“This is a great day, a great day for the Bangsamoro homeland,” the 83-year-old Nur Misuari, chair of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) said of his meeting with Bangsamoro Chief Minister Ahod “Al Haj Murad” Ebrahim, chair of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front whom he warmly welcomed in his residence here shortly after 2 p.m. on Sunday, marking the first time in over two decades that leaders of both fronts sat down to talk with each other.
When he was Governor of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), visited MILF chair Salamat Hashim in Camp Abubakar on March 16, 1999, a visit facilitated by the Libyan Ambassador to the Philippines.
Hashim, who was Misuari’s Vice Chair before he broke away to form the MILF after the failed implementation of the 1976 Tripoli Agreement, succumbed to an illness in July 2003.
“This is a symbol of unity,” Ebrahim described their meeting, to which Misuari added, “and solidarity.”
“I will proclaim it for you,” Misuari volunteered. “This is symbol of our unity and solidarity,” said the former professor of Political Science at the University of the Philippines who led the MNLF after the Jabidah Massacre of 1968.
“It means a lot, it means a lot, so we move,” said Misuari, with Murad adding “together, Inshallah” and Misuari completing the sentence “towards the end, through our unity and solidarity, a solid unity and solidarity that will guide our destiny as a nation.”
“Allahu Akbar, Allahu Akbar,” the crowd repeatedly said, following Misuari.
Murad thanked Misuari for his warm welcome. “See you in our inaugural session on September 15,” he said, referring to the inaugural session of the Parliament of the new Bangsamoro Transition Authority (BTA) on September 15 which will be attended by President Ferdinand Marcos, Jr.
“I will be there Inshallah, I will be there Inshallah,” Misuari replied.
Murad leads the BTA as Chief Minister of the 80-member transition body. Among the 80 members are 55 nominated by the MILF and MNLF: 41 from the MILF, seven from the MNLF under Misuari and seven from the MNLF under Muslimin Sema.
Among the 80 are 15 children of Bangsamoro revolutionary leaders, including Misuari’s children Abdulkarim and Nurredha, and children of commanders and peace panel members. Sixteen of the 80 members are women with Nurredha Misuari as the youngest member. She is turning 28 in December.
Ebrahim was accompanied to Misuari’s home by Senior Minister Abdulraof Macacua who joined the MNLF when he was 15 and was Misuari’s dishwasher. Macacua mentioned places where he was with Misuari decades ago. “You mention what history is like. That was long, long ago tapos nag-reunion kami dito in your presence,” he addressed a crowd of supporters in the same room.
Ebrahim arrived at Misuari’s home at around 2:15 p.m. MindaNews was allowed by both parties to enter the meeting venue an hour later.
Presidential Peace Adviser Carlito Galvez visited Misuari on August 18 and was told he wanted to see Murad.
“Was he not resistant given that the BTA is MILF-led,” MindaNews asked Member of Parliament (MP) Nurredha, Misuari’s eldest daughter with third wife Tarhata Ebrahim, on August 19. Nurredha replied: “No no. Sabi pa nga niya (her father), he wants to visit Murad. Really, it’s really something. Ama is really open now.”
On Sunday morning, Ebrahim told MindaNews that he does not mind going to Misuari’s home even if he is Bangsamoro Chief Minister. “Wala namang damage kung ako pupunta sa kanya. Anyway, dati ko naman siyang leader” (There’s no damage if I go visit him. Anyway, he was my former leader).
Twenty-three years earlier, it was Misuari, then ARMM Governor, who visited MILF chair Hashim in Camp Abubakar. At that time, Misuari was awaiting the amendatory law that would have incorporated the provisions of the 1996 Final Peace Agreement he signed with government. His three-year term was supposed to have ended in September 1999 but he stayed on as Governor on holdover capacity until November 2001.
Hashim’s MILF, on the other hand, started negotiating peace with the government in July 1997 under the Ramos administration but under the Estrada administration, only a general intent was signed in August 1998.
In March 2000, a full year after Misuari’s visit to Hashim, Estrada waged an “all-out war” against the MILF that displaced nearly a million residents.
“The rise, the fall, the rise, the oneness”
When Ebrahim said he had to leave because he was returning to Cotabato City, a five-hour ride from Davao City, he told Misuari: “Thank you very much.” Misuari’s response: “Thank you for honoring our humble house with your visit.”
Ebrahim said in jest, “when we come back to Davao, we will sleep here.”
