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MNLF undergoes leadership change

April 4, 2008 4:06am
ZAMBOANGA CITY — The Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) recently had a change of leadership amid challenges to unify the group.

Meeting in Pagadian City, Zamboanga del Sur, more than 300 ground commanders and members elected on Tuesday Muslimin G. Sema as the new chairman after the 49-member central committee had announced a vacancy in the chairmanship that had long been held by founder Nur Misuari, who is under house arrest.

But some members have already started to question the legitimacy of the election since Mr. Sema is part of the Council of 15 that broke away from the MNLF years ago.

"They are already a breakaway group how can they claim they control the entire MNLF?," said Octavio A. Dinampo, chairman of the Sulu-based Concerned Citizens of Sulu, and a professor at the Mindanao State University.

The Council of 15 was created as the executive body of the MNLF; it claimed Mr. Misuari failed as chairman.

Mr. Dinampo claimed majority of the council, who are also members of the MNLF central committee, are now part of the government since most of them are holding public office.

"From what I understand, I think the election happened only within the Council of 15 and not the entire MNLF command," said Amina Rasul-Bernardo, director of the Philippine Council on Islam and Democracy, which has been monitoring the implementation of the 1996 peace agreement signed by the government and the MNLF.

She noted hard-core members in the island-provinces of Basilan, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi still see Mr. Misuari as their chairman.

"I believe ground commanders in these island provinces still support the chairmanship of Nur, and as well as the OIC (Organization of the Islamic Conference)," she said.

The OIC brokered the peace pact between the MNLF and the government in 1996.

Misuari loyalist

Muslim leader Ustadz Habier Malik, who has engaged several bloody attacks in Sulu, has earlier said his loyalty will remain with Mr. Misuari, who is a co-Tausug, a Muslim tribe in Sulu.

Malik is still on the run after the military branded him and his more than 300 followers as rogue MNLF members.

In a telephone interview, Mr. Sema claimed the MNLF had no concrete direction in the last 10 years.

"That’s why we are trying to go back on track and revive what we are fighting for," he said. "These include strengthening the relationship with the government to fully implement the 1996 peace deal."

He claimed majority of the 49-member central committee voted for him.

BusinessWorld tried to get Mr. Misuari’s comments on this development but was advised to first seek the approval of the Department of Justice for an interview. - Darwin T. Wee, BusinessWorld
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