Philip­pines Mus­lim lead­ers ‘tired of wait­ing’ for Bangsamoro law

Tehran Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

Lead­ers of the Philip­pines’ largest Mus­lim rebel group have warned of a grow­ing frus­tra­tion in the south­ern is­land of Min­danao over the de­lay in the im­ple­men­ta­tion of a 2014 peace agree­ment it signed with the gov­ern­ment.

Ghaz­ali Jaa­far, vice chair­man of the Moro Is­lamic Lib­er­a­tion Front (MILF), told a con­sti­tu­tional re­form panel on Tues­day, that Mus­lim groups are “tired of wait­ing” to achieve real au­ton­omy for their peo­ple.

“This is pre­cisely why some of our for­mer com­rades bolted from us, and how they are fight­ing with us be­cause they are frus­trated, so to speak, with the way the gov­ern­ment is han­dling the ne­go­ti­a­tion,” Jaa­far, who is one of the main authors of a pro­posed Mus­lim au­ton­omy law, was quoted as say­ing by lo­cal news.

The se­nior MILF leader’s state­ment comes as gov­ern­ment troops launched an of­fen­sive against the break­away armed group, Bangsamoro Is­lamic Free­dom Fighters (BIFF) last week, killing at least 44 of its fighters and wound­ing 26 oth­ers in Min­danao’s Maguin­danao prov­ince.

For Ghaz­ali, the pro­posed law is “the most civ­i­lized and peace­ful way” to end the decades-long con­flict in the coun­try’s south, and pre­vent more clashes, such as those against the BIFF, from break­ing out.

“We are fed up, to be truth­ful to you,” he said. “We are tired of cor­rup­tion, we are tired of nepo­tism and all things that hold back our Mus­lim home­land.”

He pleaded to give the Mus­lim mi­nori­ties a chance to catch up with the rest of the coun­try in terms of eco­nomic progress.

Stalled law

Pres­i­dent Ro­drigo Duterte has com­mit­ted to sup­port the au­ton­omy law, and promised to press Congress to ap­prove it.

The rebels, who dropped their se­ces­sion­ist bid in ex­change for broader au­ton­omy, signed a pact with the gov­ern­ment to es­tab­lish a re­gion with more pow­ers and fund­ing for mi­nor­ity Mus­lims in the south of the pre­dom­i­nantly Ro­man Catholic na­tion and end a decades-long bloody re­bel­lion.

The peace pact would have been a ma­jor legacy of Duterte’s pre­de­ces­sor, Benigno Aquino III, but the leg­is­la­tion stalled in Congress in 2015 af­ter some rebels from the 11,000-strong MILF be­came en­tan­gled in fight­ing that killed 44 po­lice com­man­dos dur­ing a gov­ern­ment op­er­a­tion in the town of Ma­mas­apano.

The com­man­dos man­aged to kill top Malaysian “ter­ror” sus­pect Zulk­i­fli bin Hir, who had long been wanted by the United States, but the large num­ber of po­lice deaths sparked pub­lic out­rage and prompted politi­cians to stall pas­sage of the au­ton­omy bill.

Last year, MILF Chair­man Al Haj Mu­rad Ebrahim had said the de­lay in the pas­sage of the au­ton­omy law paved the way for the emer­gence of other armed groups in Min­danao.

Dur­ing the Duterte ad­min­is­tra­tion, the pas­sage of the au­ton­omy law was stalled anew af­ter armed fighters be­long­ing to the Abu Sayyaf Group and Maute group, which had pledged al­le­giance to the Is­lamic State in Iraq and the Le­vant (ISIL/Daesh) ter­ror­ist group, launched a siege of a ma­jor city in Min­danao.

The siege of Marawi lasted for five months and left about a thou­sand peo­ple killed, in­clud­ing over a hun­dred sol­diers.

The con­flict has left about 150,000 peo­ple dead and stunted de­vel­op­ment in the re­source-rich but poverty-wracked re­gion.

A pre­vi­ous peace agree­ment in 2008 was struck down by the Philip­pines’ Supreme Court, which re­jected it as un­con­sti­tu­tional, lead­ing to re­newed fight­ing.

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