Gov’t Provoked Sulu Fighting for War on ‘Terror’ – MNLF Leader

The secretary-general for internal affairs of the Central Committee, Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) has categorically stated that government forces provoked the present fighting in Sulu. This, said Ustadz Moshir Ibrahim, is to get the support of other countries involved in the U.S.-led “war on terror.”


The secretary-general for internal affairs of the Central Committee, Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) has categorically stated that government forces provoked the present fighting in Sulu. This, said Ustadz Moshir Ibrahim, is to get the support of other countries involved in the U.S.-led “war on terror.”

Fighting between the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the MNLF broke out on Nov. 12 at around 5 a.m. in Indanan, Sulu. The military has reported more than 20 casualties from its ranks, while the MNLF states one of its members has been killed and two have been wounded.

AFP chief of staff Generoso Senga has said in several press interviews and briefings that the fighting stemmed from military operations against elements of the bandit Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) in Sulu.

Implicating the MNLF

“The government implicates the MNLF in terrorism in order to get the support of some countries belonging to the ‘Free World,’” Ibrahim told Bulatlat in a phone interview over the weekend. “But I can say here, the MNLF has nothing to do with terrorism, we look at it as a stigma on the face of humanity – it is anti-freedom, anti-democracy and anti-justice.”

Ibrahim also denied the military’s claim that they are pursuing ASG elements in Sulu.

“That is not true, because that area is controlled by the MNLF and that is where the headquarters or main camp of MNLF state chairman Khaib Ajibon stands,” he said. He added that the fighting started some 500 meters away from Ajibon’s official residence.

“This camp is recognized by the government of the Philippines,” Ibrahim said. “No military men, no member of the AFP or even the PNP (Philippine National Police) can go to the area without prior understanding and arrangement with the MNLF official therein.”

Also, in a press briefing Nov. 17, Philippine Marines spokesperson Maj. Melquiades Ordiales said Jatib Usman, also known as Commander Millikan, whom the military identified as an Abu Sayyaf leader in Tawi-tawi, was killed along with two of his followers in an encounter with government troops the day before. “Milikan’s killing is a big blow to the Abu Sayyaf in Tawi-Tawi,” Ordiales said.

Asked for verification on the identity of Usman, Ibrahim said: “I think they were wrongly informed by their men in the field. This war is not between the Abu Sayyaf and the AFP, this is a pure battle between the MNLF forces and the AFP because if the main target is the Abu Sayyaf, then we can say there is no single element of Abu Sayyaf residing in the MNLF-controlled area, especially in the camp of Khaib Ajibon because we will never allow any member of any terrorist group to stay in our area.”

The ASG is included in the U.S. Department of State’s list of “foreign terrorist organizations.

The Macapagal-Arroyo government is under increasing pressure from the U.S. and the United Kingdom to pass anti-“terror” legislation. An anti-terrorism bill has been approved at the committee level at the House of Representatives, while five bills are presently under deliberation in the Senate.

Sulu is one of the provinces included in the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao. The others are Tawi-tawi, Basilan, and Maguindanao. The ARMM is a product of the 1996 peace agreement between the MNLF and the GRP, which sought to end the MNLF’s 27-year armed struggle for a separate state.

During the presidency of Diosdado Macapagal (1961-1965), Sabah, which is only some 200 kms from Mindanao and to which the Philippines has a historic claim, ended up in the hands of the Malaysian government.

During his first presidential term, Ferdinand Marcos conceived a scheme which involved the recruitment of between 28 and 64 Moro fighters to occupy Sabah. The recruits were summarily executed by their military superiors in 1968, in what is now known as the infamous Jabidah Massacre. According to Moro historian Salah Jubair, this was because they had refused to follow orders.

The Jabidah Massacre triggered widespread outrage among the Moros and led to the formation of the MNLF that same year.

The MNLF entered into a series of negotiations with the GRP, beginning in the 1970s under the Marcos government. In 1996, it signed a “Final Peace Agreement” with the GRP which created the ARMM as a concession to the group.

Other reasons

Ibrahim sees other possible reasons for the government attack on the MNLF. “Whenever there is a budget hearing in Manila, the military creates scenarios to justify perhaps their requests for handsome allocations in the national budget,” he said. “I also believe that they want to divert the muscles of the tri-media and the devastating eye of the Filipino people from the beleaguered government of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, like what President Joseph Estrada did at the height of the jueteng scandal.”

Macapagal-Arroyo has long been facing calls for her ouster because of her government’s implementation of what cause-oriented groups describe as “anti-national and anti-people” policies. These calls had intensified earlier this year following renewed allegations that she cheated in the 2004 election, in which she is supposed to have received a fresh term after first assuming office in 2001 following the ouster of then President Joseph Estrada.

Ibrahim also said the government may be intending to “sabotage” MNLF founding chairman Nur Misuari’s recent appeal for temporary liberty in order to get medical treatment. Misuari has been imprisoned in Sta. Rosa Laguna (38 kms. south of Manila) for alleged rebellion.

Asked if he thought the present Sulu fighting could have something to do with the ongoing peace talks between the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), in which the government has been seen as intending to offer the ARMM to the MILF as a concession, Ibrahim said it is “curious” that the GRP has been talking of an agreement having been forged but the deal is still hidden. “The government should inform Congress, the Senate and the Filipino people as to the agreement they entered into with the MILF,” the MNLF leader said.

“But I think it is good if the government can meet the legitimate aspirations of the Bangsa Moro people for self-determination,” he added. “But as far as the Constitution is concerned, the government cannot do what is beyond the ambit of the peace agreement.”

When asked about the present state of MNLF-MILF relations, Ibrahim said they have no quarrel or trouble with the MILF. “Well, first of all we are brothers in peace, we share the same colonial experience and oppression, and we also have the same national political aspiration, which is the recognition of our fundamental right to chart our own destiny as a nation,” he said.

In the mid-1970s the Marcos government, weighed down by the costs of the Mindanao war, negotiated for peace and signed an agreement with the MNLF in Tripoli, Libya in the mid-1970s. The pact involved the grant of autonomy to the Mindanao Muslims.

The government insisted on a plebiscite to settle the territories of the autonomous government as allegedly provided for by the government,” wrote Guiamel Alim, a Mindanao civil society leader, in 1995.

The MNLF did not recognize the results of the plebiscite and the negotiations bogged down. In the meantime, the Marcos government was able to win over some of the MNLF leaders “through various forms of attraction,” Alim continued.

The disastrous aftermath of the Tripoli Agreement led to a split in the ranks of the MNLF and the formation of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) in 1978. The MILF waged armed struggle for an Islamic state in Mindanao, and continued to do so even after the signing of the GRP-MNLF peace agreement in 1996. (

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