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Religious leaders call for cease-fire in Philippines

United Methodist Bishops Solito K. Toquero (left) and Leo A. Soriano sign a covenant at the conclusion of a Muslim-Christian peace-building dialogue in July 2007 in Davao City, Philippines. A UMNS file photo by Kathy L. Gilbert.

A UMNS Report
By Kathy L. Gilbert*
Aug. 28, 2008

United Methodist Bishop Leo A. Soriano has joined other religious leaders in calling for a cease-fire in the southern Philippines between the government and Muslim rebels known as the Moro Islamic Liberation Force.

The violence erupted in early August on the island of Mindanao after the Philippine Supreme Court blocked a deal that would expand an existing Muslim autonomous zone, according to news reports. The deal had been opposed by Christian communities.

The clashes have displaced more than 300,000 people, mostly from Muslim areas, according to relief workers in Mindanao, the second-largest island in the Philippines.

"Moro issues in Mindanao are legitimate issues of justice and peace that require honest scrutiny historically, politically, economically and culturally," said Soriano, who leads the church's Davoa Area in the Philippines.

"The Philippine government should take this seriously, and negotiations towards this goal should be done in utmost transparency. While there is an exigency for resolution, let us be careful in crafting our options. Military action is not the correct option," he wrote in an Aug. 20 pastoral letter.

Soriano emphasized that differences in religious beliefs are not to blame for the fighting. The conflict, he said, is due to "economic, political and cultural injustices."

At a United Methodist-sponsored peace-building gathering last summer for Muslims and Christians in the Philippines, Soriano said conflict in Mindanao is not due to religious issues, though "religion can be an important instrument.

"It is our hope our churches will be one of the pieces that leads to peace," the bishop said at the July 2007 dialogue in Davao City.

"Moro issues in Mindanao are legitimate issues of justice and peace that require honest scrutiny historically, politically, economically and culturally."
– Bishop Leo A. Soriano

Dialogue participants created and signed a covenant pledging to act together to bring a peaceful end to human rights violations; continue to hold peace dialogues; educate members of local churches and masjids, especially children, about each other's faith; and understand and respect each other's religious practices.

Recently, the United Church of Christ in the Philippines issued a call for peace following reports that violence had escalated in Mindanao and that its victims include civilians and children.

"We counsel all UCCP members to exercise Christ’s message of love for our Muslim brothers and sisters," wrote the Revs. Juliet Solia-Aguilar and Raymundo P. Gelloagan, national program coordinators of the UCCP. "… We must resist any temptation to foster prejudice and ill will on the basis of faith."

InPeace Mindanao, a grassroots movement linking Muslims, indigenous peoples and Christians, called for the "roots of the armed conflict" to be addressed.

"We believe that peace in Moroland can only be achieved when the roots of armed conflict—economic inequality, political marginalization, national oppression, and imperialist globalization—are addressed.

"We are saddened, however, that the political machinations of the Arroyo regime lead to the further minoritization of the Moro people instead of upholding their right to self-determination."

In a recent speech, Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, declared that "there is no all-out war. What we are doing," she said, "we are doing to have all-out peace in Mindanao."

The New York Times reported Arroyo is exerting pressure on the 11,000-strong rebel front that has been fighting for Muslim self-rule since the 1970s.

Soriano cited the United Methodist law book which states "war is incompatible with the teachings and example of Christ."

"As a church, we denounce this war because its consequences are deplorable," he said. "It is lamentable to see innocent civilians, both Moro and other inhabitants, to flee from their homes with tremendous fear and anxiety. It is also disheartening to note that when they return to their homes, their houses and properties are turned into ashes and are gone."

*Gilbert is a United Methodist News Service writer based in Nashville, Tenn.

News media contact: Kathy L. Gilbert, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

Related Articles

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United Methodists, Muslims partner to ease suffering

Civilian deaths in Mindanao rising


Philippines Episcopal Area

Board of Global Ministries

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Philippines: Mercy and Mission

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