Kidapawan (Fides Service) – “We are delighted: the cease fire agreement is truly a welcome signal of hope and encouragement. I am optimistic for the outcome of peace talks: there is commitment and good will on both sides”. Bishop Romulo Valles of Kidapawan diocese on the Island of Mindanao, in southern Philippines, said this to Fides Service after the announcement of the cease fire agreement signed on 18 July by the Philippines Government and the separatist Moro Islamic Liberation Front MILF fighting for autonomy in Southern Philippines.
Kidapawan diocese is right in the middle of the conflict between army and rebels, as is Cotabato diocese led by Archbishop Orlando Quevedo, outgoing president of the Philippines Bishops’ Conference, who in December will hand over to newly elected Bishop Fernando Capalla of Davao diocese.
The cease fire anticipates peace talks in Malaysia next week. Bishop Valles explains the situation. “There are good probabilities of success for the peace talks because both sides appear to be willing and ready to sign a lasting peace accord. They trust each other and agree that war is harmful to all sides: it impoverishes and displaces local people, it discourages investments and prevents the economy from growing, it feeds social divisions and tensions”.
The Church has played an important role in rebuilding trust and encouraging dialogue. Archbishop Quevedo has been untiring in his work of mediation, he used all his peace making charisma and moral persuasion to rebuild broken relations. The Church is seen then as a third party and a legitimate mediator. Bishop Valles says that the Church in southern Philippines has widespread credibility. “We are respected by the government and appreciated by the MILF leaders and by the Muslim population: we are in a favourable position to encourage peace”.
Recently the Bishops’ Conference issued an open Letter underlining the necessity to resume negotiations. This was followed by an intense exchange of letters between MILF leader Salamat Hashim and Bishop Quevedo which helped clarify the position of the rebels and re-establish direct relations. In the meantime the central government in Manila has said it will use an iron fist to fight terrorism, but that it is ready to talk with the MILF which for its part has condemned terrorist attacks in the Philippines which in the past year have caused the death of about 100 people. On this basis it was possible to sign a cease fire agreement and resume negotiations. PA (Fides Service 18/7/2003 EM lines 32 Words: 436)