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Mindanao religious leaders unite against violent extremism

Catholic bishops and Muslim imams express the need to restore trust and mutual caring among communities

Mindanao religious leaders unite against violent extremism

Residents of Marawi look at what remains of their homes on Easter Sunday, the first time they were allowed back to their city after the conflict ended in October 2017. (Photo by Divina Suson)

Published: May 22, 2018 09:50 AM GMT

Updated: May 12, 2021 12:26 PM GMT

Religious leaders in Mindanao have declared a unified front against "violent extremism" ahead of the first anniversary of the May 23 attack on the southern Philippine city of Marawi by terrorist gunmen.

The five-month conflict killed more than a thousand people and resulted in the displacement of about 400,000 residents of the predominantly Muslim city and its nearby towns and villages.

A manifesto titled "Marawi and Beyond" declared the "need to restore ... relationships of trust and mutual caring" among the people of Mindanao.

It noted that prior to the conflict in Marawi, local Christian and Muslim communities had harmonious relations.

"We are all against violent extremism," read the manifesto signed by Catholic bishops, clergy, Muslim scholars, and religious leaders. 

It said the attraction to join armed groups has been particularly felt among younger Muslims frustrated by a government failure to deliver on its promises.

Among the issues raised by the people of Mindanao was the delay in the passage of the Bangsamoro Basic Law, which will establish a new political autonomous region for Muslims.

In a statement, Archbishop Antonio Ledesman of Cagayan de Oro, expressed hope that the anniversary of the Marawi attack can be "a clarion call for both Christians and Muslims to look forward and work together in forging a culture of peace and development."

The prelate hosted a dialogue of 12 Christian and 12 Muslim clerics recently to discuss issues that they wanted to raise with the government.

"Muslim and Christian religious leaders should be united in working for a culture of peace in Mindanao and the rest of the country," the religious leaders said in their statement.

They suggested to the government that displaced Marawi residents be allowed to take part in the reconstruction of their city.

"They have suffered much already in evacuation centers or in cramped quarters with their relatives in neighboring cities," the religious leaders said.

They also asserted the role of learning institutions, especially the madrasahs, or Islamic schools, in promoting "peace education."

"There is a need to look at the long-term solution by transforming the minds and hearts of all stakeholders in Mindanao," said the religious leaders.

On May 23, President Rodrigo Duterte was expected to lead a commemoration event marking the attack on Marawi by offering flowers in honor of the soldiers and policemen who died in the fighting.

The battle, which ended in October, resulted in the death of 974 terrorists, 168 soldiers and policemen, and 47 civilians.

Government forces were still conducting operations to recover unexploded ordnance and improvised explosive devices that might have been left by the terrorists.

About 85 percent of the 24 villages most affected by the fighting have been cleared by authorities. 

The National Economic Development Authority announced this week that the rebuilding of Marawi will cost at least US$1 billion, about US$498 million of which will be needed this year. 

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