Palace, Senate offer Misuari new peace talks

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Vicente C. Sotto III

CONGRESS would not be pressured to push for the passage of federalism despite a threat of war by Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) founding chairman Nur Misuari, said Senate President Vicente C. Sotto III on Thursday.

“No. Definitely not,” he told reporters during the Kapihan sa Senado media forum.

“Once you change the Constitution, it’s difficult to repeal that. A law is easy to repeal, but the Constitution, you will transfer to (federalism) suddenly? Just because one man says so? I don’t think we should put a lot weight to it,” he added.

Mr. Sotto suggested that Mr. Misuari should instead reach out to the Executive department and Congress for possible discussions.

“Maybe it’s better that he discuss it first instead of scaring us off. He can go to the President or Congress or whoever. We can send a representative, I will let him talk to Senator (Gregorio B.) Honasan (II), chairman of the Senate committee on peace, (unification and reconciliation),” he said.

In a speech on Wednesday, President Rodrigo R. Duterte said Mr. Misuari, with whom he met earlier this week, has threatened that he “will go to war” if the government fails to shift to federalism.

“Misuari said last night, ‘If you do not give it to me, let me be very honest, I will go to war.’ I said, ‘I understand, so let us just do this, let’s form a panel, because we have to inform the people, we do not negotiate secretly here,’” Mr. Duterte narrated.

Asked for more details regarding the meeting, Presidential Spokesperson Salvador S. Panelo said at a Palace briefing on Thursday that Mr. Duterte also reminded Mr. Misuari that the proposed shift to a federal government is up to Congress.

“He said that he understood where the Chairman was coming from, and he reminded him that the federalism issue would be up to Congress,” Mr. Panelo said.

The spokesman added, “And he suggested that his (Mr. Misuari’s) group create a panel of five members, and [for] the government’s side, the same number, and they will meet and discuss. 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.’”

Mr. Misuari and some of his MNLF followers have a pending case for rebellion and crimes against humanity for the bloody siege of Zamboanga City in 2013.

The House of Representatives has formulated its own version of a draft federal charter through a resolution calling for Charter change, which got third reading approval last December. The Duterte-appointed Consultative Committee has drafted its own version of a Federal Constitution.

Senate leaders have already said they could no longer tackle the measure in the 17th Congress due to lack of time. — Camille A. Aguinaldo and Arjay L. Balinbin