For the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP), the fighting that began on 23 May are not a religious war. The prelates condemn Maute terrorism, which contradicts “the fundamental tenets of Islam”. They reiterate the need for interfaith dialogue. The task now is to rebuild “the persons affected because of the disruptions in their lives,” said Mgr Edwin Angot de la Peña, bishop of Marawi. An autonomous province in the south is need to achieve peace, said Bishop Orlando Quevedo, archbishop of Cotabato.
Manila (AsiaNews) – In their latest appeal for peace in Marawi City, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) calls on the faithful to be more active in interfaith dialogue.
Archbishop Edwin Angot dela Peña, bishop of Marawi, hopes to see victims of the conflict receive psychological support. Mgr. Orlando Quevedo, archbishop of Cotabato, believes that without an autonomous Islamic province, the Islamic State group will remain a threat to peace.
In a statement released on the sidelines of 115th Plenary Assembly of the CBCP, held in Manila on 8-10 July, the bishops urged Filipinos to help the government rebuild the city and life return back to normal.
"War in Marawi, never again! War in Marawi, no more!” said the statement signed by Mgr Socrates B. Villegas. “We therefore call for the return to normalcy and peace in Marawi and its environs as soon as possible. We wonder whether the continued state of Martial Law, much more its extension, will bring this about.”
“We have heard and read truly stunning stories of how Muslims have protected and helped Christians to escape from almost certain death. Even now Christians are assisting thousands of Muslims who have fled from Marawi for safety. These are indisputable signs that there is no religious war," Mgr Villegas said.
The bishops strongly condemn terrorism and violent extremism. As "Catholic religious leaders we condemn in the strongest terms possible, as did Islamic religious scholars in Mindanao, the violent extremist Maute group in Marawi. Its leaders and members have pledged allegiance to ISIS. They have contradicted the fundamental tenets of Islam by abducting and hostaging (sic), maiming and killing the innocent," the prelate said.
In their appeal for peace, the prelates reiterate the need for interfaith dialogue among believers "so that various faiths may not be exploited and abused for the sake of terrorism or violent extremism.” Let us “teach the young and the old that faiths are meant for peace. No religion teaches the killing of innocent people, simply because they belong to another religion.”
The bishops also urged the faithful to be active in loving their neighbours, and praying for the safety of the civilians trapped in the city and for the hostages held by terrorists.
Whilst thanking the donors who responded generously to the needs of Marawi residents, the CBCP appealed for more help, especially for displaced people not adequately assisted.
With respect to the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Mindanao, Mgr Edwin Angot dela Peña, bishop of Marawi, said he welcomed government plans to rebuild the city.
However, he believes it is imperative that survivors be psychologically helped due to the trauma they experienced. “We cannot just simply talk of rebuilding structures,” but must engage in “rebuilding the persons affected because of the disruptions in their lives,” he explained.
“It would be more painful to return to Marawi City when you have no more home to return to, as what’s been left are ashes and rubble,” said de la Peña. The bishop’s own residence was burned on the night of 23 May whilst the cathedral was desecrated and eventually torched three days later.
The bishop said he was also very concerned about the fate of Christians, including Vicar General to Marawi Fr Teresito “Chito” Suganob, who are still in Maute hands. In his view, they may become "collateral damage" to the ongoing conflict.
Armed Forces of the Philippines spokesman Brig Gen Restituto Padilla said that 379 Maute and Abu Sayyaf men, 87 government troopers, and 39 civilians have died since 23 May.
Mgr Orlando Quevedo, archbishop of Cotabato, the only cardinal on Mindanao Island, expressed his concern for Christian hostages.
He admitted that it is extremely difficult to negotiate with a group like the Maute, which is inspired by the Islamic State group and linked to an anti-Christian ideology. Promoted by newly formed terrorist groups in southern Philippines, this kind of ideology scares Mindanao Christians who see their very existence threatened.
For the archbishop of Cotabato, without an autonomous province in Bangsamoro (a predominantly Muslim area in southern Philippines), the Islamic State will remain a threat to peace in the Philippines and Southeast Asia.