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Theme: Muslim “separatism” in Catholic Philippines

April 16, 2007

From “A Timebomb in the Philippines,” Raymond Matthew Wray, Crisis Magazine, December 2, 2002:

During the 15th century, Islam found its way to the island with the arrival of Arab traders. From the time of their arrival through the period of Spanish rule, Muslims in the south lived in independent sultanates. It wasn’t until the U.S. colonial period that these areas were fully incorporated into the Philippines. Today, 4.6 percent of the population is Muslim, and there are three predominantly Muslim areas—Mindanao, Sulu, and Tawi-Tawi—each of which has its own Imam. In Manila itself, there are close to 500,000 Muslims.

Of course, not all Muslims pose a threat to the national security of the Philippines. The real problems began in the 1960s when certain extremist groups were organized to oppose democratic reform and vitally important economic development….

The Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) was formed in 1968. Its leader, Nur Misuari, had received training in the Middle East. The organization itself received significant backing from Muslims in Libya and Malaysia….

The Philippine Republic is a Catholic country and one of the only Christian countries in Asia (newly independent East Timor is another). Catholicism first came to this island nation with the arrival of the Spanish in the 16th century. When Magellan discovered the Philippines, he was mainly interested in expanding the spice trade, but he soon became “mesmerized by the vision of converting the people to Christianity,” as Stanley Karnow writes in his book In Our Image: America’s Empire in the Philippines (1989). Magellan believed that missionaries would find a ready audience in the Philippines. And he was right. Today, Catholics make up between 85 and 89 percent of the population.

From jeepneys bearing the sign “Christ Is King” to the man on the street with eight children who told me he “could never get the timing right on the natural family planning,” Catholicism is part of everyday life for the average Filipino. Every Wednesday night, people throughout the country gather in churches for veneration of the Virgin Mary….

The rebels believe the solution to the abject poverty of the south is total independence; and in the name of independence, they are willing to kidnap, bomb, and generally terrorize their opponents.

But while the leaders of these groups speak of independence, the rank-and-file members—those who execute the orders, those with the guns—are simply trying to feed their families. Most MILF recruits are young, unemployed Muslims from economically depressed towns and villages. For them, the MILF is a job opportunity.

And so the problem continues to spiral: High unemployment fills the ranks of the terrorist groups, while terrorism undermines the economy, leading to more unemployment. The economic explanation is partial, to be sure; it would be a mistake to think that religion is only a sham pretext in this conflict. Nor does the economic situation provide terrorists at any level with an excuse. But to wave off the connection between poverty and terrorism in the Philippines is simply to turn away from the facts. The tuna fishing industry in Mindanao is one of the only industries left in the south. Down on the docks, one hears that many of the men who unload and prepare the tuna for market are former members of these extremist groups. As soon as they were able to find employment here, they put their guns down and picked up a paycheck.

So how should the Philippines respond to the ongoing rhetoric and real danger posed by these rogue groups, each attempting to carve out a piece of this island nation for itself? It is a tremendously complex situation, with Muslim extremists, Communist insurgents, and corrupt government officials all undermining the country’s political and economic stability….

From “The Islamic Threat to the Philippine Republic,” Johnna Villaviray, Senior Reporter for the Manila Times, November 2003:

…the threat to the Philippines and other Christian countries endangered will also not recede until Christian leaders – political and religious – cease to appease the Moslems and issue clear directives for repelling it. The leaders of the United States and the European Community must deal with this forcefully before it is too late. And the Papacy should make the repelling of the Islamic incursion into Catholic states its first priority.

From “Surrendering to the Global Jihad,” Robert Spencer, FrontPageMagazine.com, July 14, 2004:

The Philippines has all of 51 soldiers in Iraq, but not for long. The Philippine government has caved in to demands from the jihadist kidnappers of Angelo de la Cruz, a Filipino truck driver in Iraq, and the troops are going home…

This craven appeasement stems from a peculiar modern malady; it’s a manifestation of a kind of pseudo-humanitarianism. In the name of saving this one man’s life, which is definitely worth saving, they are willing to condemn many others to deaths that will come from newly emboldened Islamic radicals who are ready to commit violence to achieve their purposes — particularly when they see that that violence accomplishes those purposes quite well.

The Philippine government accordingly deserves the harshest possible judgment from history. It deserves nothing but the disgust and condemnation of free people. Some new Dante is needed to write the sorry story of the Chamberlains, the Zapateros, and the Gloria Macapagal Arroyos, along with all the other besotted do-gooders who brought Peace to Our Time. But such may not emerge until some distant future when the Dark Ages of the Sharia rule that has just made a significant advance in the Philippines and elsewhere begin to recede.

