Muslims To Get Own Homeland In Southern Philippines

December 12, 2007 at 3:51 pm | Posted in 1 | Leave a comment

MILF women during a plenum in Mindanao while rebels raise their flags. And a Muslim rebel reads the holy Koran during a break in the training in the southern Philippines. (Mindanao Examiner Photo Service)

MAGUINDANAO, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / Dec. 12, 2007) – Muslims in the southern Philippines may soon have a separate homeland, an aspiration they have longed for centuries, as the seven-year old peace talks between the Moro Islamic Liberation Front and the Arroyo government may finally end in a treaty that will bring unity and harmony in the strife-torn, but mineral-rich region of Mindanao.

Philippine government and MILF peace negotiators have finally agreed on the issue of issue of ancestral domain, which refers to the rebel demand for territory that will constitute a Muslim homeland.

Peace talks have been stalled since September last year after both sides failed to agree on the scope of the ancestral domain. It is the single most important issue in the peace negotiations before the rebel group can reach a political settlement.

Mohagher Iqbal, chief MILF peace negotiator, said both sides are expected to sign the agreement on ancestral domain probably before the year ends after the two groups ended a meeting in Malaysia in November.

Malaysia, an influential member of the Organization of Islamic Conference, is brokering the peace talks between Manila and the MILF, but it had previously threatened to pull out its contingent from the International Monitoring Team if the negotiations remain stalled.

Malaysian Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak said they wanted progress in the peace talks.

Government and rebel negotiators had previously held secret talks in Kuala Lumpur since early this year, but they failed to arrive at an agreement that would end Muslim insurgency in the southern Philippines.

“We have already agreed on the issue of ancestral domain and we expect to sign the agreement soon,” Iqbal told the Mindanao Examiner.

The ancestral domain which covers the whole of Muslim autonomous region and other areas in Zamboanga del Norte, Zamboanga del Sur, Zamboanga Sibugay, North Cotabato, Sultan Kudarat and Sarangani provinces where there are large communities of Muslims and indigenous tribes. And even Palawan Island in central Philippines and the Sulu Archipelago.

“Basically, nothing has been changed on the scope of the Muslim homeland and we are now consolidating all other agreements in preparation for the next round of peace talks in January next year in Malaysia.”

“We will tackle the political settlement and eventually, In ša Allāh, sign a peace deal and finally put an end to the problems of insurgency and start socio-economic projects in Mindanao,” Iqbal said.

In ša Allāh is an Arabic term evoked to indicate hope for an aforementioned event to occur in the future. The phrase translates into English as “God willing” or “if it is God’s will”

In his recent released book entitled “The Long Road To Peace,” Iqbal wrote the peace negotiations have been driven in positive direction through a combination of several factors: moving forward creatively on substantive issues, political will on both sides, able third party facilitation, a solid cease-fire mechanism combined with joint law enforcement features, aggressive international support, constructive grassroots activism and interfaith dialogue, among others.

“Self-determination evokes strong emotions in the warrior and concern in established power structures. The fear of a new nation or sub-state spinning off from the main is valid, and must be conditioned by an enlightened gradualist approach.”

“It seems that both sides in the negotiations support this approach not only because it avoids pitfalls of misunderstanding among constituencies that need to be transparently brought and not forced into the process, and allows the conventions that breed conflict to wash off as the Philippine government and the MIF try to reinvent the strategies of peace,” Iqbal wrote.

Mohammad Ameen, a senior rebel leader, said the MILF will only sign a peace deal with Manila if it establishes genuine governance for Muslims either in the form of “state” or “sub-state”.

President Gloria Arroyo has opened up peace talks with the MILF, the Philippines’ largest Muslim rebel group fighting for the establishment of a strict Islamic state, in 2001.

The MILF earlier warned that hostilities may erupt in Mindanao if the peace talks fail or if Malaysia pulls out its truce observers from the International Monitoring Team in Mindanao, whose 16 million populations included four million Muslims.

The IMT is composed of 41 officers from the Malaysian Defense Forces, the Royal Malaysia Police, and the Prime Minister’s Department and is also supported by 10 military officers from Brunei Darussalam and 5 from Libya. Japan also has a member in the IMT.

The MILF said Libya also wanted to help in the peace talks and has offered to host the negotiations in Tripoli. Former Libyan ambassador Salem Adam has met with MILF chieftain Murad Ebrahim and has assured the rebel group of Tripoli’s support to the peace talks.

“Libya has been very supportive of our struggle to have peace in Mindanao,” Eid Kabalu, a rebel spokesman, said in a separate interview.

He said the MILF is optimistic with the peace talks.

“We are glad that the talks were fruitful and the MILF is looking forward for the resumption of the peace negotiations. We wanted peace to reign in Mindanao,” Kabalu said.

But analysts fear that Arroyo or her allies in the House of Representatives might use the peace talks with the MILF as an excuse to amend the Constitution to change the system of government from Presidential to Parliamentary or Federalism to allow the MILF to have a separate state and eventually prolong her into power beyond 2010.

Under the Presidential form of government, Arroyo is allowed only three terms, but she can be elected as Prime Minister should Congress, dominated by her political allies, approves a proposal to dissolve the Senate and change the system of government to Parliamentary.

Arroyo, who deposed President Joseph Estrada in a people power revolution in 2001, is unpopular in the Philippines and topped the list of the most corrupt presidents in recent history, according to a Pulse Asia Survey.

The survey conducted Among 1,200 respondents nationwide from October 21-31, 2007 showed that 42% think that Arroyo is the most corrupt followed by Ferdinand Marcos with 35% and Joseph Estrada with 16%. Former presidents Fidel Ramos with 5% and Corazon Aquino with 1% came in at the bottom of the list.

The Philippines is also perceived to be among the world’s most corrupt countries and ranked 131st out of the 180 nations studied, with a 2.5 rating, together with Burundi, Honduras, Iran, Libya, Nepal, and Yemen, according to the annual Corruption Perceptions Index released recently by the Berlin-based organization Transparency International.

The index score ranges between 0, which is highly corrupt, and 10, which is very clean. (Mindanao Examiner)

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