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Philippines (Morning Star News) – A grenade attack near a Catholic cathedral and radio station in the southern Philippines on Sunday (Dec. 22) could have been aimed at a military advance team for a presidential visit as much as the Christian sites, according to local reports.
The grenade explosion injured at least eight soldiers and six civilians in Cotabato on the island of Mindanao, according to reports. Police stated the grenade was thrown near the Immaculate Conception Cathedral, seat of the archdiocese of Cotabato, and the radio station owned by the Oblates of Mary Immaculate.
Mass-goers huddled in the cathedral upon hearing the explosion and the ensuing brief gunfight between soldiers and the assailants. They later returned to worship, but a service scheduled for 6:30 p.m. was cancelled, parish priest Zaldy Robles told Minda News.
“It is sad that this kind of violence is happening while we are celebrating the holy Christmas season,” Robles told the news outlet. “Let us not let the reign of darkness rule over us.”
He added that it was fortunate the grenade was not thrown into the worship service. In 2009, a bomb attack at the same cathedral in Cotabato killed five civilians and wounded dozens of others.
After Sunday’s grenade attack, a second blast a short distance away injured a passer-by, according to Vatican News.
Explosions in two cities also in the same diocese’s territory, Libungan in North Cotabato and Upi in Maguindanao, hit shortly after the attack in Cotabato, and the military suspected the Islamic State-aligned Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) in all the blasts, according to reports. Earlier security forces had reportedly recovered and de-activated two Improvised Explosive Devices on Sinsuat Avenue in Cotabato, near the cathedral.
It was unclear if the wounded soldiers were guarding the cathedral or were part of an advance team for the visit of the president scheduled for the following day. Minda News reported they were part of the security apparatus assigned to the cathedral during the Christmas season, while another news outlet quoted a Western Mindanao Command spokesman as saying the grenade was aimed at a military vehicle of the Division Reconnaissance Company deployed in advance of President Rodrigo Duterte’s visit on Monday (Dec. 23).
Mindanao is one of five provinces that came under the Muslim rule of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM), confirmed in a Jan. 21 referendum. The BARMM was formed from a peace deal with the rebel Moro Islamic Liberation Front, but the BIFF and Islamic extremist Abu Sayyaf rebels were excluded from the agreement.
While the military suspected the BIFF in the attacks, some speculated the assailants could have been other opponents of the BARMM. Whether one or the other, Duterte called the attackers terrorists.
While the peace agreement calls for the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) to take over administration of the BARMM, the Philippine government exercises full control over the police and military.
Islamic State-affiliated terrorists were blamed for twin suicide bombings at Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Cathedral in Jolo, Sulu Province on Jan. 27, which killed at least 22 people and wounded more than 100. Jolo is a small island off the coast of Mindanao.
Members of Abu Sayyaf, which claims allegiance to Islamic State, reportedly aided the Jan. 27 attack and turned themselves into authorities. Interior Secretary Eduardo Año stated on Feb. 1 that Islamic State-affiliated terrorists were responsible for the twin suicide bombings.
Islamic State representatives took responsibility for the bombings in online postings shortly after the explosions, one inside the cathedral on Jolo, and another about 12 to 15 seconds later outside the doorway. Año said two Indonesian suicide bombers, one who went by the nom de guerre Abu Hud and his wife (unnamed), were guided by local rebels from Abu Sayyaf.
Abu Sayyaf had rejected the peace deal that created the BARMM as it preferred the region belong to a broader southeast Asian caliphate.
Sunday’s violence follows a bomb attack on a shopping mall in Cotabato earlier this month that killed two people and wounded 35 others, also attributed to Islamic State-affiliated terrorists.
According to the government’s peace deal with the rebels, 2019 is a period of transitioning from the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) to the new BARMM (adding “Bangsamoro,” or “Nation of Moros,” moros being a colloquial term for Muslims) government.
Under the agreement, MILF rebels were to surrender their estimated 50,000 weapons to the government.
Christian News – Be encouraged! The Bible was by far the most read book in 2017 in the Philippines. This is stated in a recent survey by the National Book Development Board, a government body. According to the results of the survey, examined by Agenzia Fides, despite the growing secularization in the country with a large Catholic majority, 72% of the population still reads the Sacred Scripture.
