SHAFAQNA (Shia International News Association) – The President of Philippine on Wednesday submitted a draft law to the Congress that would create a self-governed, predominantly Muslim autonomous region in the country’s south, a key step in peace talks meant to end more than four decades of fighting with Muslim rebels.
“This law is for the children who wish to run across school grounds instead of running for their lives,” Mujiv S. Hataman, a politician in the southern Philippines, said in a statement Wednesday. “This law is for families who want to put life into the earth through crops and produce, no longer to dig graves for their fathers and sons who have fallen in war. This law is what will help them realise their wishes and dreams.”
The long-running conflict between the government and Muslims in the south has killed thousands of people and displaced more than three million. It has also left Mindanao, the Philippines’ largest southern island, mired in poverty and lawlessness despite being rich in resources, including natural gas, gold and valuable minerals.
The draft law that Mr. Aquino submitted to the Philippine Congress on Wednesday stems from an October 2012 peace agreement with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, the largest of the Muslim groups. It would group Muslim-dominated southern areas into what would be called the Bangsamoro region, based on the traditional name of Filipino Muslims.
To emphasize the importance of the law to his administration, Mr. Aquino personally presented the draft measure to leaders of the Senate and House of Representatives at a ceremony on Wednesday morning. “Trust brought us here,” Mr. Aquino said during the ceremony. “Throughout the negotiations, I saw that each side genuinely wished to reach an agreement. We have proven that, in a situation where one does not consider who has the upper hand, one can truly give rise to a situation where everyone wins.”
The Bangsamoro region would have local self-government, including locally recruited law enforcement officials, a critical demand by the Islamic groups, given the allegations of human rights abuses in the region by the Philippine police and military, many of whom are Christians from the north. About four million people would live in the Bangsamoro region. Of the Philippines’ population of 107 million, about 5 percent are Muslim, most of them living in the south; about 80 percent are Catholic.
Opponents of the agreement have said that it infringes on Philippine sovereignty, essentially creating a separate Muslim state in the south. A number of organizations have said they will contest the law’s constitutionality in the Supreme Court. If the high court strikes down key aspects of the law dealing with autonomy or revenue-sharing, the rebels have said they will reject it.