Sharia rule? In the Pacific’s only Catholic country? It isn’t all that farfetched. For several decades now, the Philippine central government has been bedeviled by the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), a group dedicated to winning independence for the nation’s Muslim areas (chiefly Mindanao, the second-largest of the Philippine islands) by force of arms. The MILF is determined to establish an independent Moro Islamic State, and, like Hamas and Islamic Jihad half a world away, will accept no negotiations or half-measures. It is jihad to the death. In fact, the MILF itself was established in 1977 in protest when its parent group, the Moro National Liberation Front, renounced plans to seek independence and accepted an offer from Manila of autonomy for the Muslim regions.

In the 1990s the MILF was responsible for a series of savage terrorist attacks in the Southern Philippines; former Philippine President Joseph Estrada vowed “all-out war” against the group. But Gloria Macapagal Arroyo has been more conciliatory. And this week, remarks by deputy foreign minister Rafael Seguis must have been music to the MILF’s ears. Announcing that the Philippines would withdraw from Iraq in order to save the life of de la Cruz, he simpered to the cold-blooded killers holding his countryman: “I hope the statement that I read will touch the heart of this group. . . . We know that Islam is the religion of peace and mercy.”

In effect, Seguis was saying: Not only will we withdraw from Iraq because of your threat to spill innocent blood, we will ignore altogether that you have made such a threat, and appeal to you as if you were the sort of people who do not and would not make such threats. We will, in other words, accept not only your demands, but your world view: we will allow you to hold a gun to our head and force us to do your will, all the while praising your rationality, peacefulness, and moderation. We will become your slaves.

The new Dante should consign Rafael Seguis to a circle of hell reserved for self-deluded fools, babbling about Islam “the religion of peace and mercy” to a bunch of literal cutthroats who reserve their peace and mercy only for fellow believers, but who will gladly accept the bumbling, ignorant submission of Rafael Seguis and others like him as a welcome new indication of the pusillanimity, weakness, and utter spiritual exhaustion of what was once the Christian world…

From “Jihad threat looms if negotiations fail : Mindanao rebels are losing patience,” Carlos H. Conde International Herald Tribune, October 12, 2004:

Like thousands of young Muslim guerrillas in the southern Philippines, 19-year-old Manex Ulam believes that his jihad, his participation in a decades-old struggle to carve out an Islamic niche for Filipino Muslims on an island dominated by Christians, is just.
.
“My parents taught us that unless we are free as a people, we shouldn’t do anything else during our lifetime but to be in this jihad,” Ulam said. About half a dozen of his comrades in the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, brandishing Armalite rifles and grenade launchers but some wearing only flip-flop slippers, nodded in agreement. Ulam said he joined the MILF, as the front is known here, when he was only 10 years old…

From “Massacre of Christians in Jolo deals heavy blow to hopes for peace,” AsiaNews, February 3, 2006:

The massacre of Christians in Jolo “deals a heavy blow at hopes for peace” and is very dangerous because “any incident can now spark a war of religion,” a local Catholic source (who preferred to remain anonymous for security reasons) told AsiaNews as he commented this morning’s attack against Christians in Patikul, a small town on Sulu Island near Jolo (Mindanao). The perpetrators could be foreign extremists from abroad, a missionary expert in Filipino affairs said.

Muslim extremists raided the farm over night in Patikul township, killing six Christians, including a nine-month infant girl, said Brigadier General Alexander Aleo, the island’s military chief, who also confirmed that five other people were seriously wounded, among them a three-year old boy.

The gunmen appeared to be from the Abu Sayyaf (Bearers of the Sword) Group, a Muslim extremist organisation believed to be al-Qaeda-linked.

According to one eyewitness who survived, the attack was clearly motivated by religion. “Survivors of the carnage told military investigators that the attackers asked them for their religion. The gunmen left and then came back soon after and just opened fire on the Christians,” Brig. General Aleo said…

“Majority of Catholic Philippines have favourable opinion of Islam,” DPA, Monsters & Critics.com, October 24, 2006:

Most people in the predominantly Catholic Philippines have a favourable opinion of Islam and believe that it is a peaceful religion, a nationwide survey showed on Tuesday.

As Muslims marked Eid al-Fitr, the end of the holy fasting month of Ramadan, the Manila-based Social Weather Stations said 66 per cent of Filipinos have a favourable opinion of Islam.

The figure was up from 63 per cent in August 2005, the survey said said.

Sixty-eight per cent of Filipinos also think that Islam respects the beliefs of non-Muslims, while 66 per cent ‘see Islam as a religion of peace and not of violence,’ according to the poll.

The poll, however, found that about four in five Filipinos were unfamiliar with the teachings and beliefs of Islam, having either little or no knowledge about it.

Only eight per cent have extensive knowledge, while 13 per cent said they have partial but sufficient knowledge about Islam, the survey said.

About eight per cent of the Philippines’ estimated 84 million population are Muslims.

