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PUBLISHER’S NOTES | 2002 Malaysian `Handover’ of MNLF chair Nur Misuari

IN 2002, I was tasked by President Gloria Arroyo to fly to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia following Malaysia’s relayed intentions to hand over to the Philippine government Moro National Liberation Front ( MNLF) chairman Nur “Maas” Misuari. (“Maas” means a respected elder).

A year earlier in 2001, MNLF attacked Jolo, the capital town of Sulu. After the attack, he fled to Malaysia but authorities arrested him as soon as he entered Malaysian territory just across Sulu on board his fast sea craft.

Misuari once had maintained a camp in Sabah, Malaysia which served as sanctuary of MNLF fighters whenever they launched attacks against Philippine government authorities. This was allowed or “tolerated” by the Malaysian leadership during those times.

The following year, in 2002, the Malaysians, in a gesture of goodwill, decided that they would turn over or “hand over” Misuari to the Philippine government authorities. President Arroyo called me one day and said: “ Jess, go get Misuari in Kuala Lumpur.” So, off I went!

WHAT HAPPENED — Here’s my previously written recollection of that incident:

“The angst and anger of Nur against the Malaysians got worse when he was arrested in 2001 after a failed MNLF attack of Jolo. I recall that after escaping from Sulu, he landed by boat in his usual Malaysian hideaway thinking and confident, albeit erroneously, that he was still enjoying “sanctuary”status. The Malaysians promptly intercepted him as soon as he landed on Malaysian soil and took him into custody. He was dumped in a detainee’s cell and cut off from the rest of the world for sometime. I was secretly dispatched to Malaysia (on board a C-130 plane in the middle of the night ) to fetch Nur and fly him back to a waiting, specially prepared prison facility in Santa Rosa, Laguna. I recall he spent almost the whole five (5) hours of flying time from Kuala Lumpur to Manila relating to me how he was badly treated by the Malaysians. (And to think that many of us thought he was luxuriously billeted in some plush hotel or villa). He was once Malaysia’s “fair haired boy”. I speculated that Nur did not expect such new treatment from the Malaysians who were his patrons and supporters during his rebellion days against Philippine authorities. Malaysia, in fact, was the arms supply depot and staging point of MNLF rebels at the height of his rebellion. However, Malaysia and the Philippines had since established closer relations. NUR was oblivious or perhaps just ignored, “THE PARADIGM SHIFT” in the international scene.”

FLIGHT TO KL —I was flown to Kuala Lumpur with only a few AFP security officers on board a huge C-130 Philippine Air Force plane from Manila. (C-130 planes were rickety huge cargo flying machines, part of the United States’ “give-aways” to poor Philippines! So sorry for saying this out loud.)

I remember it was a long and bumpy flight. When we were already within Malaysian airspace, I heard the pilots complaining that the plane’s GPS or directional instrument system appeared not functioning. It was cloudy at the time. The plane was literally “flying blind” for sometime.Then after a while, (which seemed like eternity for the few of us who were on board) the descending plane broke through the clouds with the airport runway lights suddenly in full view. “Thank god”, I whispered to someone seated next to me.

NUR IN THE DARK- I was later told that Misuari, while under detention by the Malaysians was not aware where he was being detained. He was rarely allowed to go out of his cell but within the detention facility just to get the morning sun. He also did not know of his planned “handover” to the Philippine government. When I arrived in Kuala Lumpur, I was informed that he was secretly transferred to the old airport where our C-130 plane had landed earlier. When he suddenly saw me approaching, he was so surprised, saying: “Jess, what are you doing here?”

I simply replied: “I am taking you home, Maas!”.

DECOY — Bringing Misuari home was to be a “ top secret operations.” We landed in an airstrip somewhere outside Manila and not at the Manila International Airport. A “decoy” convoy of vehicles ( without Misuari on board) was set up so media reporters who were tipped off would follow that “decoy” convoy while Misuari and I would later disembark from the plane without anyone noticing and merrily motor our way to his detention cell in Sta. Rosa, Laguna, outside Metro Manila.

Whew! Recalling that top secret “handover” still gives me the shivers up to now!

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