by Madel Sabater-Namit and Ellson A. Quismorio
Publish in Manila Bulletin
Malacañang on Tuesday took a hands-off approach on the call to suspend the arrest warrant of Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) Chairman Nur Misuari so he may be allowed to participate in House deliberations on the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL).
Deputy Presidential Spokesperson Abigail Valte said that it is the court, and not Malacañang, which has the say in suspending Misuari’s arrest warrant.
“A motion to hold in abeyance the validity or the life of a warrant of arrest is a question that is subject to the court’s judgment. Hindi po kami ‘yung magdedesisyon kung dapat i-suspend o hindi (The decision is not up to us to suspend the warrant of arrest or not),” Valte said.
“While implementation is with the Executive, hindi po namin pwedeng labagin ‘yung nakalagay doon sa warrant (We cannot violate what is stated in the warrant of arrest),” she said.
The Palace official also stressed that there are other stakeholders aside from Misuari.
“At least, to our mind, there are many other stakeholders that will come forward to discuss the merits of the draft that has been submitted,” Valte said.
Set to be scrutinized by a special ad hoc committee in the House of Representatives, the BBL is an offshoot of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) signed by the Philippine government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) last March 27.
In the interest of hearing all stakeholders, ad hoc panel head Rep. Rufus Rodriguez of Cagayan de Oro’s second district floated over the weekend the possibility of inviting Misuari and even Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) founder Ameril Umbra Kato to take part in the BBL discussions.
Both Misuari, 75, and Kato, 68, have rejected the proposed Bangsamoro entity, which would be created upon the enactment of the BBL. The Bangsamoro will replace the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), which Misuari once headed as governor.
1-BAP party-list Rep. Silvestre Bello III, a former government peace panel negotiator and justice secretary, favored including the two Moro secessionist leaders in the BBL talks.
“It will be a masterstroke if Chairman Misuari can be convinced to join the negotiation between the [Philippine government] and MILF. Any agreement that will be achieved will bind both the MILF and MNLF,” Bello, also a former solicitor general, said.
As for Saudi Arabian Islamic University-educated Kato, Bello reckoned that it would not hurt to include him if only to ensure an all-encompassing peace accord in the Muslim south.
“Why not [include Kato]? Our country cannot afford a partial peace agreement,” the Minority lawmaker said.
The MILF broke off from MNLF owing to shifting allegiances in leadership, while the BIFF split from the MILF in 2008 because the separatist group opposed the peace pact the MILF has been dealing with the government.
But during its first organizational meeting Tuesday, the 75-member ad hoc panel decided to defer the drafting of the resolution seeking the participation of Misuari and Kato in its hearings.
The motion to invite Misuari and Kato, which was made by Misamis Occidental Rep. Henry Oaminal, vice chairman of the ad hoc panel, was blocked by Zamboanga Rep. Celso Lobregat, who described the move as “an insult to Zamboanga City.”
“I cannot watch you to vote on this…Why are we rushing to invite a terrorist group and a person who has a warrant of arrest?” said Lobregat, who instead urged his colleagues to first secure the opinion of the National Security Council.
“Zamboanga has suffered many times over. I will not be a part of this charade. This is an insult to Zamboanga City,” Lobregat said.
Upon hearing his fellow Mindanao solon, Rodriguez, assured that “we are not going to intervene on the criminal case” concerning the Zamboanga siege last year which was staged by an MNLF faction loyal to Misuari.
During the hearing, Rodriguez insisted that the duo be invited to their marathon hearings, while Bello sought an indefinite safe conduct for Misuari and Kato.
The ad hoc committee—given an initial funding of P2 million—approved on Tuesday its rules of procedure and its calendar of activities, including visits to Bangsamoro core territories.
On Sept. 24, the panel will start deliberating the BBL with Bangsamoro Transition Commission, the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP) and officials of Department of National Defense (DND) as resource persons.
Asked about the ad hoc committee’s proposal to hear Misuari and Kato, Department of Justice (DoJ) Sec. Leila de Lima said it’s a “thorny issue” and the agency could not yet commit its support to the request for safe conduct passes for the two Moro rebel leaders.
“I don’t know if there is already a precedent on this case and whether there is a precedent or not, I still want to know if it can be defensible and if it is legally correct. Even if let’s say we move for the suspension of the warrant of arrest, we still don’t know if the court will allow it,” De Lima told reporters.
De Lima said that even if the DoJ moves for the temporary suspension of the warrant (in the case of Misuari) she is still not sure if the court that issued the warrant would allow it.
She also said there might be other ways for the House panel to get the side of the MNLF on the BBL even if Misuari is not present in the hearings.
“Do we really need Misuari’s personal appearance or a representative would suffice to articulate the position of the MNLF? I have not given my commitment to support this proposal. My only comment is we will have to study it,” De Lima said.
OIC TO CONVENE MEETING
Meanwhile, the Government of the Philippines (GPH) welcomed the plans of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) to convene a meeting in Manila between the MNLF and MILF this coming October.
Although the GPH has yet to be formally informed as of Monday, it nonetheless lauded the OIC effort to forge a common ground for peace between the country’s two largest Moro revolutionary organizations.
“We have not been informed of any such plan of the OIC but I can only repeat what I have said many times in the past: We welcome all efforts of the OIC, as well as its member states and other international and local partners, to help converge all Moro fronts and other stakeholders of the Bangsamoro in support of the Mindanao peace process which is now focused on the passage of the [BBL],” Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP) Sec. Teresita Deles said in a text message. (With reports from Charissa M. Luci, Leonard D. Postrado, Edd K. Usman)