Christians form a minority in southern Philippines and policy proposals dealt with their concerns as future citizens of an autonomous Muslim region. (Photo: World Watch Monitor)
Christians are a minority in the southern Philippines. (Photo: World Watch Monitor)

Christian leaders have submitted a “Christian policy agenda” to the transitory body that will facilitate the formation of a new autonomous Muslim region in the southern Philippines, reports the Catholic news website UCAN.

The agenda, put together after consultations last month in several areas set to become part of the new region, was handed to the leader of the Philippines’ largest Muslim rebel group, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), by the archbishop of Cotabato, Cardinal Orlando Quevedo.

MILF is taking a leadership role in implementation of a peace deal between the government and rebels that could end a decades-long insurgency for an independent province by Islamist groups in the southern Philippines region of Mindanao.

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

MILF’s leader, Mohagher Iqbal, said the Christian policy agenda would be discussed with all stakeholders in the region because “the MILF will not answer [Christian concerns] alone”, UCAN reported.

Injustices committed against Christians, one of the items raised in the agenda, will be addressed in an inclusive process, he said.

The policy proposals included “the ‘security of tenure’ of Christian workers in the regional government, the participation of Christians in the political process, and the status of Christian educational system in the Muslim-dominated territory”, according to UCAN.

Religious freedom

In July, President Rodrigo Duterte signed off the Bangsamoro Organic Law, which is to facilitate the creation of a new region named Bangsamoro, after its ethnic Muslim, or “Moro”, people.

The final draft contained a provision allowing for religious freedom in the majority-Muslim territory.

The law still needs to be approved by the local population, which includes indigenous communities and Christian settlers, in a referendum later this year.

A Christian worker told World Watch Monitor in August that while there was appreciation for Muslims’ desire for independence, there was concern among Christians as to how the law will be implemented. “If it would be extreme, then persecution of the Church can increase – the Church would be all the more a target, since they would want Christians … to leave,” the church worker warned.

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