Jihadists fighting in the name of the Islamic State group (ISIS) are escalating attacks in the southern Philippines.
Jihadists fighting in the name of the Islamic State group (ISIS) are escalating attacks in the southern Philippines.
“Their influence is growing stronger and it is expanding,” Rodolfo Mendoza, a senior analyst at the Manila-based Philippine Institute for Peace, Violence and Terrorism Research told AFP, referring to IS.
He said the various local groups that had pledged allegiance to IS were “planning big operations, like bombings, attacks or assassinations”.
Such violence has plagued large areas of the southern Philippines for decades, as Muslim rebels have fought a separatist insurgency that has claimed 120,000 lives.
The violence has left the region one of the poorest in the Philippines, while allowing warlords and extortion gangs to flourish. Many of the predominantly Catholic Philippines’ Muslim minority live in the south. Read More
Despite the rain, this is a church in the Philippines is hungry for the Word of God. God bless these dear brothers and sisters! Please keep them in your prayers.
Christians in a predominantly Muslim part of the mainly Catholic Philippines are targets of extremist Islamist groups and face persecution similar to their fellow believers in the Middle East, says a missionary priest.
“The situation is a worrying one,” said Father Sebastiano D’Ambra in a interview with Aid to the Church in Need, referring to the anti-Christian attacks that took place on Christmas Day in the south of Mindanao.
In an interview with Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need, Father Sebastiano D’Ambra highlighted fears of radicalization in parts of the Philippines after 14 people were killed during attacks on Christmas Day.
The attack included a grenade being thrown at a chapel.
“It is difficult to establish for certain whether the violence was directed specifically against Christians, even though everything points to the fact that this was the case.
“Without doubt our brothers and sisters in the faith are one of the targets of these fundamentalist groups,” said D’Ambra who belongs to the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions (P.I.M.E.) congregation.
“In some areas of Mindanao we are experiencing exactly the same thing as is happening in Iraq,” said the Italian priest who has been in the Philippines nearly 50 years and is an experienced missionary. Read More
(Voice of the Persecuted) 7 Christian farmers were killed during a series of attacks by Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) on Christmas Eve.
Christmas attacks by Muslim rebels in Christian villages in the southern Philippines left at least 14 people dead and may have been partly influenced by the notoriety of the Islamic State group, officials said Saturday. The raids raised tensions of those in the Christians communities. One report claimed people have become so scared some go to the local gymnasium to sleep at night.
Manila Bulletin reported more attacks by the BIFF Bunayog could not rule out. BIFF continues to seek a separate Islamic state and remains opposed to a government-MILF effort to create a Muslim autonomous area in Mindanao as part of a peace agreement. The group split from main Muslim rebel group the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF)in 2008 after the MILF opened a peace process with the government.
Contacting a military spokesperson, USA Today spoke with Capt. Joan Petinglay by phone. About 200 rebels took part in at least eight attacks on Thursday and Friday, She said the military learned about the impending attacks and secured towns and villages and warned villagers not to venture out, preventing a larger number of casualties.
“We learned that the BIFF had plans to attack civilians and our detachments so we went on heightened alert even before Christmas,” Petinglay said. “That prevented the rebels from attacking villages and inflicting more casualties.”
Despite warnings from the military, five farmers went to their farms [on] Thursday to spray insecticide on their crops in Maguindanao province and were captured and gunned down by the rebels, she said.
In a nearby village in Esperanza town in Sultan Kudarat province, rebels fleeing from army troops took a family hostage on Thursday, freeing a mother and her child but killing three men. A village official was also gunned down by the militants late Thursday in a village in North Cotabato province.
Villagers in one area hid in a Roman Catholic church after word of the rebel assaults spread, Petinglay said.
The group had been seen meeting in numbers beyond their usual size. The motive for their new attacks on Christian communities was not known. A BIFF spokesman earlier confirmed they were behind the raids, but had said it was over a land dispute.
