Philip­pine rebels: Peace pact ‘best an­ti­dote’ for ex­trem­ism

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

The Philip­pines’ largest Mus­lim rebel group said yes­ter­day a peace ac­cord it’s try­ing to im­ple­ment with the govern­ment is “the best an­ti­dote” for vi­o­lent ex­trem­ism ex­em­pli­fied by a bloody siege of south­ern Marawi city by Is­lamic State group-aligned mil­i­tants. Govern­ment and rebel rep­re­sen­ta­tives submitted a new draft law to Pres­i­dent Ro­drigo Duterte which aims to es­tab­lish a more pow­er­ful Mus­lim au­ton­o­mous re­gion in the coun­try’s south un­der a 2014 peace deal that stalled in Congress un­der his pre­de­ces­sor.

“This is the best an­ti­dote to the vi­o­lent ex­trem­ism that has wrought havoc” in many Mus­lim ar­eas, Moro Is­lamic Lib­er­a­tion Front Vice Chair­man Ghaz­ali Jaa­far said dur­ing the pre­sen­ta­tion of the pro­posed au­ton­omy bill to Duterte at the pres­i­den­tial palace in Manila. Once es­tab­lished, the au­ton­o­mous govern­ment, to be called Bangsamoro, “would be at the fore­front of keep­ing pub­lic or­der and safety, dis­pens­ing jus­tice within the bounds of law and ad­dress­ing the ba­sic req­ui­sites of a good life,” Jaa­far said.

Duterte pledged to back the bill in Congress as long as it ad­heres to the Philip­pine Con­sti­tu­tion and pro­motes the plight of mi­nor­ity Mus­lims. “I am for this,” Duterte said to ap­plause from of­fi­cials and the in­sur­gents, who came in busi­ness suits. “Within the con­text of the Repub­lic of the Philip­pines there shall be a Bangsamoro coun­try.” 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 re­bel­lion.

The con­flict has left about 150,000 peo­ple dead and stunted de­vel­op­ment in the re­source-rich but pover­ty­wracked re­gion. 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 Moro Is­lamic Lib­er­a­tion Front be­came en­tan­gled in fight­ing that killed 44 po­lice com­man­dos dur­ing an anti-ter­ror­ism raid in south­ern Ma­mas­apano town.

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 law­mak­ers to stall pas­sage of the au­ton­omy bill. Rebel leader Al Haj Mu­rad Ebrahim said amid grow­ing frus­tra­tion among Mus­lims over the bill’s failed pas­sage, ex­trem­ist groups in the south emerged.

“These mis­guided peo­ple have filled the vac­uum cre­ated by our fail­ure to en­act the ba­sic law and fed into the frus­tra­tion of our peo­ple,” Mu­rad said at the cer­e­mony, which was at­tended by lead­ers of the Se­nate and House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives. “To­day, we watch with ut­ter dis­gust at the de­struc­tion that vi­o­lent ex­trem­ism has in­flicted in the city of Marawi,” Mu­rad said.

Irene San­ti­ago, a govern­ment of­fi­cial deal­ing with the rebels, said pub­lic and con­gres­sional sup­port for the Mus­lim au­ton­omy bill is cru­cial. “The dan­gers are star­ing at us in the face,” she said. Of­fi­cials say more than 550 peo­ple, in­clud­ing 411 mil­i­tants, have been killed in nearly two months of fight­ing in Marawi, a bas­tion of Is­lamic faith in the south.

On Sun­day, troops cleared 50 more build­ings and houses af­ter clashes that left eight mil­i­tants and two sol­diers dead, mil­i­tary chief of staff Gen. Ed­uardo Ano told re­porters. Troops are brac­ing for a “fi­nal push to re­ally break their line and fi­nally clear the whole area of Marawi,” Ano said, adding that “the bat­tle­ground is now down to less than a square kilo­me­ter area.” Duterte is ex­pected to an­nounce this week whether he will ex­tend a 60-day dec­la­ra­tion of mar­tial law in the south­ern re­gion to deal with the Marawi in­sur­rec­tion, the most se­ri­ous se­cu­rity cri­sis he has faced since as­sum­ing power in June last year. —AP


MANILA: Philip­pine Pres­i­dent Ro­drigo Duterte (C), along with mem­bers of govern­ment and Moro Is­lamic Lib­er­a­tion Front (MILF) peace rep­re­sen­ta­tives, ges­tures with the peace sign dur­ing a cer­e­mony where a draft of the Bangsamoro Ba­sic Law (BBL) was submitted to the pres­i­dent at the Mala­canang Palace.

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