Philippine President Aquino cites terror threat for Muslim self-rule law

Philippine President Benigno Aquino urged legislators to pass a draft law aimed at ending a Muslin revolt.
Philippine President Benigno Aquino urged legislators to pass a draft law aimed at ending a Muslin revolt.PHOTO: REUTERS

MANILA (AFP) - Philippine President Benigno Aquino urged legislators on Tuesday (Dec 8) to pass a draft law aimed at ending a decades-long Muslim revolt, citing the growing threat of global terrorism as one reason to do so.

Aquino, who has been struggling to get the law passed before his term ends next year, told lawmakers it would break "the cycle of violence and poverty that has stalled peace and progress" in the southern island of Mindanao, said his spokesman Herminio Coloma.

The law would create a Muslim autonomous area and grant a measure of self-rule to the minority in the south of the largely Christian nation.

However several congressmen are reluctant to pass the draft law and have deleted crucial provisions, prompting Aquino to call the special meeting.

"He (Aquino) said that passing the (law) now has become more imperative in view of the increased threats posed by global terrorism and radicalisation," Coloma told reporters.

"The president urged the members of Congress to rise to the challenge of being able to 'change the narrative' of conflict between Muslims and Christians," Coloma added.

The Bangsamoro Basic Law is crucial to implementing a fragile peace treaty aimed at ending a Muslim separatist insurgency that has claimed over 100,000 lives since the 1970s.

Aquino wanted it passed this year but the timetable was set back severely following public outrage over the death of 44 police commandos in an encounter with Muslim separatist guerrillas in January.

Adding to the time pressure is parliament's scheduled adjournment in February before the campaign for presidential and other elections in May.

Coloma said the prospects of peace were already attracting investment to Muslim-populated areas and many foreign countries were closely watching whether the Philippines would succeed in the peace effort.

He did not say if any of the legislators expressed renewed support for the law.

Security officials say there is no sign of recruitment of Filipino Muslims by the Islamic State, but some local Muslim outlaw groups have publicly pledged allegiance to the extremist group.

The meeting between Aquino and legislators came as a deadly conflict broke out between Christians and Muslims in Mindanao.

At least six people were killed when suspected Muslim guerrillas clashed with armed Christian settlers in the town of Tulunan on Mindanao island on Tuesday in a feud over land, police said.

At least 30 armed men, suspected to be from a Muslim rebel group, descended on the town and began harassing Christian farmers at noon, said Senior Inspector Ronnie Dillera, the town police chief.  The Christians fought back, triggering a gunbattle that lasted about three hours and left three villagers and three Muslim gunmen dead, he added.  

The clash was an offshoot of a dispute over a 10-hectare lot between Christians and Muslims in the area, the police chief added.