A file photo of members of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters, who pledged allegiance to the so-called Islamic State, somewhere in the central Mindanao. (Photo by Mark Navales)
Muslim religious leaders in the Philippines have confirmed the presence of the group that calls themselves the Islamic State (IS) in Mindanao.
"These extremists have extended their tentacles in conflict-affected Muslim Mindanao, gaining supporters in communities of disillusioned Moro people," said the religious leaders in a statement on Jan. 24.
The statement said the Moro people of Mindanao felt "deceived" by the failure of the Philippine government to pass a law that is supposed to create a Muslim region in the southern part of the country.
The Philippine Congress has up to Feb. 1 to pass the Bangsamoro Basic Law that will establish a proposed new autonomous political entity known as the Bangsamoro in Mindanao.
"The fighters believe that the peace process has been betrayed by imperial Manila," the religious leaders said.
The statement obtained by ucanews.com called on the Philippine government "to help us bring just and lasting peace by legislating genuine autonomy" in Mindanao.
"We also call on all Muslims in the country to refrain from joining angry groups that espouse unjust killings or terrorism to advance their cause," the religious leaders said.
Christians in Jolo not arming
A Catholic priest in Mindanao, meanwhile, expressed alarm over local media reports that Christians in the province of Sulu are arming themselves to protect their communities from Islamist terror groups.
Oblate Father Bert Layson told ucanews.com that the some media reports in Manila "misquoted" Bishop Angelito Rendon Lampon of Jolo as saying that Christians in Jolo are taking up arms for self defense.
"There is no such thing in Jolo now," said Father Layson who is the head of Oblates of Mary Immaculate office for interreligious dialogue in Mindanao.
Bishop Lampon issued a statement Jan. 22 warning of a "desperate attempt by Christians" in central Mindanao who are being attacked by armed groups.
"He did not mention Jolo (or) Sulu civilians taking arms," Father Layson said, adding that he received calls from priests and lay people of Jolo expressing concern over media reports.
"We are so concerned on the consequences of these reports knowing that Christians are a minority in (the province of Sulu)," he said.
In 1997, suspected Islamist rebels shot and killed Bishop Benjamin de Jesus of Jolo. He was the highest-ranking church leader killed in the region where several foreign Catholic missionaries have also been kidnapped.