clashes

Six more Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) fighters were killed during two encounters with government troops in Zamboanga City Thursday.

Lt. Col. Harold Cabunoc, 7th Civil Relations Group commander, said two rebels were found dead after a clash in Sta. Barbara village before noon, but said the number grew to at least six in the afternoon.

He added in his Twitter account that the two Misuari followers "were found dead in Sta. Barbara village after engaging the soldiers in a firefight at 11:30 a.m."

In a tweet around 1:45 p.m. that six Misuari followers "lay dead after a clash with Army soldiers in Sta. Barbara village at 1:45 p.m."

"There is no let-up now," he added, but did not immediately make clear if the six included the two found dead earlier.

In the meantime, Cabunoc said Misuari's followers had torched houses to create a smokescreen while they flee.

He said Misuari's followers also appeared to be "fighting as individuals," as seen by guns and empty magazines in abandoned buildings.

"Misuari's men torched down houses to create smoke screen as the(y) fled in disarray. Soldiers are closing in to arrest them," Cabunoc stressed.

"Burning of houses is a criminal offense and a violation to the laws of armed conflict," he added.

Aquino: MNLF factions may choose war or peace

From the Philippine News Agency (Sep 19): Aquino: MNLF factions may choose war or peace

President Benigno S. Aquino III sent a strong message Thursday saying that it’s up to Mindanao elements to choose between war and peace, and underscored the government’s readiness to respond on whatever their preference may be.

“’Yung patakaran natin, handang makipag-usap nang mapayapa at makipag-dayalogo, ay talagang haharapin natin at ini-encourage natin. Ang mga tao namang maglalagay sa lahat ng mga mamamayan sa panganib ay talaga namang haharapin din ng estado,” the President said in an interview during an assessment in Zamboanga City airport on Thursday.

“Kung mapayapa kang haharap, mapayapa kang haharapin ng gobyerno para magkaroon ng kaayusan—sa English ‘permanent peace’. Pero ‘pag ang gusto mo naman ay pairalin lang ‘yung sa iyo at maghahasik ka ng lagim sa nakakarami, hindi rin papayagan ng gobyerno ‘yon.”

The President, who has been staying in Zamboanag since last week to oversee the ongoing military operations and relief efforts, said his administration has not abandoned the peace discussions even to groups sowing terror in Zamboanga City.

He said his administration remains committed to the tripartite dialogue on the implementation of the 1996 peace agreement with the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) adding he encourages all the factions of the MNLF to participate.

But for those who will choose violence as a way to advance their interests, the President said his administration will always be willing to use the full force of the state to subdue any threat to regional peace.

The government and the MNLF was supposed to meet in Indonesia this week, but MNLF leader Nur Misuari pulled out of the talks, the President said, bolstering suspicions that Misuari really has a hand in the ongoing Zamboanga standoff.Indonesia facilitates the tripartite talks between the Philippine government and the MNLF.

Only one group of MNLF has spearheaded violent confrontations in Zamboanga, he said adding other factions of the MNLF have denounced the actions of MNLF-Misuari faction.

The President also assured the people of Zamboanga that the government will remain committed to extending assistance to the conflict-victims as well as to rebuilding the city once the standoff is over.

15 MNLF fighters surrender in Zamboanga City

From the Philippine News Agency (Sep 20): 15 MNLF fighters surrender in Zamboanga City

Fifteen Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) fighters surrendered to authorities in Zamboanga City Thursday morning.

Lt. Col. Harold Cabunoc 7th Civil Relations Group commander, said the 15 surrendered to the Army's 44th Infantry Battalion and the Philippine National Police's elite Special Action Force.

"Another 15 of Misuari's men have surrendered to the 44IB and PNP SAF today. They brought four firearms. The end is near. Let's pray!" he said on his Twitter account.

The surrender came more than a week after MNLF members took several civilians hostage and engaged government forces in a standoff.

But the government on Wednesday claimed its forces have retaken most of the MNLF-controlled areas in the city.

6 more MNLF fighters surrender

From the Philippine News Agency (Sep 20): 6 more MNLF fighters surrender

Six more Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) fighters surrendered to Philippine Army units Thursday afternoon.

7th Civil Relations Group commander Lt. Col. Harold Cabunoc said the surrender occurred at 4 p.m.

He added that the MNLF fighters were "very hungry and without ammunition."

"Six followers of Misuari surrendered to the Army at around 4 p.m. yesterday. They were very hungry and without ammunition. Kudos!" Cabunoc said on his Twitter account.

He added Misuari's men are now "fighting as individuals."

"Some of Misuari's men appear leaderless. Six of them opted to surrender yesterday afternoon," he said.

"We gladly welcome those who surrender. But, they must be ready to face the criminal cases that would be filed against them," Cabunoc pointed out.

He added the military will respect "hors d combat," or those who cannot fight anymore, as provided by International Humanitarian Law.

But he also maintained the soldiers are committed to protect hostages from harm as well.

Earlier, Cabunoc said many of MNLF fighters' had abandoned their firearms and are trying to pass themselves off as civilians to elude arrest.

But he also warned residents that Misuari's followers, while now without heavy weapons, should still be considered very dangerous.

Meanwhile, Cabunoc said the two injured in Friday's fighting were soldiers.

