Churches open doors to displaced villagers

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The Archdiocese of Zamboanga on Monday said that Christians and Muslims fleeing the clashes between the military and the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) in Zamboanga City can seek refuge in Catholic churches.

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Msgr. Crisologo Manongas, administrator of the archdiocese, said that people displaced by the fighting can use Catholic churches as evacuation centers.

“We are mobilizing our social action center for the evacuees . . . It’s a mix of Catholics and Muslims there,” Manongas said.

He said Muslim evacuees were also welcome. “This is not a religious conflict. This is a political conflict. There’s no animosity between Muslims and Christians. We have a good relationship with Muslim religious leaders.”

So far, six people have been reported killed and dozens injured.

Manongas appealed to the MNLF fighters to lay down their arms and spare innocent civilians.

“I am outraged by the incident. Civilians, especially children, are most affected by the fighting,” he said.

Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Emeritus Oscar Cruz believes that the MNLF attack in Zamboanga was an offshoot of the Bangsamoro framework agreement signed by President Benigno Aquino 3rd with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

Cruz questioned the agreement, saying it “set aside” other Muslim groups in Mindanao, including the MNLF and the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF).

“This is the problem of the Aquino administration. There are so many Muslim groups in Mindanao, but why did he sign an agreement with only one group?” he said.

Cruz said the MILF does not represent all Muslim groups in Mindanao, and that the agreement may not lead to peace.

“MNLF is not yet done with this. Another disturbance is yet to come,” he added.

The retired archbishop appealed to the MNLF to free the civilians it has taken hostage, saying the innocent civilians were not the enemy.

Malacañang however said the MNLF had no reason to seek the junking of the peace agreement with the MILF since the government does not plan to terminate the 1996 peace accord with the MNLF.

Palace spokesman Edwin Lacierda said the government had only asked for the completion of the review process.

“They were insinuating that the (government) terminated the 1996 Final Peace Agreement. That is not true,” Lacierda told reporters.

Lacierda said “there is an ongoing tripartite review process of the implementation of the GPH-MNLF peace pact through the facilitation of the Organization of Islamic Conference.”

Lacierda said that the Philippines has informed the Indonesian embassy about the MNLF siege on Zamboanga City.

Indonesia was a facilitator in the peace negotiations with MNLF.

Lacierda added that Indonesia was aware of the coming tripartite review process and will be a party to the meeting between the government panel and the MNLF.

He would not say if charges will be filed against Misuari over Monday’s attack.

”Our priority right now is to ensure the safety of the general population. We will defer comment on any matters concerning Mr. Misuari,” he said.

Sen. Antonio Trillanes 4th said the Zamboanga “invasion” was an indication that the peace efforts of the government were not inclusive.

Trillanes, chairman of the Senate Committee on National Defense, said the government panel needed to come up with a more comprehensive peace plan.

“Some groups felt excluded in the ongoing talks with the MILF. What the government needs to do is to resolve the problem by also listening to the voice not only of MNLF but also the Christians and Lumads,” the senator said.

Sen. Gregorio Honasan 2nd said Misuari’s rage did not originate from a simple misunderstanding but from deep problems rooted on fundamental issues in Mindanao.

Sen. Pia Cayetano said the attack should not distract the government and other well-meaning sectors from pursuing a substantial and long-lasting peace pact for Mindanao.

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