The BIFF seeks a separate Islamic state and establish Sharia law. The group opposes the government-MILF effort to create a Muslim autonomous area in Mindanao as part of a peace agreement. The latest attacks were the most brazen by the group to date.
Last year, the BIFF shared a video where one of its leaders pledged support for the Islamic State, the jihadists that controls a large territory in Iraq and Syria with a goal to establish an Islamic Caliphate.
Please pray for our brothers and sisters in the Philippines.
Philippines (Morning Star News) – Christians on the Philippine island of Mindanao believe Maoist rebels are responsible for killing a Baptist pastor and his adult son near a southern town on Nov. 27.
A friend of the pastor in Mindanao told Morning Star News that area Christians believe insurgents with the New People’s Army (NPA), armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines, were responsible for shooting Pastor Feliciano “Cris” Lasawang, 50, and his 24-year-old son Darwin as they bathed in the Culaman River north of Jose Abad Santos, Davao del Sur Province, at 6 a.m.
Pastor Lasawang was shot three times in the body, and his son once in the face, according to relatives. The two men died at the site. They had conducted baptisms in the same river where they died, according to U.S.-based Christian Aid Mission, which assists native ministries around the world.
The pastor’s friend, whose name is withheld for security reasons, said area Christians suspect NPA rebels because the guerrillas believe church growth dampens insurgent recruitment efforts, and the pastor had received reports that the communist militants were monitoring his movements.
“Pastor Cris had received intelligence reports that the NPA guerillas were eyeing him as he was going around to communities telling NPA sympathizers that armed struggle was not the solution,” he told Morning Star News.
The friend, who trained the church leader, said Pastor Lasawang had notified him of a strong presence of NPA guerillas in the area. Pastor Lasawang had often advised the friend not to visit him due to heavy NPA activity. On one occasion the NPA launched an attack that killed nearly a dozen Philippine Army troops, with the rebels carrying weapons just a few kilometers from the church, the pastor told him.
The NPA, formed in 1969, aims to overthrow the Philippine government and establish communism. It is listed as a terrorist organization by the U.S. State Department.
Pastor Lasawang is survived by his wife and seven other children, the youngest 13 years old. He put his faith in Christ in 2007 after observing positive change in a cousin who had become a Christian. In 2013, he dedicated himself to pastoring and planted a Baptist church in Jose Abad Santos in Davao del Sur (technically Davao Occidental Province, but still governed by Davao del Sur until elections in 2016).
The church, where 300 people attend worship service weekly at a building with a capacity of 150, remains without a pastor, and NPA guerillas continue to be a threat, sources said. Members of the congregation are volunteering to exhort the gathering on Sundays.
Despite opposition in the area from both communist and Islamic insurgent groups, another house church has opened in a nearby village to meet the needs of a growing number of people interested in Bible study, the pastor’s friend said.
“The ministry in Jose Abad town will continue despite the absence of a full-time minister there,” he said.
Christian communities in the southern Philippines are vulnerable to sporadic rebel attacks as a result of failed peace talks between the national government and numerous separatist groups. The Philippines, with an estimated 100 million people, will choose a new president in May, and many Christians in the region hope that the next president will address the complex problems of insurgencies in Mindanao.
Rolly Pelinggon, former vice president of the Philippine Student Alliance Lay Movement (PSALM), told Morning Star News that the next president of the Philippines should have peace negotiators from the southern Philippines. Most peace negotiations with the rebels fail, Pelinggon said, because the designated peace negotiators are based in Manila and do not have an in-depth understanding of the regional complexities.
The pastor’s friend had not been able to visit the church for two years because of the rebel presence, but he received permission to do so on Oct. 27, he said. According to Christian Aid, he was able to meet briefly with Pastor Lasawang and discuss how to manage the increased attendance at the church and how to continue evangelistic outreach and discipleship.
“We both had lively plans,” he told Christian Aid, “full of hopes, accelerating desires to serve the Servant King, not knowing in God’s plan that that would be our last fellowship here on earth.”