This took place around 7 a.m. during government clearing operations in Barangays Sta. Catalina and Sta. Barbara.

Also, a fire was reported in Barangay Rio Hondo, a coastal area in the city.

USAID to implement 3 projects in Cotabato City

From the Philippine News Agency (Sep  19): USAID to implement 3 projects in Cotabato City

In an effort to improve and promote good governance and community involvement, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) is partnering with the local government of Cotabato City for the implementation of three major projects, the city mayor said.

City Mayor Japal Guiani said the project is called "The ENGAGE" or the Enhancing Governance, Accountability and Engagement Project, the MYDev or the Mindanao Youth Development Project, and the Mindanao Health or the Integrated Maternal, Neonatal, Child Health and Nutrition/Family Planning Regional Project in Mindanao.

The ENGAGE is a five-year project that aims to promote good local governance and community involvement, while also providing multi-sectoral developmental support.

This project will help improve capacities and practices of the LGUs and strengthen mechanisms to promote peace and security, Guiani said.

In a meeting with City Mayor Japal J. Guiani Jr., representatives from the USAID said that it will still be the LGU that will determine the City’s priority projects and the agency will only be there to provide support for the implementation and the sustenance of these projects.

"This 5-year program is focused on helping the local government in addressing the problems of the city," said Chief of Party Harry Roovers.

"At the same time, we may also seek the cooperation of the civil societies,” he added.

It will be followed by the implementation of "MYDev" or the Mindanao Youth Development Project. This program will be operated by the Education Development Center, in cooperation with the Philippine Technical Education and Skills Development Agency (TESDA), the Department of Education (DepEd), the Mindanao Development Authority (MinDa), and the local government.

The MYDev aims to increase the employability of some 12,000 Out of School Youth. The activity will also assist the Philippine Government in protecting vulnerable OSY against stereotyping, extremism, and other types of radicalization.

“Any program that will uplift the welfare of the people, we will be very supportive. The program (MYDev) will be of very big help because the young ones can teach the old ones of the right things to do,” Guiani said.

Moreover, the MindanaoHealth Project, also a 5-year program of the USAID, aims to improve the health of Filipino families in targeted provinces by dramatically increasing the quality and uptake of integrated maternal, neonatal, child health and nutrition and family planning services at household level, in communities, and at both public and private facilities.

The Agency will be working with the Department of Health, Center for Health Development (CHDs), local government units, and other related government agencies.

These 3 programs will be implemented in 10 cities/municipalities in Central Mindanao, including Cotabato City.

U.S. survey ship finds suspected OV-10 Bronco wreckage in Puerto Princesa

From the Philippine News Agency (Sep 19): U.S. survey ship finds suspected OV-10 Bronco wreckage in Puerto Princesa

The USNS Henson oceanography survey ship has found “suspected images” that resemble those of the OV-10 Bronco 630 that crashed off the shores of this city, but confirmations are still needed to ascertain the findings.

570th Composite Tactical Wing (CTW) commander and Task Force Bronco (TFB) head Brig. Gen. Conrado Parra told the Philippine News Agency (PNA) Thursday that a report submitted to them by the sonar survey crew of the USNS Henson showed suspected images of a fuselage and other aircraft fragments within the vicinity of the 12 nautical miles east of Puerto Princesa area they gave before it left on September 12 to its port of origin.

“Yes, they found suspected images of an aircraft but we need to confirm these since they might just be like those we found earlier in our search operations that turned negative,” Parra said.

To make the confirmation, he said they need to use a remotely-operated vehicle (ROV) again that can be tethered underwater to document closer images of what were found by the USNS Henson.

Letters have been sent by the TFB to the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) and the joint venture partners operating the Malampaya Natural Gas Project (MNGP) that have the equipment.

He stated the TFB is currently waiting for their replies to make the verification. “We’ve written to the DOST but it has not replied since there was a change in its administration. The operators of Malampaya also have not replied,” Parra said, adding they are waiting to hear until Friday.

The USNS Henson (T-AGS-63) pathfinder class oceanographic survey ship arrived in Puerto Princesa on September 6 to help look for the fuselage and the missing pilots of the OV-10 Broncho 630 that crashed in June this year off the airport runway.

Its arrival was in response to their request to the U.S. government to help locate the fuselage and missing pilots Capt. Jonathan Ybanez and 1st Lt. Abner Trust Nacion.

Until now, he said, the families of the two missing pilots remain hopeful that they will be found.

Marine Battalion in southern Palawan to change command

From the Philippine News Agency (Sep 19): Marine Battalion in southern Palawan to change command

Lt. Col. Efren Rellores, commanding officer of the Marine Battalion Landing Team 12 (MBLT 12) based in southern Palawan will be replaced by Lt. Col. Rodel Martires in a ceremonial change of command on Saturday, at the MBLT-12 headquarters in Barangay Abu-abo, Sofronio Espanola town.

Prior to the ceremonial change of command, Rellores was awarded the Military Merit Medal by the commander of the Western Command, Lt. Gen. Rustico O. Guerrero, for his contribution and valuable service as commanding officer of MBLT 12, which extensively contributed to the successful accomplishment of the mission of the Marine Corps in southern Palawan.

Known to be soft-spoken and accommodating, Rellores led MBLT 12 in numerous achievements in the surrounding communities.

