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Philippine churches again assist victims of Mindanao war

3/26/2003 News media contact: Linda Bloom · (646) 369-3759 · New York

NOTE: Photographs are available with this report.

By Paul Jeffrey*

DAVAO, Philippines (UMNS) - Even before the Philippine military renewed its attacks on rebel forces on the southern island of Mindanao early this year, churches in the region began providing support to families affected by the brewing violence.

"Several pastors and priests in Mindanao informed us in January of troop movements in the area, and people started evacuating from rural communities" said Minnie Anne Calub, coordinator of relief and rehabilitation programs for the National Council of Churches of the Philippines.

"Once they see people in uniforms moving through the area, they know the clashes are coming, and they start moving to safer places. Many local churches opened their doors once again to evacuees, and we started providing assistance where we could."

The church council is a member of Action by Churches Together, the international coalition of church-based relief organizations that includes the United Methodist Committee on Relief.

With government forces waging open war against insurgent groups by mid-February, NCCP/ACT began offering support to some 8,000 families, most of them in the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao.

That assistance has been provided through local congregations of the United Church of Christ in the Philippines, the United Methodist Church, the Independent Church of the Philippines and the Episcopal Church, as well as through the Southern Christian College in Midsayap.

NCCP/ACT is coordinating its relief operations with government agencies and other nongovernmental organizations in the area in order to avoid duplication of services to displaced families, according to Calub.

Assistance includes emergency food, blankets, sleeping mats, and medical and psychological care especially targeted to children and women traumatized by the violence. When the displaced families are able to return to their communities of origin, NCCP/ACT will provide rehabilitation assistance, including seeds and tools that will allow families to restart their lives.

NCCP/ACT and its member churches in the region will also continue to support formal dialogue between Muslims, Christians, and indigenous peoples as a way of lessening the potential for violence, according to Sharon Rose Joy Ruiz-Duremdes, the organization's chief executive.

According to Ruiz-Duremdes, religious tensions in the region had been manipulated by those favoring war. She added that international factors were also contributing to the conflict, with the U.S. war on terrorism and invasion of Iraq aggravating anti-Muslim sentiments in the country. She said the NCCP and its member churches were working to prevent the renewed presence of U.S. troops in the country.

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*Jeffrey is a United Methodist Missionary and journalist based in Honduras.

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