World Bulletin / News Desk
Rodrigo Duterte has said that the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) founder -- wanted for a siege on a southern city in which around 200 people died and tens of thousands were displaced -- would be given safe passage and has described him as one leader who maintains influence and stature among all Moro rebels.
Duterte's government is in the process of consolidating all agreements with all Moro groups in an effort to finally achieve peace in the south.
Late Tuesday, however, he rejected a plan by Misuari to bring his own men to Davao for talks.
"That would not be possible anymore. First, he is facing charges and if at all he is allowed to go out, he cannot bring arms," the Philippine Daily Inquirer quoted Duterte as saying in a speech in Makati City, Metro Manila.
"I don't care if he will do that, that would not bother me, but the fact is the military and the police will not allow it, and I won’t run roughshod with them if I insist it my way."
Duterte has instead offered to fetch the 77-year-old from Sulu and bring him to Davao for talks, but has not said when such a meeting will take place.
Misuari is wanted for staging a bloody siege in the majority Christian city of Zamboanga in 2013 to protest a peace process by rival group the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), which Misuari claims leaves Muslims in the country’s south shortchanged in comparison to an earlier MNLF peace deal.
He has accused the government of then-President Benigno Aquino III of reneging on its agreements with the group when it held negotiations with the MILF, which led to the creation of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB).
An arrest warrant for rebellion, violation of International Humanitarian law, genocide and other crimes against humanity was subsequently issued for Misuari in response to the siege.
Duterte, however, is willing to give Misuari a free pass so he can fast-track peace talks between the government and rebels, but not all.
During the opening of a festival in a city on the central Philippines on Sunday, Duterte turned down a request by Misuari to include a Daesh-linked group notorious for beheading victims after ransoms have failed to be paid in the peace talks and give them general amnesty.
Since 1991, the Abu Sayyaf has been carrying out bombings, kidnappings, assassinations and extortion in a self-determined fight for an independent province in the Philippines.
In a televised speech, Duterte said: “If that’s the case then let’s not talk anymore. I will not [include the Abu Sayyaff in talks]. For the life of me, I will not."
“Why should I talk to animals? What’s the point? They are merciless,” he said.
In July, Duterte gave the green light to a comprehensive “roadmap to peace” covering various rebel groups that include proposing an alternative measure to replace Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL), the culmination of the CAB.
If passed by Congress, BBL would have created an autonomous political entity in the south, but it failed to get the nod due to questions of unconstitutional provisions and the fallout from a bloody January incident between Moro fighters --- many of them MILF -- and police, that saw 44 police commandos killed.
Under the new roadmap, the Duterte government plans to introduce a “more inclusive” peace bill in lieu of the BBL endorsed by his predecessor Aquino.