These included support to the local government’s Zero Waste Program, distributing garbage cans in several barangays in southern Palawan; successful implementation of the Western Command’s (Wescom) operations; law enforcement in coordination with the City PNP and the Military Intelligence Group and the recovery of assorted illegally-acquired equipment and materials.

As part of the Marines’ participation in social responsibility, his Battalion leadership also actively participated in community development programs that helped improve the health and welfare of many residents of the province in distantly-located areas.

In an interview, Rellores expressed his gratitude to the people and local government officials of Palawan, particularly Puerto Princesa, and the municipalities of Sofronio Espanola, Brooke’s Point, Quezon, Bataraza, and Balabac, for their untiring support in making the Marines a partner in social and economic developments.

Rellores is proud that during his stint in Palawan, he has bonded well in friendship and camaraderie with other units of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, the PNP, non-government organizations and all stakeholders for security and development.

“My assignment here in Palawan has strengthened my conviction and has taught me a lot of things as part of the AFP. I have to move for the Filipino people by making decisions that would always take in their interests as we are in a country of diversity. The AFP has exposed me to a lot of challenges, which put me in the task to ensure that diversity is positive and not divisive,” Rellores said.

He will be assigned to the headquarters of the Philippine Marine Corps for schooling.

Authorities arrest suspected MNLF spy in Zamboanga City

From the Philippine News Agency (Sep 19): Authorities arrest suspected MNLF spy in Zamboanga City

Government authorities have arrested Thursday a suspected spy of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) rebels while registering as an evacuee in one of the barangays in this city.

The Police Station 7 identified the suspect as Jermaida Wahid, 27, based on the identification card (ID) confiscated from her possession.

The police said the suspect was arrested after she presented an MNLF ID while registering as an evacuee at the barangay hall in San Roque, six kilometers west of this city.

Social Welfare Secretary Corazon Soliman on Wednesday called on those who sought refuge with their relatives to register in order for them to be given food packs and other relief goods.

Wahid, who claimed to be a resident of Barangay Sta. Catalina, said she is staying with her auntie in Barangay San Roque where she sought refuge when the standoff started last September 9.

She claimed the ID was given to her by a certain Kuya Benjie, who she cannot even identify, sometime in August and is not aware the document will put her in trouble.

The police have also confiscated from the suspect a mobile phone with incoming and outgoing text messages to suspected MNLF personalities.

The suspect has been placed under further investigation to determine the extent of her participation in the ongoing standoff that entered the 11th day Thursday.

Military places Marines detachments all over Palawan on heightened alert

From the Philippine News Agency (Sep 19): Military places Marines detachments all over Palawan on heightened alert

The military here has placed all detachments of the Philippine Marines Corps (PMC) in Palawan on heightened alert following Wednesday night’s ambush of two 6x6 trucks that wounded troops along the national highway in Barangay Langogan.

According to Lt. Rowena Bunol-Dalmacio, spokesperson of the 3rd Marine Brigade (Mbde), all their detachments were placed on heightened alert following hot pursuit operations in the vicinity of Barangay Langogan and nearby areas against 12 suspected armed men who staged the ambush Wednesday night.

“Sa ngayon po ay nasa heightened alert ang ating mga Marines, ang lahat ng mga detachments ongoing pa rin iyong ating pursuit operations para mahuli itong mga perpetrators na ito (Right now, all our Marines and all our detachment are on heightened alert while our pursuit operations continue to catch these perpetrators),” she said.

Dalmacio added 3rd MBde commander Brig. Gen. Andrei Costales is himself in Langogan to oversee “the situation” under orders from Western Command (Wescom) Lt. Gen. Rustico Guerrero.

Meanwhile, Maj. Oliver Banaria of the 6th Civil Relations Group (CRG) and OIC spokesperson of the Wescom, said the suspects are members of the New People’s Army (NPA), who probably want to avenge the confiscation of their large high powered firearms hoard in San Vicente in July this year.

“The style of conducting ambush one after the other is by the NPA because of the confiscation of their arms cache last July. We know that the NPA will not let that pass without retaliating,” said Banaria.

Hurt in the ambush were Pfc. Dominic Principe and Pfc. Angelo Acosta. They are now recuperating at the military hospital at Camp Artemio Ricarte in Barangay San Manuel. The two military trucks, on the other hand, have been removed from the scene of the ambush.

4 hurt in fresh Zamboanga clashes

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Sep 20): 4 hurt in fresh Zamboanga clashes

Government troopers maneuver their Armored Personnel Carrier to reinforce their comrades after an army officer was killed in the ongoing operation against Muslim rebels on Thursday, Sept. 19, 2013, the 11th day of the standoff in Zamboanga city in southern Philippines. AP

At least four soldiers and civilians were wounded in fresh clashes early Friday as gunbattle between government troops and Moro National Liberation Front fighters reached its 12th day.

Army’s First Infantry Division spokesman Captain Jefferson Somera said two soldiers were injured from a firefight in Sta. Barbara while a radio report said two civilians were hit by stray bullets along Lustre St. in Sta. Catalina village.

Civilians were the hardest-hit of the 12-day fighting, with nearly 120,000 of them affected –

some 113,000 of them were housed in shelters. At least 60 were injured and seven were killed.

A percentage of the affected civilians will have no homes to return to as at least 10 fire incidents in the past 12 days burned hundreds of homes.

