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Thousands call on UN to prevent massive war in Philippines
an article by Ahmed Harris R. Pangcoga and Nrodin M. Makalay

More than 200,000 people took to the streets of key cities in the Mindanao, Philippines to call the attention of the United Nations to prevent another massive war to take place in the country after the peace talks between the government and the country’s largest Muslim separatist rebel group was derailed.

In an unprecedented move uniting civilians, the church sector, and sympathizers of the two largest Muslim secessionist movements in Mindanao, peace rallies were held in the cities of Manila, Cotabato, Marawi, General Santos, Iligan, Pagadian Lamitan, and Jolo [click here for details]. The rallies were part of a series of mass actions organized by a network of 164 Moro (Muslim) civil society organizations for two purposes: to break the most serious impasse to stall the peace talks between government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) since negotiations started in 1997, and to call on the Philippine government to be more sincere in reviewing and implementing the second phase of the GRP-MNLF 1996 Final Peace Agreement.

Talks between the government of the predominantly Catholic country and the MILF hit a snag last December over disagreements on the coverage of ancestral domain and constitutional process, two highly controversial and critical subjects in the talks

The MILF negotiating panel refused to meet its government counterpart during the 15th exploratory talks last December 15 to 17 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia because the government draft of a proposed memorandum of agreement on ancestral domain supposedly did not contain certain consensus points earlier agreed by the two parties.

The government negotiating panel recently inserted a provision which states that the implementation of the agreement will have to follow “constitutional process.”

Situations have been aggravated by recent statements from some of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s key officials threatening the MILF with sanctions.

Since all-out war was declared by former President Joseph Ejercito Estrada in 2000, negotiations progressed because of mutual agreement that government should not refer to Constitution and the MILF would not demand independence.

The setting up of a Bangsamoro Juridical Entity (BJE) was agreed upon by government and MILF negotiators during exploratory talks in Kuala Lumpur last year.

Field army personnel and MILF are now on full alert for any movements from opposing sides in conflict-affected areas in the disputed island of Mindanao.

Foreign observers from the Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC) and donor community have expressed concern on the instability in the peace process.

More than 100,000 people have already died because of the decades-long armed conflicts in the country.

Civil society organizations called on the international community to help push the peace process forward and to exert pressures to the parties to honor and abide by whatever commitments they have made in the course of their negotiations.

The armed struggle of the Muslims in the Philippines can be traced back in history. Mindanao is the birthplace of Islam in the country. Bangsamoro (Moroland) refers to the homeland of the Moro, the indigenous peoples in Southern Philippines. The term comes from the Malay word “bangsa,” meaning nation or people, and the Spanish word “moro,” from the older Spanish word “Moor,” the Reconquista-period term for Arabs or Muslims. It may also refer to the Moro people, in general.


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Details of demonstrations by city (continued from main article):

Hundreds of children from different Islamic schools (madrasah) in Taguig, Manila wore green bands (color of Islam) and waved flags, calling for peace in Mindanao in Islamic New Year celebrations (Amun Jadeed) last January 19.

Thousands of people from Moro communities, non-government and people’s organizations gathered in Cotabato city plaza and called on the attention of the international community to press the Philippine government to give more attention to its peace processes with the Bangsamoro people through the MNLF and the MILF.

In Marawi, civilians wore red shirts and bands, and raised flags with the word, Allahu Akbar (Allah is Great), urging the government and MILF to resume their stalled peace talks.

In Iligan, a convoy of almost one hundred vehicles and thousands of demonstrators from nearby Marawi City and the surrounding municipalities of Lanao del Sur and Lanao del Norte called upon President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo to immediately resolve the problem.

In General Santos, people filled the public plaza and expressed dismay and fears over any possible impact of the stalemate in the GRP-MILF peace talks and the government’s negligence over the implementation of the GRP-MNLF 1996 Final Peace Agreement.

In Pagadian, both Christians and Muslims converge at the city plaza to call on the government to make a more sincere effort at justly and peacefully resolving the peace problem in Mindanao.

In Basilan, demonstrators from conflict affected communities expressed doubts that the government actually intended to conclude the peace process and return to the Bangsamoro what is rightfully theirs.

In Jolo, thousands of locals and over three dozen civil society organization joined the governor, the first district congressman, and several local leaders in crying for justice to the seven civilians and one soldier who were massacred by a composite troop from the Navy Special Warfare Group and the Army Light Reaction Company, aided by US soldiers last February 4.

This report was posted on February 13, 2008.