Philippines (MNN) – Three days separated a twin bomb blast at a Catholic church in Jolo and another bomb attack at a mosque in Zamboanga.
ISIS claimed Sunday’s attack and government officials blame the terror group for the mosque attack. It’s unsettling, given the siege of Marawi that lasted from May to October 2017.
The Philippines has struggled for decades to end a deadly Muslim separatist insurgency in its South. Asian Access’ Philippines director Herman Moldez explains, “The spread of the extremists in the Philippines really was a result of Al Qaeda. There were some people, Muslims, in the Philippines who went to Afghanistan and they got involved with this extremist doctrine and they came back and started to found what has been called ‘Abu Sayyaf’. ”
When the war on terror somewhat neutralized Al Qaeda, ISIS formed, re-connected with members of Al Qaeda and spread throughout the Philippines, says Moldez. Additionally, “The younger leaders don’t believe that the work for peace with government is working. Many are getting tired and they’re seeing extremism as an option–to establish the extremist Muslim religion in this country. “
Working together for peace
To combat the spread of the ideology, Zamboanga city officials created a Security Council and invited Muslim leaders as well as Catholic leaders and evangelical leaders to participate. Solidarity will support the peace process, exactly the opposite of what ISIS and its offshoot branches are after.
“The prevailing analysis at this point–the bombing of the Catholic church in Jolo and then the Muslim mosque in Zamboanga—the idea is to derail the peace process because the organic law, which is to be the basis of having peace with the major Muslim groups (MILF), is being accepted by the people.”
Moldez goes on to say that some people can see the attacks for what they are. “Muslims are peace loving in this country and they don’t want extremism. They don’t believe this group (ISIS), so the bombing of the Catholic (church) and the mosque symbolizes one thing: to create war between Muslims and Christians.”
Right now, the community is galvanized. There still remains mutual trust and support of each other, “…so pray that this quest for peace will remain strong in spite of the fact that there are forces at work to discredit that whole process.” That’s the good news.
Facing the challenges
The other side of the coin is what people face in the rural villages in this restive region. Not only do the terrorists hide in the area, but also, “The danger, of course for our ministry, especially in the mountains, in places where we are outside of the city, (is that) they are caught in the military operation(s).”
Getting caught in the crossfire has cost A2 dearly before, in terms of lives. With President Rodrigo Duterte vowing to wipe out the Muslim militants, Moldez explains, “Whenever you have military operations, it disrupts work and sometimes they (church leaders and ministry teams) just withdraw and lie low.”
In the days ahead, he also asks Christians to join him in praying for wisdom and vigilance, “…because one of the questions we’re asking is: ‘who are the group of people that will benefit from this bombing?’ At the moment, extremists claim responsibility, but we know that there are others who are going to take advantage of the situation.”
Churches beef up security in the wake of bombings, 2016; Headline photo courtesy Open Doors USA).