LANAO DEL SUR: Christian villagers in the southern town of Wao on Sunday vowed to reject a Muslim homeland deal between the Philippine government and Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), saying they do not want to be included in the new Bangsamoro territory.
Villagers said that shortly after the deal was signed in March 27, Muslim groups emerged and started claiming farmlands owned by Christians and invoking their ancestral rights in Lanao del Sur.
Many residents began arming themselves for fear that once the new Bangsamoro autonomous government is installed, the lands they inherited from their clan would be taken away by the Muslims. Wao’s 40,000 inhabitants are Christians although Lanao del Sur is one of five provinces under the restive Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).
Some villagers said several groups of Maranao, one of several Muslim tribes in Mindanao, began putting up markers and claiming farmlands as their ancestral domain. The markers had been destroyed by landowners.
In Sultan Kudarat, villagers in the town of President Quirino were facing the same dilemma. Many have purchased illegal weapons to protect their families and lands from unjustified takeover by Muslims who warned them that they should leave the town immediately once the Bangsamoro autonomous region is installed because they would take over their farms.
Leaders of Christian cities in Zamboanga and Isabela in Basilan, another province under ARMM, also vowed to fight for their inclusion in the new Bangsamoro homeland, although many of the residents there are Muslims and supportive of the peace deal.
But the creation of Bangsamoro autonomous region would have to be decided on a referendum in the ARMM and in areas where there are large Muslim communities. The new Bangsamoro region will replace the current Muslim autonomous region that has suffered from decades of poverty, corruption, and conflict.
President Benigno Aquino 3rd already received the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) drafted by the 15-member Bangsamoro Transition Commission. Once Aquino signs the law, it can be ratified and implemented in time for the 2016 local and national elections. The BBL will pave the way for the establishment of the Bangsamoro region in 2016.
Presidential peace adviser Teresita Deles has previously said that the BBL is likely to be certified as an urgent bill by Aquino and would be submitted to Congress for passage, and subjected to a plebiscite.
However, some lawmakers and various groups claimed the accord was unconstitutional and also vowed to challenge it to court.
The Aquino government insisted the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) is legal and that the deal was based on the Constitution.
“The CAB is legal,” said CAB legal team head Anna Basman, adding that they are open to engaging and informing everyone on the different provisions on the CAB.
“Our Constitution itself provides the justification for the asymmetry and reserved a separate set of provisions for two particular areas in the country – Muslim Mindanao and the Cordilleras. This progressive and enlightened section recognizes the uniqueness of the peoples belonging to these areas and provides for their rightful exercise of self-governance.”