SULTAN KUDARAT, Philippines: The Philippines’ main Muslim guerrilla group staged a huge rally Monday (Nov 27) at its southern headquarters that attracted Christians and rival rebels, in a joint effort with the government to reignite a stalled peace process.
President Rodrigo Duterte was scheduled to speak at the event at the main base of the 10,000-strong Moro Islamic Liberation Front on Monday afternoon, with both sides hoping peace will help quell the rising threat of the Islamic State group.
Muslims have been waging a rebellion since the 1970s seeking autonomy or independence in the southern areas of the mainly Catholic Philippines that they regard as their ancestral homeland.
The conflict has claimed more than 120,000 lives.
The MILF, the biggest rebel group, signed a peace deal in 2014 that would give the nation’s Muslim minority self-rule over parts of the southern region of Mindanao, but a proposed law to implement the pact has not been able to get through Congress.
The immediate objective of Monday’s rally was to build support for the proposed law.
"There is no way that we can find peace forever if we do not give them back at least a part of their heritage," Duterte said in a speech last week, referencing Filipino Muslims who consider the south their homeland.
"If we do not give them that, there will be trouble because they will open really to (join a) cabal with the other terroristic activities or the terrorists there."
The MILF had said it wanted a million people to turn up on Monday at its sprawling Camp Darapanan base just outside of Cotabato city in Mindanao.
No firm crowd numbers were immediately available on Monday morning but an AFP journalist at Camp Darapanan reported seeing tens of thousands of people.
Among those in attendance were Cardinal Orlando Quevedo, the archbishop of Cotabato and the highest Catholic Church official in Mindanao, as well as members of the MILF’s main rival, the Moro National Liberation Front.
The rally came about a month after Duterte declared the southern city of Marawi "liberated" from IS supporters who attacked it in May in a bid to put up a caliphate.