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Arab traders brought Islam to the southern part of the Philippines in the 13th century. Several of its southern provinces remain predominantly Muslim at the present time. The rest of the country is Christian -- almost entirely Roman Catholic. 

Friction between the Muslim south and Christian north has been a continual problem for centuries. Intermittently, it flares up into open conflict. The largest guerilla force is currently the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). They claim to control 26 southern "territories;" the government admits that they have taken charge in only ten. Their aim is succession from the national government. Newsroom 2 claims that about 120,000 people have been killed over many decades.

During 1999, over 50,000 families (over 300,000 people) were displaced from their homes. From 2000-JAN to mid-MAR, another 75,000 civilians had to be relocated from the area of conflict. In 2000-FEB, a bombing campaign killed 36 and wounded 49. The government and rebels blame each other for the attacks. The deaths triggered a second round of peace talks between the government and rebels. Both sides have declared a cease-fire. 

A Roman Catholic priest who is helping monitor the cease-fire, Eliseo Mercado, commented: "We must prepare for the worst." He said that the national government exhibited "no vision" towards the peace process, which he described as "directionless and ambiguous."

Philippines Defense Secretary, Orlando Mercado, has said: "There are people instigating the Christian community to go after the Muslims.  Let us not allow this to degenerate into a Muslim-Christian conflict."

A MILF spokesman, Al Haj Murad, has been quoted as saying that military and police officials were creating unrest in the south in order to destabilize the national government and justify a military takeover of the country.  He said that the MILF had three government infiltrators in custody who they accuse of being responsible for the recent bomb attacks. The military has dismissed these claims as "fantasy."

In 2000-MAR, The National Council of Churches in the Philippines and the Catholic Bishops' Conference were organizing a joint peace committee to mediate in the conflict.

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Recent developments:

bullet2000-MAR-20: According to DayWatch, members of the Al Haratul Islamiya rebel group attacked a Catholic school in the village of Tumahubong in southern Basilan province. A pregnant school teacher was allegedly killed. School School director Father Roel Gallardo, principal Reynaldo Rubio, five teachers, and 20 students are being held hostage as of MAR-22.
bullet2000-APR-19:  According to Newsroom: 2
"Muslim rebels in the southern Philippines say that they will release 29 hostages from a Catholic school if the government will prohibit Christians in Basilan province from displaying crosses in public, according to news reports. The Manila government has rejected the demand as 'unacceptable.' "
bullet2000-APR-21: According to Newsroom: 3
"Muslim rebels in the southern Philippines say they beheaded two teachers Wednesday who were among 29 Catholic hostages in Basilan province. Meanwhile, the provincial governor has expressed fear that news of the executions may spark a religious war between Muslims and Christians."
bullet2000-MAY: Government forces rescued 15 hostages. Four died in the assault. Eight are believed to be still in rebel hands.
bullet2000-MAY-16: According to the Manila Bulletin:
The leading institute of mainstream Islam denounced as un-Islamic the kidnappings by Muslim rebel groups in the Philippines. The Permanent Committee of Al-Azhar for Dialogue with the Monotheistic Religions "expresses great concern and condemns the violent actions of groups in the Philippines who claim to be motivated by Islam....Such acts of violence have nothing to do with Islam as a religion. The Muslim religion promotes peace, brotherhood, and justice," the committee quoted the Grand Sheik of Al-Azhar, Mohammed Sayed Tantawi, as saying.

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  1. Sophie Lizares-Bodegon, "Catholic Priest Fears That Violence Will Continue in Southern Philippines," Ecumenical News International, 2000-MAR-21.
  2. "Manila rejects demands of Muslim kidnappers," Newsroom. Reprinted by Maranatha Christian Journal at: http://www.mcjonline.com/news/00/20000419c.htm 
  3. Newsroom alert, 2000-APR-21. Newsroom is a Christian news source. Their web site contains many  articles on religious topics at http://www.newsroom.org  

Copyright © 2000
Originally written: 2000-MAR-11
Latest update: 2000-MAY-15
Author: B.A. Robinson

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