ZAMBOANGA: On Sunday five people were injured when men on a motorcycle hurled a grenade into a Roman Catholic church in the troubled southern Philippines in a city known for Muslim rebel activity, officials said.
They threw the grenade into the church in a suburb of the city of Zamboanga as elderly members were meeting, officials said.
Four senior citizens and one passer-by were injured.
“It (the motive) is unlikely to be personal. What can they get from these senior citizens? Perhaps this is a message,” he told reporters.
The local police chief, Chief Inspector Felixberto Martinez, said they were pursuing all possible leads but could not give a motive for the attack.
Philippines: Faith sustained them through their terrifying capture by Abu Sayyaf guerillas
Basilan in the southern Philippines province of Mindanao has been called an island paradise, rich in resources and natural beauty.
For decades, however, it has been a hub of insurgent activity by various factions of extremist Islamic groups that have waged a campaign of terror on local communities and foreign visitors.
Kidnappings are common, and the risk of violence for anyone working in the area remains high.
Such was the case for two Filipino volunteer teachers working with a Claretian mission school that provides free education to the Badjau, or Sea Gypsy, community in the village of Maluso.
Frederick Banut, 24, and Cherben Masong, 25, were sitting down to dinner on September 4 with two young students and a visiting mother in a small oceanside hut that serves as the community’s literacy center, when they heard a motor boat approaching.
The woman opened the door to inquire after the visitors and was confronted by more than a dozen men dressed in police uniforms with shoulder-length hair and long beards.
They pushed their way into the hut and barked out, “where is the priest?” in Tausog, the language of neighboring Sulu province.
“There are no priests here,” said Frederick, holding out his wrists for the handcuffs that quickly appeared.
The men demanded that they accompany them to headquarters and bundled the volunteers into a Malaysian boat known as a jungkung.
“It was not an arrest. It was a kidnapping,” Cherben said. “I kept asking where they would take us, but they just pushed us into the boat.” It soon became apparent, he added, that these men were not police officers but members of Abu Sayyaf, an extremist Islamic group notorious for high profile kidnappings in the southern Philippines.
“I thought I was going to die. One of the Abu Sayyaf men wanted to get hold of the cross that hangs around my neck. I removed it and threw it into the water,” Frederick said.
The Claretians, a Spanish missionary order, have been targets of the militants before. In 2000, Abu Sayyaf members killed Claretian priest Father Rhoel Gallardo at the end of a six-week hostage crisis that involved four teachers and 22 students of Claret School in Tumahubong town in Basilan.
The Abu Sayyaf, an al-Qaeda affiliated group, is believed to be holding at least 10 foreign nationals and even more Filipino hostages in their strongholds in Sulu and Basilan.
After a six-hour journey, the two teachers disembarked at the village of Talipao in Sulu province, where they were handed over to another group of armed men.
Wet, hungry and frightened, the teachers were interrogated by their captors.
“We were threatened. We were asked about our work. They wanted to know if we were rich and how much our families could pay for our freedom,” Cherben said.
The next morning, the captors went to work on Frederick. They first tried to convince him to convert to Islam and become a mujahidin (Islamic warrior).
“They wanted me to marry a mujahidat, or woman fighter,” Frederick said.
Next, they began beating him.
“I told them to just kill me, but that I would not abandon my faith.”
Frederick and Cherben were held for 43 days before their freedom was successfully negotiated on October 18. Authorities have not divulged any details of the negotiations that led to their release.
Speaking to ucanews.com shortly after their return, the teachers were grateful to God for their freedom.
“I think I still have a lot of things to do for Him,” Frederick said, adding that he would continue working for the Church and for the benefit of the Sea Gypsies of Basilan.
“Threats to our lives are normal, especially if we are serious about being followers of Christ,” Frederick said.
Cherben’s experience in captivity was slightly different.
He could not help but smile when he recalled how the wife of the commander in whose home he was forced to live got jealous of his presence there.
