BY ROGER M. BALANZA
An influential Catholic prelate said the Philippine government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front
(MILF) must conclude a peace process soonest before frustration drives Mindanao Moro rebels to find an ally in the Middle East terrorist group Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).
Cotabato Archbishop Orlando Cardinal Quevedo also said he dreads at the prospect of the Mindanao terrorist groups Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) and Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) propagating the ISIS brand of terrorism in the southern Philippine island.
Young Filipino Muslims reportedly have been lured by ISIS to become jihadists in Iraq and Syria where it wants to carve out a separate caliphate (Islamic state). The ISIS is considered as the most violent terrorist group in the world today.
Beheadings, mass executions and the taking of child brides have marked the ISIS campaign across large parts of Iraq and Syria.
The ISIS has been condemned by the United Nations for a ruthless campaign of ethnic and religious cleansing as the terrorist group establishes a caliphate in a region straddling the Iraq-Syria boundaries.
The ASG and BIFF, reports said, have pledged alliance to ISIS.
The BIFF splintered from the MILF in 2008 and pursued a separate armed campaign to establish an Islamic state in Mindanao. It has rejected the Philippine government-MILF peace pact.
The Abu Sayyaf is a self-styled gang of Islamic militants involved in bombings, beheadings, extortion and kidnappings.
With the local terrorist groups backed by ISIS, Quevedo, the first cardinal and the highest ranking Catholic prelate in Mindanao, sees more blood flowing in Mindanao, where hundreds of thousands of lives have been lost in more than four decades of the Bangsamoro people’s struggle for autonomy.
This possibility of unbounded terrorism makes it even more imperative that the peace process between the MILF and the Philippine government be successfully concluded soonest, said Quevedo in a report on Rappler.com.
Quevedo for decades had worked with Catholic lay groups. civil society and peace groups in seeking lasting peace in Mindanao.
In March this year, the Philippine government and the MILF signed the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB), which will create a new regional autonomous region in Muslim-dominated parts of Mindanao.
The Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL), that would establish the new Bangsamoro homeland has yet to be approved by the Philippine Congress. President Benigno Aquino has pledged the new Bangsamoro homeland should be in place before he bows out of office in 2016.
The Philippine military and police said they would check reports about young Muslim rebels being trained on terrorism by ISIS in Iraq or Syria.
“If true, this is a big step down into the quagmire of violence, terrorism, prejudice, and bias in southern Mindanao, and can be without boundaries. It is simply horrendous to imagine what can happen,” Quevedo said. ROGER M. BALANZA