Thousands of Christians and Muslims in Mindanao, southern Philippines, rallied today against the signing of the accord granting minority Muslims an expanded homeland.
Government and MILF negotiators had been headed for Malaysia to sign the memorandum of agreement tomorrow which lays down the new borders of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM)
The Supreme Court stopped the deal to placate popular anger even though for the government it would end the ten-year-old conflict with Muslim rebels.
Last month, both sides agreed to expand an existing six-province Muslim autonomous region to include 712 villages, subject to the agreement of residents in a plebiscite within a year. Some local leaders complained however about the danger of electoral fraud.
Catholics expressed their concern that a deal between the MILF and the government would lead to renewed sectarian violence and vowed to obstruct the government's plan to conclude the peace accord.
Zamboanga City Mayor led about 3,000 people in today’s protest outside City Hall (see photo).
Archbishop Romulo Valles also spoke during a protest action in Zamboanga City against the proposed Moro homeland.
Many shops in the city, which has been a frequent target of bomb attacks blamed on Muslim militants, closed for the day.
Locally there is a ground swell of support for keeping many Zamboanga City out of the ARMM.
The central government defended its choice saying that it was for the good of Mindanao and the country.
However, Sultan Esmail Kiram, heir to Sultanate of Sulu, a stronghold of Muslim extremism, expressed disgust over what he called government's insensitive action of offering the areas which have been part of the ancestral domain of Sultanate of Sulu since time immemorial, to the MILF without prior consultation.
Mindanao remains at the heart of the Philippines’ ongoing politico-religious crisis. For both the Filipino and US government a ceasefire is essential to transform the area which is an important economic and trade crossroad. Unfortunately confessional divisions are still an unresolved problem.