Mindanao issues

The Moro Islamic Liberation Front wanted a “sub-state” in Mindanao. Ordinary Muslims, however, have “simple” issues the want the government to address.

They want, for instance, to strengthen the role of the Sala’am Police, an all-Muslim police organization under the PNP’s Directorate for Police Community Relations, to help address peace and order issues in Muslim communities.

They also cited the lack of public cemeteries of Muslims. They noted that Muslims have a hard time burying their loved ones, especially because they bury their dead within 24 hours and without caskets.

On the issue of human rights violations, they cited the numerous illegal arrests suffered by Muslims. “Making matters worse is the inhuman treatment and conditions of Muslim prisoners, especially women,” they said.

They said there is a need to provide “effective education” for law enforcers and government officials on the culture of Muslims so that “they will be sensitive to the culture” of people in Mindanao.

A dialogue with Secretary Jesse Robredo was held yesterday. Promises were made. Robredo assured that addressing the concerns of Muslim communities is one of his top priorities.

He said that “whatever actions are done in Muslim Mindanao would send a clear signal for reforms nationwide.”

“I understand the need to look at the big picture agenda and issues,” Robredo said, “but we need to ensure that our engagements are done at the grassroots level.”

He said it is not his policy to impose solutions to Muslim communities. He instead urged Muslim leaders to “consult their people so they can determine for themselves what needs to be done.”

The Muslim leaders who attended the meeting led by Amina Rasul lauded the “openness” of Robredo. “It is encouraging to have a high-ranking government official like Secretary Robredo who is willing to listen and work with us in solving our problems,” Rasul said.

While the MILF is raising “bigger” issues, Rasul’s group raised issues that are “doable.” It is a challenge for the government to immediately address these. For how can Manila even think of addressing issues like the “sub-state” of the MILF or the contentious ancestral domain thing if concerns like cemeteries and violations of the rights of ordinary citizens are not answered.

Consultations, dialogues and discussion have been done prior to the coming talks with the MILF. These activities are on the right track and must be given importance. Simple concerns of Mindanao communities, especially among the Muslims, should be addressed before talks on “big issues are” tabled.

The government should engage more groups in these small group discussions. Addressing these issues on the ground with affected communities and individuals will assure smooth negotiations.

We look forward to the same activities in the coming days, not only with Muslim communities but also with the indigenous peoples and Christians in Mindanao. Joe Torres


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