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REMEMBERING: The Dream Lives On

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 16 October) — Thousands lined the streets of Jolo when he won as Governor just as thousands flocked to Indanan when he died a year ago, on October 17.

He was buried by the road side beside an MNLF (Moro National Liberation Front) camp named in his honor.

There he nestles peacefully among the huge  trees and vines,  enveloped in greens -his favorite color. This is how he  envisioned his final resting place. Simple. Unpretentious. No trimmings of the  enormous power he once possessed and yielded.

Yusop Jikiri’s final resting place in Indanan, Sulu. Simple. Unpretentious. No trimmings of the enormous power he once possessed and yielded. Photo courtesy of SUSAN PALAD

He was the Chief of Staff of the MNLF who by a twist of fate became a Governor and Congressman not only for one district but two – one in Basilan and one in Sulu. Prior to his death he was the acknowledged Chairman of MNLF representing the Council of 15.

He was a deeply religious man. For him, nothing happens by chance. He sees messages around him dictated by an alignment of natural forces. Islam, after all is a way of life.

We might be coming from different religious foundations but there is only one Almighty God who is a living God. He listens and sends back messages in various forms. And when He answered my prayers for the fourth time, I decided to join the medical and humanitarian mission in Omar, Sulu along with my daughter Sana-a.

It required some days of travel  passing  provinces  and cities with frightful  COVID-19 cases. Added to our personal  travelling expenses is the cost of our swab tests required by Zamboanga and Sulu but after a whole day in a navy boat under the sweltering heat, the 24 volunteers finally made it to Omar on a late afternoon and were  whisked to the battalion headquarters built at the edge of a white sand beach.

I woke up early and sat at the waterfront facing the beautiful cliffs of Capual bathe in gold as the sun rises from the horizon. I was singing hymns of praises to our Almighty Father for making the medical and humanitarian mission a reality even amidst the horrors of COVID.

At the back of my mind, I was finding some possible ways for my daughter to visit her father’s grave about an hour and a half  ride from Omar.

In the medical team  of the Mindanao Humanitarian Volunteers for Peace (MHVP)  was a husband and wife couple. They were our newest recruits of volunteers. The husband, Dr Abdel Julhari is from Sionogan, Indanan and a grandson of my late husband. I was sharing my thoughts  with them to visit the grave of Yusop along with my daughter. Suddenly, a rainbow appeared and I took it as a positive sign from him. The following day, September 29, we took off early for Indanan knowing that the Marines were expecting MHVP to  serve  no less than a thousand  patients.

Indanan is a municipality just outside the capital town of Jolo but one can see clearly it is the hometown of the Chief of Staff and Chairman of  the MNLF. The son, Helmut, is the mayor who took over from his brother Eddi. The eldest,Thong Jikiri was a former Board Member and follows the steps of his late father in the MNLF hierarchy. He serves as Vice Chair on Military Affairs of the MNLF and Chairman  in ZamBaSuTa (Zamboanga, Basilan, Sulu and Tawi tawi). Yusop, just like any Tausug father, is mighty proud of  having sons who will carry the Jikiri name over generations. He was not a doting father though because he has a bigger  family and responsibility to attend to: the MNLF.

He was a proud leader and  one of the bravest and fiercest warriors. Freedom fighters in Maguindanao and Lanao have only utmost  respect for this Tausug warrior.

I visited his office at the former SouthCom compound in Zamboanga months after the signing of the Final Peace Agreement.

The AFP built a new building for the Separate Units which he  headed to accept the application of the 7,000 MNLF regulars who were integrated into the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) as agreed upon between the Philippine government and the MNLF. I  once overheard a Marine General saying that among the possible adversaries of the government, he considers Yusop as the most formidable because the 7,000 men will always be loyal to him. They will be a force to reckon with since  they were trained by no less than the MNLF and the AFP.

Yusop carried the title of Lt. Gen. as Chief of Staff. Thus, many fondly called him Chief before  he became a Gov and a Cong.

At his office in SouthCom, I noticed the strong  presence of fine good looking  young men with military bearing. Yusop wanted  the MNLF freedom fighters to be   comparable or even superior to the soldiers of the AFP. It was  absolutely no rag tag army with him at the helm. A number, to include himself, were trained in foreign camps.

The soldiers who man the MNLF Camp in Indanan sustain that pride. They were alert, disciplined and dedicated. The camp was immaculately clean, austere, solidly dignified  with a large parade ground. Outside its high walls near the entrance is a signboard of the Philippines and the Organization of Islamic Conference (now Cooperation).

Surprisingly, from a small crowd of women emerged  the camp commander, garbed in the traditional robe and veil. She  promotes order in the camp.

Yusop Jikiri’s daughter (L) with her mother Susan Palad (2nd from right) In the camp named after the MNLF’s Yusop Jikiri in Indanan, Sulu on 29 September 2021. Photo courtesy of SUSAN PALAD

She readily  raised a salute when my daughter was presented and refused to  lower it down unless my daughter answers with a snappy salute. She brought us to the office of her father dominated by a flag of the MNLF  painted on the wall. It bears only one picture – a painting of  their beloved  Commander Yusop.

I was met by a platoon of heavily armed soldiers and it suddenly bacame a very emotionally charged  moment as one by one they kissed my hand. I was unashamedly  shedding tears. I was thanking them for their unconditional love and devotion  to my former husband. Suddenly, all those years of resentments as a wife and mother were tenderly taken by these young men who gave up their lives for the dreams and aspirations of the Bangsa Moro.

On our way out of Indanan, we met a convoy bearing MNLF flags with machine guns mounted on  MacArthur jeeps. There were heavily armed  MNLF soldiers in every vehicle making their way back to Indanan in breakneck speed. I presumed it was my stepson Thong Jikiri who was trying to catch up with us but we have a commitment to the people waiting for us at the gym.

I know Yusop is up there somewhere, smiling as our paths briefly meet.

For many of us, the story I have shared is almost  incredible but the journey of our BangsaMoro people was also painfully incredible and we need to make that first single step of understanding before we take a journey of healing.

Understanding and healing came from  the  silent and respectful  kiss those young MNLF soldiers lovingly planted on my hand.

MAGSUKUL! In tuhan Allahutaala malasa katu

(Susan Palad married Yusop Jikiri after the signing of the 1996 Final Peace Agreement between government and the Moro National Liberation Front where Jikiri was Chief of Staff of the Bangsa Moro Army. Palad was then in charge of the rebel rehabilitation program of the Southern Philippines Development Authority. She and Jikiri have two children, Sana-a Elizabeth and Kahlil Imran. She says she repeatedly explained to her children that “he does not belong to us but to his people.” Jikiri succumbed to bone cancer in Sulu at 11 p.m. on 17 October 2020)


MNLF chair Yusop Jikiri, 66: a ‘beacon of peace,’ a “great mujahid’

REFLECTIONS: Magsukul, Yusop Jikiri 

TRIBUTE: The Chief 



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