ASIA/PHILIPPINES - Three days after bomb blasts people still afraid - President Gloria Arroyo may be given special powers

Thursday, 17 February 2005

Manila (Fides Service) - While there is no let up in guerrilla warfare in the Sulu islands, the rest of the country is on the alert after the three bomb blasts on 14 February. Tension shows no sign of diminishing and fear among the people persists, particularly in large cities.
In view of the situation Manila is considering declaring a state of emergency in Mindanao, the large island in the south with a Muslim minority of about 6 million, 8% of the country’s population which over the years formed separatist guerrilla movements, the Moro National Liberation Front MNLF and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front MILF, and a terrorist group Abu Sayyaf, notorious for kidnappings.
According to a presidential spokesman the government is considering a plan which, if Congress approves, would give special powers to President Gloria Arroyo and increase army military pressure in Sulu and Mindanao. This would mean more hardship and uprooting for civilians. On the island of Jolo already 3,000 families, about 20,000 people, have been forced to abandon their homes.
The situation in southern Philippines, solutions and counter-measures will be discussed by NGOs, human rights associations and movements, university committees, Catholic associations and missionary bodies at a forum in Zamboanga later this week. The forum participants will strive identify the root causes of fighting on island of Jolo, and suggest plausible solutions.
Missionaries in Mindanao recently contacted by Fides voiced concern for the situation in the southern Philippines and the fear that tension might prevent the resuming of talks between Manila and the MILF.
(PA) (Agenzia Fides 17/2/2005 lines 28 words 250)