Christian Communities Cautious on Philippines Peace Deal (UPDATED)
A new peace agreement in the Philippines with a radical Islamist militia group in the countries southern island of Mindanao has Christian communities in the area nervous about their future. The peace agreement creates an autonomous Muslim region that will be governed by Sharia law. Currently the agreement dictates that Sharia law will not apply to Christians living in the new area, but many are doubtful whether this will actually happen. Human rights organizations have long pointed out that the Southern Philippines is one of the most dangerous places for foreign missionaries to travel as they risk kidnapping or murder at the hands of Islamic militia groups.
By Melissa Steffan
11/9/2012 Philippines (Christianity Today)- A major turning point in tense Muslim-Christian relations in the southern Philippines may be at hand following a recent announcement from President Benigno S. Aquino III.
Aquino recently announced that the Southeast Asian archipelago's national government has signed a peace accord with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, a major Muslim separatist group. For many years, separatist rebels have been fighting a violent war for independence for the Muslim-dominated island of Mindanao.
Now, the recent agreement will establish an area called Bangsamoro, which will still be subject to the Philippine constitution but will be governed by shari'ah law rather than the nation's Civil Code. However, shari'ah will not apply to Christians and other non-Muslims living in the area.
The agreement to create an autonomous, Muslim region has been welcomed by religious leaders, including Basilan bishop Martin Jumoad, whose southern diocese has one of the highest Christian populations. Jumoad said the accord is a step toward peace if it helps foster respect for Christians in the nation's south. Several human rights groups reported in July that the Philippines is "one of the most dangerous places for foreign missionaries."
But other groups are concerned about what this new development means for religious liberty. Not only could the government exchange religious freedom for "tenuous peace," but another separatist group, the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), says it will cause unrest if the current agreement moves forward. MNLF leaders say the recent peace accord violates a failed agreement between MNLF and the government in 1996.