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Father Albert Alejo prepares to deliver his speech during the dialogue

People share hopes and fears on Moro peace

March 08 2010

SAN MATEO, Philippines (UCAN) -- The government at the weekend held a forum for people to discuss their hopes and fears for the peace negotiations with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.

Nearly 600 people from various sectors including Religious congregations attended two separate weekend workshops of the Mindanao Dialogue.

Jesuit Father Albert Alejo and other peace advocates directed the one-day forum on March 6 in San Mateo east of Manila and Baguio City.

The event was sponsored by the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP)

Father Alejo appealed to participants to "dream of a free Mindanao." He reminded people that as a country, "we are all connected" and begged them to continue hoping and working for peace in his region.

His team has held 10 dialogue sessions in various provinces and cities in response to the Supreme Court's order for the government to conduct nationwide consultations on the peace agreement with MILF.

Reactions to the dialogue were positive.

Franciscan Sisters of the Immaculate Conception Sister Maria Vida Cordero said she now understands the issues better.

"I am happy that civil society is included in this process because we are also stakeholders," the nun told UCA News. She said the process helped avoid "suspicion, skepticism, accusations and blame."
Hopes for a 'long, overdue' peace
Loreta Castro, who directs Miriam College's Center for Peace Education told UCA News she hopes the dialogues will help achieve "long overdue" peace in Mindanao, southern Philippines.

Mindanao Dialogue

The Philippine government opened negotiations in 1975 with the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), but the MILF split from the original Moro force, Abhoud Syed Lingga told the forum.

The splinter group did not recognize the government's peace agreement signed with the MNLF in 1996 and started its own negotiations in 1997.

Government estimates of MILF armed force range from 11,000-15,000.

Up to 150,000 combatants and civilians have been killed in the crossfire of the war, OPAPP Assistant Secretary Camilo Montessa told the group.

Damage to infrastructure is estimated at 150 billion pesos (US$3.25 billion), excluding lost investments and opportunities, Montessa said. A total of 2 million people were displaced as a result of the fighting over the years.

Syed, in his presentation, said the MILF wants the government to recognize their Bangsamoro (Moro nation) people, including all original inhabitants of Mindanao at the time of the country's colonization by Spain in the 1500s.

Indigenous people at the two dialogues questioned this, saying non-Islamized indigenous people should not have this identity imposed on them.

MILF wants jurisdiction over the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) and adjacent areas where Muslims are in a majority.

The government has agreed only to allow Bangsamoro autonomous rule in ARMM areas.

MILF also wants 75 percent of revenues from Bangsamoro resources to go to the region.

PL09039/1592 March 8, 2010 50 EM-lines (461 words)

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