Philippine ex-rebels congratulate Duterte on election

 12 May 2016 - 14:55

Philippine ex-rebels congratulate Duterte on election
(FILES) This file photo taken on May 9, 2016 shows Presidential frontrunner and Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte gesturing as he arrive at the voting precint to cast his vote at Daniel Aguinaldo National High School in Davao City, on the southern island of Mindanao.  AFP / NOEL CELIS

By Hader Glang
ZAMBOANGA CITY, the Philippines: The Philippines’ one-time largest Muslim rebel group has congratulated Rodrigo Duterte as he is set to become the country’s first president from southern Mindanao island. 
“On behalf of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front [MILF] and the Bangsamoro people, it is with great pleasure and gladness on my part to extend our heartfelt congratulations to you on your historic victory,” MILF chair Al Haj Murad Ebrahim said in a letter.
The Philippine Inquirer newspaper reported Thursday that Murad expressed confidence that the outspoken mayor of Davao City -- a major bustling city in the south -- would pursue the peace efforts between the government and the MILF.
“It is indeed a historic victory because for the first time in the history of this country, a true son of Mindanao in whose veins Moro blood runs is now the 16th president of the Republic of the Philippines,” he added.
“The MILF as a revolutionary organization that represents our people’s struggle for self-determination, remains highly optimistic and confident that your victory would carry with it our hopes and aspirations for peace and justice in Mindanao.”
Duterte, a devout Christian, has backed the government's peace process with the MILF, and southern Moro Muslims calls for greater autonomy.
In March 2014, the MILF signed a peace deal with the government that brought to a close 17 years of negotiations and ended a decades-old armed conflict in the country’s south.
A proposed autonomy law -- the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) -- that would have sealed the deal, however, was stalled earlier this year as Congress adjourned for campaigning for the May 9 election.
The law would have created a new region to replace the existing Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao and bring much needed wealth to a region that is rich in resources but among the country’s most underdeveloped.
In late February, Duterte visited the main MILF stronghold in Camp Darapanan in Maguindanao province. 
During the visit, he discussed the failure to pass the BBL with the MILF’s vice chair for political affairs, Ghadzali Jaafar, and his proposal for a federal system under which territories would be created for the country’s indigenous peoples.
Duterte has said his ties with local Muslims have been cemented through the marriage of his eldest son, Davao vice mayor Paolo, to a local Muslim girl.
“I have grandchildren who are either Muslim or Christian. Would I want to see a situation in the future where even my own grandchildren would be dragged into this conflict?” the Mindanao Times reported him as saying in Jan. 2015.
“Your defense of the [BBL] before and during the election campaign has in fact infused these optimism and confidence among our people, which should explain why they overwhelmingly supported your candidacy,” Murad said in his letter.
“It is thus in our best interest that your advocacy for federalism entrenches our aspiration for genuine self-rule in our homeland… to put an end to the debilitating conflict that breeds anarchy and stimulates the rise of extremism,” he added.