ARMM designates deputy governor for Christians

COTABATO CITY (MindaNews / 8 March) – The Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) has appointed a focal person to look after the plight of Christian minority living in the bastion of Islamic faith in the Philippines.

ARMM Governor Mujiv Hataman appointed Edgardo Ramirez, a peace and human rights advocate, as deputy governor for Christian Affairs effective March 1.

Hataman designated Ramirez, also a local radio broadcaster, in a bid to also enhance inter-religious understanding and harmony between Muslims and Christians in the volatile region whose growth was stunted by the decades-old Moro rebellion to establish an independent Muslim state in the south.

ARMM, which straddles the provinces of Maguindanao, Lanao del Sur, Basilan Sulu and Tawi-Tawi, has a population of around four million based on the 2015 census of the Philippine Statistics Authority.

Muslims comprise 90 percent of its population and the rest belong to various Christian denominations, majority of them Roman Catholics.

Republic Act 9054, the expanded ARMM law, mandates the appointment of deputy governors for Muslims, indigenous peoples and Christians.

“Christians are a minority in the autonomous Muslim region and the regional government wants to know their sentiments and condition so we can address their needs,” Ramirez told MindaNews early this week.

The autonomous Muslim region tolerates other religions, he stressed.

Catholic missionaries, including the Oblates of Mary Immaculate, are known to operate in the impoverished Muslim region for decades.

Ramirez promised to go around the region and mingle with the Christian population so he can personally hear and relay their sentiments to the regional government and other concerned agencies.

Ramirez said that one of the top priorities of the Christian desk was to establish the socio-economic and demographic profiles of non-Muslims to help policy makers formulate development plans for them.

This is one of the legacies that the Hataman administration would like to leave to the proposed new Bangsamoro region, Ramirez said.

The creation of the new Bangsamoro region is the key component of the final peace agreement that the Philippine government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front signed in 2014 after four decades of fighting that claimed 120,000 lives.

The proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL), the measure that would create the new Bangsamoro region and replace the ARMM, has been submitted for plenary deliberation in the Senate while the House of Representatives is still conducting public hearings.

President Rodrigo Duterte said the BBL would be the “antidote” to terrorism and Islamic extremism in the south.

Hataman said he is willing to step down from power if the BBL is approved before the end of his term next year.

“This (BBL) is a great step towards the goal of achieving a lasting peace in Muslim Mindanao. This is a great step towards the self-determination we have long been fighting for,” he said. (Bong S. Sarmiento / MindaNews)