The Philippine media still refers to him as “Mohagher Iqbal” despite indisputable evidence that this is a fake name. Worse, he is cited as the source of information that his boss, Murad Ibrahim, head of the terrorist Moro Islamic Liberation Front will be representing the “Bangsamoro nation” in a gathering of foreign ministers of various Muslim nations in Kuwait organised by the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC). This is a remarkable development considering that it is the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) and its head Nur Misuari that is recognised as the sole legitimate representative of Filipino Muslims in the OIC.
But the Philippines’ MNLF through its leader, Nur Misuari, has been sitting in the OIC under an “observer status” since 1977. This membership is under the premise that the MNLF is a “non-state actor”, which opens the door for the Philippines’ “national government” in Manila to apply as a member state. What complicates this, however, is that the OIC, in principle, continues to recognise the MNLF as the official representative of the “Bangsamoro people”, a tenet that is evidently not consistent with the Philippines’ internal politics. While the OIC had “promised” to admit the Philippine government once its Framwork Agreement has been implemented, the question of who really represents Filipino Muslims remains hopelessly open to debate. Unlike other non-muslim countries that have been admitted as permanent observers in the OIC, the Philippine government has yet to demonstrate an ability to competently handle Muslim affairs within its jurisdiction.
According to the man currently known as “Mohagher Iqbal”, the reason that Ibrahim instead of Misuari is representing the “Bangsamoro people” is “because (Nur) Misuari could not travel anymore because of the warrant of arrest issued against him.” The standing arrest warrant issued against Misuari is in relation to an MNLF attack he led in Zamboanga City in late 2013 that resulted in the deaths of hundreds of people.
Interestingly, The Moro Islamic Liberation Front as well as its overlords in the Malaysian government had since kept silent about this atrocity. Not surprising, because they and the MNLF go way back. The origins of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front as a militant breakaway group from what was once considered a more “moderate” MNLF was over disagreements with the direction being taken by the MNLF leadership back in 1977 towards renouncing its own separatist agenda in favour of a more “conciliatory” deal with Manila then, a direction which bore fruit ten years later for the MNLF.
In January 1987, the MNLF signed an agreement relinquishing its goal of independence for Muslim regions and accepting the government’s offer of autonomy. The Moro Islamic Liberation Front, the next largest faction, refused to accept the accord and initiated a brief offensive that ended in a truce later that month. By one estimate the Mindanao-based Moro Islamic Liberation Front fielded around 3,000 troops.
It seems everything, the two Islamic groups’ history of terrorist separatism, the mass killings, the failed efforts to really represent the interests of Filipino Muslims, and the duplicity in their dealings with the Philippine government are now all supposedly water under the bridge. Even the OIC have turned a blind eye to the lack of clarity and, more importantly, lack of clear legitimacy in the different Muslim “groups” attempting to grab seats in the OIC’s ranks.
Beneath all the smiles and “conciliatory” theatrics in the facade presented to the world by the Philippines’ Muslim “community” festers a morass of intractable conflict. The Philippine government, for its part, stands by its claim to the resource-rich island of Borneo which is currently known as “Sabah”, a state in the federated Malaysian nation. Both Kuala Lumpur and Manila have stated non-negotiable positions on the matter of sovereignity over Sabah. Following a summoning of Philippine Charge d’Affaires Medardo Macaraig by Malaysia’s ministry of foreign affairs over statements allegedly made by Philippine President Benigno Simeon ‘BS’ Aquino III on the matter, Malacanang has re-iterated through its Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) its uncompromised position on the Philippines’ claim to Sabah.
“There has been a long-standing Philippine policy on our claim to Sabah and this has not changed,” Assistant Secretary Charles Jose, spokesperson for the DFA said in a news briefing.
Kuala Lumpur for its part is equally adamant about its position. Malaysian Foreign Affairs Minister Datuk Seri Anifah Aman said in an official statement issued earlier: “The government of Malaysia reiterates its position that Malaysia does not recognise and will not entertain any claims by any party on Sabah.”
It’s the Moro Islamic Liberation Front versus the MNLF in the fight for legitimacy as “representatives” of Filipino Muslims and its the Philippine Government versus the Malaysian Government in the battle for the rich island of Borneo. It’s all fun in the Philippines and the peachy world of ASEAN “diplomacy”.
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