09 MARCH 2011. COTABATO CITY—The Philippine Council of Evangelical Churches (PCEC) and the Peace Panel of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) held an inter-faith dialogue on the newly-resumed peace negotiations between the Government of the Philippines (GPH) and the MILF.
Bishop Efraim Tendero (PCEC National Director), Bishop John Tayoto (Chairman, PCEC Peace and Reconciliation Commission), Bishop Genesis Udang (PCEC Mindanao), and Bishop Noel Pantoja (PCEC Board Member and General Director of the Conservative Baptist Association of the Philippines) led the 78 evangelical participants—pastors, church leaders, and mission workers—representing various Christian groups in Mindanao.
The MILF Peace Panel were represented by Chairman Mohagher Iqbal, Attorney Michael Mastura, and Professor Abhoud Syed Lingga. They were assisted by Mr. Mike Pasigan, Head of the Secretariat, MILF Peace Panel.
Bishop Tendero, in his opening remarks, referred to the biblical concept of the Image of God—the view that humanity, as originally designed by God’s creative will, though fallen into imperfection, is a reflection of God. This biblical teaching, according to evangelical theology, is a healthy starting point for Christians to engage in these kinds of dialogue. Because evangelical Christians believe that all human beings are created in the Image of God, we are all equal before the eyes of our Creator—the God of justice and peace.
The PCEC bishop also quoted a couple of Scripture passages emphasizing that peace and peacebuilding are crucial aspects of the Christian mandate because we follow Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace:
Blessed are the peacemakers for they will be called children of God. Matthew 5:9
My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, for man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires. James 1:19-20
MILF Peace Panel Chairman Mohagher Iqbal, during his opening statement, quoted Prophet Muhammad in his letter to the monks of St. Catherine Monastery at Mount Sinai in the year 628 CE:
This is a message from Muhammad ibn Abdullah, as a covenant to those who adopt Christianity, near and far: We are with them. Verily, I, the servants, the helpers, and my followers defend them, because Christians are my citizens; and by Allah, I hold out against anything that displease them. No compulsion is to be on them. Neither are their judges to be removed from their jobs nor their monks from their monasteries. No one is to destroy a house of their religion, to damage it, or to carry anything to the Muslim’s houses… Their churches are to be respected…
“Insha Allah (God willing),” Iqbal publicly declared, “the Moro Islamic Liberation Front will also honor this commitment in the same way the Muslims before us had honored this covenant once the Bangsamoro state will be emplaced in some parts of Mindanao.”
Iqbal further explained their intention for having this dialogue with religious groups like the PCEC: “We, in the MILF Peace Panel, upon the expressed go-signal from our principal, get out of our way and conduct dialogues with church people, a very important sector in the society. While there is separation of Church and State in the Philippines…the truth remains that the Church is a very powerful institution that holds the spiritual side of every Christian and, therefore, can influence their decisions, especially in relation to the cause of peace in Mindanao… On our part, it is a matter of necessity that we must leave no stone unturned if only to make the cause of peace succeed. This is also a sign of goodwill that we also reach out to groups other than those within the sphere of our responsibility… There is also need for other people or groups like you to understand the MILF proposal, whether what we want for ourselves signals the demise of other groups, or whether our proposal is framed on extremism that defies logic and moderation. Or we want to live and let others live in peace, love, and harmony. Please examine our proposal very closely.”
Attorney Michael Mastura, explained the MILF draft on the comprehensive compact submitted to the GPH on January 27, 2010. He summarized the highly technical document in a very passionate way: “We are not getting out of the country, but the unitary form of arrangement is a thing of the past for the Moros… There is really a need for a separate Bangsamoro state without severing ties with the Philippines.”
Professor Abhoud Syed Lingga, who is also Executive Director of the Institute of Bangsamoro Studies (IBS), shared the concept of “a united country in the form of an asymmetrical state-substate relationship.” He expressed his anxiety that GPH might not even consider this new political way of relating between two peoples.
During the question and answer period, majority of PCEC participants shared their concern about religious freedom, specifically the liberty of Christian minority to express their faith, under MILF governance in those parts of Mindanao where majority of the population are Muslims. Bishop Genesis Udang of Cagayan de Oro City best represented this concern: “Would there be genuine religious freedom in a Bangsamoro substate?”
“Yes, there will be religious freedom,” Attorney Mastura answered.
Rev. Norman Naromal, Senior Pastor of Davao Bible Community Church, represented the second most asked question: “Would the Bangsamoro substate eventually lead to Bangsamoro independence?”
Attorney Mastura responded with another question: “What’s wrong with that?”
“Nothing’s wrong with that,” replied Pastor Naromal, “we just want to see transparency where this peace negotiation between the GPH and the MILF is eventually going.”
After many more theological, historical, political, and economic discussions, the dialogue ended at 3:00 o’clock in the afternoon.
The Mindanao People’s Caucus, led by its Secretary General, Attorney Mary Ann Arnado, organized this event. Rev. Luis Daniel Pantoja, President and CEO of PeaceBuilders Community, facilitated the actual dialogue.
:: MILF perspective of the story