Manila (AsiaNews) – “The type of peace envisaged by the deal is not what we would like, but it is better than nothing,” said Fr Sebastiano D'Ambra, a missionary with the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions (PIME), in the southern Philippines since 1977.
Speaking to AsiaNews about ongoing talks between the Filipino government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), an armed group that has laid down its arms, the missionary said, “If we take one step at a time and with God's help, we may hope to get it [peace] sooner or later.”
Yet, “Although I hope that the agreement brings more peace to the country, I worry about the fact that Muslims are divided. This can be a big problem."
The Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) is at the core of the talks. The draft law would grant a special status to Mindanao’s Bangsamoro province, which has a Muslim majority. The BBL approval is the crux of the negotiations between the government and the MILF.
This deal, the priest noted, will also shape the future moves of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), which split from the MILF in 2008, and the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), armed groups still operating in the area.
The law "provides Bangsamoro with a special status within the country. It does not entail separation,” the priest explained. “The agreement sets up an autonomous, 50-member parliament, and the election of a premier."
"In the coming days, a group of senators will come here to take part in an open forum,” Fr D'Ambra said. “According to leaked information, something will be decided by June, but the government will have to removed and change the most controversial points."
A critical point of BBL is the instauration of Sharia in the region. "It is not Saudi-style Sharia,” said the missionary, “but the application of certain Islamic rules in personal matters (marriage, property, etc.). For this, a Muslim assembly will decide".
The Church is concerned about the situation. In its "official statements, it has always expressed itself in favour of peace. However, there is a lot of fear on the part of some,” Fr D'Ambra said, “while others are opposed to the agreement."
Meanwhile, media have reported the death in Maguindanao province of Abdul Basit Usman, a terrorist with the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) on the run since 2002, under murky circumstances.
It is unclear whether he was killed by bodyguards attracted by the million-dollar bounty placed on his head by the United States, or by men from the MILF (from which the BIFF broke away in 2008), which signed a peace deal with the Filipino government last year.
According to Fr D'Ambra, the news of the killing "is significant to a certain point. Usman, although he is the best known, is not the only dangerous BIFF figure. This group will continue to be trouble with attacks and violence.”
However, “In the Philippines, his death is not big news,” the missionary added. “Still, it is a small step towards peace. Much depends on what the government will do about the BBL in the coming days".