I reported on Saturday about a deal that was recently struck between the central government of the Philippines and the Muslim separatists of Mindanao, as represented by the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.
Manila was ready to rid itself of this troublesome region, which has plagued the country for decades with murders, bombings, kidnapping, and all the other forms of traditional Islamic violence. The agreed-upon deal would have left the new political entity in Mindanao with virtual autonomy, and a free had to impose sharia on the population under its control, Muslims and non-Muslims alike.
But the protests from the Catholic minority in the region seem to have been strong enough to be effective. Thanks to the intervention of the Supreme Court, the deal is now on hold. According to Al Arabiya:
Philippine Supreme Court halts Muslim land deal
The Philippines Supreme Court issued a temporary restraining order on Monday to halt a territorial deal between the government and Muslim separatists, the latest setback for peace in the nation’s volatile south.
The agreement between Manila and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), the country’s largest Muslim rebel group, was to be signed in Kuala Lumpur on Tuesday after more than 10 years of stop-start talks.
Catholic politicians in the south had asked the Supreme Court to halt the signing ceremony, arguing they had not been consulted on the deal. They fear it will carve up the southern island of Mindanao into Muslim enclaves.
Manila, whose commitment to a permanent political solution for the south has sometimes been questioned, said it welcomed the court’s move.
“I feel this is a relief,” said Jesus Dureza, spokesman for President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. “It’s a good opportunity for some issues to be thrashed out.”
Malaysia, which has been brokering the talks between the two sides, expressed regret over the move.
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“It’s a big disappointment,” said a Malaysian government source familiar with the talks. “I pity the people in Mindanao.”
The deal was meant to formally re-open peace talks to end a near 40-year conflict that has killed more than 120,000 people, displaced 2 million, and kept the most resource-rich region of the country dirt poor.
Under the territorial agreement, an existing autonomous region for Muslims in the south of the largely Catholic country would be widened and they would get broad political and economic powers.
But the agreement’s hasty conclusion on the eve of President Arroyo’s annual state speech last month and its generous provisions to the MILF on mineral wealth prompted some analysts to dismiss it as political window dressing.
Hat tip: TB.