Updated: January 19, 2016 08:16 AM GMT
Peace advocates and church groups call on Philippine legislators to pass a law that will create an autonomous Muslim region in Mindanao during a rally in Manila on Jan. 19. (Photo by Mark Saludes)
With only eight days before the Philippine Congress adjourns, Catholic educational institutions have joined calls for the immediate passage of a law that will create an autonomous Muslim region in Mindanao.
The proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law is a bill currently under deliberation by legislators that, if passed, will establish a proposed new autonomous political entity known as the Bangsamoro in Mindanao.
If Congress fails to pass the law in time many observers fear a peace deal with Moro rebels could break down. Rebel groups have been waging an insurgency for greater autonomy for more than four decades.
"The executive branch has done its part to forge lasting peace," said Rene Salvador San Andres, executive director of the Catholic Educational Association of the Philippines. "It's time for legislators to pass the law," he said.
Gus Miclat, convenor of the All-Out Peace movement said the Filipino people are "losing significant time" as he urged legislators to see the urgency of the passing of the law "as a vital component for the peace roadmap to continue."
San Andres told students of Catholic schools during a Jan. 19 peace rally in Manila that the proposed law "is not ordinary legislation."
"It is crafted to do social justice," said San Andres, adding that the proposed law seeks to rectify past errors and to reverse injustices committed against Muslims in Mindanao.
Sister Arnold Maria Noel, an advocate for the passage of the law, said a negotiated peace deal in Mindanao is the only way to end the long-drawn conflict in the region.
"As Catholics we should promote peace and push Congress to do the same," said Sister Noel.
"It is ridiculous that we profess Christianity but we continue to discriminate against Muslims," she said. "We have been discriminating against them for almost 500 years since the Spaniards came."
Miriam Coronel-Ferrer, the government's peace negotiator with Islamist groups in Mindanao, warned that the decommissioning of Moro Islamic Liberation Front fighters might be scuttled should Congress fail to pass the proposed law.
The Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro, the peace agreement signed in 2014 by the government and the front, states that the decommissioning of rebel forces will be done gradually and in sync with identified milestones in the legislative timetable of the proposed basic law.