By Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews
1st of two parts
DAVAO CITY (MindaNews) – The fathers waged an armed revolution, hunted in the battlefield by troops of President Ferdinand Marcos Sr. Their children are now appointees of Marcos’ son and namesake, President Ferdinand Marcos, Jr. in the battlefield that is the parliament, there to participate in building the Bangsamoro of their and their parents’ dreams, the Bangsamoro their children will inherit literally from the blood, sweat and tears of their forebears.
A number of the children appointed to the Bangsamoro Transition Authority (BTA) were born abroad while their parents were on exile. Some of them have had to use their mothers’ family names in school, or quit school for a year or two, for security reasons. Many went to private Catholic schools for their education. Their mothers played crucial roles in what they have become now. Their fathers fought together for the Bangsamoro’s right to self-determination, later broke into factions but still fought for the same cause.
The torch of the Bangsamoro struggle has been passed. And the bearers are ready, not just as the sons and daughters of their parents but as the sons and daughters of the Bangsamoro. Their weapons are no longer guns, their battlefield is the Bangsamoro Parliament.
At least 14 of the 80 members of the BTA are children of revolutionary leaders, field commanders and members of peace negotiating panels. Although they can easily be classified as a privileged class, they share a common desire to serve the people their parents fought for in the battlefields and peace negotiating tables.
MindaNews listened to six of them in separate sit-down interviews last month, conducted face-to-face or online.
Abdulkarim Tan Misuari, Vice Chair of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) chaired by his father, Nur, initially trained to be a commando to lead his people at the frontlines but ended up as an Ustadz as his mother wished. He was born in Malaysia in December 1974, on the first year his parents, Nur Misuari and Desdemona Tan of Sulu began what would be at least two decades of a life in exile.
For Abdulkarim, popularly referred to as “Kharz,” before he could call the Bangsamoro his home, “home” referred to Malaysia, Libya, Egypt, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Syria. He is the eldest of six children, all of them born abroad.
Nurredha Ibrahim Misuari was born in Jolo, Sulu in December 1994, the eldest of three children of Misuari and third wife Tarhata Ibrahim. She is the only Misuari child born in Sulu. She spent her elementary and high school years in Quezon City, graduated from St. Joseph’s College in high school and the University of Immaculate Conception in Davao City for college, where she finished Business Administration, major in Financial Management, Magna Cum Laude, in 2019. She was that year’s recipient of the Outstanding Student Award.
She was only 16 when she was asked by her father to head the MNLF’s National Identification Committee which takes charge of MNLF membership cards. She also served as Deputy Head of the MNLF Peace Coordinating Committee. She wants to pursue Law at the Ateneo de Davao University.
Abdulkarim’s and Nurredha’s father, Nur, was a professor of political science at the University of the Philippines in Diliman who was forced to leave the academe to respond to the call of the times. He co-founded the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) with Salamat Hashim of Maguindanao and Abulkhayr Alonto of Lanao del Sur. “Maas” (Elder) as he is often called, served as Governor of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) from September 1996 until November 2001. He is now based in Davao City. He is 83 years old.
Abdullah Biston Hashim, a graduate of Bachelor of Secondary Education major in Math, was conceived in Pakistan but born in Manila in December 1987, just as his father, Salamat Hashim of Maguindanao, founding chair of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), was preparing to return from Pakistan to live in the MILF’s Camp Abubakar in Maguindanao. Abdullah is the eldest of five children.
He describes his childhood as “school time, I was in the cities and then vacation time, I was in the camps, so mostly Camp Abubakar.” He used another surname while in elementary and high school and finally got to use his father’s surname only in college at the Notre Dame University, when peace negotiations were already ongoing. His first dream was to become an engineer but circumstances made him shift to another course.
A day before the government’s military offensive against the MILF in Camp Abubakar during the “all-out war” in 2000, he and his siblings were evacuated to safer grounds after the MILF intelligence network warned government troops were coming.
Salamat Hashim was Vice Chair of the MNLF under Misuari when the Tripoli Agreement of 1976 between the MNLF and government was signed. After the failed implementation of the peace pact, he led a group that broke away from the MNLF to form the “new MNLF,” later renaming it to MILF. He succumbed to an illness while in a camp of the MILF in Butig, Lanao del Sur before noon of July 13, 2003. He was 61.
Omar Yasser Crisostomo Sema, a lawyer, was born in Manila in 1972 to Muslimin Sema of Maguindanao and Eva Crisostomo of Laoag City. He grew up in Laoag City, spent his elementary and high school years at a Protestant school – the Northern Christian College – and in 1993 went to the Mindanao State University in Marawi City for college, where he said he was “radicalized.” At MSU, he took up Political Science and later shifted to International Relations but quit school when his father was elected mayor. Eventually, he finished a college degree – this time, Public Administration – at the Notre Dame University in Cotabato City. He finished Law at the Ateneo de Davao University.
Based in Cotabato City, Omar served as legal counsel to the MNLF under his father, Muslimin, was appointed to the MILF-led Bangsamoro Transition Commission in 2017 and the MILF-led BTA in 2019. As BTC member trained in insider mediation and a Moro who could speak Ilocano, he is best remembered for his persistence in lobbying for the retention of important provisions of the BTC draft into the Bangsamoro Organic Law, hounding then House Majority Leader Rodolfo Farinas all the way to the comfort rooms of the venues of the Bicameral Conference Committee.
Omar’s parents, Muslimin and Eva were neighbors while they were students in Manila. Muslimin was MNLF Secretary General during the peace negotiations in Jakarta, Indonesia from 1993 to 1996, served as ARMM Executive Secretary when Misuari was ARMM Governor, and was mayor of Cotabato City from 1998 to 2010.
