Pursuit Operations in Sulu Trigger AFP-MNLF Clash

Sabah ended up in the hands of the Malaysian government during the presidency of Diosdado Macapagal (1961-1965). His successor Ferdinand Marcos conceived a scheme involving the recruitment of Moro fighters to occupy the island.

The recruits were summarily executed by their military superiors in 1968, in what is now known as the infamous Jabidah Massacre.

The Jabidah Massacre triggered widespread outrage among the Moros and led to the formation of the MNLF that same year. The MNLF waged an armed revolutionary struggle against the GRP for an independent Muslim state in Mindanao.

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.

Negotiations between the GRP and the MNLF went on and off until 1996, when the two parties signed a Final Peace Agreement which created the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) as a concession to the group.

Sulu is one of six provinces presently comprising the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM): the others are Basilan, Tawi-Tawi, Maguindanao, Lanao del Sur, and Shariff Kabunsuan. The ARMM originally included only Basilan, Tawi-Tawi, Sulu, and Maguindanao.

In October 2001, hostilities broke out anew between the GRP and the MNLF. The military was in hot pursuit of Abu Sayyaf bandits who had abducted tourists in Sipadan, Malaysia. At one point, the military had announced the defeat of an “Abu Sayyaf” contingent in Talipao, Sulu.

The MNLF, however, said that it was its guerrillas, not ASG bandits, who were killed by the military.

The massacre in Talipao led the MNLF, just five years after signing a peace agreement with the government, to once more take up arms. MNLF founding chairman Nur Misuari, a former political science professor at the University of the Philippines (UP) who was then ARMM governor, said the Talipao Massacre was a “violation” of the 1996 Peace Agreement.

Misuari, who was then in Malaysia, ended up being arrested and subsequently detained in a military camp in Sta. Rosa, Laguna (38 kms south of Manila) and charged with rebellion. He is currently under house arrest in New Manila, Quezon City while still facing rebellion charges. Misuari ran for ARMM governor last May, but lost amid allegations of cheating.

Since 2001, there has been sporadic fighting between the AFP and the MNLF. The fighting is feared to further escalate, with the MNLF having recently threatened to declare independence on the heels of the Aug. 7-8 encounters with the AFP.

“As long as the Muslims in the South are not given the justice due them, we are entitled to divorce in Islam,” MNLF spokesman Almarin Tillah said in a recent TV interview. “We’ll go for independence. I want to say it very clearly here in no unmistakable terms; the Muslims in this country are prepared to go independent if this government, in this political administration, and those before and even in the forthcoming administration in 2010 will not give us justice.”(Bulatlat.com)

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