“She was pregnant and was asking her husband to get something for her, but the commander ignored her. She got mad and attacked him,” Cherben said.
“She told her husband to go and live with me because it seemed like the husband preferred to be with me,” he recalled.
The commander subsequently pulled out his gun and fired into the ground.
“I ran away. I did not want to be in the middle of a marital spat,” Cherben said with a smile.
Friends and relatives have advised the two volunteer teachers to leave Basilan, but they have both refused.
“I have learned to love my work. The challenge and the adventure is here,” said Cherben. “Aside from that, I have learned to love the Badjau people.”
The Badjau (also spelled Bajau) are an indigenous ethnic group of maritime Southeast Asia. They continue to live a seaborne lifestyle, making use of small wooden sailing vessels for their homes, or living along the coastal areas of the Sulu Archipelago in the southern Philippines.
Frederick says he will never forget his experience in captivity, and that he even prays for his captors “so that they will be enlightened because they do not know what they are doing”.
Local residents in Zamboanga told ucanews.com that the boat that spirited away Frederick and Cherben to Sulu was part of a flotilla that brought some 300 Moro National Liberation Front rebels during a failed attempt to seize the city on September 9.
The attack resulted in the deaths of at least 200 people, the displacement of about 120,000 others, and the total destruction of an estimated 10,000 homes.
ZAMBOANGA CITY (BosNewsLife)– Hundreds of residents, including many Christians, remained trapped or were held hostage as fighting intensified in the Southern Philippines Saturday, September 14, between government forces and Muslim separatists in suburbs of Zamboanga city.
More than 50 people have died since the siege began Monday, September 9, shattering recent years of relative calm in Zamboanga city, a heavily Christian region 860 kilometers (540 miles) south of Manila, the capital.
There remained concern that rebels were holding hundreds of local residents as human shields. A local church has been involved in tending to at least some of the 70 people who were wounded in the clashes, Christians said.
Yet a Catholic priest caught up in the siege was freed Friday, September 12, leaving behind terrified hostages.
“Whenever the military attacked, the rebels would force us to become their human shield,” the priest, Michael Ufana said in comments aired by Vatican Radio. “Then, after the firefight they would lock us up again in detention.”
Philippine troops stepped up efforts to try to force rebels from buildings they seized in Zamboanga city, but the insurgents are well armed.
Government officials say those trapped in two schools are running short of food. An estimated 60,000 residents have fled, and hundreds of buildings are now destroyed.
Philippines Benigno Aquino III said in a statement that the “prime objective is to save lives,” but he warned his government may use force to end the standoff.
The troubles began Monday, September 9, when some 200 Muslim rebels from the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), entered the port city and took hostages.
The attacks by MNLF were seen by observers as an attempt to scupper peace talks between another militant group and the government.
MNLF has been fighting for an Islamic state for Muslim Moro, who comprise the largest non-Christian group in the Philippines, at around 10 percent of a total 97 million Filipinos.
A ceasefire had been due on Saturday, September 14, after telephone talks between Philippine Vice-President Jejomar Binay and the head of a faction of the MNLF, Nur Misuari.
However it remained unclear whether all the fighters answer to that one group with local reports suggesting the force appears to be a coalition of Islamists and independence seekers in this mainly Catholic nation.
The clashes raised questions about the strength of a peace deal agreed last October with the MNLF, to end four decades of conflict that killed 120,000 people and displaced two million. (With additional reporting by BosNewsLife’s Stefan J. Bos)
Violence against Christians has become all too frequent in recent years, with attacks on them in a wide variety of countries in Africa, Asia, and the Middle East. Repression and intolerance have been displayed against the Christian community in Nigeria; against the Coptic Christians in Alexandria, Egypt ; by bombing in a chapel in Sulu, Philippines; by bomb arracks against Assyrian Christians in Iraq; by discrimination against them in the Islamic Republic of Iraq; by prosecution under the blasphemy laws in Pakistan and elsewhere.
