Top Philippine court halts deal with Muslim rebels

MANILA (AFP) — The Philippine Supreme Court on Monday stopped the government from signing a land deal with Muslim separatist rebels, in yet another setback to efforts to end more than 30 years of deadly insurgency.

The ruling was in response to a petition filed by officials in the southern Philippines who oppose the signing on Tuesday of an agreement between the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and the government.

The planned deal had sparked massive street protests in the country’s south amid fears that non-Muslim areas could be covered under the deal giving the MILF control over large swathes of lands in southern Mindanao island.

“The court issued a TRO (temporary restraining order) restraining the respondents from signing the MOA (memorandum of agreement),” court spokesman Midas Marquez told reporters in Manila.
The agreement would give MILF powers over an autonomous area that would have its own legal, banking and education systems, civil service and internal security force, and had been seen as paving the way for a formal peace deal with the rebels.

MILF spokesman Eid Kabalu called the decision a “setback,” but he said the 12,000-strong group remained “committed to solving the problem peacefully.”

Kabalu said MILF peace negotiators have yet to formally receive the Supreme Court order, although presidential spokesman Jess Dureza said Tuesday’s signing ceremony in Malaysia would not take place.

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