Misuari’s daughter, Nur-Ainee, said her father was “very happy.”
“Bapa Mus is coming as well, anytime,” she said. “Bapa Mus” is Muslimin Sema, chair of the MNLF group that broke away from Misuari in April 2001. Sema’s MNLF supported the government and MILF’s peace pact, the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) and his group nominated members to the MILF-led Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC) that drafted the Organic Law for the BARMM in 2017 and also nominated members to the BTA in 2019.
The last time Misuari, Ebrahim and Sema were seen in one venue was on September 30, 2019, at the anniversary celebration of the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process, reunited onstage briefly for a souvenir photo.
The anniversary celebration of the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process on 30 September 2019, paved the way for a brief reunion among brothers in the Bangsamoro struggle — Nur Misuari, founding chair of the Moro National Liberation Front (2nd from Left, between Presidential Peace Adviser Carlito Galvez and Senator Juan Miguel Zubiri), Ahod “Al Haj Murad” Ebrahim, chair of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front and Chief Minister of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim MIndanao, and Muslimin Sema, former chair of an MNLF faction and former Cotabato City mayor. The three Moro leaders were reunited onstage for a souvenir photo with personalities from other peace processes. Sema reached out to shake Misuari’s hand, hugged and kissed him on both cheeks, followed by Murad. Photo courtesy of OPAPP
MP Abdulkarim Misuari, Misuari’s eldest son with first wife Desdemona Tan, pointed his finger up to indicate it was Allah’s will that the brothers in the Bangsamoro struggle are now back together. “Move forward lahat.”
Nur-Ainee, Abdulkarim and Nurredha, said “yes” and “sure” when asked if they expected to witness this “unity and solidarity” in their lifetime.
“Can you imagine the ripple effect?” said Nur-Ainee.
Nurredha noted the visit coincided with the birth anniversary of former President Ferdinand Edralin Marcos, father of President Ferdinand Marcos, Jr. It was Marcos Sr. who declared martial law on September 21, 1972 and sent his troops to go after their father and the MNLF.
Abdulkarim noted that September 11 is also the anniversary of the Sultan of Sulu’s visit to China 605 years ago.
MP Tarhata Maglangit, among the women veterans of the Bangsamoro struggle, said “finally, finally, it happened.”
She said she was optimistic that she would witness the reunification in her lifetime. “It’s part of their journey. The rise, the fall, the rise, the oneness.”
Maglangit, the two Misuari children and the four other MPs appointed from Misuari’s group, were present to witness the historic meet.
After Ebrahim left, Misuari continued to speak highly of the historic visit.
“A better Bangsamoro” is “inevitable,” said the MNLF founding chair.
“This is a great day for us. A great day for the Bangsamoro homeland,” he said.
“What a day. It’s a beautiful day for us,” he added.
Guiamel Alim, a member of the Council of Elders of the Cotabato City-based Consortium of Bangsamoro Civil Society (CBCS) said “this unity meeting or visit is long overdue. The Bangsamoro has been longing to see this happen a long time ago. Our wish is that this unity meeting/visit will be translated into concrete unity in action and solidarity in charting a better future for the Bangsamoro. This can be manifested in crafting laws, programs and activities that will improve the socio-economic life of the Bangsamoro, strengthen social cohesion and inclusive development.”
“What we are witnessing here are Bangsamoro leaders taking a reconciliatory position to heed the call of President Ferdinand R. Marcos, Jr., for unity in the country. A united Bangsamoro will usher a genuine and inclusive peace not just in the BARMM but also throughout Mindanao and the entire country. More good things are expected to happen,” Galvez said in a press release issued by his office.
Bae Magdalena Suhat, chair of the Mindanao Peoples Caucus, thanked God for the blessings of peace and unity and thanked “our leaders for extending the hand of unity and reconciliation.”
“This is a historic moment for the leaders of the MNLF and MILF to converge the peace agreements under an inclusive platform which is the BTA. We hope that their efforts will bear fruit and redound to benefit the poorest of the poor in Mindanao. We call on our people to unite and support the BTA and help ensure that the transition period will succeed and deliver the avowed promises to the Moro people.”
Fatmawati Salapuddin of Talipao, Sulu, a former member of the BTC and former commissioner at the National Commission on Muslim Filipinos, said she has “high expectations that they will work hard to ease the burden brought by decades of conflict.” (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)