Meanwhile, acting public affairs office chief Lt. Col. Harold Cabunoc said that three rebels were killed in an encounter Thursday night in Sta. Barbara.

‘Endgame’ Fire burns for ageing Misuari

From the Manila Standard Today (Sep 20): ‘Endgame’ Fire burns for ageing Misuari

Nur Misuari, a charismatic Muslim leader who set the Philippines’ south ablaze with rebellion decades ago, is back doing what he does best after a less-than-successful fling with peace.
At the age of 71, the former academic is orchestrating a stand-off in the southern port city of Zamboanga that has claimed more than 100 lives and put him back in the national spotlight.

“We don’t want to be part of the Philippines anymore,” Misuari told supporters in his Jolo island stronghold on August 12 as he declared himself the president of the “Bangsamoro Republik” and railed against national government authorities.

“Their presence in our homeland is illegal, unlawful, illicit. They should pack up and leave.”

A firebrand orator from an influential clan of the Tausug, a warrior-like seafaring tribe, Misuari rallied thousands of fellow Muslims in the early 1970s to take up arms for a separate state in the southern Philippines.

He was continuing a tradition for Muslims in the south of the mostly Catholic Philippines who had for centuries resisted outside Christian rule — whether that be Spanish, American or Filipino.

Misuari was a young political science professor at Manila’s prestigious University of the Philippines when he established the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) to launch a war for independence.

The conflict, which eventually took on other forms with the emergence of other rebel groups, has gone on to claim about 150,000 lives.

Misuari went into Middle East exile after a 1976 truce, then returned a decade later following the fall of dictator Ferdinand Marcos to begin negotiations with democratic governments in Manila.

He eventually agreed to a peace pact in 1996, with the MNLF laying down its arms in return for self-rule in parts of the southern Philippines and Misuari as the autonomous region’s governor.

But life for Misuari as a bureaucrat and politician would prove to be far less successful than as a revolutionary leader.

As head of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), he was finally in a position to help alleviate devastating poverty, corruption and violence in the south, and work to end the oppression that the millions of Muslims there feel.

Instead, he established a reputation among the political elite, the national media and some Muslims as an aloof administrator who was more concerned about his own interests.

They argue he wasted the hundreds of millions of dollars in development funds he controlled.

“Some say he blew his chance, that he did not perform well, that he did not deliver, that he failed his people,” Jesus Dureza, who advised two past Philippine presidents on Muslim issues, told AFP.

The governor was notorious for spending most of his time away, including weeks at a time with a large retinue at plush Manila hotels or on Middle East tours, said Ramon Casiple, executive director of the Manila-based Institute for Political and Electoral Reform.

Nevertheless, Misuari undoubtedly retains some support and influence.

Zambo fighting continues

From the Manila Bulletin (Sep 20): Zambo fighting continues

MNLF Sniper Kills Military Official; Villages Set On Fire

A military official was killed by a Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) sniper while Barangays Rio Hondo and Sta. Barbara were set on fire as government forces launched yesterday mopping  -up operations in areas retaken from the Muslim guerrillas.

On the 11th day of the Zamboanga crisis, clashes, burning of houses, mortar shelling, and sporadic fighting in Barangays Sta. Catalina, Lustre, and Sta. Barbara between government troops and the MNLF continued.

Fire also razed large portions of Barangay Sta. Catalina and Kasanyangan that prompted government troops to go slow in the conduct of their sweeping operations.

The death of the army first lieutenant brought to 12 the total number of security forces killed since the armed conflict erupted on September 9. A total of 108 soldiers were also wounded.

The latest fatality count on MNLF-Misuari faction is 86, with 108 others either captured or surrendered.

Three cops were also in the list of the fatality along with seven civilians. A total of 12 cops were also wounded, along with 67 civilians.

60 Hardcore MNLF Men Still In Zambo

The fighting erupted as security forces enter what officials described as the critical stage of the conflict – the close-quarter battle to retake the remaining three to six hectares land area where some 60 hardcore MNLF men are standing their ground.

But Deputy Director General Felipe Rojas, deputy chief for Operations of the Philippine National Police (PNP), said the number of estimated remaining rebels further declined with the surrender of 15 more rebels yesterday morning. The surrender brought to 108 the number of MNLF fighters that have surrendered or captured by the military and police.

With the current situation, local residents are still being barred from entering their homes previously occupied by rebels loyal MNLF founding chairman Nur Misuari, explaining that it is still not safe for them to return.

“The initial agreement is that no one will be allowed to return until the armed confrontation is over. There are still pockets of resistance and armed confrontation happening so it is still dangerous for them to return,” Rojas, who has been in Zamboanga City since Day 1, told the Manila Bulletin in a phone interview.

“Our constriction operations have been very effective. This has been forcing them to surrender, they really have no choice but to surrender if they still want to live,” said Rojas.

Brig. Gen. Domingo Tutaan, military spokesman, said the constriction operations will continue in the remaining 30 percent of the areas being occupied by MNLF men that include Habier Malik, Misuari’s most trusted aide.

“We believe that he is still here (Zamboanga City),” said Tutaan, noting that there is no indication that he was able to escape.

As for Misuari, Tutaan said they believe that he is still in Sulu.

