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Young Filipino Muslims leave for Malaysia peace tour

Participants in military-sponsored visit come from provinces around city of Marawi in Mindanao

Young Filipino Muslims leave for Malaysia peace tour

Participants in a peace tour undergo a security check before departing for Malaysia on May 6. (Photo by Divina Suson)

Divina Suson, Misamis Oriental
Philippines

May 8, 2018

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A group of young people from the southern Philippines has traveled to Malaysia for a tour aimed at building confidence "to counter terrorism" in the region.

The Philippine military sponsored the trip of 50 predominantly Muslim youth leaders from Mindanao "to expose them to a predominantly Muslim society that is peaceful and progressive."

Maj. Gen. Roseller Murillo, who helped organize the trip, said it is designed to make young people become "a force for positive and political change."

Most participants come from provinces near the city of Marawi, which was occupied by Islamic State-inspired gunmen last year.

"This is very important especially for those from Marawi," said Murillo. The military official challenged the young Muslims to see what happened to Marawi "as an opportunity to change."

"Even if we were hurt and our lives destroyed, let us rise up," Murillo told them in a send-off message on May 6.

He said the program, which is in cooperation with the Malaysian government, will promote among young Muslims "peace, harmony and good governance in their communities."

During the tour, participants will get the chance to "stimulate social exchanges" between and among communities of various faiths.

"Malaysia is a modern society — they all unite against terrorism. Whatever good practices you may learn on your tour, you apply it here when you come back," Murillo told the youth leaders.

He said the Philippine military "recognizes the significance of engaging the youth as social actors and helping them become more effective change-makers."

 

Overcoming the trauma of war

Khalid Macalipot, a 21-year-old Islamic studies student at Marawi's Mindanao State University, hoped the trip to Malaysia would help him overcome the trauma of the conflict.

Macalipot's family fled Marawi when the conflict erupted in May last year.

"I want to bring to Malaysia the culture of the people of Marawi and show the world that despite the war the Maranao people are peace-loving people," said Macalipot.

Jamilnur Sarip, head of the student governing body at the university, said he wants to see how people in Malaysia live peacefully and harmoniously.

"Malaysia is considered an Islamic country but the synergy and solidarity are strong while in Marawi there is hatred between Muslims and non-Muslims," the youth leader said.

Love Leah Abi-abi, a 20-year-old non-Muslim who joined the group, said she is excited to learn more about fostering tolerance, acceptance and coexistence, especially among young people.

"This is an opportunity to understand another culture," she said, adding that understanding among peoples is key to fighting terrorism.

 

Threats of terror in Southeast Asia

During this year's annual Association of Southeast Asian Nations leaders' summit, Singapore's Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong warned of the "very real" threat of terror attacks in the region.

He cited attacks in Indonesia in 2016 by so-called Islamic State fighters and the attack in Marawi last year as proof of the growing influence of terror groups.

"We need to be resilient to both conventional threats and also non-conventional threats such as terrorism," he said.

In recent months, several foreign fighters, some believed to be Malaysian nationals, were among those killed in clashes between terrorist gunmen and Philippine soldiers in Mindanao.

Malaysian police chief Mohamad Fuzi Harun, however, assured that "everything is under control" following the arrest earlier this year of seven suspected terrorists allegedly planning multiple attacks in the country.

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