MANILA, Philippines?Former president Joseph Estrada on Sunday ignored a ?fatwa? by Muslim elders branding him an enemy of Islam and warned separatist rebels of an "all out war" if he wins re-election to the post.
Estrada said he was confident the religious edict issued last week by the Bangsamoro Supreme Council, a grouping of Islamic scholars and elders in the south, would not be supported by the region's five million Muslims.
He also warned the 12,000-strong Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), which has been waging a bloody rebellion since 1978, to disarm or risk being crushed by the army under his command if he won in the May polls.
"I am a friend of Islam, and I respect Islam," Estrada told AFP in Manila shortly after arriving from a weekend campaign in Mindanao, where over 150,000 people have been killed in the long-running insurgency.
"However, I will not tolerate any organization regardless of religion if they violate the law," he said.
He said the MILF must put down their weapons if they want to negotiate peace with any future Estrada government.
"I want them to disarm, and if they don't, then I will go on an all-out war against them again. We have already exhausted all peaceful remedies against them, and enough is enough," he said.
"A president's duty is to protect the territorial integrity of the country at all cost," he stressed.
Shortly after winning the presidency by a landslide in 1998, the former movie action star Estrada launched a massive military assault against the MILF and dislodged the rebels from their fortified main base in Mindanao.
During one victory celebration, the MILF said Estrada trucked in a roasted pig and beer for his men who had camped near a ruined mosque.
The MILF meanwhile on Sunday distanced itself from the Council which issued the fatwa, saying it was not sanctioned by the rebel leadership. However, it it agreed that Estrada was "the most un-Islamic of all previous presidents."
"In just a brief period of time as a president, Estrada caused major destruction in the Muslim south," MILF spokesman Eid Kabalu told AFP.
Estrada was ousted by a military-backed revolt in 2001 amid allegations of corruption.