Bishop Arturo Bastes of Sorsogon, who for years presided over the Episcopal Commission for the biblical apostolate, welcomed the results of the survey and told Fides that “it is good news that the Bible remains a very read book in our country”. The Bishop reports that “in the last 10 years 10 million copies of the Bible have been distributed to the Filipino families”.
“Despite the frequent use of social media and modern means, Filipinos do not forget to read the Bible as a source of comfort and inspiration to face the challenges of the present: not only Catholics, but also the faithful of other Christian denominations read the Bible to start their day”, says to Fides Jayson Marco Caesar Leones, assistant at the Centro Escolar of Manila University.
“I remember a song that speaks of the importance of reading the Bible and says: take the Bible, open it, read it, understand it, it is the source of our hope, the Filipinos, known to be resilient in times of calamity and disaster, by reading and listening to the Word of God in the Holy Scriptures, gain strength and courage to be ready to face the storms of life”, says Leones, a Catholic layman.
The National Book Development Board had already promoted a similar survey in 2012 and at the time 58% of those interviewed said that the Bible was the most read book. The Philippines has a population of 110 million, 80% Catholics, divided into 86 dioceses. (Agenzia Fides)
“The despotic regime of President Duterte is transforming the whole country into an extermination camp”
(Agenzia Fides) – “Killing a human being means violating his inviolable and inalienable right to life. Killing a priest who is a consecrated person and preventing him from continuing his apostolate in favor of the poor, the excluded and the marginalized is an even graver sin and a crime that shouts to heaven for justice. We live these killings of priests and pastors in the Year of Clergy and Consecrated, a sign of the inestimable gift of life”: this is how Bishop Edwin de La Pena, Bishop of the tortured city of Marawi, on the island of Mindanao, comments to Agenzia Fides the murder of 72-year-old Don Tito Paez, priest of the diocese of San jose, victim of an extrajudicial execution on 4 December 2017. This is the first Catholic priest killed under President Duterte’s government. “I join my voice in denouncing this evil act to prevent him from fulfilling his prophetic task of defending those who are unjustly deprived of their basic human rights”, says the Bishop.
On 3 December, Protestant pastor Lovelito Quiñones, 57, was shot dead in Mansalay, in the province of Eastern Mindoro. On the same day, eight indigenous people (the so-called “lumad”) were killed by soldiers by the Philippine army in the province of South Cotabato in Mindanao.
Civil society groups, Catholic organizations and human rights defenders deplore and condemn the killing of these 10 activists in just a few days, on the eve of the International Human Rights Day, which is celebrated on 10 December. According to the groups, who manifest dissent in various parts of Manila, the killing of civilians and activists, often by “death squads”, recall the time of the dictatorship of Ferdinando Marcos. Among the protest groups there are the civil society forum “Karapatan”, and the “rural Missionaries of the Philippines” who complain about “state terrorism” and have announced a major demonstration in Luneta Parl in Manila on December 10th, International Human Rights Day. Nuns, religious, priests and young Catholics and Protestants will be among those present at the protest.
“The despotic regime of President Duterte is transforming the whole country into an extermination camp”, said Cristina Palabay, Secretary General of “Karapatan”, raising the alarm on human rights violations across the country. “Unarmed civilians have become targets of state security forces” she noted, hoping for “a serious investigation into the murders”.
“Karapatan” attributes the latest attacks against the military program of “counter-insurgency” launched by Duterte, called “Oplan Kapayapaan”, similar to that promoted by the administration of former President Gloria Arroyo, that carried out 1,206 extrajudicial killings, mostly activists and alleged supporters of the Communist armed groups of the “New People’s Army”. In a speech on November 29, Duterte urged soldiers to shoot members of the New People’s Army. (PA) (Agenzia Fides, 7/12/2017)
(Fides Agency) – [72-year-old Father Marcelito “Tito” Paez], an elderly priest of the diocese of San Jose, was killed in the Philippines. As confirmed by Bishop Roberto Mallari, who leads the community of San Jose, in the central part of the Filipino island of Luzon, he was shot by four motorcycle-riding gunmen around 8 pm on December 4 as he was driving through Jaen town. He was rushed to a hospital in the nearby town of San Leonardo and died about two hours later due to gunshot wounds. It was a real execution, that Bishop Mallari “strongly condemns”, asking the authorities “to investigate and do justice to his death “. So far no criminal group has claimed the killing.
