Nur Misuari was arrested by the Malaysian authorities more than 60 hours ago, along with six of his followers on Pulau Jampiras, in Sabah waters for entering Malaysia illegally early Saturday at about 3.30 a.m.
Malaysia should not interfere in the internal affairs of the Philippines and should proceed to hand over Nur Misuari to Manila without any delay.
Deputy Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi had earlier indicated in Kota Kinabalu yesterday that Nur Misuari would be handed back to Manila without the necessity of having to charge him in court for illegally entering Malaysia.
However, the situation seems to have changed after Arroyo said later in the day that she would prefer Malaysia to take "a first crack" at the Moro leader before it hands him over to Manila for trial for rebellion, saying:
"I'll be very comfortable if Malaysia deals with him first because he has violated Malaysian laws. So let them handle him."
Arroyo said she had instructed the foreign affairs and justice departments to recognise Kuala Lumpur's prerogative to investigate Misuari. She said that after Malaysia was through with Misuari, "we can effect his repatriation so that he can face the rebellion charges against him in Philippine courts."
Arroyo said she had phoned the Prime Minister Datuk Seri Dr Mahathir Mohamad to thank him for Malaysia's swift action in arresting Nur Misuari.
She said that in giving way to Kuala Lumpur's prerogative over Misuari, "we will let Malaysia investigate him first for violation of their own laws and charge him according to their own laws".
She added: "Because, as Prime Minister Mahathir said yesterday, he entered Malaysia illegally and he is a threat to their national security and they have an Internal Security Act."
I do not know whether Arroyo is suggesting that Misuari should be detained without trial in Malaysia under the Internal Security Act (ISA) - and that the Philippines Government would have no objections to the use of the detention-without-trial law represented by the ISA against Misuari.
However, although Arroyo would feel "very comfortable" if Misuari is held in custody in Malaysia, Malaysians are feeling very uncomfortable that the Malaysian authorities appear to be entertaining the Filipino President's wish.
What is more important in the Misuari case is that Malaysians can "feel very comfortable" with the Moro rebel leader's immediate repatriation back to the Philippines, not only to avoid interfering in the internal affairs of the Philippines but equally important, to ensure that Misuari does not become a magnet for disaffected Filipino Muslim elements.
The most pressing task of the Malaysian authorities is to start a serious and sustained programme to repatriate and reduce the illegal Filipino presence in Sabah, which will not be helped by Malaysia holding Misuari in the country.