MANILA: President Rodrigo Duterte offered self-rule to the Philippines' Muslim minority on Monday in an attempt to defeat Islamist militants who seized a southern city in the gravest challenge to his year-old rule.
Duterte hopes the promise of autonomy will persuade Filipino Muslims to reject the Islamic State group, whose followers still control parts of Marawi after nearly two months of fighting that had left more than 500 people dead.
Duterte vowed to shepherd through Congress a "Bangsamoro Basic Law" bill jointly written and submitted to him Monday by government officials and the country's largest Muslim guerrilla group, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).
"This moment is a significant step forward in our quest to end centuries of hatred, mistrust and injustice that cost and affected the lives of millions of Filipinos," he said in a speech to MILF leaders and government officials.
Both sides said that giving the mainly Catholic nation's large and largely impoverished Islamic minority a better choice was crucial to heading off the lure of violent extremism.
"These misguided people have filled the vacuum created by our failure to enact the basic law, and feed into the frustration of our people," MILF chairman Murad Ebrahim told the same gathering, referring to the Marawi gunmen.
Muslims since the 1970s had waged a decades-old insurgency that claimed more than 100,000 lives in the Mindanao region that includes Marawi.
The MILF signed a peace treaty with Duterte's predecessor Benigno Aquino in 2014 but Congress refused to pass the self-rule bill -- a key provision of the accord.
Small rebel factions began pledging allegiance to the IS soon afterwards. The Marawi attack on May 23 was their first major action, forcing Duterte to impose martial rule across Mindanao. The chief government peace negotiator, Irene Santiago, said Manila expects the bill's passage within a year.
Published in Daily Times, July 18th, 2017.