January 29, 2014
An agreement between the Philippine government and the Muslim insurgent group Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) is intended to usher in long-awaited peace to the southern region of the Philippines, but it is what Christians living in this area have dreaded for years.
Since 1996, the Philippine government has been in talks with the MILF, an insurgent group that has terrorized those living in the Mindanao region and killed over 150,000 people since the 1970s. Those talks have led to what is being called the “normalization annex,” the last piece of the agreement, which is expected to be formally signed sometime in February or March of this year.
The so-called peace agreement between the government and MILF will include a deal that grants amnesty to those currently facing or already convicted of charges related to rebellion. While other serious crimes such as rape are not included in the deal, many insurgents will be released and pardoned of rebellion-related crimes. In addition to the amnesty, the Philippine government will grant more autonomy to a five-province area already controlled by Muslim insurgents. The area, which is to be called Bangsamoro, will be better funded and more powerful than before.
In exchange for amnesty and more autonomy, MILF has agreed to deactivate their 11,000 soldiers from duty. Insurgents are expected to hand over weapons, and the government’s military forces will also be reduced. While security troops will still be allowed as a peace-keeping force, the expectation is that this will be a Muslim-controlled area operating under its own laws.
The upcoming VOM newsletter includes the story of a Christian woman living in the Mindanao area. Although divided between Muslims and Christians, her village was frequently invaded by rebel forces. Sometimes the rebels continued on to another village, but other times they occupied Christians’ homes for days or weeks at a time. Christians were then left homeless and became prey to rebel forces, which sometimes used them as a shield from the government’s military.
It is uncertain how this peace agreement will ultimately affect Christians, who will be subject to the new laws of Bangsamoro. It is suspected that Islamic law, known as Sharia, could be implemented at some point in the future. Rebel troops will no longer fear interference from the government, and Christians living in Muslim-controlled villages may face even more restrictions and harsher persecution.
In countries where Sharia is followed, Christians are often banned from proselytizing, owning Bibles or even attending church services. The penalty for such crimes often include harsh prison sentences and sometimes even death. Under Sharia, Muslims who convert to Christianity would risk being killed.
Unfortunately, this is not the sort of peace that Christians in the Bangsamoro area ever wanted. It is an agreement that will likely invite a wave of new persecution. Pray for believers living in the southern region of the Philippines. To read more stories of Christian brothers and sisters persecuted for their faith, watch for VOM’s upcoming March newsletter.
Sources: Philippine Daily Inquirer, Washington Post. Image: Wikipedia.
“Ann Kay” is a writer for VOM. She learned about VOM five years ago when she read Tortured for Christ and began receiving the newsletter. She is passionate about reaching the world for Christ and sharing stories of the persecuted church.