SULTAN KUDARAT – The Moro Islamic Liberation Front staged a huge rally yesterday at its headquarters in Camp Darapanan that attracted Christians and rival rebels in a joint effort with the government to reignite a stalled peace process.
President Duterte was scheduled to speak at the event at the main base of the 10,000-strong Moro Islamic Liberation Front yesterday afternoon, with both sides hoping peace will help quell the rising threat of the Islamic State group.
Muslims have been waging a rebellion since the 1970s seeking autonomy or independence in the southern areas of the mainly Catholic Philippines that they regard as their ancestral homeland.
The conflict has claimed more than 120,000 lives.
The MILF, the biggest rebel group, signed a peace deal in 2014 that would give the nation’s Muslim minority self-rule over parts of Mindanao, but a proposed law to implement the pact has not been able to get through Congress.
The immediate objective of yesterday’s rally was to build support for the proposed law.
“There is no way that we can find peace forever if we do not give them back at least a part of their heritage,” Duterte said in a speech last week, referencing Filipino Muslims who consider Mindanao their homeland.
“If we do not give them that, there will be trouble because they will open really to (join a) cabal with the other terroristic activities or the terrorists there.”
The MILF had said it wanted a million people to turn up yesterday at its sprawling Camp Darapanan just outside of Cotabato City.
No firm crowd numbers were immediately available yesterday morning but an AFP journalist at Camp Darapanan reported seeing thousands of people.
Among those in attendance were Cardinal Orlando Quevedo, the archbishop of Cotabato and the highest Catholic Church official in Mindanao, as well as members of the MILF’s main rival, the Moro National Liberation Front.
The rally came about a month after Duterte declared Marawi City “liberated” from IS supporters who attacked it in May in a bid to put up a caliphate.