Tuesday, January 22, 2019

RLPB 486. Philippines: Sharia Descends

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 486 | Wed 23 Jan 2019

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By Elizabeth Kendal

Police with ballot boxes, Cotabato City,
21 January 2019.
photo: AFP/Noel Celis
On Monday 21 January some 2.8 million eligible voters in the 'core territory' of the proposed Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) participated in a plebiscite. They were asked if they are willing to adopt the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL). Residents in the cities of Isabela and Cotabato were asked if they were willing to have their city included in the BARMM. The result should be available after four or five days. If a majority in each region votes 'yes' -- as is expected -- then the BARMM will be established and another plebiscite will be held on 6 February in which residents of Lanao del Norte Province and seven towns in North Cotabato Province will be asked if they would like their region or town to be included in the BARMM.

Whilst pre-polling indicates that a 'yes' vote is almost certain, polling will be tight in regions with larger Christian minorities, in particular the cities of Isabela (64 percent Muslim) and Cotabato (76 percent Muslim). On 18 January Isabela City officials and Church leaders who strongly oppose their city's inclusion in the BARMM expressed their objections to a rally of thousands of concerned Isabelenos. On 21 January Cotabato City Mayor Cynthia Guiani-Sayadi -- who opposes Cotabato City's inclusion in the BARMM -- complained that members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) were engaging in voter intimidation and fraud. [Live Updates (Rappler): votes are in for Cotabato City: 59.5 percent vote 'yes'.]

By this coming weekend, the BARMM will almost certainly have replaced the ARMM (Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao) in line with the Bangsamoro Basic Law (also known as Bangsamoro Organic Law and Republic Act No. 11054). A three-year transition period will follow, during which time the BARMM will be governed by a MILF-dominated Bangsamoro Transition Authority (BTA) appointed by President Rodrigo Duterte. If all goes to plan, polls to elect an 80-seat parliament will then be held in 2022. Actually, the future is anything but certain.

click on map to enlarge
After some 50 years of Islamic separatist insurgency, MILF's ability to govern remains to be seen. Will MILF be able to create jobs, deliver services and manage the budget?  In a recent survey conducted across Mindanao, only 30 percent of respondents believe MILF is capable of governing the BARMM (with 19 percent confident MILF is definitely capable). Meanwhile, 38 percent believe MILF is not capable (with 28 percent insisting MILF is definitely not capable!).

Critically, victory for the 'yes' vote will trigger the decommissioning process through which MILF's 30,000 to 40,000 armed fighters are to surrender their weapons. We might wonder, however, how many decommissioned MILF jihadists will find work in policing and security -- putting down one weapon in exchange for another without any change in ideology at all? Many MILF fighters are full-time jihadists who have known nothing but war. Whilst some will surrender their weapons and enter the mainstream of society, many might find it easier to join other groups offering salaries to combatants: i.e., the Islamic State-aligned Abu Sayyaf Group, Maute Group and the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF). Rejecting autonomy, these groups will fight on striving for their dream of an independent Islamic State/Caliphate -- something that MILF understands better than most, having previously rejected autonomy in preference for war!

Then there is the matter of inclusion. Though two seats in the 80-seat parliament (to be elected in 2022) will be reserved for Christians, this will be totally meaningless if a majority has no intention of respecting their rights. As many Christian leaders and voices are keen to point out, MILF has promised to respect religious freedom. However, the fact remains that the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL/BOL) will impose Islamic Sharia Law on all the BARMM's Muslim residents. Consequently, Islamic zeal and repression will escalate, with serious repercussions for Christian ministry, witness, freedom and security. Furthermore, the BBL/BOL provides for future plebiscites, thereby enabling perpetual territorial expansion of what is most certainly an Islamic 'state in all but name'.

For a more detailed analysis of the BBL, see:
Bangsamoro Basic Law Looms Over Mindanao 
By Elizabeth Kendal, Religious Liberty Monitoring, December 2017.
See also RLPB 466 (1 Aug 2018).


* comfort all those Christians in Mindanao who are feeling anxious, even afraid, for the future; may the Holy Spirit draw the Church ever deeper into prayer; may greater faith, love, unity, urgency and co-operation be the result ... to the glory of God the Father.

'... that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me ...' (from Jesus' High Priestly Prayer, John 17:23 ESV).

* bless the churches of Mindanao as they seek to maintain a faithful witness among the Muslim majority; may they have divine wisdom, grace and courage as they navigate an increasingly challenging environment (Matthew 10:16).


On 21 January some 2.8 million voters in western Mindanao participated in a plebiscite organised to facilitate the establishment of an Islamic sub-state in southern Philippines. Once the 'yes' victory is confirmed, a three-year transition period will follow. During that time a Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF)-dominated council will govern the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) and facilitate the decommissioning of tens of thousands of MILF fighters. If all goes to plan, polls to elect an 80-seat parliament will then be held in 2022. The Bangsamoro Basic Law will impose Islamic Sharia Law on all of the BARMM's Muslim residents. Consequently, Islamic zeal and repression will escalate, with serious repercussions for Christian ministry, witness, freedom and security. Please pray for the Philippine Church, especially for Mindanao's minority Christians.


Elizabeth Kendal is an international religious liberty analyst and advocate. She serves as Director of Advocacy at Canberra-based Christian Faith and Freedom (CFF), and is an Adjunct Research Fellow at the Arthur Jeffery Centre for the Study of Islam at Melbourne School of Theology.

She has authored two books: Turn Back the Battle: Isaiah Speaks to Christians Today (Deror Books, Melbourne, Australia, Dec 2012) which offers a Biblical response to persecution and existential threat; and After Saturday Comes Sunday: Understanding the Christian Crisis in the Middle East (Wipf and Stock, Eugene, OR, USA, June 2016).

See www.ElizabethKendal.com