Duterte to Approve More Autonomous Muslim Region

Duterte to Approve More Autonomous Muslim RegionDuterte to Approve More Autonomous Muslim Region

The indigenous Moro Muslims, a minority population in the predominantly Christian Philippines, are on the verge of securing their own substantially autonomous territory as congress hands over a law for President Rodrigo Duterte to sign on Monday.

If all goes according to plan, the Bangsamoro Organic Law will establish the Bangsamoro autonomous region on the country’s southern island of Mindanao and may put an end to five decades of violent conflict that has left more than 100,000 people dead. While the law is expected to be signed on Monday, it will still need to be ratified by a plebiscite, which is expected to take place later this year, Al Jazeera reported.

The Bangsamoro, which means “Nation of the Moro”, will replace a nominally autonomous Muslim region which has largely been run by the central government in Manila, and has failed to quell the Moro rebellion. The law will allow the Bangsamoro government to have its own parliament, retain the lion’s share of local revenues, regularly receive a fixed portion of the central government’s revenues and manage the territory’s natural resources. It will also incorporate Islamic law into the region’s justice system.

In return for autonomy, the law will require the rebel group the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) to gradually disband its thousands-strong army.

“This may not be a perfect law but it is good to start with,” said Ghazali Jaafar, MILF’s second-in-command. “And, God willing, now that we have this government, we can improve the lives of our people.”

  Historical Tensions

The law’s passage will cap off 22 years of negotiations between the MILF and the Philippine government.

“Moro”, a term originating from the Spanish word for “Moor”, refers to more than 10 million members of several ethnic groups in Mindanao that evaded the Hispanicization, and Christianization, of the rest of the Philippines in the 16th to 19th centuries. The Moro also resisted US colonization in the early 20th century.

As a result, they retained a culture and heritage quite distinct from the other 90 million Filipinos. This has led to discrimination, neglect and even persecution by the government. The Moro provinces are among the country’s poorest.

In 1970, the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) was formed and started the first organized Moro rebellion against the Philippines in a bid to establish an independent state.

When the MNLF settled for autonomy in 1976, a few members split and eventually formed the MILF, which continued fighting for independence. The MILF first negotiated with the government in 1996 under president Fidel Ramos, but efforts fell through in 1999 when president Joseph Estrada declared “all-out war” against the group. Negotiations restarted in 2001 under president Gloria Arroyo.

A definitive peace deal was signed between the MILF and president Benigno Aquino in October 2012, followed by a “comprehensive agreement” in March 2014.

Duterte, who is from Mindanao and claims to be of Moro lineage, promised to establish the Bangsamoro immediately after taking power in 2016. He plans to sign the law as he delivers his yearly State of the Nation Address on Monday.

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