Zamboanga (AsiaNews) - Mgr Martin Jumoad, bishop of Basilan, is in favour of the creation of a new autonomous entity on Mindanao. The historic result achieved by the Filipino government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front was announced yesterday at the end of talks between the two sides held in Kuala Lumpur (Malaysia).
"I welcome the move because it is a step towards peace. We have suffered a lot and any small step towards peace is a sign of hope," Bishop Martin Jumoad said.
The See of the Diocese of Basilan is in the city of Isabela, where Christians are about half of the population. Together with Cotabato, it has one of largest concentrations of Christians in the would-be Bangsamoro Autonomous Region.
Both cities have been the scene of many attacks by Muslim extremists, the last one on 5 July 2009 that left five people dead.
Speaking to AsiaNews, local sources, anonymous for security reasons, said that many Christian families are already leaving their homes for safer areas, a trend that can only accelerate with the creation of the Autonomous Muslim Region.
Under the terms of the agreement, Sharia will be enforced in the new region, but only for Muslims. At the same time, the two cities will be attached to Bangsamoro only after a referendum in 2013.
"We have to be vigilant. At the same time, we explain to people the workings of the agreement, showing the risks and the opportunities that come from voting 'yes' or 'no'," Mgr Jumoad explained.
The prelate hopes there will be respect for minority religions and groups in the proposed Bangsamoro Region, noting however that "Islam believes in a theocratic form of government."