As Fides learns, there is strong indignation and disappointment among the faithful in the diocese and throughout the Catholic community in the Philippines. Vigils and spontaneous prayer meetings have brought together the local faithful, whom the Bishop invited to “stay united in prayer for justice”.
Paez was a diocesan priest who served the diocese for more than 30 years and retired in 2015, although he continued his pastoral and apostolic work. In his service to the Church, he was known for his active involvement in the defense of social justice, especially in human rights issues that affected the poor. For many years he had been part of the Commission for the social action of the diocese, at the head of the “Justice and Peace” office.
The priest was currently the coordinator in Luzon of the “Rural Missionaries of the Philippines RMP”, a body that in the Philippines brings together religious men and women and lay people, men and women, founded in 1969 by the Association of Major Superiors in the Philippines, with the idea of offering an active Christian presence in rural areas.
Just on the day he was killed, Paez assisted in facilitating the release of political prisoner Rommel Tucay who was detained in a prison in the city of Cabanatuan. “It is a very serious act. The execution is a brutal act that aims to sow terror among those who oppose the militaristic and despotic nature of Duterte’s government and to silence those who continue to denounce extrajudicial executions and violations of human rights”, says Sister Elenita Belardo, of the Sisters of the Good Shepherd, National Coordinator of the “Rural Missionaries of the Philippines” to Agenzia Fides. “We do not know who the perpetrators are and we want a serious investigation to be carried out.
We believe that President Duterte is ultimately responsible for the ongoing attacks against rural missionaries, activists and human rights defenders during this period”, adds the nun, expressing condolences to Fr. Tito’s family and community. “His commitment to serving the poor in rural areas is an inspiration for all of us. He served people until his last breath. He always tried to witness the Gospel and the social teachings of the Church, he defended the rights and interests of the people”.
Sister Elenita concludes: “It is urgent to denounce these atrocities. We live in difficult times when nobody is safe. Let us all come together and raise our voices against the utter contempt for the lives of people, that also the current government encourages”, she concludes. (PA-SD) (Agenzia Fides, 06/12/2017)
Civilians on the island of Mindanao paid a high price with dozens killed and widespread destruction of homes and property amid the ‘battle of Marawi’ that pitted the Philippine military against militants allied to the armed group calling itself Islamic State (IS) between May and October this year, Amnesty International said in a report today.
The ‘Battle of Marawi’: Death and destruction in the Philippines is the first detailed human rights analysis of the conflict, based on a research trip to Lanao del Sur, Mindanao in September. It documents how IS-allied militants targeted Christian civilians for the worst of the abuses, including at least 25 extrajudicial killings, mass hostage-taking, and extensive looting of civilian property.
Philippine armed forces, meanwhile, detained and ill-treated fleeing civilians, and also engaged in looting. Their extensive bombing of militant-held areas of Marawi city wiped out entire neighbourhoods and killed civilians, highlighting the need for an investigation into its compliance with international humanitarian law.
“Marawi’s civilian population has suffered immensely amid one of the Philippine military’s most intensive operations in decades. Displaced en masse when the fighting began in May, thousands of people are now returning to a city that has been utterly destroyed in places, where civilians have been slaughtered by militants, and both sides have committed abuses,” said Tirana Hassan, Crisis Response Director at Amnesty International.
“The IS-linked militants’ bloody, months-long siege of Marawi took a heavy toll on civilians, with Christians in particular singled out for brutal attacks, including grisly extrajudicial killings.”
Civilians targeted in reign of terror…Read More
(World Watch Monitor) UPDATE (25 May): Nine Christian civilians were reportedly shot dead at a militant-run checkpoint in the besieged city of Marawi in the southern Philippines on Tuesday (23 May).
Filipino news site GMA News Online – one of the biggest news and public affairs networks in the country – reported that local residents identified the nine as Christians, saying they had been pulled from a truck, had their hands bound and then their bodies riddled with bullets and left in a field.
This latest update comes as a Catholic priest and 13 other Christians are still reportedly being held by the Islamists, who have laid siege to the city, setting fire to buildings including a cathedral and Protestant-run college, and erecting the black flags of ISIS.
Reuters reports that the militants have been using the hostages as human shields, and have contacted cardinals, threatening to execute them unless government troops withdraw.
The governor of the Mindanao region, where Marawi is situated, said the rebels are from three extremist groups – Maute, Abu Sayyaf and the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters.
Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte vowed to crush them, saying: “Anyone now holding a gun, confronting government with violence, my orders are spare no-one, let us solve the problems of Mindanao once and for all.
