For PIME missionary, grassroots education can counter Islamic extremism in Mindanao

Manila plans to supervise the curricula in the country’s Muslim schools. For Fr Sebastiano D'Ambra, some schools get money from abroad and escape the controls of the Department of Education. They also promote radical ideas. The Bangsamoro Basic law is “a good thing,” but “Muslim community is divided.”

Zamboanga (AsiaNews) – "There is a need for an education that starts from the grassroots, even before school," said Fr Sebastiano D'Ambra (pictured).

For more than 40 years, the missionary with the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions (PIME) has been in Mindanao, an island in the southern Philippines where most of the country’s Muslims live.

Speaking to AsiaNews, the clergyman gave his thoughts about Defence Secretary Delfin Lorenzana’s statement three days ago in which he said that government plans to supervise what is taught in Islamic schools, both public and private.

Secretary Lorenzana stressed the need for a standardised system for madrasas to exert greater control over school curricula in order to combat the Islamic radicalism that threatens the country.

"It was a speech that I think was very delicate and at the same time very important,” said Fr D'Ambra. “The government already provides funds to Islamic schools that comply with its requirements. However, several others get money from foreign countries, Arab and others.”

"They have a certain educational orientation and escape the control of the Department of Education. I think that some kind of surveillance is necessary for these cases because, unfortunately, some schools promote extremist thoughts and ideologies. But we must wait to understand how the government intends to implement this policy of control.”

Founder of the Silsilah movement for dialogue and peace in 1984, the priest has contributed to the success of the Madrasa Education programme. Silsilah means chain or link in Arabic.

Funded by the Filipino government, this programme sets a basic educational standard for the Arabic Language and Islamic Values ‚Äč‚ÄčEducation (ALIVE) programme.

In Zamboanga, Sarah L. Handang, a Muslim educator active in Silsilah, heads the programme, which involves 289 teachers in 48 schools.

"Lorenzana's words reveal the well-founded fears of the government, but here in Mindanao it is still not clear how the situation will evolve. To draw the attention of people we need the region’s autonomy, which should start to take shape in the coming weeks,” Fr D'Ambra explained.

A fee days ago, the Filipino House of Representative and Senate approved the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL), now awaiting final drafting. The law outlines the process of creating an autonomous territory in an area called Bangsamoro (Muslim or Moorish Nation), home to at least four million people, mostly Muslims.

For many, this is the key to achieving lasting peace and countering the rise of Islamist extremism in the resource-rich region, which is nevertheless the country’s poorest.

"The provision is a good thing but the problem is that the Muslim community is divided. The BBL is not liked by everyone and everyone has a different opinion about it. We will see reactions in the coming weeks.”

"In the context of this situation, the Duterte government is pushing to give the state a federal structure. Federalism is in itself another form of autonomy, but we do not know if and how it will be implemented. The path to peace is still long, there is a lot of work to do," Fr D'Ambra said. (PF)