Evacuation centre in Marawi, S. Philippines, June 2017. (Photo: World Watch Monitor)
Tens of thousands of people were displaced following the siege, by Islamists, of the city of Marawi in Mindanao last year. (Photo: World Watch Monitor)

The final draft of the law that will give greater autonomy to the southern Philippines region of Mindanao will include a provision allowing for religious freedom in the majority-Muslim territory, reports Catholic news agency UCAN.

A panel of members from both the lower house and the Senate is expected to finalise a final draft of the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) today (13 July) and send it to President Rodrigo Duterte for his approval.

The law outlines the plan for setting up a new autonomous territory called Bangsamoro, named after its “Moro”, or Muslim, population.

In March, Mindanao’s government appointed a first deputy governor for Christians, a minority in the region, to ensure their voices would be heard.

The final draft provides for “the promotion of religious freedom by the Bangsamoro government,” said Senator Joel Villanueva, who added that “religion plays a big role in shaping the beliefs, backgrounds and acts of people living in the area. This is not to mention the fact that the region is multicultural. We have Islam, Christianity, and dozens of indigenous beliefs in the area.”

Villanueva, son of tele-evangelist pastor Eduardo Villanueva, warned that the law must guarantee that people are protected from coercion or violence because of religion.

But Maylanie Sani-Boloto, a sociology professor at Mindanao State University, said the problem was not the law “but the people who will implement it”.

However, the BBL is seen as key to ending decades of conflict in the southern part of the Philippines, where Islamist groups have been engaged in an insurgency for an independent province.

Just last year, one such group, the Islamic State-affiliated Maute group, kept the southern city of Marawi under siege for five months.

President Duterte vowed during the siege to see the legislation – part of a peace deal between government and rebels that was signed in 2014 – through to completion.