By Ahmet Furkan Mercan
COTABATO CITY, Philippines
Among the supporters of a new law to give greater autonomy to a Muslim-majority region of the Philippines are local evangelical Christians.
“We will support the law,” Aldrin Penamora, an evangelical Christian, told Anadolu Agency. “The law will make many contributions to the region. I believe that the law will bring economic development and security to the region where Christians, Muslims, [indigenous] Lumads, and other local peoples live.”
The Bangsamoro Organic Law (BOL) will eliminate injustice against Muslims, he added, saying: “The centuries-long wounds of the historic injustice against the Moro people will heal.”
A referendum starting on Monday is set to grant the Bangsamoros or Moro -- a collective term for Filipino Muslims living on an island in the southern Philippines -- autonomy after a nearly 50-year process.
“The BOL law’s outcome is so important for our region,” said Anzarrih Mastura Matalam, a local Muslim leader.
“We see the law as the future of the region and as a source of hope for our children. I believe It will give the Moro more development, prosperity, and peace.”
Speaking at a rally for BOL ratification on Friday in Cotabato City, Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte urged approval of the law in the referendum starting on Monday.
The referendum is set to begin on Monday, Jan. 21 in two cities, with a second round to be held on Feb. 6 in other areas in nearby regions.
Once the bill is ratified, the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) will be created.
Freedom for Muslims in the region was taken away by Americans in 1898 when the Spanish, who had occupied the Philippines in the 16th century, left the country to the U.S.
The Bangsamoro people, who were already deprived of freedom during the U.S. occupation, also faced dire straits due to the Christian settlement policy of the Manila government, when Americans left the region to Philippine Christians after managing it until 1946.
The BOL is set to increase legal and economic gains for Muslims in the region.
With the establishment of the Bangsamoro government, courts of Islamic law will be opened in the region.
Regional authority will be handed over from the capital Manila to the Bangsamoro government.
When the BOL is ratified, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) group is also set to decommission 40,000 combatants of its Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces (BIAFF).