Tuesday, October 9, 2012

RLPB 180. Philippines: religious liberty in Bangsamoro

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 180 | Wed 10 Oct 2012

-- plus UPDATES on Iran and Saudi Arabia
By Elizabeth Kendal

On Sunday 7 October the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) agreed to a 'framework agreement' (text) with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). This agreement is not a 'peace deal' inasmuch as it is an agreed framework from which the two parties will work towards a comprehensive peace. The agreement will be officially signed on 15 October. As President Benigno Aquino III said, 'The work does not end here. There are still details that both sides must hammer out.  Promises must be kept, institutions must be fixed, and new capacities must be built nationally and regionally in order to effectively administer the Bangsamoro.' 'Bangsamoro' is the name of the new entity that will replace the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).

The Philippines Government created the ARMM in 1989 while it was engaged in a struggle with the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF). When the MNLF put down their weapons in 1996, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) -- hardline Islamists who had split from the MNLF to pursue an independent Islamic state -- rejected peace, rejected the ARMM and fought on. Until now, the closest the GRP and the MILF have ever been to peace was the Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain (MOA-AD) of July 2008. The MOA-AD would have replaced the ARMM with a greatly expanded MILF-ruled Bangsamoro Judicial Entity. After learning that they would soon be living in an Islamic sub-state, local Christians petitioned the Supreme Court which ruled the MOA-AD unconstitutional, scuttling the deal. MILF responded with a wave of violence against Mindanao Christians that left 400 dead and some 750,000 displaced. In her quest to add 'peace-maker' to her legacy, President Arroyo and those who supported the MOA-AD had shown little concern for thousands of Christians who did not want to wake up one morning in an Islamic 'Judicial Entity' under MILF rule.  

The new 'framework agreement' is different in that MILF does not make the same territorial demands. Associated Press reports: 'A new autonomous region will take shape in the south, with Moro rebels giving up their quest for independence in exchange for broad powers to govern themselves.' However, as AP adds, while 'Bangsamoro' is 'broadly based on an existing autonomous region, the rebels want it expanded'. Furthermore, the MILF will not be governing 'themselves' but everyone who lives within Bangsamoro, Christians included. According to the 'framework agreement', Sharia Courts will be strengthened and their jurisdiction expanded, although (it is assured) Sharia will be applied only to Muslims. So will Muslim citizens of Bangasmoro be free to appeal to the Supreme Court for their constitutional rights or will the Islamic Courts have jurisdiction over all matters pertaining to Islam?

In every state where two systems of law operate, Muslims routinely find their constitutional rights rendered illusory by Islamic courts that retain jurisdiction over all matters pertaining to Islam: such as whom Muslims can marry, what Muslims can drink, how Muslims must dress, with whom Muslims can mix and suchlike. Would Bangsamoro Muslims be free to leave Islam -- a right guaranteed them in the Philippine Constitution -- or would leaving Islam fall under the jurisdiction of the Sharia Court, as it does in Malaysia (which is mediating the talks)? Concerning religious freedom, the 'framework agreement' states that all citizens are guaranteed the right to 'freedom and expression of religion and belief'; the right to 'freedom of speech'; and the right to 'freedom from religious, ethnic and sectarian harassment' (emphasis mine). As harassment is not defined, this 'right' will doubtless function as the basis for laws that will stifle Christian witness.

As per the 'framework agreement' a 15-member 'Transition Commission' (TransCom) will be created to flesh out the details, propose changes to the constitution as required and then draft a law creating the new Muslim autonomous region. The process is expected to take at least two years. In the meantime the MNLF, believing it has been betrayed, is threatening to sue and is 'warning' of unrest. Along with this, the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters has split from MILF vowing to continue the jihad.

[Watch Religious Liberty Monitoring for updates.]


* expose deceptions and deny the devil a foothold in the transition process, so that peace does not come at the expense of religious liberty and security.

* use this opportunity to make Muslims aware of the great value of liberty, a human right which frees them up to seek truth and follow their conscience -- something they will be deprived of if they are placed under Sharia Law.

* sustain, preserve, protect, bless and build his Church in the Southern Philippines. 'The LORD is good to those who wait for him, to the soul who seeks him.' (Lamentations 3:25 ESV)


On Sunday 7 October the Government of the Republic of the Philippines signed a 'framework agreement' with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). A 15-member Transition Commission will be established to flesh out the details. It will work towards a comprehensive peace deal and the creation of an Islamic sub-state, to be known as Bangsamoro. It is essentially in the area already known as the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM). Sharia Courts will be strengthened and their jurisdiction expanded, seriously curtailing the human rights and religious freedom of both Muslims and Christians. The transition is expected to take several years. Unrest is highly probable. Pray that religious freedom is not traded for a tenuous peace with committed Islamists. Please pray for the Church in Southern Philippines.


Iranian authorities have released Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani but they did not release his heroic Muslim lawyer. Rather, on 29 September, Mohammed Ali Dadkhah was transferred to Ward 350 of Tehran's notorious Evin Prison to commence a nine-year sentence. Dadkhah is charged with 'aiding and abetting' the enemy, spreading propaganda and threatening national security. (Dadkhah provided pro bono legal representation to persecuted religious minorities.) Dadkhah advocated for Nadarkhani. Now we must advocate for him, with prayer to the highest authority.

Maryam (28), a Saudi convert to Christianity, remains in hiding in Sweden. Her Christian boss, Lebanese expatriate Henna Sarkees (50), along with his Saudi 'accomplice', will face court in Al-Khobar, Saudi Arabia, on Sunday 14 October. Sarkees is charged with abusing his position of authority to coerce Maryam into converting to Christianity. His Saudi 'accomplice' is charged with facilitating her flight out of the country. Pray for Henna Sarkees and his Saudi associate. Pray also for Maryam. Pray for awakening in Saudi Arabia. (Ephesians 3:20,21)


With persecution escalating and intensifying globally, please consider participating in International Day of Prayer (IDOP) for the persecuted church in the week 4-11 November.  'For we wrestle not against flesh and blood . . .' (Ephesians 6:12). See Critical Prayer Requests (CPR).