Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Filipino Muslims Favor Own State in Mindanao

Filipino Muslims in the southern Philippines are strongly supporting a proposal by the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) to put up an Islamic government in Mindanao region. The MILF, the country’s largest Muslim separatist rebel group negotiating peace with Manila, said it is likely to share sovereign powers with the Arroyo government in Mindanao and talks are going on to put up the so-called Bangsamoro government in the southern region. Eid Kabalu said peace negotiators were discussing on how the Muslims will run the proposed new government, but he was quick to say that both sides are seriously studying new formulas based on model countries such as Sudan, Palestine, East Timor, Northern Ireland, and Bougainville.
“Talks are going on about the proposal for a shared government and shared sovereignty between the Bangsamoro people and the Philippine government.” “The results of this proposal will depend entirely on the outcome of the peace negotiations. Once the new Bangsamoro government is finally set up, then the five-province Muslim autonomous region will be dissolved,” Kabalu said. He said the MILF was also proposing to government negotiators that the Muslims be given an option to choose in a referendum whether they wanted Mindanao to be an independent state or not. Many local Muslims said they were supporting the MILF and the proposal to put up the Bangsamoro government, but majority of them wanted an independent Islamic state, similar to Iran. “That’s good if the MILF can put up this Bangsamoro government in areas where there are large Muslim communities, like Sulu, Basilan and Tawi-Tawi and Central Mindanao. But if would be much better if we have our own government, a Muslim state, like Iran and run our government according to the teachings of Islam,” said Abdullah bin Rashid. Ustadz Shariff Julabbi, a former guerilla leader and MILF spokesman, said Filipino Muslims would welcome an Islamic government in Mindanao. “This is the clamor of the millions of Filipino Muslim not only in Mindanao, but all across the Philippines, to have their own government. The aspiration and determination of the Bangsamoro people is very strong and we are all supporting this proposal to put up a Muslim government in the southern region.” “This land traditionally belongs to the Muslims, and the Philippines was originally Muslim, part of the vast kingdom of the Sultanate of Sulu and North Borneo. This land is ours,” said Julabbi, now leader of the Muslim separatist group called the Bangsamoro Mujahideen Alliance, which has a large following in the islands of Basilan, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi and some areas in the Zamboanga Peninsula in western Mindanao. Ghazali Jaafar, MILF deputy vice chairman for political affairs, said the Muslims in Mindanao are ready to govern their own homeland once the peace accord is signed.
Moro Islamic Liberation Front
“We are empowering our people so that they are more prepared to assume the reins of governance. This is our main thrust today in our current consultations, seminars and trainings with our regional and local officials and members,” Jaafar, former MILF chief peace negotiator, said in report posted on the MILF website. The report also quoted Silvestre C. Afable, government chief negotiator, in a remark he made during last year’s MILF plenum in Maguindanao province, that the Arroyo administration was ready to give the Muslims their homeland. The MILF said both peace panels have already signed at least 30 consensus points on the ancestral domain, which included the recognition of the Bangsamoro as a nationality designation for both the Islamized and non-Muslim indigenous tribes in the southern Philippines. At least 18 ethnic tribes are known to inhabit Mindanaothe T’boli, B’laan, Ata, Bagobo, Banwaon, Bukidnon, Dibabawon, Higaunon, Kalagan, Mamanwa, Mandaya, Mangguwangan, Manobo, Mansaka, Subanen, Tagakaolo, Teduray and the Ubo. The coverage of the ancestral domain includes the five Muslim autonomous provinces of Basilan, Sulu, Tawi-Tawi, Lanao del Sur and Maguindanao. The other areas are in Zamboanga del Norte, Zamboanga del Sur, North Cotabato, Sultan Kudarat and Sarangani provinces where there are large communities of Muslims and indigenous tribes. Peace negotiators last week discussed in Malaysia the scope of the territories of the Muslim ancestral domain, but the talks ended without any solid agreement, although, they agreed to continue the negotiations next month. Ancestral domain refers to the MILF demand for territory that will constitute a Muslim homeland. In September, government and rebel peace negotiators signed several agreements centered on the ancestral domain — its concept, territories and resources, and how the MILF shall govern these places. Kabalu said both peace panels are expecting to sign a formal agreement on the ancestral domain once they finally agree to some contentious issues on territories. After the agreement on ancestral domain is signed, Kabalu said the MILF and government peace negotiators will then negotiate to find a political solution to the Muslim secessionist problem in Mindanao.