08/07/2008, 00.00
PHILIPPINES
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Filipino bishops "satisfied" with halting of agreement with Moro Islamic Liberation Front

by Santosh Digal
The Catholic Church is hailing the stop to the agreement between the government and the MILF, charging it with "lacking transparency" and "failing to involve the people". Analysts speak of a move by Arroyo to win approval in view of the presidential elections in 2010.

Manila (AsiaNews) - The Filipino bishops are welcoming with "satisfaction" the supreme court's decision to block the signing of the agreement between the government and troops of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), which would have set the boundaries of an autonomous, Muslim majority zone in Mindanao (the ARMM).

Dinualdo Gutierrez, bishop of Marbel, emphasizes that "the right decision" has been made, because not everyone "knows the content" of the agreement and the consequences it could have. This position is also supported by the bishop of Digos, Guillermo Afable, according to whom it is not possible to rule out "fresh episodes of violence". Neither of the prelates is concealing his "concern", and the two are launching accusations against the administration of President Arroyo and the MILF, held guilty of wanting to "expand the territory of the ARMM without thoroughly weighing" the opinions of "Christians and Muslims", who are directly affected by the agreement.

Bishop Afable stresses that "a lot of people, particularly those in Mindanao, don’t know about the MoA [memorandum of agreement]", and he calls upon the government to clarify the main points "to prevent trouble” or sharpened tensions and conflicts. He is echoed by Bishop Gutierrez, according to whom "the Philippines is a participatory democracy. All stakeholders should have been consulted". He recalls that "five provinces are against [the signing of the memorandum]", which is increasingly becoming a source of division.

Bishop Deogracias Iñiguez, president of the public affairs commission of the Filipino bishops conference, emphasizes that the government should have "published a draft of the agreement" before its possible signing, because the contents concern "Christians and Muslims", and are a decisive element for peaceful coexistence between the two.

Accusations against the government are, finally, coming from the archbishop of Zamboanga, Romulo Valles, according to whom "not even the citizens affected by the MoA know anything about its contents". According to some experts, the real reason why the government is pushing for the signing of the agreement is President Arroyo's desire to "win approval" in view of the 2010 elections, using the peace agreement as a calling card for confirmation as the country's leader.

On Tuesday, July 5, in Kidapawan, in north Cotabato, more than 5,000 people participated in a protest demonstration against the failure to involve the people in the drafting of the agreement; wearing red T-shirts and headbands, they expressed their disagreement with "the annexation of various villages in north Cotabato, in the territory of Bangsamoro". The previous day, a group of MILF rebels launched a dozen mortar rounds against government soldiers in the southern Philippines, ignoring the cease-fire order issued by the leaders of the guerrilla group.

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