From “Catholic Philippines teaches Islam in state schools,” Reuters AlertNet, March 21, 2007:

During a 2002 raid at a madrasa in a northern region of the mainly Roman Catholic Philippines, security forces found a cache of assault rifles, crude bombs and training foxholes.

With a Muslim insurgency in the south, and memories of the World Trade Center attacks in New York still fresh, the discovery sent shock waves through the country.

Five years later, officials say the Philippines continues to face threats from Islamic militants, some of whom they say may have been “brainwashed” in local madrasas funded by Muslim organisations from the Middle East.

Now the government and some members of the Muslim community are trying to sideline the influence of militants by offering Islamic education to Muslim youth at state schools and setting a moderate Islamic curriculum for private madrasas to follow.

It’s a vital step, say some security officials concerned the growing foreign influence in local madrasas may have a serious security impact on the country, facing active Muslim rebellion for nearly 40 years, including by one group with suspected links with al Qaeda.

“Only eight percent of these madrasas are under the control of the government,” Ricardo Blancaflor, defence undersecretary and former director of an anti-terrorism task force, said.

“We don’t want our madrasas to become factories for terrorists.”

Islam reached the poor Southeast Asian state in the 13th century, about 200 years before Roman Catholicism was introduced by Spain in the late 1500s.

According to the 2006 International Religious Freedom Report of the U.S. State Department, there are an estimated 2,000 Islamic schools or madrasas in the country, more than half within Muslim communities on the southern island of Mindanao.

Only 40 were registered with the education department. About 1,200 are funded by foreign and local donors. Manila has no control over how the money is used.

“They are propagating radical Islam in the guise of freedom of religion,” Victor Corpus, a former military intelligence chief who now lectures at an army war college in the United States, told Reuters. “It’s like we’re being fried in our own fat.”

Corpus said nearly 300 madrasas in the country were getting funding from groups in Saudi Arabia that propagate the hardline Wahhabi form of Islam which has inspired al Qaeda leaders….

“Muslim rebels kill two in Phillippines,” The Daily Telegraph, April 14, 2007:

Muslim rebels fired mortar bombs on a Philippines marine base in the southern island of Jolo, killing two soldiers and a child, military officials said on Saturday.

Ten soldiers were wounded in the attack in Panamao town by the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) late yesterday, which triggered a gun battle with security forces that continued through the night, Major Eugene Batara said.

The attack was led by MNLF commander Habier Malik who embarrassed the military in February when he held a general, a senior government official and their aides hostage for two nights.

The hostages were released unharmed after the Government handed over money and food.

Fighting between the troops and hundreds of rebels continued, and one military official, who declined to be named, said the MNLF’s base was coming under heavy fire.

“The command has already ordered the bombardment of the camp under commander Malik,” Maj Batara said.

The child was killed when one of the mortars fired by the rebels landed in a town hall.

The Philippines, a largely Catholic country, has been trying to quell Muslim separatism for decades on Mindanao island.

The Government signed a peace deal with the MNLF in 1996 that was meant to end a conflict that has killed over 120,000 people.

But the agreement was not properly implemented and there is sporadic fighting between government forces and disgruntled members of the MNLF.

Manila also suspects some MNLF forces of aiding the Abu Sayyaf, the country’s fiercest Muslim rebel group, which President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo swore to destroy after it bombed a ferry near Manila in 2004 killing over 100 people.

Since August, the Philippines has poured over 8000 troops onto Jolo to flush out the Abu Sayyaf and members of regional militants Jemaah Islamiah, who use the island to train and plot.

The ground offensive is aided by US special forces, who are constitutionally barred from fighting in the Philippines but who advise the troops.

Yesterday, government troops were also sent in another town on Maguindanao province, also in Mindanao, to prevent fighting between hundreds of armed supporters of two rival political groups as election-related violence mounts in the run-up to mid-term elections on May 14.

Hundreds fled villages in Pagalungan town due to the fighting that started last night, and sporadic gunfire were heard yesterday, police and army officials said.

“We have to flee because the fighting is getting intense,” Andrew Acosta, one of the evacuees told a local radio from Pagalungan town.

There was no immediate report on casualties.

Eid Kabalu, spokesman of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, which is active on Maguindanao province, said the fighting involving about 500 armed men in the area could be a clan war.

Rivalry among political clans, competition for lucrative public office seats and a trigger-happy culture have made Philippines elections violent affairs, particularly in the south where Muslim factions wage insurgencies against the Catholic central government.

In May’s election, half the 24-seat Senate, all of the 235-member House of Representatives and thousands of local government seats are up for grabs.

See also:
JihadWatch: Philippines: 70,000 flee as Muslim leader declares jihad in Sulu province

Update:
JihadWatch: Philippines: Jihadists behead seven Christians, deliver heads to military

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