He said the remaining rebel forces are now trapped in a coastal area in Zamboanga City and are now the subject of the clearing operations.

20 Hostages Still Held

“They have already splintered into small groups,” said Tutaan, adding that the Moro rebels are still holding some 20 hostages.

The Philippine Navy has been conducting naval blockade in the waters off Zamboanga City to ensure that no MNLF fighter would neither escape nor reinforce their comrades trapped in the coastline of the City.

Eleven motor bancas with more than 200 people on board were intercepted at 7 p.m. Wednesday by military personnel conducting naval blockade off the waters near the coastline of Barangay Mampang. But Navy Lt. Junior Grade Leslie Campos said they turned out to be residents of Barangay Tictabon, situated at Tictauan Island, who fled from Arena Blanco as a result of the firefight of government forces against the MNLF Misuari faction.

Rojas said part of the clearing operations in the 70 percent of the areas retaken from the MNLF by security forces is the sending of police and military forces in every abandoned alley and houses.

The official said the house-to-house search is also aimed at checking if there are remaining MNLF fighters hiding in abandoned houses.

Also part of the search is the burial sites of slain rebels, what with the stories of some of the hostages that they were ordered to bury the slain MNLF fighters.

The government is embarking in an all-out legal offensive against all those responsible in the attack that so far left at least 107 people dead and displacement of more than 100,000 civilians.

“There have already been discussions of the specific charges that will be filed, and what is certain at this point is that cases of rebellion and violation of Republic Act 9851 are among the cases that will be filed,” said Rojas in a phone interview.

Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) Secretary Mar Roxas said specific charges like murder, arson and illegal possession of firearms will be inclusive in the case of rebellion.

Earlier, authorities said Misuari-identified Moro rebels set on fire residential areas in at least five barangays they previously occupied.

93 MNLF Fighters In Custody

So far, at least 93 MNLF fighters identified with Misuari are in government custody after they were either captured or surrendered to the police and the military.

“All of them will undergo the same process of inquest proceedings,” said Roxas.
The latest to be arrested was Jarmaida A Wahid, 27, of Jolo, Sulu, and temporarily staying at Sta. Catalina since June this year.

Wahid was arrested by the authorities in Barangay San Roque after authorities received reports that she is an MNLF member. She yielded an MNLF identification card issued by the Sulu Sultanate and a cell phone.

Rojas said all of those who have something to do with the Zamboaga City attack will be included in the charge sheet, including Misuari and Malik.

But the DILG chief said part of the inquest process is the identification of the hierarchy of the attacking Moro rebels.

“The statements are being obtained from the civilian hostages who were either freed or were able to escape, the invaders themselves who were either captured or surrendered and other persons,” said Roxas.

70 MNLF Men Subjected To Inquest Proceedings

So far, Rojas said a total of 70 arrested MNLF fighters identified with Misuari have already been subjected to inquest proceedings.

“As soon as the courts here open, they will be formally charged,” said the police official.

The Office of Civil Defense revealed that nearly 100,000 people have been displaced by the fighting, most of them are staying in various evacuation centers while some are living with relatives.

Aquino to MNLF holdouts: value your lives

From the Manila Bulletin (Sep 19): Aquino to MNLF holdouts: value your lives

Aquino is still in Zamboanga but has been out of the public eye until Thursday, September 19, when he gave a press briefing at the Zamboanga International Airport which he inspected after the facility has resumed operations.

In what sounds like an ultimatum, the President addressed the last holdouts from the rogue Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) in Zamboanga telling them to stop their acts of violence.

“Di pa huli ang lahat. Dun sa mga natitira na pwersa ng kalaban, para sa akin mahalaga ang buhay, baka gusto niyo tingnan kung mahalaga rin yung buhay niyo,” [It’s not yet too late. For the remaining enemy forces, for me life is valuable. Maybe you also want to see if your lives are valuable, too]”.

Aquino also announced that the government assistance for the affected community is in place. A total of P6.1 billion has been prepared for the rehabilitation of the city, which was greatly affected since the Moro rebels led by MNLF chairman Nur Misuari occupied some areas in Zamboanga.

Aquino, who kept his location secret during the height of the Zamboanga standoff, said he will stay in the area until the situation is over, assuring the public that the government will address the needs of the community and will conduct the necessary actions to end the conflict.

The president, who is also the commander-in-chief of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, is confident that the Zamboanga siege will end soon as the government forces continue to reclaim the area previously held by rebels, with more hostages being rescued and rebels surrendering to the authority.

Soldiers, human rights workers recover body of slain Negros rebel

From InterAksyon (Sep 20): Soldiers, human rights workers recover body of slain Negros rebel

The body of a New People’s Army squad leader was retrieved by soldiers and members of the human rights group Karapatan almost a week after he was slain in battle in Toboso town, Negros Occidental.

First Lieutenant Jimrhic Obias, civil military operations chief of the 303rd Infantry Brigade, residents of Purok Dhalia, Sitio Vergara in Barangay Bug-ang found the decomposing body of Herjun Llorente, 32, and immediately reported this to the 62nd Infantry Battalion.

Llorente “was killed during the clash between government troopers and about 17 members of the NPA last September 14,” Obias said.

