PIME missionary: MILF political party, a "positive" step in the interests of peace in the Philippines
Manila (AsiaNews) - The idea of transforming the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) "into a political party," abandoning the original "revolutionary" nature of the movement was already "rumoured in the past." However, it is still "early" to understand how the situation will evolve and "some question marks will likely remain", even if President Benigno Aquino has taken "keen interest" in the Agreement for "many reasons". This is the reaction of Fr. Sebastiano D'Ambra, a priest of the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions (PIME), who has been in the southern Philippines since 1977, in one of the most sensitive areas for Islamic extremism, to the news that the Muslim rebels intend to form a political party. The missionary, founder of the "Silsilah" movement, for Islamic-Christian dialogue, adds that "it is important that the various groups - not only the MILF - reach an agreement," to avoid extremist off shoots.
This week, MILF leaders confirmed the intention to create a political party, giving institutional legitimacy to their objective to lead the autonomous region of Bangsamoro. President Aquino has delivered a report of 122 pages to Parliament, a basic text of the legislation in force in the Muslim autonomous region (Bangsamoro) and the result of years of negotiations. It provides for the transition to an interim administration, which will drive a transition period ahead of local elections. The transformation of MILF into political entity is "appreciated" by the government's chief negotiator, while the United Nations officials in Manila are pushing for the adoption of the draft law, calling it a "remarkable achievement".
Aquino believes the agreement that will lead to the disarmament of 10 thousand MILF troops and the birth of the autonomous region, improving the lives of millions of Filipino Muslims, a minority in the only overwhelmingly Catholic Asian nation (100 million inhabitants). "There are several question marks - says Fr. D'Ambra - and some unresolved issues remain." The priest will read, as soon as available, the text delivered by the President to Parliament, but emphasizes the "cultural" elements that constitute an obstacle to peace. Among these, the status of indigenous peoples, who so far "have not been considered," and who have therefore protested.
Other obstacles, adds the PIME missionary, could be represented by "other fighting groups" such as the Abu Sayyaf or BIFF, who have a "more radical" vision and do not hide sympathies for Islamic extremist movements at work in Syria and Iraq. In any case, concludes Fr. D'Ambra, the Philippines' need peace "and an agreement, even if yet to be perfected, is "positive".
For several decades, the MILF has sought to win the independence of Mindanao and its surrounding islands, a region that contains an estimated US$ 312 billion in mineral resources. In order to the end a war that left thousands of people dead, the two sides signed a five-page Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) on 24 January, in the Malaysian capital of Kuala Lumpur.
However, the deal is threatened by Muslim groups opposed to it as well as from resistance within the Filipino state. Made up of former MILF fighters, the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) has a reputation for violence. Opposed to the deal, it continues to attract fighters who are unwilling to lay down their weapons. For its part, the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) is equally opposed to the peace plan. It has tried to disrupt the peace process by conducting a series of violent attacks that left more than 200 people dead.
The deal is also not going to find it any easier among some members of the Filipino Congress, or in the Supreme Court, which could strike down some of its provisions as unconstitutional.