Top Philippine court rejects Muslim autonomy deal
By OLIVER TEVES – 1 day ago
MANILA, Philippines (AP) — The Philippine Supreme Court threw out on Tuesday a proposed accord to grant minority Muslims expanded autonomy after Christian protests and renewed fighting convinced the government to abandon the deal.
The court had already blocked the planned Aug. 5 signing of the agreement after Christian politicians in the main southern region of Mindanao, scene of a decades-long Muslim rebellion, claimed it violated the constitution and could lead to the partition of the Philippines.
The move angered Moro Islamic Liberation Front guerrillas, who went on a rampage Aug. 18, shooting or hacking to death at least 37 people in several southern towns. The violence prompted President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo to suspend the autonomy talks.
A spokeswoman for the court, Gleo Guerra, said eight of the 15 justices voted Tuesday to declare the deal unconstitutional.
Government forces have launched air and ground assaults targeting three rebel commanders who allegedly led hundreds of their men in the brutal August raids.
The rebel attacks and subsequent military assaults killed nearly 100 civilians and displaced about half a million in about 10 Mindanao provinces at the height of the fighting, the government said.
The rebel group — with an estimated 11,000 fighters — has been battling for self-rule in the predominantly Roman Catholic nation’s volatile south for decades.
Christian politicians protesting the accord have warned that an enlarged Muslim homeland could spark renewed sectarian violence.
Rebel leaders have criticized Arroyo’s government for backing out of the deal after 11 years of negotiations.
The accord would have expanded an existing six-province Muslim autonomous region in Mindanao, subject to the agreement of local residents.
U.S. and Philippine officials had hoped a peace accord would transform the resource-rich southern Philippines into a bustling economic hub instead of a breeding ground for terrorists.