Armed Christian vigilantes calling themselves God's Red Defenders (Pulahan) set fire to an Islamic State (IS) flag during a clandestine gathering recently in Mindanao. The vigilantes have vowed to fight Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters who have pledged allegiance to IS. (Photo by Mark Navales)
Only a minority of youth in the Philippine's autonomous region for Muslims have fallen for the lure of violent extremism, according to a new study that recommends pouring resources into high-quality, moderate and inclusive education.
Poverty, corruption and poor governance are the main drivers of new recruits to terror, said 100 respondents who answered questionnaires and joined discussion groups for the "Research on Youth Vulnerability to Violent Extremism in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao."
The Cotabato City-based Institute for Autonomy and Governance conducted the study.
The 132-report said most respondents fear the fallout of violent extremism on their communities and cite the threat of displacement and loss of social cohesion.
Local educators said the Philippine government should take heart from the study findings and implement programs "to counter the narrative" to lessen exposure and vulnerability to extremist concepts and radical action.
Authors of the study defined violent extremist (VE) groups as those that use of fear and intimidation to obtain ideological, religious or political goals.
In this category they listed the international networks the so-called Islamic State (IS), Al Qaeda and Jemaah Islamiyah and the local Abu Sayyaf, Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters and the Dawla Islamiyya or the Maute group.
The respondents came from Maguindanao, Lanao del Sur, Basilan and Sulu, provinces known strongholds of rebel groups and political warlords.
While condemning criminal activities, "almost all participants saw members of VE groups as being genuinely motivated by their Islamic beliefs," the study authors said.
Most also said they know of charming, well-spoken recruiters for extremist groups who target schools, mosques and community centers.
More than a third of respondents wanted more opportunities Muslim youths to complete their education, especially in island provinces.
A quarter cited the need to intensify teaching a moderate Islam and Islamic values.
Youth in Marawi City, the scene of three months of fighting between government forces and IS-inspired local groups, are most aware of the concepts of violent extremism, including justifications used for terrorist actions and attacks against people not of Islam, the study said.
It said IS has supplanted the older international networks of Al Qaeda and Jemaah Islamiya in the consciousness of young people.
The Abu Sayyaf is the most well known local extremist group, though largely seen as motivated by profit due to its kidnap for ransom activities.
Fewer youth are aware of the IS-inspired Dawla Islamiyya or Maute group and the separatist Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters, though both groups have fought prolonged, large-scale battles against the government in the last three years.
An Oblates of Mary Immaculate priest in Mindanao said passing a genuine autonomy law for Filipino Muslims could help quash inroads by terror groups.
Father Jonathan Domingo, president of Notre Dame of Midsayap College in North Cotabato province, said a new law would validate peace negotiation efforts by the mainstream rebel group, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).
The study authors did not include the MILF or the rival Moro National Liberation Front in its definition of violent extremist groups, though both have tens of thousands of armed members.
They said the Philippine government should take heart from the study findings and implement programs "to counter the narrative" to lessen exposure and vulnerability to extremist concepts and radical action.
Earlier, Muslim religious leaders launched an "ideological war" against the spread of radicalism and extremism in the autonomous region.
The Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines has also appealed for dialogues with Muslims and all faiths.