Philippines: Catholic bishops suport autonomy for Muslim region
Referendum in the Philippines (January 21, 2019) - rights of indigenous peoples must be strengthened (Press release)
In the Philippines, catholic bishops are hoping that today's referendum on the introduction of an autonomy solution for the predominantly Muslim region of Bangsamoro will lead to more peace and a better human rights situation on the island of Mindanao, which has been unstable for decades. About 120,000 people lost their lives in the conflicts. The Society for Threatened Peoples (STP) sees the referendum as an opportunity to finally bring peace to Mindanao and to put an end to attacks by radical Islamist militias. Above all, the human rights organization welcomed the idea that, in the scope of an autonomy solution, the rights of the indigenous Lumad would be recognized as well. They are particularly affected by the violence, as they are frequently attacked soldiers, militias, and armed rebels.
Around three million people in Bangsamoro are able to cast their vote regarding the plans for an autonomy solution. If the majority votes in favor, the region will be granted self-government, its own parliament, and its own provincial government. The Philippine government will merely be responsible for issues of security and defense. It is suspected that the people will vote in favor of the autonomy solution.
The organization Mindanao Catholic Church Leaders for Peace (MCCLP), including 15 bishops and principals of Catholic universities, called on the people to vote in favor of the autonomy solution – as a means to bring peace to the island and to safeguard the rights of the indigenous Lumad. There is no other region in Asia in which so many indigenous peoples got killed while trying to defend their rights. Their schools are frequently destroyed by soldiers, teachers are shot dead, and Aboriginal leaders are abducted or murdered – all in the name of the war on terrorism.
In the case that Bangsamoro votes in favor of the autonomy solution, the Muslim militias have agreed to put an end to their battle for state independence, which has brought unspeakable suffering on the civilian population. "In recent years, Mindanao has also become a place of retreat or training for Islamist terrorists who joined groups such as Islamic State in Asia or Africa," stated Ulrich Delius, the STP’s director. Thus, the autonomy solution and the disarmament of up to 40,000 Islamic militants would not only bring more peace to Mindanano.
Header image: Andy Enero via Flickr