Faced with "unsettling" reports of support for jihadists in Iraq and Syria, Catholics reach out
Filipinos faced with "unsettling" reports of local support for Islamist militants in Iraq and Syria stress the potential of interreligious dialogue and discussion within their own congregations in containing the growth of extremism in the Philippines.
The media have reported that militant Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) in the southern Philippines have pledged allegiance to the Islamic State group while Abu Sayyaf members were reportedly identified among slain jihadists in Syria.
BIFF is a militant organization that broke away from the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) over differences in goals for peace negotiations with the Philippines government.
Philippines Senator Grace Poe has called for a Senate defense committee probe, in aid of legislation, of reports of Filipinos supporting IS, also known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. She also cited in her resolution a video posted on YouTube supposedly showing Abu Sayyaf members pledging allegiance to IS. Members of the group fighting for an independent Islamic province in the Philippines have been carrying out bombings, kidnapping for ransom, killings, and extortion activities mostly in the south and Palawan Island, southwest of Manila.
Bishop Martin Jumoad of Isabela Prelature on Basilan island told Aleteia, "We are very much worried to hear some people in the country are now embracing the ISIS cause." Bishop Jumoad said people in his prelature just north of Jolo, where Abu Sayyaf are believed to be holding German hostages, are "disturbed."
"In fact, we are afraid. Here in Basilan we cannot take for granted those reports of ISIS support because it has happened that local groups linked with outside forces and when they attacked it was really terrible," he explained. The 58 year-old bishop has lived through numerous and deadly Abu Sayyaf attacks since his installation in 2002.
"In this case we are afraid because if you speak of religious freedom, then you are identified with America because the coalition governments (conducting airstrikes on ISIS) are also calling for religious freedom," Bishop Jumoad said.
In a Twitter post, Abu Sayyaf threatened to behead one of two German hostages it had seized from their yacht off Palawan island, military officials told reporters in Manila. Abu Sayyaf demanded 250,000 pesos (US$5,585.00) ransom payment by the extended deadline of Oct. 17 for the release of Dr. Stefan Viktor Okonek, 74, and Henrike Dielen, 55 believed to be held on Sulu island. The militants also want the German government to pull out of the US-led coalition striking down IS forces in Iraq and Syria. A crisis management committee composed of public officials has been created in Jolo, Sulu province to work for the hostages’ release.
Bishop Jumoad said he resorts to interreligious dialogue when facing problems with Abu Sayyaf violence. He has sat in various crisis and other committees with Muslim public officials and religious leaders in his province.
There are also opportunities for less formal “dialogue” in day-to-day encounters with Muslims while doing pastoral work and Church social, education and other ministries. Muslim people are also beneficiaries of these activities and services of the prelature, where 27 percent of the 420,000 people are Catholics and most of the rest are Muslims.
In Manila on Saturday questions on the presence of ISIS in the country also came up at the Interfaith Forum of the Philippines in which some 50 participants from various religious groups examined the positive role of religion in culture and society. Julkipli Wadi, dean of the state-owned University of the Philippines’ Institute of Islamic Studies, told them Muslim communities are picking up lessons from past violence perpetrated by the Abu Sayyaf and other militant groups in the south. “They (the experiences) must have educated particularly our Muslim communities regarding the danger and the presence of such a group," he said.