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Peace for Mindanao

The many problems of Mindanao must be solved by addressing the root causes of underdevelopment and structural injustices.

As I write this editorial, the clashes between the armed forces and the Islamic extremists of the Maute group – allied to ISIS – are in its third week and do not show signs of abating. As the battle progresses, the situation on the ground is deteriorating by the day.

Video footage showed Maute militants planning an invasion of Marawi City with the aim of turning it into a stronghold of a caliphate or Islamic province. This is a clear evidence of the link of local terrorists groups to ISIS that has been channelling abundant funding, weapons and numerous combatants into Mindanao.

In another video, released by social media, armed militants are seen smashing statues and setting the cathedral of Marawi on fire. “It is an immoral act of blasphemy”, reacted in shock the Bishop of Marawi, Edwin de la Pena. This is what extremists, using Islam as a cover up, do whenever they take over a territory – utter brutality, merciless killing and destruction of symbols of other faiths.

The human cost has been dramatic – as of first week of June, the death toll was at 208 lives, including a high number of civilians.

Marawi – a mostly Muslim city of about 200,000 people – is a ghost town, after nearly all its inhabitants fled for safety to nearby cities when the battle broke out on May 23. “It’s like I’m looking at Syria and Aleppo,” said a resident upon seeing scenes of destruction in his hometown.

In the midst of untold despair of displaced families and residents, trapped in areas held by the militants, there emerge gestures of humanity and fraternity that point to God’s loving care to His suffering children. There are reports in the media of well-intentioned Muslims who offer protection to embattled Christians.

The 200 taken hostage, including Fr. Chito Suganob, the vicar-general of the Marawi prelature, and some churchgoers, still held by the terrorists, is a cause for concern. The militants threatened to kill them if the military continues its offensive against them.

The many problems of Mindanao must be solved by addressing the root causes of underdevelopment and structural injustices.

The Bishops of Mindanao issued a statement on the current situation in Marawi begging all people of goodwill to pray for and pursue peace: “Let us pursue together what leads to peace. Let all religious teachers and leaders quell the tendencies towards the terrorist ideology.”

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