ISIS threat shows need for Mindanao peace – Quevedo

MANILA, Philippines – The threat from the jihadist Islamic State, which has attracted Filipino terrorists, shows the need to “successfully” conclude the peace process between the Philippine government and Muslim rebels, Mindanao's highest ranking Catholic prelate said.

On Tuesday, August 26, Cotabato Archbishop Orlando Cardinal Quevedo also told Rappler it is “horrendous” if terrorist groups Abu Sayyaf and Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) have supported the Islamic State, previously known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

Sought for comment, Quevedo said: “This possibility of unbounded terrorism makes it even more imperative that the peace between the MILF and the Philippine government be successfully concluded soonest. Political will with the help of Congress and the Supreme Court can make this happen."

He stressed the need for peace as negotiators await a law to create a new autonomous government in Mindanao. A joint commission composed of government and Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) representatives submitted to the President the second draft of the proposed Bangsamoro basic law on August 20.

The first cardinal from Mindanao, Quevedo noted reports that the Abu Sayyaf and the BIFF have “given their support to ISIS.”

“If true, this is a big step down into the quagmire of violence, terrorism, prejudice, and bias in southern Mindanao, and can be without boundaries. It is simply horrendous to imagine what can happen,” he said.

'Dialogue is name of peace'

In an interview with the Catholic Church-run Radyo Veritas, Quevedo earlier condemned the persecution of Christians in Iraq, a situation “created by this fundamentalist radical group.”

“The time to use religion in the name of religious hegemony is long past the dialogue in the name of peace,” Quevedo said in his radio interview.

Quevedo explained in his e-mail to Rappler: “The times of the Muslim conquest by the great Muslim warrior-leaders, the time of the Crusades, are long past. The wars in the name of religion have been condemned time and time again by the great religions of the world.”

“I interpret the messages of our recent popes on world peace in this way: Dialogue is the name of peace. The encounter between religions, between races, ethnic groups, etc, has to be one of openness, friendship, mutual respect, and understanding, truth, and justice – leading to harmony and peace,” the cardinal added, as he echoed Pope Francis' call for dialogue.

Quevedo, who became a cardinal on February 22, has vowed to speak out more for Mindanao. (READ: Cardinal Quevedo a 'prophet' in Mindanao)

He has sought to address the roots of conflict in southern Philippines, which he, in a widely quoted paper, “Injustice: The Root of Conflict in Mindanao,” has identified as the following

ISIS a threat to Philippines

These problems in Mindanao remain even as ISIS boosts its membership in Southeast Asia, including the Philippines.

Intelligence officials said at least one Filipino has gone to fight the jihad in Syria, while Abu Sayyaf and BIFF rebels claimed having pledged their allegiance to ISIS. (READ: Senior Abu Sayyaf leader swears oath to ISIS)

The BIFF, which broke away from the MILF in 2008, has rejected the Mindanao peace process. It has instead pursued the decades-old armed campaign to establish an Islamic state in the southern Philippines which was begun by the MILF.

The Abu Sayyaf is a small gang of self-styled Islamic militants blamed for the country's worst attacks, including bombings, beheadings, and kidnappings

That BIFF and Abu Sayyaf members have pledged allegiance to ISIS is seen as a Philippine security threat, security analyst Rommel Banlaoi said.

ISIS, which declared a caliphate in a region straddling the Iraq-Syria border, has been slammed by the United Nations (UN) for a ruthless campaign of “ethnic and religious cleansing.” This amounts to a crime against humanity, the UN said. – with reports from Agence France-Presse/Rappler.com

Paterno R. Esmaquel II

Paterno R. Esmaquel II, news editor of Rappler, specializes in covering religion and foreign affairs. He obtained his MA Journalism degree from Ateneo and later finished MSc Asian Studies (Religions in Plural Societies) at RSIS, Singapore. For story ideas or feedback, email him at pat.esmaquel@rappler.com.

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