A DRAFT peace accord between Islamic secessionists in the southern island of Mindanao and the government of the Philippines has prompted concern among Christians in the area.
The accord — due to be signed formally on 5 August — is aimed at ending the 40-year-long conflict between Muslim militants and the Philippines state. Muslims numbering some 4.8 million (5 per cent of the total population) are demanding a separate Muslim state in south-west Mindanao; and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), and the militant Abu Sayyaf group, have battled with the Philippines military forces.
A 1996 accord created an autonomous Muslim region, but also resulted in a regional government accused of corruption. The latest draft accord would widen the autonomous region to include 712 new villages in five additional provinces, among them the mixed province of North Cotobato. It is further envisaged that plebiscites will be staged in the villages to secure popular consent for joining the autonomous region.
The new region is likely to cover some 6.5 million people, of whom almost 30 per cent will be Christian. The experience of kidnappings, murders, and the targeting of isolated Roman Catholic and Evangelical churches by Abu Sayyaf guerillas means that the prospect of inclusion in an autonomous Muslim region is a chilling one to Christian leaders.
Last week, the Roman Catholic Bishop of Isabela, the Rt Revd Martin Jumoad, warned on Vatican Radio that an extended Muslim judicial entity posed “grave risks of Christians being driven out of their homes”.
The North Cotabato Vice-Governor, Emmanuel Piñol, has formally petitioned the Philippines Supreme Court to prohibit the signing of the accord until the full draft terms are made public. Mr Piñol reminded the government that any agreement lacked legitimacy until it had been disclosed in full to those affected.