Nur Misuari Image Credit: AP

Manila: Nur Misuari, 71, was a political science professor at the University of Philippines when he became a revolutionary. At 27, he established the Mindanao Independence Movement, which eventually became the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) in Malaysia in 1969. This was after a revelation that former President Ferdinand Marcos allegedly trained young Filipino-Muslims in Corregidor, an island off Manila, for the purpose of taking over Sabah. At the time, critics said that Malaysia supported Misuari to deflect Philippine government’s claim over Sabah.

In the early 60s, the heirs of a Sultan from Sulu who owned Sabah transferred the right to claim the territory to the Philippine government. The Sultan of Brunei ceded North Borneo (Sabah) to the Sultan of Sulu who helped quell a rebellion there in the early 17th century. Because of the MNLF, the Philippine government did not actively claim Sabah.

Misuari was 34 when he forged a pro-autonomy peace settlement with the Philippine government in Libya in 1976. In 1996, he led the MNLF in signing a pro-autonomy peace settlement with the Philippine government. He became governor of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) which was established through a referendum for autonomy in 1989. The agreement resulted in another referendum for autonomy in 2001.

From 1996 to 2001, he was accused of mismanagement as ARMM governor, and his allies ousted him as MNLF head, resulting in a three-faction group, a division which holds up to now.

In 2001, he resorted to an armed struggle because he could not get the support of former president Gloria Arroyo for his second bid to head the ARMM. He fled to Malaysia where he was arrested and brought back to Manila. He served time at a police headquarters in southern Luzon until 2008. Charges of sedition and rebellion against him were withdrawn.

The Philippine government, the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) and the MNLF have been holding a review of the implementation of the 1996 Philippine government and MNLF peace accord.

Last August, due to the the Philippine government’s alleged decision to not continue with the tripartite review, Misuari declared the independence of Mindanao and the establishment of the Bangsamoro Republik, which included Mindanao, Palawan in southwestern Philippines and Sabah in Malaysia. When Sultan Jamalul Kiram sent men to reclaim Sabah in early 2013, Misuari extended his support.

The MNLF is an observer of the OIC, making it a de facto organisational representative of all Filipino-Muslims in the southern Philippines.