Pro-Muslim, peace rallies held in Philippines

SHAFAQNA – Philippine President Benigno Aquino on Friday urged lawmakers to resume debating a proposed law on an autonomous territory in the Muslim south, in a bid to end a 45-year conflict that has killed 120,000 people.

The two-chamber Congress suspended deliberations on the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law that will grant self-rule to the Moro minority after 44 police commandos died in a clash with Muslim rebels on January 25.

“If the proposed bill is lacking, it can be addressed by pushing through with the debates on it,” Aquino told a national television address.

“I do not pursue peace just to add to my legacy. What we are pursuing is a genuine peace that truly addresses the roots of the problems that led to violence.”

Aquino has called for a national peace summit comprising community leaders including Manila’s Roman Catholic archbishop, a retired judge, and a wealthy businessman to “dissect the proposed law in a calm and reasonable manner”.

Pro-Muslim and peace rallies were held in the south and in Manila after Aquino created a council to study the passage of a law that will legislate the peace settlement.

Aquino named Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Tagle, former Supreme Court Chief Justice Hilario Davide, businessmen Jaime Augusto Zobel de Ayala and Howard Dee, and Filipino-Muslim leaders Bai Rohaniza Sumndad-Usman as members of the “council of leaders and independent conveners”.

“They will coordinate with groups, usher a national peace summit, and scrutinise BBL in a sober and responsible manner, to avoid triggering anger and despair [among our people who have become anti-Muslim and anti-BBL], for BBL’s sake,” Aquino said.

He acknowledged that lawmakers and the people began distrusting the BBL and the MILF when 44 policemen and several civilians were killed during an anti-terror campaign on January 25.

Filipino-Muslim bomb expert Basit Usman escaped during the campaign.

“If the peace process with the MILF is derailed again, we will lose space for peace talks with all Filipino-Muslims and their leaders who are still reasonable and pro-peace. They, too, might resort to violence,” Aquino warned.

“If war further intensifies in Mindanao, past wounds will deepen and many will become resentful. The marginalised will be more alienated. Those without government services will suffer more. It is harder for us to talk of peace in the south if the people there are hurt, oppressed, and killed again,” said Aquino, adding the Abu Sayyaf Group emerged 20 years ago because of government’s neglect and all-out war policy in the south. Three militant groups are now based in the south.

Meanwhile, various peace groups held rallies nationwide to commemorate the one-year-old signing of the Philippine government-MILF peace agreement that called for enhanced governance for Filipino-Muslims in the existing Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).

“War is for soldiers and rebel warriors. Mothers like me long for peace and development in Mindanao,” pearl-seller Saralyn Lantud told Gulf News.

Senator Ferdinand Bongbong Marcos and Congressman Rufus Rodriguez vowed their respective ad hoc committees will tackle BBL in May.

“They are also stakeholders [of peace in the south],” said Secretary Sonny Coloma.

Earlier, Aquino called for BBL’s urgent passage to give time for the government to campaign for its approval in a referendum before the May 2016 election.

But his popularity and control in Congress have weakened following calls for his apology and resignation by those who believed he sacrificed 44 policemen for the death of Abdhir.

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