• MAGUINDANAO CALLS FOR INTERFAITH TALKS

    Solidarity urged against BIFF threats

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    COTABATO CITY, Maguindanao: The Maguindanao Provincial Peace and Order Council (PPOC) is calling for interfaith dialogues among Muslims, Christians and other religious organization to promote solidarity in the wake of security threats posed by the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF).

    The council made the call in the wake of a series of violent incidents involving the BIFF, which had led to the deaths of innocent civilians and displacing hundreds of families in December.

    On Tuesday, residents of Esperanza in Sultan Kudarat were evacuated to the local gymnasium following the assaults allegedly perpetrated by the BIFF.

    On Christmas Eve, the BIFF rebels staged simultaneous attacks in the non-Muslim villages of Esperanza and in Datu Abdullah Sangki and Ampatuan towns in Maguindanao province, killing 10 farmers who were mostly Christian settlers of Ilonggo ancestry.

    Among the towns badly affected by the latest BIFF attacks in Maguindanao were Datu Abdullah Sangki, Sultan sa Barongis, and Ampatuan.

    Maguindanao Gov. Esmael “Toto” Mangudadatu, PPOC chairman, who convened an emergency meeting in Buluan town (the provincial capital), said the parties represented in the meeting reached a consensus to hold interfaith dialogues among Muslims, Christians, and people of other religious orientations.

    “There is no Muslim-Christian conflict in Maguindanao as perceived by outsiders after those incidents. We shall embark on extensive interfaith dialogues to make even stronger and resilient the relationship of these two communities in the province,” Mangudadatu said.

    The Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) Zone of Peace Command in Datu Abdullah Sangki municipality, headed by Commander Qudz Simpal, has declared full support to the PPOC’s move and the government’s peace initiatives.

    “As guardian of peace, our main objective is to uphold peace and normalcy here in the province and we will not allow peace saboteurs to create chaos among the peaceful residents,” Commander Simpal said.

    The MNLF commanders belonging to the Zone of Peace Command in Maguindanao adhere to the 1996 Final Peace Agreement signed by the government and the MNLF headed by Chairman Nur Misuari, with the concurrence of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC).

    Datu Abdullah Sangki municipal Mayor Bai Miriam Sangki-Mangudadatu have also reached out to local Muslim and Christian communities urging them to be strongly united in the wake of the incidents and extended relief services to displaced residents.

    Noralyn Udasan-Nul, of Humanitarian Emergency Assistance and Response Team (HEART) in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), said the ARMM-HEART have extended relief services to some 7,000 evacuees from conflict-torn villages in the three towns.

    No to ‘state of emergency’
    Meanwhile, the One Bangsamoro Movement (1-Bangsa) expressed apprehension over the possibility of putting the region under a state of emergency, considering the recent incidents of violence in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) and nearby provinces such as North Cotabato and Sultan Kudarat.

    Maulana Alan Balangi, 1-Bangsa national president told The Manila Times that if these incidents remain unabated, there is a likelihood of the government declaring a state of emergency in the ARMM and nearby provinces that have become restive.

    Balangi, who hails from Marawi City in Lanao del Sur, cited the fatal ambush last year of P/Senior Supt. Al Abner Wahab Santos, Marawi City Police chief; the series of bombings at the National Grid Corporation of the Philippines (NGCP) aimed at destroying its towers, the latest of which was in Ramain municipality in Lanao del Sur on Christmas Eve; the ambush of Cagayan de Oro-based news team of ABS-CBN; and the simultaneous attacks launched by the BIFF in Esperanza, Sultan Kudarat, and in Ampatuan and Datu Abdullah Sangki towns in Maguindanao.

    Balangi has appealed to the ARMM residents to help safeguard peace in the region to give no reason for the government or the military to justify the re-imposition of the state of emergency to stop the violent acts.

    A state of emergency has been declared in the ARMM particularly, in Maguindanao, following the infamous Maguindanao massacre in 2009.

    He also cited the atrocities committed by the ASG in the provinces of Basilan and Sulu, where the group targets foreign nationals for its kidnap-for-ransom activities.

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