It was the interruption and disruption by force of the celebration of Christian Mass in the villages of Rizokarpaso and Ayia Triada in northern Cyprus that led the European Parliament in a resolution on January 19, 2011 to comment on the situation of Christians in the context of freedom of religion. Since the “Arab Spring,” thousands of Christians have fled the countries of the Middle East except Israel. Christian communities have existed for two thousand years in the Middle East, though they are now declining as a result of low birth rates and emigration caused by discrimination and persecution in most of the Arab and Muslim countries in the area. The case of northern Cyprus is a recent example of that discrimination and intolerance towards a Christian community.
The disruption of the Christian liturgy in the two villages was, as admitted by the World Council of Churches at the time, a flagrant violation of fundamental freedoms and human rights, the freedom of religion and belief, as guaranteed in Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and in other international declarations, including the 1981 United Nations Declaration on the Elimination of all Forms of Intolerance and Discrimination based on Religion and Belief.
The area of Cyprus had been ruled administratively as a protectorate by Britain from 1878 until August 1960, when it become an independent country. An international treaty guaranteed the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Cyprus. But political crises and violence between the Greek and Turkish communities continued. As a result, the U.N. Security Council set up in March 1964 the U.N. Peacekeeping Force (UNFICYP), originally to prevent further fighting between the two communities. In the absence of a political solution of the Cyprus problem, the force, now consisting of 925 uniformed personnel, and 140 international and local staff, has remained in existence to supervise ceasefire lines, maintain a buffer zone between the two sides, and undertake humanitarian activities.
Despite the presence of UNFICYP in 1974, the Turkish army invaded the island, ostensibly to restore “constitutional order,” after the Greek military had attempted a coup to unite Cyprus with Greece. Though there was a de facto ceasefire in August 1974, the Turkish aggression remained. The Turks never withdrew and occupied about a third of the island. In November 1983, the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus was established under the leadership of Rauf Denktash, who remained president until 2005. It had a population of 180,000, of whom about 100,000 came as colonialists from Anatolia, the Turkish mainland. The U.N. condemned the Republic as “legally invalid” and called on states not to recognize it. None has done so except Turkey. The town of Nicosia is still divided, with a “Green Line,” into two parts, each being the capital of one of the two regimes. It is the only divided capital in the world.
With the establishment of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, the 200,000 Greek Christian Cypriots in the north escaped or were deported to the south. The village of Rizokarpaso, where the Christian Mass was prevented, once had a population of 3,000; now it has few Christians. The Turkish Republic has epitomized qualities of ethnic cleansing, disproportionate use of force, vandalism, religious intolerance, repression, and persecution. The Christian community in the north has dwindled to about 450.
Restrictions have been put on Christian practices, as has access to religious sites and places of worship. In spite of international calls for the Turks to stop desecrating and destroying Christian properties, demolitions of churches have occurred, including in May 2011 the 200-year-old one in the village of Vokolida. In all, at least 530 churches have been damaged, vandalized, or destroyed. Some have been converted to military storage facilities, stables, casinos, or nightclubs; 78 have been transformed into mosques.
The Orthodox Church has been refused permission to restore Christian monuments. One calculation estimates that 60,000 relics, icons, and mosaics from ancient Byzantine have been stolen. Some were found in the Getty Museum in Malibu before a U.S. court ruled that they belonged to the Christian Church. Only since 2003 have the Greek Christians been allowed to cross the border into the north and see the destruction of their heritage.
One wonders if Turkish Prime Minister Erdoğan and the leaders of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus by their intolerant persecution of the Greek Christians are pursuing a policy of revenge. After all, it was from the town of Seleucia, on the Tigris, later burned by the Roman military, that Paul sailed to Cyprus on his first journey to convert the population to Christianity (Acts of the Apostles, chapter 13), and it was from Cyprus that the early Christians set out to proselytize the Greeks of Antioch.