Muslimin Sema became part of the MNLF faction comprising the 15-member Executive Council that took over leadership from Misuari in 2001. The Council was initially led by then MNLF Vice Chair Hatimil Hassan. Sema later chaired the faction. He was named BARMM Minister of Labor on March 8, 2022 vice his nephew, Romeo Sema.
Albakil “Thong” Jikiri was born in December 1980 in Indanan, Sulu to Yusop Jikiri and Dayang Dayang Harija Dasani. He spent his elementary years using Dasani as his last name, for security reasons but after the signing of the 1996 Final Peace Agreement, while in high school at the Notre Dame of Jolo College, “doon ako nagpalit ng apelyido. Jikiri na ako” (that’s when I changed my last name. I became a Jikiri).
He was elected provincial board member of Sulu in 2007, councilor of Indanan in 2013 and barangay chair of Barangay Pasil in Indanan in 2018. In January 2021, a few months after his father passed away, he was designated as MNLF National Vice Chairman for Military Affairs. In September that same year, he was appointed Member of Parliament and in December was designated as BARMM Deputy Chief Minister for the island provinces of Basilan, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi.
His father, Yusop Jikiri, was chief of staff of the Bangsa Moro Army. He later served as Governor of Sulu from 2001 to 2004 and Representative of Sulu’s 1st district from 2007 to 2010. He succeeded Sema as MNLF chair in February 2017. He succumbed to bone cancer in 2020 at the age of 66.
Hamid Malik of Sulu, a nurse, was born in Saudi Arabia in 1995. He is one of the sons of Habier Malik, the commander of the MNLF during the siege of Zamboanga City in 2013. His father was reported killed although reports also indicate Malik managed to reach Sulu.
He was in Zamboanga City when the siege happened. He recalls they had to quit school and leave the city.
Hamid is now based in Davao City where he finished nursing at the University of Mindanao. He has worked at the City Health Office and was a contact tracer at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.
At 27, he is the youngest among 80 BTA members. The youngest female member is Nurredha Misuari who is turning 28 in December.
“The right thing to do”
Albakil Jikiri noted that despite the falling out between their fathers Yusop Jikiri and Nur Misuari, “si Brother Karim (Misuari) at saka yung lahat ng mga anak ni Maas, ang treat namin sa kanila ay kapatid” (Brother Karim and all the children of Maas, we treat them as siblings).
Abdulkarim Misuari, according to Tarhata Maglangit who also attended the meeting of MNLF-nominated MPs (Members of Parliament) in Davao City on August 18 and 19, “was telling us that it was the wife of Hatimil Hassan who taught them the ABC in Arabic.” Hassan was in the same room when Abdulkarim spoke about his wife.
Misuari’s son acknowledges that the BTA is “the platform that is available” now for them to serve the Bangsamoro people across the region’s five provinces, three cities and the special geographic area of 63 villages in North Cotabto.
He recalled how after the passage of Republic Act 11054 or the Organic Law for the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, he told his father, “We should participate.”
“Sabi niya, o. Yes, there are people around my father, they disagreed with me, pero siya hindi,” he said. He quoted his father as saying, “that’s the right thing to do,” but his father also told him ‘may commitment ako” (I have a commitment) to President Rodrigo Duterte who, during the campaign for the 2016 Presidential elections, sought his support to establish a federal system of government in the country.
Abdulkarim spoke of the Tausug’s word of honor and how his father told him he will honor his commitment to Duterte but his son should do what he thinks is right. He said his father told him he would “remain truthful to my commitment (to Duterte) pero do what you think is right.” When Duterte’s term ended and with the the Bangsamoro transition period extended, Abdulkarim said there was no more reason not to participate in the BTA.
“It’s a democracy di ba?” he told MindaNews, adding that when the people in the BARMM voted to ratify the law, except Sulu, “it’s a law and it’s a democracy.”
BTA is the platform
“I think wala namang pikon dito eh, di ba? Let’s be sport, di ba? We are law-abiding citizens, so if we want to serve our people, legally, this (BTA) is the platform that is available. I don’t think there is another platform for now, na pwede natin ma serve ang mga kapatid natin, kababayan natin sa five (provinces) except ito. So it’s politics, it’s the interest of the people that we’re trying to serve. The other thing is it’s our right din,” Abdulkarim Misuari said.
The MNLF under Misuari was invited to nominate members to the BTC and BTA under the Aquino and Duterte administrations, but Misuari snubbed the invitation then.
In this new BTA, which a number of MPs refer to as BTA2 to distinguish it from the first (BTA1), there are 14 members nominated by the MNLF – seven by the Sema-Jikiri group and seven by the Misuari group.
Presidential Peace Adviser Carlito Galvez met with the MNLF MPs separately and later jointly on August 18 at the Waterfront Insular Hotel in Davao City. There, the children and the elders in the Bangsamoro struggle like fellow MPs Hatimil Hassan, Randolph Parcasio and Tarhata Maglangit, agreed to work together, preferably no longer as factions but as MNLF, as Bangsamoro.
Nurse Malik says the main objective of the meeting was “pagkakaisa” (unity) among themselves and in the BTA, with the MILF. “Ang gusto namin mag unify, mag united lahat para – represent as one bangsa, Bangsamoro.”
Jikiri said they prefer reference to the Bangsamoro because “pag titignan, mo pareho lang naman ang pinaglalaban ni MI at MNLF” (if you look at it, the MILF and MNLF are fighting for the same cause).
He thanked Galvez for paving the way for the MNLF factions “to reconcile.” In Filipino, he said, he hopes these new developments will lead to “a united Bangsamoro so that the people will feel that what the MILF and MNLF fought for is for the people.” (Carolyn O. Arguillas /MindaNews)
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