Former Muslim separatist leader Nur Misuari was acquitted by a lower court on Wednesday of leading a brief 2001 rebellion that claimed about 100 lives in the southern Philippines, officials said.
The court ruled there was insufficient evidence that Misuari and seven other defendants were behind the attacks on military targets on the island of Jolo. The other defendants were also acquitted, court officials said.
“The prosecution has failed to discharge its burden of showing proof beyond reasonable doubt that the crime of rebellion was committed by the accused and that they are guilty thereof,” the Manila regional trial court judge, Winlove Dumayas, wrote in his ruling.
Misuari, founder of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) that launched a decades-long separatist rebellion in 1971, could not be reached for comment.
After his arrest in Malaysia, where he fled following the Jolo revolt, he was detained at a police camp south of Manila before being granted house arrest.
He had been free on bail since last year and on Tuesday he registered as a candidate for governor in Sulu province, which includes Jolo, in the May 2010 elections.
The MNLF signed a peace treaty with the government in 1996 in exchange for limited Muslim self-rule in the south of the mainly Roman Catholic nation.
Misuari was later elected governor of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, which includes Sulu, but he lost that post when the government backed a rival candidate in subsequent elections.
Prosecutors had alleged he launched the Jolo uprising in 2001 to prevent the national government removing him from his post.
After the Jolo attack, Misuari escaped by boat to Sabah, in Malaysia, but was eventually arrested and deported to the Philippines.
Despite his fall from power, Misuari is still considered a leader of the Muslim minority and retains influence in groups like the Organisation of Islamic Conference, which had fostered the peace talks with the government.
Manila is seeking to resume peace talks with another rebel faction, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, that were suspended last year.