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 Thursday 24 May 2012

Misuari, Moros and Marcos


The day my interview with Philippines President Ferdinand Marcos appeared in this newspaper I received in my office Nur Misuari, leader of the Moro National Liberation Front. He had been leading the movement called MNLF by its initials for many years and garnered a lot of support in the Middle East and rest of the Muslim World. He was a friend who visited the Kingdom frequently and called on me during his visits. Once I invited him to my house where he enjoyed an Arabic-Yemeni lunch and talked about his struggle for a Muslim homeland or at least a semi-independent state. There used to be a Muslim state in the south which was wiped out by the Spanish invaders whose domain lasted 331 years. He told me he had read Marcos’ interview in the morning and wanted to respond. I gladly accepted his offer. As time was

short for my front-page deadline I decided to type out his statement myself as he spoke. I was fast then as I am now and started typing as he spoke with speed and clarity which impressed me a lot. It was a long reply which he dictated to me clearly in a wonderful voice that showed his experience and political acumen. His statement left a good impression and I was told that President Marcos read it with keen interest and that he was impressed which, I hoped, helped him to understand the Muslim cause and Misuari’s point of view in a better way.


Thereafter Marcos’ government fell and another government took over. The new government resumed talks with the Moros to settle the outstanding issues and Misuari became a provincial governor in the south. I had no more contacts with Misuari and did not revisit the region of nearly 5,000 islands.


Together they make one of the loveliest places in the world, but for the years of corruption and neglect during the decades of dictatorship before, during and after Marcos and the devastation caused by the Japanese invasion coupled the war that the Americans rightly waged to liberate it, the country might have been one of the greatest and most prosperous in the world. I have little doubt that Marcos and his so-called cronies must take the blame for much of the miseries of the Filipinos that compelled millions of people to leave the country in search of jobs abroad including Saudi Arabia where they now number two million. They are hard workers, loyal and make great nurses and helpers. They are never accused of dishonesty, robbery and violation of the country’s laws. They are also helpful to the Kingdom’s economy unlike other nationalities because they spend some of their incomes here while saving the balance for back home.


They contribute substantially to their country’s economy as they pour their savings into the banks back home thus becoming the largest contributor next only to their compatriots in the United States


Nur is of course a common Arab name today but Misuari strikes me as a possible Arab tribal name from Miswar in Yemen since millions of Arabs from Yemen including Hadhramaut migrated to Java and the nearby islands in the Philippines spreading Islam and promoting trade. Some of them settled down there for good during the decades. I did not tell him except that the then chief of staff of the Yemeni armed forces was a well-known person called Miswari.


Miswari, according to his biography, was born in 1942 in Jolo, Sulu. He completed his education through scholarships at the University of Philippines where he was a student activist leading the Mindanao Independence Movement before organizing the famous Moro National Liberation Movement that sought political reforms for Muslims before switching over to an armed uprising against the Marcos regime which I discussed in my last week’s article. During the struggle he settled in Saudi Arabia until peace was declared and he became the third governor of the autonomous region in Mindanao. He remained there during the terms of Presidents Ramos, Estrada and Gloria Arroyo. 


Pre-Hispanic period: In the 14th century, Arab traders landed on the island to introduce Islam. The native inhabitants on the island are the Tausug people. The Tausugs are part of the larger Moro group, which dominates the Sulu Archipelago. The Moro had an independent state known as the Sultanate of Sulu, which was politically and economically centered at Julu, the residence for Sulu Sultanates. The Seat of the Royal Sultanate of Sulu was in Astana Putih, which is Tausug for ‘White Palace’ in Umbul Duwa in the municipality of Indanan on Jolo Island.


Spanish Colonial Period: In 1521, the explorer Ferdinand Magellan claimed the Philippines for Spain. The Spanish failed to conquer and convert the Muslim areas in the south. After consolidating the northern part of the Philippine islands, they failed to take over the well-organized Muslim Sultanates.



Farouk Luqman is an eminent journailst based in Jeddah.





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