Religious groups urged to cooperate in fighting extremism

John Unson (Philstar.com) - December 2, 2015 - 12:25am

COTABATO CITY, Philippines - Only by cooperation among Central Mindanao’s Muslim and Christian religious communities can authorities prevent an expansion in the region of Middle Eastern-inspired jihadist groups, officials said Wednesday.

Maguindanao Gov. Esmael Mangudadatu on Wednesday told The STAR there is a need now to convene all organizations of Islamic religious leaders to discuss the issue with the police and the military.

Cotabato City Mayor Japal Guiani Jr. was quoted on Tuesday, in a report by a Catholic news outfit in Cotabato City, as saying that radical people sympathetic to the Independent State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) have indeed alarmingly proliferated in areas under his jurisdiction in recent months.

Guiani reportedly said he also heard from informants that many residents of Cotabato City had been recruited by local groups openly expressing support to ISIS.

Local officials in different Southern provinces have earlier confirmed there are two fanatical groups now in the two provinces, the Khilafah Islamiya Movement (KIM) and the Ansar’ul Khilafah Philippines (AKP), preaching a radical type of Islam, which espouses hatred among non-Muslims.

Mangudadatu and the chief executive of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), Regional Governor Mujiv Hataman, had both assailed the two groups, branding their activities as against Islamic teachings on freedom of religion, co-existence among Muslims and non-Muslims.

Mangudadatu said local government units in Maguindanao, which has 36 towns, need to organize local Islamic religious groups to ensure cohesion of members, for them to have one direction in addressing the expansion of ISIS-inspired groups in the province and in Cotabato City.

One of the eight extremists killed by combatants of the 1st Marine Brigade in an anti-AKP operation in Palimbang town in Sultan Kudarat last week was a college dropout, Datu Mungan, who belonged to the influential Dilangalen clan in Cotabato City and in the first district of Maguindanao.

The appointed deputy governor of Maguindanao, Ramil Dilangalen, said his nephew went missing for months before the news about his death in an encounter with battle-hardened Marines in Palimbang broke out.

“We still have another young relative who joined the group. We are now trying to get him back with the help of local commanders of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front and esteemed community elders,” Dilangalen said.

He said Datu Mungan was an intelligent young man, who was an activist and leader of different student organizations when he was in high school and in college.

“This is problem of extremism in our surroundings is being addressed now by the governor of Maguindanao through massive scholarship grants for qualified Muslim, Christian and Lumad college students,” Dilangalen said.

He said Mangudadatu’s scholarship program, dubbed Maguindanao Program for Peace and Community Empowerment, will effectively prevent students from getting vulnerable to indoctrination by jihadists.

Hataman on Wednesday directed the education department of ARMM and its Madaris Education Bureau to immediately formulate plans on how to address extremism in far-flung areas through academic interventions.

Hataman is himself against religious extremism. He thrice survived roadside bombings in Basilan in recent months, perpetrated by radical jihadists opposing his infrastructure thrusts, meant to improve the productivity of local sectors and hasten access of children to conventional state-run schools.

Hataman said only by strong cooperation among local folks can the problem on extremism be solved.

Military and police sources said religious extremism is worst in Sulu, which has 18 hostile towns, where most mayors reside in plush houses in Zamboanga City, absolutely detached from the goings-on in their respective municipalities.

Sulu is known throughout the country as haven of the Abu Sayaff, an extremist group using black flags identical with the black banners ISIS members hoist in their vehicles when they move around Iraq and Syria.

The provincial government of Sulu has long been subject of criticisms for its failure to address the security problems besetting the island province.

The Abu Sayaff gunmen holding out, moving freely everywhere in Sulu are feared for their practice of beheading foreign and Filipino captives, snatched outside of the province, if ransom demands are not met.

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