The military said Llorente, alias “Buboy”, was “the squad Leader of Squad 3 and vice commander of the Sentro de Grabidad Platoon of (the) Northern Negros Front operating in the Escalante- Toboso- Calatrava area.”

Battalion commander Lieutenant Colonel Efren Morados said the troops and human rights workers who retrieved Llorentes’ body Thursday were accompanied by relatives of the slain rebel, among them his brother Ely, who identified the remains.

The Llorentes are residents of Hacienda Allig, Barangay Binitin, Murcia,” Morados said.

Morados said the slain rebel’s brother, Hernando, alias “Adoy”, was the former commander of the NPA’s Northern Negros Front. He was captured last year at a joint military and police checkpoint in San Carlos City but was released after posting bail.

“He is currently at large and was reported to have rejoined the group,” Morados said.

West PH Sea code of conduct to be fixture of ASEAN-China meetings - DFA

From InterAksyon (Sep 19): West PH Sea code of conduct to be fixture of ASEAN-China meetings - DFA

Discussions on a code of conduct in the South China Sea, which Manila calls the West Philippine Sea, will remain a key item on the agenda in meetings between senior officials of Association of South East Asian Nations member-states and China, Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert Del Rosario said on Thursday.

Interviewed after defending the budget of the Department of Foreign Affairs before the Senate, Del Rosario said the code of conduct ASEAN proposes for the troubled body of water, where tensions between China and the Philippines have heightened over disputed territory, will continue to be discussed and submitted to the ministerial level.

However, he admitted uncertainty over whether a code can be agreed on anytime soon.

“I don't know,” Del Rosario said. “But I think its good news that it is now officially on the agenda.”

“And it's imperative that we come up with an instrument that's legally binding, that manages the tensions for us in the South China Sea,” he added, as he urged China to accept the necessity of a code of conduct.

“I think that China must now realize that there is a necessity for moving forward with the COC because the solidarity and the consensus is very strong at the ASEAN level that this should be done,” he said.

He also said the government is more focused on China’s concurrence with a code of conduct rather than on filing a diplomatic protest over Beijing’s incursion in the Bajo de Masinloc, or Scarborough Shoal.

“I think we have stated our position that we are giving primary focus to the COC, how to move that and how to come to an expeditious conclusion on it,” Del Rosario said.

DAY 12 | 2 civilians caught in crossfire as fighting resumes in Zambo

From InterAksyon (Sep 19): DAY 12 | 2 civilians caught in crossfire as fighting resumes in Zambo

Two civilians were wounded by stray bullets as fighting continued Friday, the 12th day of the deadly standoff between security forces and fighters of the Moro National Liberation Front in Zamboanga City, the military said.

The fighting resumed despite President Benigno Aquino III's warning the day before for the remaining rebels to surrender "if they still value their lives."

Aquino has been in Zamboanga City since Friday.

Military public affairs chief Lieutenant Colonel Ramon Zagala said the fighting broke out around 6:35 a.m. on Lustre Street, where MNLF fighters continue to hold their ground as government troops began to clear areas held by the rebels when the crisis began September 9.

The wounded civilians were rushed to the Brent Hospital.

Authorities have yet to confirm reports the victims were among the remaining hostages still held by the MNLF.

Reports said four more hostages were rescued in the course of the firefight.

At the height of the standoff, authorities said the estimated 200 MNLF fighters held just as many hostages, using them as “human shields” to ward off government assaults.

Many residents had also been trapped in their homes, unable to flee for fear of being caught in the crossfire.

On Thursday, Human Rights Watch slammed both the government and the rebels for what it called violations of international law.

The rights watchdog took the rebels to task for taking hostages but also indicated that a number of civilian casualties appeared to have been caused by government troops who continued shooting even when the hostages were in their line of fire.

Since government forces began taking back rebel-held areas, authorities say the number of hostages has gone down to around 20 while only about 40 rebel holdouts remain, including their commander, Habier Malik, a trusted lieutenant of MNLF founder Nur Misuari.

The fighting has so far cost around a hundred lives and displaced more than 100,000 civilians.

CPP: Rise in mass protest against Obama October visit

Posted to the CPP Website (Sep 19): Rise in mass protest against Obama October visit
The Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) calls on the Filipino people and their patriotic and democratic forces to stand firmly and rise up in mass protest against the visit of US imperialist chieftain Barrack Obama on October 11-12 and the planned signing of the framework agreement to allow the US military to more thoroughly use the Philippines as a military base.

The CPP calls on the Filipino people to raise their voices in protest over the all-out subservience of the Aquino regime to the US government in providing the US military unrestricted access to Philippine facilities. The CPP urges the Filipino people to protest the rapid degradation of Philippine sovereignty under the Aquino regime. The Aquino regime has exhibited utter obsequiousness to the foreign policy dictates of the US government in support of the US’ strategic aim of “pivoting” towards Asia.

Since declaring this shift towards the end of 2011, the US has been forging more and more arrangements with the Aquino regime as well as with the governments of Japan, Vietnam, Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia, Australia, India and others to allow US warships to routinely dock in their countries and have access to air and seaport facilities.

Over the past several years, the US government has succeeded in forging critical military access and basing agreements with Australia and Singapore, and is in the process of building similar agreements with other countries including the Philippines.

