ICC Note

“If things don’t turn out that well, we might sell what we have here and move to my wife’s place in another part of Mindanao. My neighbours were thinking the same thing; we’ll leave this place and re-settle elsewhere.”

By Manny Mogato

(Reuters) – When Christians in the southernPhilippines heard that the government and Islamic rebels had agreed to expand a homeland for Muslims on their island, they panicked.

“We started buying some weapons to defend our families and community,” said Berting, a coconut farmer, whose farm sits in the heart of a mainly Muslim province in the southern Philippine island of Mindanao.

Berting, who declined to give his last name, is a Catholic whose grandfather settled in the area nearly 80 years ago when Christian farmers moved to the lush jungles and valleys of mostly Muslim Mindanao.

A conflict between Catholics and Muslims has raged on the island for the past 40 years, resulting in the deaths of 120,000 people. But now the sides say that they are close to a final peace deal and might sign an agreement next year.

After a decade of stop-start negotiations, the government and the country’s largest Islamic rebel group agreed last month on the boundaries of a proposed homeland for Muslims, who make up around 20 percent of Mindanao’s population.

“If things don’t turn out that well, we might sell what we have here and move to my wife’s place in another part of Mindanao. My neighbours were thinking the same thing, we’ll leave this place and re-settle elsewhere.”

Open To All

“We never intended to separate the Muslims and Christians … Our doors are open to all,” he said.

About five percent of the Philippines estimated 89 million people are Muslims, and about 81 percent of the population are Catholic.

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