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Bishops question Moro rebels

Churchmen urge MILF leaders to consider religious issues in peace proposals

Bishops question Moro rebels
Children in Mindanao join calls for peace during a rally last month. (Photo courtesy of Peaceweavers) reporter, Manila

March 31, 2011

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Philippine bishops have asked Muslim rebels to consider “religious issues” in a proposed Islamic state in the southern part of the country. The Catholic bishops met with leaders of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) yesterday as part of the rebel group’s efforts to consult with various parties involved in the peace process. Archbishop Fernando Capalla of Davao asked the rebel leaders about the application of religious laws and freedom, including the freedom of religious bodies and associations, in the proposed Bangsamoro state. The prelate, a convenor of the Bishops-Ulama Conference (BUC), also asked the rebels about the role of religious leaders who are "important figures" in Islamic societies. Archbishop Capalla said it was the first time the bishops had met with rebel leaders. "It is very important and historic because we were given the opportunity to help in the peace process," the archbishop said. Mohagner Iqbal, chairman of the MILF peace panel, said the meeting was an attempt to "reach out" and explain to the bishops the "Moro question" and the conflict in Mindanao. Earlier, Archbishop Orlando Quevedo of Cotabato said the meeting was just a "consultation." "This is not for the bishops to say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to a particular provision. We are here to listen, make some observations," the bishop said. The meeting was made possible with the help of the Mindanao Peoples Caucus, a grassroots network of indigenous, Muslim and Christian communities. During the meeting Archbishop Capalla, also sought clarification on a MILF proposal to erect a "true memorial to the victims of violence," saying there are many victims of violence from different sources. Iqbal, however, explained that this proposal is meant to be a "post-conflict attempt at reconciliation." "This cannot be legislated or negotiated but we need a healing process that must have forgiveness and justice," Iqbal said. Archbishop Capalla said the BUC would be "very interested" in assisting in the "healing process." The MILF has been fighting for an independent Muslim homeland in the southern Philippines since the 1970s. The Philippine military said the conflict has claimed at least 150,000 lives. PM13814.1647

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