Manila (AsiaNews/CBCP) - The only Christian municipality in the province with a Muslim majority in Mindanao "wants a local government under the direct control of the central government," said Elvino Balicao Jr., a Christian and mayor of Wao, a town of some 50,000 people in Lanao del Sur. "We prefer to stay out of Bangsamoro, although we support the right to self-determination of local Muslims. I hope Manila will listen to us before there are problems."
The area is close to Islamic provinces that - after the recent peace agreements - set up a local government based on Muslim principles.
Bangsamoro is a historical region within the Philippines with a predominantly Muslim population, that has been affected by decades of civil war between the central government and Moro guerrillas (a Muslim ethnic group that inspired the first guerrilla war for independence) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), which first sought independence and later settled for broad autonomy.
The 2012 peace agreement provided for the region to become an autonomous entity within the Philippines. Wao is the only Christian predominantly municipality where Muslims constitute only 17 per cent of the population.
"We respect their culture and we lived with them in peace, side by side, since time immemorial," Mayor Balicao said, "but my people would prefer to live and practice their faith, pursuing their own culture, outside of an Islamic government autonomous".
He was referring to the restrictions Islam imposes on its believers, which far too often are enforced on non-Muslims.
"Let me be clear," the mayor said. "We are not opposed to their will. However, like on 27 March 2014 [when the agreement establishing Bangsamoro was signed], we have demonstrated peacefully and call on Manila to listen to our voice."