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Philippine separatist leaders’ embrace hints at thaw in ties

Philippine separatist leaders’ embrace hints at thaw in ties

MANILA: In another historic moment in the Philippines’ quest to bring lasting peace to Mindanao, the country’s top Muslim separatist leaders, who have been at odds for decades, on Monday shook hands and embraced each other.

The warm exchange between Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) founding chair Nur Misuari and Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) chair Murad Ibrahim, who is now interim chair of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao, came as the two Muslim revolutionary leaders crossed paths at the culmination of the National Peace Month celebrations.

The event, broadcast live on social media, was hosted by the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process, which was also celebrating its 26th anniversary. Also present were other former revolutionary leaders, active and retired military officials, members of the diplomatic corps, and peace advocates.

Minutes before the end of the event, special guests, including Misuari and Murad, were called to the stage for a group photo. When the two took to the stage, the surprising moment followed. Murad extended his hand to Misuari and they then shook hands and embraced each other, sparking hopes of possible reconciliation.

Misuari and Murad have not been under one roof in decades. The two Moro leaders distanced themselves from each other after the MILF broke away from the MNLF in 1977.

Aside from Murad, Misuari also exchanged warm greetings with former MNLF secretary general Muslimin Sema.

“The meeting was indeed historic. What we are seeing here is a reflection of the collective desire of all revolutionary leaders and the government to attain lasting peace in the country,” said Presidential Peace Adviser Carlito Galvez Jr.

“In line with the peace commitment of President Rodrigo Roa Duterte, we at the OPAPP will continue to do our best to bridge people, promote understanding and unity all in the name of peace,” he added.

“It’s a wonderful night that gave us the sign that it is now the time for our deep wounds from all conflicts to heal,” Galvez continued.

Misuari lauded Duterte’s strong political will and unwavering commitment to resolve the decades-long armed conflict in Mindanao.

“I look forward to the success of our peace process… The president knows how to totally achieve peace. I do believe this is a very opportune time for all of us to join hands to concretize what the president wants to happen very soon (in the peace process),” Misuari said.

It can be recalled that Malacanang announced last August the creation of a coordinating committee with the MNLF, as instructed by the president. While it is not clear “whether the committee will be used to thresh out a new agreement with the MNLF on a new territory for them,” Duterte’s spokesman Salvador Panelo said, “the committee would be a venue to seek the cooperation of the MNLF to achieve immediate peace in Sulu.”

Meanwhile, Murad extended a message of peace to the other Moro fronts in Mindanao — a gesture of goodwill that could invaluably contribute to achieving sustainable peace in the island region.

“We are open, our arms are open, we are inviting all groups. We also believe that the real success of the peace process is the collective effort of everybody. We cannot afford to isolate anybody. We need everybody,” Murad said, referring to the ongoing implementation of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro, which paved the way for the establishment of the BARMM.

Murad likewise said they still recognize Misuari as their leader, as he pointed out it was the MNLF chair who was the first to “unite the entire Bangsamoro.”

Murad also expressed his desire to mend the differences between him and Misuari so they can work together for a united Bangsamoro.

Sen. Juan Miguel Zubiri, who was instrumental in the passage and ratification of the Bangsamoro Organic Law, recognized the OPAPP’s key role in pushing forward the Bangsamoro peace process.

“OPAPP has been an invaluable instrument for peace in the nation. In particular, OPAPP has served and continues to serve a vital purpose in our journey toward genuine and lasting peace in Mindanao,” noted Zubiri, who was the event’s guest of honor.

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