Philippines pushing for Shia-Sunni dialogue

MNA –The special envoy of Philippine President Duterte for intercultural dialogue, is pushing for talks between Sunni and Shia Muslims, no matter how “difficult”, “slim” and “almost impossible” it may sound.

The five-time former speaker of the House of Representatives of the Philippines, Jose Claveria de Venecia, who is currently serving as the Special Envoy of Philippine President Duterte for intercultural dialogue told the Tehran Times in an interview recently that he is taking initiative by proposing the “revival of Shia-Sunni interfaith dialogue.”

The self-proclaimed “father of interfaith dialogue”, who introduced the topic to the United Nations in 2004, de Venecia sparked the idea when it was a “taboo” to bring up a religious issue at the United Nations addresses.

He believes in not just interfaith dialogue among Christians, Muslims and Buddhists, etc., but intrafaith dialogue among Muslims to bridge the gap and divisions among them.

The envoy opined that much of the conflict in the “Persian Gulf region” and part of “North Africa” stems from Sunni-Shia divide that could eventually “lead to destruction of the Middle East.”

“Conflicts in Libya, in Yemen, in parts of Jordan and Lebanon and South Asia” come from the Sunni-Shia conflict, he noted.

The former speaker said by leaving the Middle East, ISIL is moving to South Asia, Central Asia and now to South East Asia where his country, the Philippines, is located.

In June 2017, a group of pro-ISIL militants attacked and took control of parts of the southern Philippine city of Marawi where over 1,000 people were killed in the siege.

It was only after five-long months, in October, that the Philippine government was able to regain control of the city which was left in heavy damages, rubbles and ruins.

The envoy stressed that unless genuine peace is implemented in Arabian Peninsula, the region won’t ever be in peace.

“But we must try, and try and try until it [peace] happens.”

De Venecia is hoping to join hands with former Iranian Parliament speaker Ali Akbar Nategh-Nouri in bringing the interfaith dialogue a step closer to reality.

A project that perhaps is calling on all Muslims around the world to play a part in.

Third route in Silk Road proposed by De Venecia

In a separate project, de Venecia, also the Philippines’ special envoy for APEC and the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation, has a third route to “extend” and “complement” China’s Belt and Road Initiative in mind.

De Venecia made the proposal at the Belt and Road Forum in Beijing in May 2017.

He held out hope that the route would expand, deepen and strengthen the cultural, geopolitical, geo-economic trade and people-to-people linkages of the historic Silk Road.

Duterte’s envoy explained that from Southern China, the route would pass through the Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia, and Timor-Leste, which would then lead to parts of Australia and Latin America.

Otherwise, he commented, the Silk Road in China includes only “Western Asia, Central Asia, Europe and Africa.”

“This is globalization,” he assured. “We are not talking about regions anymore, we talk about global community.”

“So, what I’m proposing is a real circular navigation to benefit all the countries in the world.”

The future of the proposal also known as “new spirit in the age of globalization” remains uncertain; however, de Venecia has taken strides in generating “global interest” for it.

‘Iran plays a major role in industrialization’

The former speaker of the House of Representatives, who doesn’t have just a hand in politics but in economics too, praised Iran’s contribution to industrialization, saying, “Iran plays a major role in industrialization by bringing regions together.”

Describing Iran as “Asia”, Duterte’s special envoy further noted the world is very proud of “the Old Persian Empire.”

De Venecia came to Iran on November 5-6 to head a delegation of a Fillipino-Chinese consortium to pursue a trilateral Chinese-Iranian-Philippines partnership that involved the building of a petrochemical plant in South Pars in Iran and long-term supply of crude oil to the Philippines.

Elaborating on the projects with and in Iran, he said the first project comprises a methanol complex set-up in the Pars region valued at $11.5 billion.

Praising the project as “one of the largest foreign investments” in Iran, he noted the project would go into effect next year.

The second larger project, estimated at $320 billion, is the establishment of an oil refinery and petrochemical complex in the Philippines, supplied with Iran’s oil over a 20-year period.

The former top lawmaker refused to give out more details on the projects saying in due time more information will emerge.

The interview was conducted by Marjan Golpira.