PIME missionary: fragile Mindanao peace must be protected
The Bangsamoro Basic Law, for a "special status" in the Muslim-majority region, rejected by Congress but former Islamic independence leaders preach calm and respect the ceasefire. Fr. Sebastiani D'Ambra: "This is good news even if the risk is that the extremists take over. The rejection of the law has several causes, both cultural and economic".
Manila (AsiaNews) - The leaders of the largest former Islamic rebel group in Mindanao have asked their men to maintain the ceasefire with the government and to honor the peace treaty, even after the law that they fought for years for was rejected by Congress. A few days ago the Manila parliament blocked the approval of the Bangsamoro Basic Law (Bbl), that would make the Bangsamoro [Muslim-majority region of Mindanao ed] a region "with special status."
The Bangsamoro has long been an unstable area and the center of conflict between the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) - which called for independence from Manila - and the government. After 45 years of war, which has caused 120 thousand deaths and 2 million displaced, in 2014 the government signed peace with the MILF, starting negotiations for the BBL, the sigining of which has now been postponed until a later date.
"This was to be expected - says Father Sebastiano D'Ambra, PIME missionary in Mindanao – the BBL has long been hanging in the balance. An episode last year - in which 44 soldiers were killed by Islamic rebels - has become the excuse to reject the law. Everything ran aground and although President Aquino wanted to see it signed, now it is clear that it will not be".
"In all this - continues the priest – there is a positive sign. That is that the MILF continues to believe and to work with the government to continue a number of agreements that have already been programmed beyond the BBL. The government and the MILF met in Kuala Lumpur last week to organize these projects in crisis zones. Both parties fear that the situation will now be monopolized by the most extremist groups, such as Isis and the Bangsamoro Freedoom Fighters (Biff) ", which split from the fringe MILF.
According to Fr. D'Ambra, "the MILF has chosen a wise position to wait and see what happens. The law will be discussed after the May elections, and it will play a role in choosing the next president. I believe that Muslims will be geared to the candidate of the current government, Manuel Roxas, who seems to have promised to continue the program towards the signing of BBL".
The rejection of the law has several causes, said the missionary: "Unfortunately, the government started with the idea of doing something completely new, and vaunted the first agreements signed with the MILF. The thing was not handled well and the government had to take a more diplomatic discourse. Then there is the cultural factor that cannot be ignored: the Muslims in Mindanao are divided into at least three major groups, whose leaders are not always on good terms. Not all have sided in favor of BBL, because they have their own projects. Another big problem that nobody talks about is that the disputed areas are rich in oil and gas, and there are big economic interests (including the United States) against them. "
"We will see – says Fr. D'Ambra - if after the next elections we will have to start again from scratch, from the point reached thus far or if there more support for the idea of political federalism, which is an ever-present temptation".