Gov’t ready to fight back if MNLF goes to war – Palace

Published March 21, 2019, 3:18 PM

by Patrick Garcia

By Genalyn Kabiling

The government is prepared to fight back if Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) founding chair Nur Misuari launches a war over federalism, Malacañang said Thursday.

Presidential Spokesman Salvador Panelo (OPS / MANILA BULLETIN)
Presidential Spokesman Salvador Panelo

Presidential Spokesman Salvador Panelo said President Duterte made a “counter-threat” to Misuari that they would “die together” if the federalism initiative fails.

“May response naman siya, ‘We celebrate if we will succeed.’ And as a response to going to war, then ‘We will die fighting each other,’” Panelo said about the President’s response to Misuari’s threat of war if the shift to federalism is not pursued.

“The President’s response is also a threat…That’s a counter-threat. Ibig sabihin lalabanan kita. ‘Yun ang ibig sabihin ni Presidente. Lalabanan mo gobyerno e di labanan din kita [It means I will fight back. That’s what the President meant. If you fight the government, I will fight back],” he said during a Palace press briefing.

But for now, Panelo said the two sides “want peace” and would soon start discussions on the federalism initiative.

Panelo said the President has proposed the two parties to create their respective five-member panels to tackle the proposed shift to federalism. Duterte reminded Misuari though that the final federalism proposal was still up to Congress, he said.

“Whatever the product of that discussion, they will have a one-on-one meeting and then he said, ‘After which we will celebrate for its success and if it fails we will die together.’ That was the response of the President,” Panelo said.

“If he goes to war, then he will be fighting the government. So if he is fighting the government and the head of the government is the President, he would be—they would be fighting with each other,” he said.

Panelo said Misuari was actually “happy” with the President’s proposal for the federalism talks and expressed hope it could be attained within his term.

“He reminded the President that federalism was one of the promises he made to the electorate. And he is confident that within the three years remaining term of the President, federalism would fit in,” he added.

“Knowing the chairman who has been fighting for a peaceful solution in Mindanao, and knowing the deep, friendly relationship between the two leaders, I am confident that there will be an agreement, a modus vivendi between the two sides and we will have peace in Mindanao,” he said.

President Duterte recently revealed that Misuari threatened to “go to war” if the shift to federalism will not be pursued. Misuari pressed for the federalism initiative in his attempt to retrieve the lands seized from the Moros during a meeting with Duterte in Malacañang last Tuesday.

Duterte, in a bid to prevent such conflict, has proposed to Misuari the creation of panels to handle discussions on the federalism proposal.

The Palace however does not consider Misuari’s war threat as a form of blackmail or inciting to rebellion, according to Panelo.

Misuari’s statement was “rhetoric” to show his dismay over the delay in the shift to federalism, he added.

The Palace official also recognized that Misuari remains a “potent force,” citing that he was known as the father of the Muslim rebellion in the south. He noted though that MNLF has weakened by the factions over the years.

Asked if Misuari was capable of staging a rebellion against the government, Panelo said: “Any rebel group that has arms would be capable. Whether or not it will succeed, is another question. We are capable of thwarting any attempt.”

On whether the MNLF was a credible threat to the government, Panelo said: “Any rebellious group that is armed and has asserted itself to be wanting independence is a serious concern.”