Christians campaign for Muslim region in Mindanao

Self governance is necessary for an inclusive quest for peace in the southern Philippines, they say
Christians campaign for Muslim region in Mindanao

Supporters of the Bangsamoro Organic Law release doves during the launching of a campaign for the law's ratification in Cotabato City on Dec. 10. (Photo by Bong Sarmiento)


Christians in the southern Philippines are throwing their support behind a campaign for the ratification of a law that will pave the way for the creation of an autonomous Muslim region in Mindanao.

Father Clifford Baira, social action director of Cotabato Archdiocese, said Christian communities would not oppose the creation of the proposed Bangsamoro region.

"Our simple formula is to engage the people of the Bangsamoro," said the priest during the launching on Dec. 10 of a campaign for the ratification of the Bangsamoro Organic Law, which will be put to a vote in a plebiscite next month.

"Let [Muslims] be part of the governance in the inclusive quest for peace in Mindanao," said the priest before a crowd of about 15,000 Muslims.

There are about 10.7 million Muslim in the Philippines, approximately 11 percent of the country's total population. 

Most Muslims live in parts of Mindanao, the island of Palawan, and the Sulu Archipelago in the southern part of the country.

Nabil Tan, chairman of a government body tasked with implementing a peace deal with Moro rebels, stressed what he described as the "dividends of peace" the law will bring to the region.

"This is for peace, permanent peace that we have been dreaming of for Mindanao," he told the same gathering.

Mohagher Iqbal, leader of the rebel Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), said the law's inclusive provisions ensure that every sector will benefit from the proposed Bangsamoro region. 

"This is for all. No one will be left behind. This is for all of us," said the rebel leader.

The Bangsamoro Organic Law comes into effect four years after the government signed a peace agreement with the MILF.

The 2014 Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro ended the armed struggle waged by the MILF since it broke away from the Moro National Liberation Front in the late 1970s.

The new law provides for the creation of a "transitional" body — composed mostly of former rebel fighters — that will facilitate the expansion of an existing Muslim region.

Under the law, the national government will retain police and military forces in the area while the rebels are expected to lay down their weapons in phases.

Cardinal Orlando Quevedo of Cotabato earlier called for "continued dialogue" as a tool to establish a just and lasting peace in Mindanao.

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The prelate noted that decades of war have stunted the growth of the region, which hosts vast fertile lands and huge mineral deposits.

"Dialogue is not mere intellectual discussion. It is first of all listening humbly and respectfully to the other, listening not only with one's ears, but most importantly listening with one's heart," said Cardinal Quevedo.

With the passage of the Bangsamoro Organic Law early this year, the prelate said Mindanao is now on the "threshold of definitive peace."

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