Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte vowed on Monday to correct "historical injustice" against minorities in his country as the government seeks to reestablish a peace process in the southern areas.
Muslims have been waging a rebellion seeking autonomy or independence in the mainly Catholic southern areas of Philippines, since the 1970's. They regard the areas as their ancestral homeland, however the conflict resulted in the death of more than 120,000 persons in several areas of the southern region of Mindanao.
Duterte made the remarks at a gathering hosted by the country's main Muslim guerrilla group, Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), and attended by several Christians and Muslim factions and tribal groups.
Duterte takes pride in having Muslim ancestry and warned that the region could see worse violence if the issue is not resolved.
"What is at stake here is the preservation of the Filipino republic and to correct historical injustice," Agence France-Presse (AFP) reported Duterte as saying.
In 2014, MILF, which includes 10,000 members, signed a peace deal that gave Muslim minority self-rule over parts of Mindanao, but the Filipino Congress didn't approve the proposed law to implement the pact.
Duterte added that during the decades when the Philippines was under Spanish and then US colonial rule, Christian majority had taken control of vast parts of Mindanao, thus marginalizing native Muslims and other tribes.
He warned that the situation could aggravate if ISIS militants fled to the Philippines after losing their strongholds in the Middle East.
The President also indicated that he called the Congress to a special session where Muslim leaders could explain their plans to the legislators, adding that such a deal should include everyone and must be accepted by all groups in Mindanao.
MILF chairman Murad Ebrahim and Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) chairman Yusop Jikiri also attended the assembly, as well as archbishop of Cotabato and Mindanao’s highest Catholic Church official, Cardinal Orlando Quevedo.
In his speech, Murad said the government and the Moro groups must unite together to fight a common enemy, the violent extremists.
“We feel the obligation to assert for the enactment of the basic law not because it will win us votes but because it presents us a rare opportunity to be part of peacemaking,” Murad said.
Director of the government’s coordinating committee overseeing the peace accord Carlos Sol also said: "The importance here is that there is coexistence between Christians, Muslims and Lumads [tribal people]".
Hundreds of thousands of people attended the gathering at the MILF headquarters.
MILF previously announced that half a million had registered to attend the assembly which was secured by unarmed MILF fighters accompanied by armed government soldiers and policemen.