Local authorities in North Cotabato province in the southern Philippine region of Mindanao are building an army of young Christians, Muslims, and tribal "peace builders in communities." Cotabato Governor Emmylou Talino-Mendoza announced last week the holding of a "peace builders camp" for the youth starting on Wednesday. The activity will "instill the importance of peace and respect for religion" in the minds of young people, said the governor. She said, "The three-day peace camp aims to make young people appreciate the importance of peace, and their role in building and advocating for a peaceful community." Talino-Mendoza appealed to parents to allow their children to join the peace camp.
The province of North Cotabato is home to Christians, Muslims, and tribal communities that have suffered from decades of war waged by Moro rebel groups in the region. More recently, the volatile Mindanao region has seen the rise of violent Islamist militancy. The Maute radical Islamist group that claims allegiance to the so-called Islamic State, on May 23 attacked the southern city of Marawi, burned the Catholic cathedral and a Protestant school, and took a Catholic priest and several church workers as hostages. Filipino president Rodrigo Duterte went on the offensive declaring martial law in Mindanao. Over 7 weeks of air strikes and battles with government troops have killed more than 500 people, including 411 militants, and displaced 260,000, marking the country's biggest security crisis in years.
In a new development, President Duterte on Monday vowed to fast-track a new legislation for autonomy in Mindanao, advancing a protracted process to end decades of rebellion and thwart rising Islamist militancy. Government and rebel representatives on Monday submitted to Duterte a draft legislation of the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL), aimed at establishing a more powerful and better-funded Muslim autonomous region in the country's south under a 2014 peace deal signed by the two sides. The BBL is the culmination of a rocky 20-year peace process between the government of the predominantly Catholic nation and the Muslim separatist Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). According to MILF vice chairman Ghazali Jaafar, the proposed law “is the best antidote to violent extremism that has wrought havoc” in many Muslim areas.