“If I think you should die, you will die. If you fight us, you will die. If there’s an open defiance, you will die, and if it means many people dying, so be it. That’s how it is.”
He added: “I made a projection, not a prediction, that one of these days the hardest things to deal with would be the arrival of ISIS. The government must put an end to this. I cannot gamble with ISIS because they are everywhere.”
Original article (24 May):
Chaos in the Philippines as Islamist group storms city, abducts Christians and sets church on fire
A Catholic priest and 13 other Christians were taken hostage, while a cathedral and Protestant-run college were among the buildings set on fire, when an extremist group which has pledged allegiance to the Islamic State descended upon the city of Marawi in the southern Philippines yesterday (23 May).
Three fires broke out, as around 100 armed members of the Maute group fired off their weapons, beheaded a police chief and erected the black flags of ISIS.
The abducted priest was identified as Fr. Teresito Suganob, vicar-general of the prelature of Marawi, by a local bishop, Edwin De la Peña, who told the Catholic news agency Fides: “Today is the feast of our Prelature, the feast of ‘Mary, help of Christians’. The faithful were in church to pray on the last day of the novena. The terrorists broke into St Mary’s Cathedral, took the hostages and led them to an unknown location. They entered the bishop’s residence and kidnapped [Fr. Suganob]. Then they set fire to the cathedral and the bishop’s residence. Everything is destroyed. We are dismayed.
“The terrorists have occupied the city. People are terrified and locked in the house. We are waiting for the army’s reaction. The important thing is to regain the city with the least possible bloodshed. Hostages have not been mentioned. We have activated our channels, the Church and Islamic leaders, and we hope to be able to negotiate soon so they are released safe and sound.
“…We also appeal to Pope Francis to pray for us and to ask the terrorists to release the hostages in the name of our common humanity. Violence and hatred lead only to destruction: we ask the faithful all over the world to pray together with us for peace.”
Archbishop Socrates Villegas, president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference in the Philippines, added that Fr. Suganob was “not a combatant. He was not bearing arms. He was a threat to none. His capture and that of his companions violates every norm of civilised conflict.”
Meanwhile, three of the buildings belonging to Dansalan College, which was established by the Protestant United Church of Christ, were burnt down yesterday. On its website, the college says it espouses the importance of interfaith relationship, as 95% of its students are Muslim, while 80% of its staff are Christian.
Reports say a hospital, the city’s jail, and several other establishments were also taken over by the gunmen.
Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte has reacted by cutting short a visit to Russia and imposing 60 days of martial law across the Mindanao region, where Marawi is situated. The 27 provinces and 33 cities in Mindanao make up roughly a third of the whole country.
Martial law gives more power to the military, including its ability to detain people for long periods without charge.
It is only the second time martial law has been imposed in the Philippines since the fall of former president Ferdinand Marcos in 1986.
Human rights groups and religious leaders criticised the president’s decision, calling it “uncalled for” and warning that it would “inevitably result in intensified military operations, including aerial strikes, which can kill and affect hundreds of civilians”.
Sixty days is the maximum period allowed for martial law under the Philippines’ Constitution, but President Duterte said in a video released by the government that “if it would take a year to [overcome the insurgents], then we’ll do it”.
After his return home today (24 May), Mr. Duterte said at a press briefing: “If I think that the ISIS has already taken foothold also in Luzon, and terrorism is not really far behind, I might declare martial law throughout the country to protect the people.”
Although the Philippines is a majority-Christian country, the region of Mindanao has a strong Muslim presence and is home to the Maute group, which stems from a violent Islamist movement called the Moro National Liberation Front, which sought independence for decades, hoping to create an independent Islamic state.
“On the ground, the people are asking for prayers,” a local source told World Watch Monitor. “The residents are threatened. They say homes are being trespassed, and that women not in hijabs are being taken away. The black flags are perched on top of a police car and a hospital. Social media screams with pleas for help, screenshots of texts of relatives on lockdown. One post says people must recite the shahada [Islamic profession of faith] when asked, else be killed.
“The fighting is said to spring from a hunt for Isnilon Hapilon, local Abu Sayaff leader tagged as the head of ISIS in the Philippines. Hapilon has not been caught.
“The military says things are in control now, and denies that ISIS was involved, saying the local Maute group was wreaking havoc only to get foreign attention.”
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