PHILIPPINE troops are geared up for possible armed conflict with the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) should the shift to federalism fail to prosper, Malacañang said on Thursday, March 21.
That was President Rodrigo Duterte's "counter-threat," after MNLF founding chairperson Nur Misuari warned of potential war against the state forces in the event that the proposed federalism falls through, Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo said.
"He (Misuari) was saying that if federalism fails, 'I will go to war and assert our independence.' That is tantamount to fighting the government," the Palace official said in a press briefing with Palace reporters.
"If he (Misuari) goes to war, he will be fighting the government. So if he's fighting the government and the head of the government is the President, he would be [waging a war as well]. They would be fighting with each other. That is what he (Duterte) meant," he added.
On Wednesday, March 20, Duterte revealed that Misuari has threatened to launch a war, if the government fails to pass the proposed federalism.
Adopting a federal type of government is one of Duterte's campaign promises, in an effort to provide for the better distribution of public services, as well as to promote peace and order in besieged Mindanao.
Misuari made the threat during his meeting with Duterte at Malacañan Palace on Tuesday, March 19.
Panelo said that while Duterte understands the Moro leader's sentiments, the Chief Executive also warned that his administration is willing to "die together" with the MNLF, should a war ensue.
"He (Duterte) said that he understood where the chairman was coming from and he reminded him that federalism issue would be up to Congress," he said.
"May response naman siya (Duterte's response was): 'And then we celebrate if we will succeed. And as a response to that going to war, we will die fighting each other.' The President's response is also a threat. Kung you consider that as a threat, that's a counter-threat. Ibig sabihin, lalabanan kita (That means we will also fight you)," he added.
Panelo, nevertheless, was optimistic that the two leaders' resolve to seek peace in Mindanao and their "deep friendship" would prevail over their inclination to engage in an armed struggle.
He added that Misuari's threat should be considered an "advantage" on the part of the government, since the MNLF founder was "telegraphing his plans at this early."
He also believed that Misuari was merely expressing "disappointment" over failure to adopt a federal form of government.
"I don't think so. I think he just wants to express his disappointment that until now, federalism is not still in place," Panelo said, when asked if Misuari's warning could be deemed as a "real threat."
"Knowing the chairman who has been fighting for a peaceful solution in Mindanao and knowing the deep friendly relationship between the two leaders, I'm confident that there will be an agreement between two sides. And we will have peace in Mindanao," he added. (SunStar Philippines)