A religious image on the altar of the San Isidro de Labrador chapel in Shariff Aguak town is partially burned after still unidentified men tried to burn the place of worship on Nov. 10. (Photo courtesy of Roger Rivera)
Suspected supporters of an Islamist militant group desecrated a Catholic chapel in the southern Philippine region of Mindanao in the evening of Nov. 10.
Authorities said they are still looking into the identities of the perpetrators who tried to set fire to the chapel in the village of Labo-Labo in Shariff Aguak town.
Police said they are considering reports that supporters of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) were behind the incident.
In June this year, BIFF gunmen also desecrated a chapel in the neighboring province of North Cotabato.
Witnesses said the still unidentified men poured gasoline on religious images and icons on the altar of the San Isidro de Labrador chapel about nine in the evening. Some "antique religious icons" were damaged by fire, the Philippine Star reported.
Oblate Father Eliseo Mercado Jr. who formerly served at the chapel during his early years as a priest, condemned the desecration.
He said the attack was "the work of few extremists that need to be rooted out."
The priest recalled that even during the height of the Moro rebellion in the 1970s "Muslim rebels respected places of worship in the area."
Town official Anwar Emblawa said the incident was intended "to disrupt the harmonious relationship between Muslims and Christians" in the municipality.
"This is the first time this kind of desecration at a Catholic place of worship has happened in our town," said Emblawa.
"We will not allow this incident to destroy the rapport between Muslims and Christians in our locality," he said.
Governor Esmael Mangudadatu of Maguindanao described the attempt to burn the chapel as "un-Islamic" as he ordered policemen to find the perpetrators.
"Islam teaches respect for religions and worship sites. Islam teaches religious tolerance. We have a principle in our religion that says there is no compulsion in religion," said the governor.