More education for the young and less politicking are the path to peace in Mindanao
What are the main problems people in Mindanao have to face?
Through the MILF, Muslims have claimed for years a “Moro ancestral domain” over the island. This has led to endless conflicts and profound mistrust between Muslims and other communities. Christians who have been in Mindanao for generations are frightened by the prospect that one day they might find themselves under Sharia as envisaged by Islamic extremists. With cultural differences deeply entrenched, people see little value in interfaith dialogue. Thus, despite all our best efforts, the latter is constantly hampered.
How does the Muslim community cope with the situation?
Muslims for years have economically lagged behind the rest of the population. They are also politically underrepresented. Instability in predominantly Muslim provinces is caused by the presence of Moro rebels and widespread corruption. Both make government and private sector investments a near impossibility. In the richer provinces Muslims are instead in the minority. Underdevelopment, coupled with anti-Muslim prejudices in other communities, prevent Muslims from getting jobs.
What role are Muslim community leaders and those of other communities playing in interfaith dialogue?
Christian and indigenous community leaders have played a visible role in the peace process. Muslim leaders have not been assertive enough with regards to their communities. Perhaps this is due to the different role religious leaders play within the culture of Islam.
How can young people from both religious groups be made to understand the value of dialogue?
They need to be educated and taught respect for other people who have a different cultural and religious background. They must have prejudices and misunderstandings e removed from their minds and must be shown the value of peace and non-violence.
What role do international observers, government authorities and NGOs play in the peace process?
There is too much “politicking” in the process. International peace facilitators like Malaysia or Libya are supposed to observe the process but are not impartial. NGOs and civil society groups do not have a clear agenda, except to attain peace. The central government and the military very likely have their own agenda but it is probable that these do not always fit the goal of achieving peace.
What concerns you the most about the situation? How can Filipinos contribute to achieving a lasting peace?
I am concerned about news that radical Muslim groups are working towards the establishment of a pan-Asian caliphate in Mindanao. We all need to work together in interfaith groups to monitor what is going on at the level of peace panel discussions. We must demand greater accountability from both the Filipino central government and the MILF. We must work together and speak out against abuses by either side. We all need to pray and work for peace here and now.
 The conflict between the Filipino military and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front started up again in 2008 after a ten-year truce. In the past 17 months some 750,000 people have been displaced.