Cardinal Quevedo defends MILF: 'They're not terrorists'

MANILA, Philippines – Cotabato Archbishop Orlando Cardinal Quevedo defended the Muslim group engaged in peace talks with the Philippine government, and urged “both sides” of the conflict in the southern Philippines to trust each other.

In a statement publicized on Monday, March 9, Quevedo also rejected “biases and prejudices” toward Muslims, including the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), which signed a peace agreement with the Philippine government.

Quevedo pointed out that he has “witnessed a harmonious dialogue of life” among his students in a Catholic university in Mindanao. 

The cardinal, who has served for more than 3 decades as a priest in Mindanao, wrote: “Many of our soldiers and high-ranking officers studied in our Catholic schools. So, too, did members and leaders of the MILF. They are not terrorists. Terrorists have in fact broken away from them. The MILF only aspires and struggles politically for a place under the sun in freedom and dignity.”

Quevedo, who also grew up in Mindanao, issued this statement as a controversial police operation in Mamasapano, Maguindanao, “resurrected” age-old biases and prejudices against Muslims.

Think tank: MILF cut terror links

The clash in Mamasapano killed 44 members of an elite police force, 18 Muslim rebels, and at least 3 civilians. (READ: SAF gave Purisima full Mamasapano briefing)

The Mamasapano bloodbath also prompted congressmen to stall the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL), a landmark in the peace process to end a 4-decade-old Muslim secessionist movement in Mindanao. The BBL aims to create an autonomous Muslim region more powerful than the one in place. (READ: Bishops, peace advocates: Hear Mindanao, pass BBL)

Quevedo said: “We hear ourselves say, we cannot trust the Moros, we cannot trust the MILF. We cannot trust them to lay down their arms, we cannot trust them with the money they need for development, we cannot trust them to go after terrorists once they have their own government, we cannot trust them to practice democracy, we cannot trust them to govern well. We simply cannot trust them.”

He added, “The bottom line of the Mamasapano tragedy is mistrust – on both sides of the conflict.”

Quevedo's statement came as an Indonesia-based think tank, the Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict (IPAC), released a report that said the MILF as a group has cut its ties with terrorists. Certain members of the MILF have given refuge to terrorists, however, IPAC reported. (Watch more in the video below)

Senator Alan Peter Cayetano, on the other hand, earlier implied that the MILF is a terrorist group. (READ: War and chicken hawks

'Don't lump Moro armed groups'

In his statement, Quevedo explained that biases and prejudices have produced “totally wrong” convictions.

One of these is that “we lump all Moro armed groups” together “as lawless groups that advocate secession and independence.” These groups include the MILF, the Moro National Liberation Front, the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters, the Abu Sayyaf Group, and private armed groups.

He listed other “totally wrong” conclusions:

Quevedo said that, on the contrary, the following “are at the heart and soul” of the BBL:

The cardinal also pushed for refining the BBL “so that it will hew closely to our Constitution.”

“But let there be consensus among constitutional luminaries on what is constitutional and what is not constitutional among the provisions of the BBL. Let us make sure that we do not 'improve and strengthen' the BBL such that the idea of self-determination that is imbedded in various provisions of the BBL becomes once more an illusion, a desire begging despairingly to be realized,” he said.

In an earlier interview with MindaNews, Quevedo also said the dream of Muslims “for self-determination in their own territory” is “very valid.” A closer look at history will prove this, the cardinal said. – Rappler.com