12/29/2008, 00.00
PHILIPPINES

Bishops: optimism over resumption of dialogue between government and Moro Islamic Liberation Front

Santosh Digal
All the members of the government delegation have been appointed. At Christmas, a ceasefire was observed by the army and the guerrillas.

Manila (AsiaNews) - Some of the Filipino bishops have expressed optimism over the resumption of dialogue between the government and the rebel group Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), based in Mindanao in the south of the country.

Last December 24, President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo appointed some new members of the government delegation. They include: Tomas Cabili Jr., a Catholic lawyer and businessman from Iligan City (Mindanao); the former mayor of General Santos City, Adilberto Antonino; former congressman Ronald Adamat of Upi (Maguindanao); and the secretary for agrarian reform, Nasser Pangandaman. The delegation will be headed by the undersecretary of the foreign ministry, Rafael Sequis.

Antonino is intended to represent the local government and the Christian community; Adamat - who drafted the law on indigenous people's rights - represents the Lumad, the indigenous groups.

Both government and non-government figures, including the Catholic Church, have long been pushing for the resumption of dialogue between the two sides, which broke down last September at the very moment when the agreement was supposed to be signed. The conflict between pro-independence Islamic guerrilla groups and the army have continued for decades on the archipelago of Mindanao, and the dialogue between the two sides has fluctuated. Orlando Quevedo, OMI, the archbishop of Cotabato, has stated that the dialogue should open "the path of peace," guaranteeing the Moros self-determination on the basis of the constitution, without violating national sovereignty or territorial integrity.

Honesto Pacana, bishop of Bukidnon, has asked the government and the MILF to continue dialogue, even though there may sometimes be setbacks. Bishop Pacana has pointed out that what is making dialogue more difficult are certain questions like the expansion of military personnel in the area, the politicization of problems, and the presence of mining companies.

Archbishop Antonio Ledesma of Cagayan de Oro, president of the bishops' council for interreligious dialogue, has asked for a speedy resumption of the negotiations, taking advantage of the current period of peace and calm. During Christmas, the army and the guerrillas observed a ceasefire.

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