Meet the Moros. Filipino Muslims are willing to talk peace with the Christian `saboteurs' from Manila
A favorite war tactic of the Muslim Tausug tribe is to shout insults at an approaching enemy, such as, ``Your grandmother looks like a water buffalo.'' The insults are meant to provoke anger and put opponents off guard, especially those who already know the Tausug warrior.Skip to next paragraph
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Nur Misuari, who comes from the Tausug area of the Philippines and has led a 14-year Muslim rebellion, was well known by President Corazon Aquino before their historic meeting Sept. 5 on the Tausug island of Jolo.
In 1981, her husband, then-opposition leader Benigno Aquino Jr., met the rebel leader and came away an advocate for the minority Muslims. And the President's brother-in-law, Agapito Aquino, negotiated Mr. Misuari's return last week after more than a decade of exile in the Middle East. Misuari is chairman of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), the Filipino Muslim rebels' independence movement.
Up to the day before his two-hour peace talk with Mrs. Aquino, Misuari spoke out -- like a true Tausug -- against the ``saboteurs and provocateurs'' and ``colonialists and imperialists'' in the Philippines. He referred to Christian settlers in traditional Muslim lands as ``any Tom, Dick, or Harry.''
Misuari said he traveled 7,000 miles to Jolo, while Aquino traveled only 700. He claimed his guerrillas (the Philippine military estimates the Muslims have 5,500-7,000 regular fighters) were being increased to 1 million. He reiterated his drive for ``liberation'' of the southern third of the Philippines, which he calls the Bangsa Moro (``Muslim people's'') homeland. He said Aquino gained more by coming to his land than he did in talking.
But if any Tausug tactic proved effective, it was that Misuari convinced Agapito Aquino that the MNLF would renew fighting if the government did not listen to its demands. The President, according to her brother-in-law, believed the threat. After all, the 1972-76 fighting between Muslims and the Philippine military had taken nearly 100,000 lives.
But Mrs. Aquino had other reasons to open talks with the MNLF.
Neighboring Indonesia advised her to solve the Muslim problem so that her armed forces could be deployed against the Philippines' communist insurgency. Being the world's largest Muslim country, anticommunist Indonesia could support Aquino in the 46-member Islamic Conference Organization (ICO), which has backed the Filipino Muslims diplomatically since 1972.
In general, the popular Aquino would be tough to oppose diplomatically. ``Under [former President Ferdinand] Marcos, it was easy for us to say the Muslims were an international issue. But now it's strictly an internal matter,'' says a Libyan diplomat in Manila.
Malaysia, likewise, is helping Aquino by offering to prevent the establishment of a base for the MNLF in Sabah, a Malaysian state near the Philippines. Home to 200,000 Muslim Filipino refugees, Sabah's new Christian government is pushing the refugees to leave. And Malaysia has been more cooperative with Aquino as Manila moves to drop a territorial claim to Sabah. (But Malaysia, largely Muslim, is being careful. ``There will be many Filipino presidents, but only one Nur Misuari,'' says one official.)
Aquino also wants to head off any possible tactical alliance between the communist rebels and the MNLF. In the last few months, the Communist Party has both threatened and wooed the MNLF in an effort to get MNLF support in challenging Aquino. The offers, including economic aid, have been turned down by the anticommunist MNLF.