Peace for Mindanao

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July 2000. Mindanao is in the news again. The government troops and the Muslim rebels are at war.

In an interview, a Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) commander said: "We are prepared to die. We will die fighting for our cause. But even if we die, our sons and nephews will continue fighting for our cause."

Thousands were killed in separate clashes between the government and the MILF troops since the conflict intensified early this year. The war destroyed properties and sent innocent civilians fleeing from their homes. Businesses in affected areas came to a halt. The victims could only watch helplessly.

The MILF is a breakaway group of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF). The MNLF, headed by Nur Misuari signed a peace pact with the Ramos administration in September 1996. The MILF continued the struggle for the self-determination of the "Bangsa Moro" people. Its leader, Salamat Hashim, 57, said their final goal is an independent Islamic state in Mindanao.

But the Estrada administration would not let the MILF form another state in Mindanao. Under the Philippine Constitution, Mindanao is an integral part of the Philippine territory. Showing his commitment to the Constitution, President Estrada tapped the military might of the armed forces to counter the activities of the Muslim rebels. Armed confrontations followed, resulting in heavy damages which took its toll on innocent civilians.

Both the government and MILF troops have committed to uphold their respective causes. They are willing to die for their causes. It is a war of cause and beliefs, ideas and ideology, sentiments and emotion. It is a war which is not supposed to take place on the battleground.

It is a war which the Filipino people could hardly understand. In fact, no one understands. Religion and culture are both hard to understand. What the Filipino people understand is that we need peace in Mindanao.

We ask both parties not to give up on peace talks. We ask them to give peace a chance!

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