Manila (AsiaNews) - While saying he is "saddened" by the situation in Mindanao, Cardinal Gaudencio Rosales, archbishop of Manila, says he hopes that "the work of the Catholic bishops and ulemas commission (BUC)" may help the "peace process in the region". Back from a trip to the island, the cardinal has announced that in the next few days he will write "a letter to the Christian-Muslim conference", asking them to employ "all of their efforts to promote peace" and guarantee "stability" in the region.
The central and western parts of the island of Mindanao have registered an escalation in the violence between rebels of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and the Filipino army over the last few weeks; the tension rose after the failure of the accord between the two sides over the Memorandum of Agreement (MoA), the document that was supposed to establish the territories of the autonomous Muslim region of Mindanao (ARMM).
Cardinal Rosales is thoroughly familiar with the situation in the southern part of the country, having spent eleven years as head of the archdiocese of Malaybalay in Bukidnon, which includes the province of Lanao del Sur, where there is an active presence of proponents of the separatist Islamic guerrillas. "I think no one wants violence", the archbishop of Manila emphasizes. "No one wants killing so whatever they want and how it's done, everything has to be done within the [bounds of the] Constitution. We cannot just take the law into our hands and start killing everybody". The prelate does not conceal his "sadness" in thinking again of his "eleven years in the area"; for this reason, he intends to write a letter "to my brother bishops" and "to the imams and ulemas, who are like brothers to me" in his priestly ministry, encouraging them to "promote dialogue" and "protect the lives of so many innocents". "Any disagreement", Cardinal Rosales continues, "must be settled in a peaceful way. We should study this very well. Whatever must be done must be done in a peaceful way". The logic of war is contrary to "any form of civilization", and is foreign "to the faithful of all religions".
Fr Eliseo Mercado, head of the National Peace Council, is asking that a representative of the Filipino bishops' conference also be given a place at the negotiating table with the MILF and the government, while President Gloria Arroyo is calling on the BUC to play a leading role in "a civil society initiative to come up with a framework for lasting peace in Mindanao". Fr Mercado highlights the need for "a group without direct interests", able to work for a "lasting peace".In regard to the signing of the peace treaty, blocked by the supreme court last August 5 on the eve of the signing, in Malaysia, the government has confirmed that it will keep its twelve observers in Mindanao, even if the Philippines does not reach an agreement on the composition of the new team of international observers (International Monitoring Team) in the area. According to President Arroyo's entourage, the disarming of the Islamic rebels is a "necessary condition" for the resumption of dialogue with the MILF, but many parliamentarians are calling for "justice", and that those responsible for the recent episodes of violence "be handed over to the legal authorities". The tension has not been eased by the news released yesterday that during a security sweep by government forces in the city of Mamasapano, the soldiers found "chemical agents" used by the MILF to "make bombs".