In this 2015 photo, a soldier holds a damaged crucifix following a raid by an armed group claiming to have links with the so-called Islamic State on a Christian village in the town of Palimbang, Sultan Kudarat province. (Photo by Mark Navales)
An expert on Muslim affairs in the Philippines has warned against the possible rise of "religious persecution" following clashes in the southern part of the country between state forces and gunmen claiming to be Muslim extremists.
"We cannot deny it. Persecution is already happening," said Macrina Morados, dean of the Institute of Islamic Studies at the University of the Philippines.
"When people are segregated as Muslims and non-believers, that is already persecution," she said.
Gunmen who claimed to have ties with the so-called Islamic State tried to occupy the city of Marawi in Mindanao on May 23, burned a Catholic church and a Protestant school, and kidnapped a Catholic priest.
The gunmen, belonging to the local terrorist Maute group, also reportedly killed nine Christians who were intercepted trying to escape the fighting in the city on May 23.
The victims were said to have been separated from their Muslim companions.
"They want to lead us into religious intimidation, and they are adopting the strategy of the Daish," said Morados.
Daish is the Arab acronym of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria or ISIS, originally used by the group that now prefers to be called Khilafat or Islamic State.
The academic said the Maute group seems to invite the public to hate Islam to escalate the fighting in Marawi into a "war of faiths."
She said that the only way to malign Islam is to impute bad deeds, "and they are doing it right now."
Morados said Muslims "who oppose and condemn acts of terror" are also being harassed and murdered by "these misguided Muslims."
She said those who vowed allegiance to the so-called Islamic State "will destroy everything that will stand in their way."
She said the Maute group does not espouse Islamic ideas and "should not be given a grandiose recognition," adding that Muslims and Christians must stand together and declare them as an "enemy of Islam and all of humanity."
Morados said Muslim leaders should come out and speak up against groups that are trying to justify a wrong concept of Islam that can result in religious persecution.