Philippine government and Muslim rebel peace negotiators both expressed concern on Monday over the spread of radical Islamic ideology in the south of the mainly Roman Catholic nation, warning it could reverse gains in the peace negotiations.
They urged lawmakers to immediately pass a new Muslim autonomy law in a region of southern Mindanao to counter radicalism, especially among young Muslims.
Muslim rebels have been fighting for self-determination in the south for more than four decades. The conflict has killed more than 120,000 people, displaced two million and stunted growth in one of the poorest regions of the country.
“The flags have been raised, the danger signals are already there,” said Miriam Coronel Ferrer, government chief negotiator with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), the country’s largest Muslim rebel group.
Chief rebel negotiator Mohagher Iqbal said his group was also worried the delays in the passage of the law could frustrate the “rank and file of the MILF”.
“It’s a fact that there is rising radicalism among the youth in Mindanao,” he said. “It’s there, the videos are spreading and it’s very hard to combat ideas.”
Security forces say there is no evidence that local Islamist groups have links with Middle East-based militants despite some videos showing Abu Sayyaf rebels pledging allegiance to Islamic State.