In northern Australia, the US maintains a large military base that is set to host 3,000 American troops over the next few years from the current 600. Since 2005, the US has actively maintained facilities in Singapore for coordinating logistics and the deployment of warships in East Asia, Central Asia and as far as Africa.

The US has been continually upgrading its military cooperation with Japan, further strengthening its military bases in Okinawa and elsewhere. It has allowed and goaded Japan to build up its military hardware and infrastructure in order to provide logistical and military support to the US. Under US guidance, Japan has recently unveiled its first-ever aircraft carrier built after the second world war, believed to have been designed to help service US jet fighters.

It is within the framework of the US “pivot to Asia” that the Aquino regime has been closely working with the US government and military, allowing US warships unprecedented access to Philippine facilities. The Aquino regime has provided the US military unhampered use of Philippine airspace and territorial waters to fly drones and sail warships for power projection, surveillance, patrol and combat operations. It has allowed the US to build radar stations along the Philippine coastline. It continues to allow the US Pacific Command to maintain a base with 700 American troops in facilities within Zamboanga City and elsewhere.

Acting on the US’ instructions, the Aquino regime has fomented conflict with China over the Spratly islands and other formations in the South China Sea. It has allowed the US to militarize the conflict by deploying its warships in the area, provoking China to make more aggressive assertions of its own claims. By heightening US military presence in the South China Sea trading route, the US seeks to pressure China into complying with US demands to allow more liberal policies with regard to US investments and dumping of US surplus goods.

The scheduled visit of US President Barrack Obama is set to firm up and cement the new set of guidelines between the US government and military and its client Philippine state. Officials of the US and Aquino governments are rushing to come up with the final copy of the new agreement that will practically restore the US bases in the Philippines.

Exclusive US access to Philippine facilities was already agreed upon by the US and Philippine governments as far back as January 2012 during the Strategic Defense Dialogue in Washington. The US and Aquino governments are busy forging the written agreement in order to have this operational for the next twenty or thirty years.

The written agreement is being carefully crafted to make it look not like a military bases treaty. The US is stretching its definitions to make it appear that it does not want military bases. The US will try to make it appear that the facilities to be built and used by the US military will be under the ownership of the Philippine government.

The Obama visit will mark a new stage in US neocolonial rule in the Philippines. The praises to be heaped by the US overlord on the Philippines as “friend” and “partner” will, however, fail to conceal the historic and continuing fact that the Philippines has been a victim of American colonial conquest since the turn of the twentieth century and a continuing victim of US hegemonism for over more than half a century.

Let the Obama visit in October underscore the fact that the Philippines is a semicolony of the US economically, politically, culturally and militarily. With the visit of his master, let us expose and stand firmly against Benigno Aquino III’s subservience to the US. Let us fan the flames of Filipino patriotism and unite the broadest possible number of people to oppose the grant of greater access to the US military and the entry of an increasing number of US troops.

Soldiers, rebels clash anew in Negros

From the Business World (Sep 19): Soldiers, rebels clash anew in Negros

Government troops clashed with suspected communist rebels Tuesday in the town of Sta. Catalina in Negros Oriental.

No one was reported hurt during the encounter that lasted about 30 minutes.

Brig. Gen. Aurelio B. Baladad, 3rd Infantry Division commander, said in a statement that troops of the 79th Infantry (Masaligan) Battalion (IB) led by Lt. Mark G. Calamba were conducting security patrol when they encountered about 15 suspected members of the New People’s Army (NPA) at around 1 p.m. on Tuesday.

The soldiers recovered a pair of binoculars and personal belongings. “We will ensure that these lawless armed elements will be unable to threaten the peace-loving civilians in the locality,” Mr. Baladad said.

In May this year, troops of the 79th IB also figured in a series of encounters in different villages in Sta. Catalina. Several self-confessed rebels surrendered after the clashes.

Last week, Scout Rangers of the Philippine Army arrested three suspected NPA members during an encounter in Guihulngan City.

Brig. Gen. Francisco Patrimonio, 302nd Infantry Brigade commander, identified the captured suspects as Jessie Abing, 25, of Barangay Nasunggan, La Libertad; Thomas Esugan, 19, of Barangay Buenavista in Guihulngan; and a 17-year-old from Barangay Camandag in La Castellana.,-rebels-clash-anew-in-Negros&id=76771

Philippine rebels storm bandit camp

From the Mindanao Examiner blog site (Sep 19): Philippine rebels storm bandit camp

Communist rebels stormed a bandit camp and killed one gunman and wounded five others in deadly campaign against lawless groups victimizing innocent civilians in the southern Philippines.

Ariel Magbanwag, a spokesman for the New People’s Army - South Central Bukidnon Sub-Regional Command, said several rebels were also wounded in the raid that targeted the dreaded New Indigenous People’s Army for Reform in the town of San Fernando.

“The attack was launched in response to the overdue demands for justice of this group’s victims,” he said in a statement sent to the regional newspaper Mindanao Examiner.

He said the fighting in the village of Dao lasted over 2 hours and that the rebel forces stopped firing after the bandits seized civilians and used them as shield.

“One was killed while five other bandit members were wounded inside their fortified camp in a chain of sporadic firefight which lasted for more than two hours. Surprised by the sudden assault of the revolutionary army, some armed bandits ran and hid among civilians; they returned fire using the gold panners in the area as human shield,” Magbanwag said.

