A predictable fall – INQUIRER EDITORIAL

June 07, 2024 - 08:00 AM

PHOTO: Nur Misuari STORY: A predictable fall – INQUIRER EDITORIAL
Nur Misuari —File photo mulá kay Richard A. Reyes, Philippine Daily Inquirer

[This editorial was published in the Philippine Daily Inquirer on June 7, 2024.]

The turbulent trajectory of former Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) leader Nur Misuari’s pockmarked political career is a cautionary tale on how power tends to corrupt, while absolute power corrupts absolutely. The Sandiganbayan on May 24 convicted Misuari of graft over some P77 million worth of ghost projects when he headed the now-defunct Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).

The Sandiganbayan Third Division chaired by Presiding Justice Amparo Cabotaje-Tang found the 85-year-old former rebel leader guilty of two counts of violation of the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act. In 2017, the anti-graft court charged Misuari with three counts each of graft and of malversation for favoring two companies in the purchase of P115 million worth of nonexistent educational materials when he was ARMM governor in 2000 and 2001.

The anti-graft court found that the transaction, which foreshadowed the anomalous Pharmally deal over pandemic supplies, involved no bidding and the alleged falsification of documents to procure a “technology package” worth P31 million from MBJ Learning Tools and P46.2 million from CPR Publishing. Despite payments being made, no goods were delivered, resulting in “damage and prejudice to the government and the public interest.”

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Armed defiance

The court said that the companies lacked business and income tax records, as well as a certification from the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Misuari and former Department of Education officials Leovigilda Cinches, Pangalian Maniri, Sittie Aisa Usman, and Aladdin Usi face a prison term of six to eight years each and perpetual disqualification from holding public office in the ruling that Misuari’s lawyer said they would appeal.

The graft conviction is a tragic but seemingly predictable conclusion to what was once seen as a heroic push for greater autonomy for Muslim Mindanao by an idealistic leader whose default mode, however, was armed defiance. In the 1960s, Misuari helped establish the Mindanao Independence Movement which sought reforms from the government through the MNLF.

Failing to gain such concessions, he engaged in military conflict against the Marcos administration from 1972 to 1976. He later justified this as an armed response to the nonimplementation of the Tripoli Agreement originally signed by then President Ferdinand Marcos Sr. and later included in the peace agreement signed by former president Fidel Ramos. The agreement established the ARMM, where Misuari became governor in 1996.

Siege on Zamboanga City

But discontent over his mismanagement caused the MNLF to unravel, with supporters rallying behind new leaders. In November 2001, a faction of the MNLF loyal to Misuari attacked a Philippine Army headquarters in Jolo, Sulu, as a distraction to the ARMM elections scheduled later that month, which eventually replaced Misuari as governor.

The hostilities caused hundreds of casualties, with the government filing rebellion charges against Misuari who then fled to Malaysia. Captured by the Royal Malaysia Police, he was extradited to the Philippines where he faced rebellion charges that were eventually dropped.

In 2013, angered by the Aquino administration’s planned peace deal with the rival Moro Islamic Liberation Front and the possible sidelining of the MNLF, forces supportive of Misuari laid siege on Zamboanga City resulting in the loss of at least 200 lives. With an arrest warrant for rebellion and crimes against humanity hanging over him, Misuari went into hiding.

In 2016, former president Rodrigo Duterte ordered the concerned agencies to suspend Misuari’s arrest warrant, supposedly so that the renegade leader could join his “campaign for peace” in Mindanao.

Machiavellian character

Duterte’s move early in his term may have been meant to co-opt Misuari and enlist the political support of what the former Moro leader believed was his remaining sizeable force. But even Duterte blinked and refused to welcome Abu Sayyaf into the fold as Misuari had suggested, rightly pointing out that the terrorist group had killed too many innocent civilians.

Such an attempt to legitimize the group known to be kidnap for ransom brigands has revealed the former MNLF leader’s Machiavellian character, while his recent graft conviction suggests that mercenary motives have weakened his once robust claim to the leadership of a perennially marginalized group.

If anything, the Sandiganbayan’s ruling should lay to rest the romanticized notion of a once-aggrieved party scrabbling his way to the top to claim what was rightfully his, and ruling mainly to right wrongs.

As seen in Misuari’s case, power presents opportunities that only the most sterling character can resist staunchly. Considered a wild card in the peace process, the former Muslim leader’s well-documented use of military might for personal glory and of his political position for material gain have shown that power erodes even well-meaning youthful ideals, omissions for which one must be held fully accountable.

TAGS: abuse of power, Moro National Liberation Front, Nur Misuari, abuse of power, Moro National Liberation Front, Nur Misuari

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