By Hader Glang
ZAMBOANGA CITY, (AA): Muslim human rights groups and peace advocates have reiterated their support Thursday for President Rodrigo Duterte’s peace policy, while warning of security forces’ past rights violations in the Muslim south.
The leader of the Suara Bangsamoro (Voice of the Bangsamoro) group told a public discussion in the predominantly Christian city of Zamboanga that they support Duterte’s decision to formally open peace negotiations with the country’s communist insurgency and to resume the peace process with Muslim rebels.
“Peace talks [with leftist groups] will formally start July 22 to 24, 2016, which will also be part of the report of newly-installed President Duterte for the State of the Nation Address on July 25,” Amirah Lidasan told those gathered at a women’s center.
“This inclusive peace policy of the Duterte administration has provided hope if not encouraged people to participate in the peace process as well as in bringing reforms in the government.”
After his landslide May 9 election win, Duterte granted two cabinet posts to candidates backed by the National Democratic Front, the political wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines.
He has also ordered his government to continue efforts to implement signed peace agreements between the past administration and rebel groups — which includes a 2014 peace deal signed with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) to grant greater autonomy to majority Muslim provinces.
Lidasan underlined Thursday that the prioritization of peace, unity, reconciliation and development have garnered trust and hope among the Filipino people in the sincerity of Duterte’s administration, including the promise to recognize and release political prisoners through the peace process and general amnesty.
She urged Duterte — the country’s first president from southern Mindanao island — to include more than 90 Moro suspects who were “wrongfully accused” of being “terrorists” in 2001.
“We are referring to more than 90 Moro civilians, some were simple farmers, fisherfolks and vendors, who were accused of [being] Abu Sayyaf men and arrested and detained,” she said.
Lidasan highlighted that Thursday marked the 16th year of the declaration of “state of lawlessness” in Basilan island, an intensive military crackdown — led by then 103rd Brigade Commander and now National Security Adviser Gen. Hermogenes Esperon — that led to massive human rights violations against the indigenous Moro people.
“A review was made by the Department of Justice in 2012-2013 that resulted in a recommendation for an immediate release of those who were identified as innocent and unjustly detained for 16 years,” she said.
“We are hoping that this would provide a basis for President Duterte to decide for their release.”
The advocacy group also cautioned Duterte in his campaign against the Daesh-linked Abu Sayyaf, reminding him of the previous trail of alleged human rights violations committed by authorities accused of competing for bounties offered by the United States’ Rewards for Justice Program.
“Due to military actions, most of the communities were affected, but the real Abu Sayyaf remain scoot free,” Lidasan stressed.
“It is common knowledge in Zambasulta [Zamboanga, Basilan, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi] that the Abu Sayyaf is deeply rooted in the collusion of local government units and military in their areas,” she said.
Referring to recent claims by the mayor of Jolo in Sulu province that some officers gained from some ransoms paid to the Abu Sayyaf and used its members as informants, she expressed hope that “if President Duterte explores this, it will help resolve the Abu Sayyaf problem.”
[Photo: Newly elected President Rodrigo Rodrigo Duterteafter taking his oath of office as the 16th President of the Republic of the Philippines in Manila, Philippines on June 30, 2016. Photographer: J Romero/Hand-out photo/AA]