January 8, 2008
While prospective presidentiables are busily getting airtime, Muslim townsfolk in the South — farmers, deportees, refugees, domestic helpers and vendors remain voiceless as they fear for renewed clashes in 2008 which will lead to more migration in Luzon.
Muslims quietly mark the Islamic New Year today, January 8, but many are apprehensive of a failed peace talks between government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) if the impasse on the consensus points on territory is not resolved.
There are an estimated 8–10 million Muslims in the Philippines, more than 50 percent of whom are outside the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM). Sulu remains to be the poorest province, according to National Statistics Office (NSO) statistics.
The Norwegian Internal Displacement Monitoring Center reports that armed incidents have displaced between 119,600 and 139,600 people in Mindanao between January and September 2007. Major offensives have been launched by government in Central Mindanao in 2000 and in Buliok in 2003.
Manila hosts the largest migrant Muslim populace of Muslim vendors and traders in major malls and markets, who escaped the poverty in the South. Thousands are abroad in the Middle East.
In poor Central Mindanao, an armed group, the MILF, with a sizeable presence in the region, remains to be an organized insurgent group. “Address the Moro problem and you address the negative image of the Philippines,” said one political analyst.
“Business confidence in the Philippines will take a nosedive if the government fails to return to the agreed consensus points of the MILF,” said Trade Secretary Ishak Mastura of the ARMM. The consensus points include territoritial delineation which the government panel will subject to constitutional processes.
Current national investments in the Southern Mindanao region, hosting Muslim communities, include mining and agriculture.
Simultaneous rallies in Muslim–concentrated areas in Marawi City and Cotabato City were launched since Monday. A rally attended by an estimated 20,000 people was launched in Cotabato City yesterday to demand a peace settlement by the GRP–MILF peace talks.
“The expected signing of the Memorandum of Agreement between the MILF and GRP in Kuala Lumpur on the issue of ancestral domain could have been a recompense for the ten–year long negotiation between the MILF and the GRP that commenced in July of 1997. The stance of the GRP in nonconforming to the agreed consensus points, a clear manifestation of the feebleness of the GRP to bestow strong political will for the realization of the peace accord,” said Abdulbasit (Bobby) Benito of the Consortium of the Bangsamoro Civil Society.
Lacs Dalidig, chairman of the Multi–Sectoral Movement for Peace and Development of Marawi City called on residents to organize public pressure on Malacañan to “deliver on its promise for a settlement of one of the longest conflicts in the Asian region.”
Meanwhile, Muslim women are urged to participate in peace processes in a forum in Marawi City facilitated by former United Nations (UN) gender expert Aurora De Dios of Miriam College’s Women and Gender Institute (WAGI) on the theme Women, Peace and Security.
“Muslim women are not seen and heard. It is important to hear them for genuine peace,” former chairperson of the National Commission on the Role of Filipino Women (NCRFW), De Dios said. UN Resolution 1325 guarantees women’s participation in the peace processes.
The women participants passed a recommendation endorsing female representation in the GRP–MILF Peace Talks within the Government Negotiating Panel and the MILF Negotiating Panel. They also recommended for a Muslim female to be in top brass of the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP).
One of the forum participants was former government panel member Emily Marohombsar, former president of the Mindanao State University who is willing to accept the endorsement if formalized before government. Former Senator Santanina Rasul will carry the endorsement to Malacañan.
The lone Muslim lady elected to the Senate, Rasul spoke of the critical role of women in interfaith dialogue as they are “natural leaders, nurturers, carers.” A success story she shared was the Sulu Womens Group, which for the past five years has organized a radio program that promotes peace by tackling the daily concerns of women.
A local woman organizer encouraged women to be pro–active and vigilant in the peace process. “We are much affected when there is war. We are the house keepers and economic managers, healers, rehabilitation workers,” said Dipunudun Maruhom of the Gender and Development Advocates.
“Islam respects gender equality. The Quran upholds women’s political and civic participation. Women have a stake in the peace process,” said former Dean Hamid Barra, a resource person on Islam and Women’s Rights.
Action–plans included celebrating Muslim women’s role during Women’s Month in March, Peace research to include Muslim children’s rights, Module on Gender, Islam, Peace and Women, Forum on a Gender Element in the GRP–MILF Peace Process, educating Muslim women on their rights, among others.