Manila (AsiaNews) – Young Catholics are taking up arms on Basilan Island, near Mindanao, to defend themselves after violence between soldiers and Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) rebels flared up earlier this month, said Bishop Martin Jumoad, head of the Territorial Prelature of Isabela, who also expressed his apprehension for the return of “the culture of (the) gun” to Basilan.
“Children as young as 15 [years old] are now arming themselves and it’s painful for me because these children are Catholics,” the bishop said, citing reports from Fr Pepe Ligason, parish priest in Maluso.
The prelate said that whilst teenagers are arming themselves against perceived enemies, residents from the villages of Canas, Fallih, Mahayahay and Cabcaban which are part of Maluso parish have started to evacuate.
“Residents are abandoning their houses, evacuating to safer areas,” the prelate said, adding that both taking up arms and evacuation are the result of the residents’ lack of trust in authorities. In fact “the reason is that security forces could no longer protect the people,” he said.
Given the situation Bishop Jumoad said he sought co-ordination with the police to cope with the emergency and contacted other religious organizations to promote a dialogue with the Marines.
Since 28 November clashes between Filipino marines and MILF rebels have left 11 people dead, including three civilians.
The new wave of violence began when the military launched operations against Abu Sayyaf terrorists suspected in the abduction of Merlie Mendoza and Esperancita Hupida, two NGO volunteers seized by an armed group on 15 September on Basilan Island.
Mannar Saliddin, head of Jaga (Watch) Human Rights, has called on the military to stop the bloody war which is affecting the civilian population the most.
But as much as he wants peace in the province, the bishop of Basilan said that stopping military operations now would again allow lawless elements to regroup and continue their criminal activities.