He also accused the bandit group as behind the spate of murders and robberies in the province. He said troops are allegedly protecting the bandits, who control gold mining activities in the town.

“We assure the victims (of the bandit group) and their families that the future is bursting with many more opportunities. They can hope for justice to be served in due time,” he said.

Rebel forces have previously attacked or punished bandit and paramilitary groups blamed for many civilian atrocities in the southern Philippines.

The NPA is the armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines which is fighting for a separate state in the country.

Philippine Congress to investigate termination of tripartite review of 1996 peace pact with MNLF rebels

From the Mindanao Examiner blog site (Sep 19): Philippine Congress to investigate termination of tripartite review of 1996 peace pact with MNLF rebels

Two Filipino lawmakers have filed a resolution that would investigate the Philippines’ decision to terminate the tripartite review of the 1996 government peace agreement with the Moro National Liberation Front.

Lawmakers Carlos Zarate and Neri Colmenares filed House Resolution 302 directing the Committee on Peace, Reconciliation and Unity to conduct the investigation in aid of legislation.

In the resolution, the two lawmakers said MNLF spokesman Emmanuel Fontanilla confirmed that rebel forces under Nur Misuari, the Front’s chieftain, launched the attacks in Zamboanga City in response to the government’s termination of the tripartite review of the peace deal and to defend their leader from possible arrest following his declaration of Mindanao independence and militarization in areas controlled by rebels in southern Philippines.

The resolution further said that President Benigno Aquino has applied “divide and rule” tactic in dealing with separatist rebels and the ongoing peace talks with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front and the agreement on the Bangsamoro government entity and the disregard to the MNLF peace accord.

In August, a group of senior MNLF leaders have passed a resolution asking the Aquino government to recall its note verbales with the Organization of Islamic Cooperation for the closure of the tripartite review of the peace accord.

The former rebel leaders said they would only support the peace process as long as the Aquino government agreed on their condition to recall two diplomatic communications sent by Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario on January 30 and March 21 this year.

While the senior MNLF leaders put a condition for their unwavering support to the tripartite review of the peace deal, they also affirm their “sustained support” to the accord to achieve the full implementation of the accord.

The resolution, passed during the MNLF Senior Leaders’ Forum held in Zamboanga City, said: “The MNLF Senior Leaders Forum is ready to recommend among the leaders to join or constitute the membership of the MNLF peace panel for the resumption of the tripartite meeting as soon as possible in order to conclude the process to the satisfaction of the concerned parties.”

“And that we welcome the proposal to achieve a more comprehensive and inclusive political solution to the Bangsamoro problem through convergence of the two peace processes involving the MNLF and the MILF.”

It was signed by signed by Abebakrin Lukman and Abuamri Tadik, both acting secretaries of the MNLF Senior Leaders’ Forum and attested by Yusop Jikiri, its presiding chairman.

The two diplomatic communications also sparked a widespread condemnation from Misuari, who threatened to secede after accusing Manila of failing to honor provisions of the peace deal.

Police in the Muslim autonomous region has said that it is gathering evidence to charge Misuari of sedition because his fiery statements in public meetings and pronouncement against the Aquino government. Police accused the former Libyan firebrand of fomenting sedition in the restive region of Mindanao.

Misuari’s whereabouts is unknown, but intelligence reports said he is in Sulu province where he met with his commanders and hundreds of followers in the town of Indanan prior the attacks in Zamboanga City on September 9. There, he almost declared independence, but changed his mind, saying he still needs to consult with his senior leaders before making the announcement in the right time.

“We are going to find the right time to for the formal declaration (of independence. I still need to communicate with the OIC so we still have to discuss this with among us leaders,” he said in the local Tausug dialect.

The OIC helped broker the peace talks between the MNLF and the Philippines that led to the eventual signing of the agreement. Misuari said it has been three decades now since the OIC mediated in the peace talks, but Manila has failed to comply with the provisions in the accord.

Misuari has repeatedly accused the Aquino government of trying to abrogate the peace accord.

He also denounced the peace talks between the Aquino government and rival rebel group MILF after peace negotiators signed an accord last year that would create a new Bangsamoro state. Misuari said the new deal violates the 1996 peace accord.

The Muslim homeland would replace the existing Muslim autonomous region which is composed of Basilan, Sulu, Tawi-Tawi, Maguindanao and Lanao provinces, including the cities of Marawi and Lamitan. And several more areas in the provinces of Lanao del Norte and North Cotabato would also be included in the new autonomous region.

After the 1996 peace accord with the MNLF, Misuari became the governor of autonomous region. But many former rebels were disgruntled with the accord, saying, the government failed to uplift their standards of living.

The rebels accused Manila of failing to develop the war-torn areas in the South, which remains in mired in poverty, heavily militarized and dependent financially on the government.

In November 2001, on the eve of the elections in the Muslim autonomous region, Misuari again accused the government of reneging on the peace agreement, and his followers launched a new rebellion in Sulu and Zamboanga City, where more than 100 people were killed.

Misuari escaped by boat to Malaysia, but was arrested there and deported to the Philippines. He was eventually freed in 2008 after Manila dropped all charges against him for lack of sufficient evidence. He was also ousted by Muslimin Sema, the MNLF Secretary-General, but Misuari maintained that he is the true leader of the former rebel group.