Philippines: Deal With Islamic Rebels Leaves Christians Wary, but Hopeful

ICC Note: The Philippine government has recently signed a new peace agreement with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, an Islamic radical group that has been fighting for greater independence on the southern Philippine island of Mindanao. Christians are cautiously optimistic that the new deal will lead to lasting peace, though many past deals have fallen through after more radical elements of the group broke off and continued to fight the government for full independence. The rebel group has been known to kidnap local priests and Western missionaries and hold them for ransom. ICC also still receives occasional reports of Christian villages raided by the Islamic group. 

7/16/2013 Philippines (AsiaNews) – “There is a lot of grumbling,” a Catholic source tells AsiaNews. “There is a perception that money and positions of power are going to a group that did not live up to its commitments in the past. However, we must continue to hope in a better future. ”

The peace agreement between the Filipino government and the rebel Moro Islamic Liberation Front “is not easy to understand. On the one hand, there is a lot of grumbling, especially among Christians, who do not trust what Muslims might do. On the other, there is hope that history, after 40 years, will not repeat itself and that we shall reach true peace,” a Catholic source, anonymous for security reasons, told AsiaNews.

After eight months of negotiations, representatives of the Filipino government and of Mindanao separatists signed in Kuala Lumpur a first basic agreement on the economic and political life of the predominantly Muslim province.

However, the final deal seems to have upset a good portion of the Filipino population, which accuses the government, and President Benigno Aquino, of “selling out” the natural resources of the area.

The Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) is an armed group that has been trying to achieve independence for mineral-rich Mindanao for the past few decades. The war has cost the lives of thousands of people and has prevented the parties from exploiting the area’s rich mineral resources worth an estimated US$ 312 billion.

The government wants a complete ceasefire with all weapons handed in. The rebels want a certain margin to retain a local police force.

Christians, the source told AsiaNews, “have always been wary of these forms of agreement. It is an old story, which starts with the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF, created in the 60s), the first group that sought Mindanao independence. Even though an agreement was reached, it did not lead to anything. After the signing, in fact, the group split, giving rise to the MILF, and now the thing is repeating itself. ”

The danger, he added, “is that in the end people only talk about money. When autonomous regions are set up, the leaders of the various groups take money and positions of power, and show little interest in keeping the peace or their pledges.”

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