[Fr; Romy Saniel, OMI, has shared Orlando Cardinal Quevedo’s answers to a foreign journalist’s questions. They may be important thoughts for the questions we have about the situation in Mindanao today.]
Answers to questions from Our Sunday Visitor, U.S.A.
12 June 2017
1. Church and Government – Relationships
The Bishops have denounced corruption in the past in no uncertain terms. During the presidency of Corazon Aquino, the Bishops wrote a pastoral letter, entitled “Thou Shalt Not Steal.” The Bishops perceived that after the long regime of Martial Law which ended in 1986, the new government was not addressing government corruption effectively. During the presidency of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, the Bishops again wrote a pastoral letter on corruption entitled, “Justice Flows like a River.” In this letter the Bishops not only denounced government corruption but also inveighed against corruption in the business and even religious spheres. They called upon the laity to lead the battle against corruption, while providing them with doctrinal and moral guidance.
After the initial positive reaction to the pastoral statements, not much follow-up took place.
The present President’s war against corruption resonates with the Bishops’ sentiments, even if he has vented some anger against some Bishops who have been vocal against him. He generalizes the hypocrisy of the “Church,” the Bishops and priests. Against all the records of history, he believes that the Church will become irrelevant in a few years. The Bishops have been inclined to let him remain in his negativity. The Bishops have the highest credibility ratings. Moreover, reaction begets retaliation in even more virulent form. Many of the laity who have supported the President are now saying that in fighting the Church, the President is going too far.
The principle that the Bishops follow is the principle of “critical solidarity.” We are in solidarity with his intentions of crushing the nationwide drug menace that significantly involves powerful people. We are in solidarity with his move to develop the countryside and move away from “Manila centralism and imperialism.” We are in solidarity with his desire to develop agriculture rather than simply focus on industries. We are in solidarity with his avowed intention of forging peace with moderate Bangsamoro rebels and communist-inspired revolutionaries. He does have “option for the poor.”
But we are critical of the methods that he uses in the “drug war.” We are critical of the violations of human rights, the lack of due process and the killing of drug suspects and the lack of accountability for these. As a body of Bishops we have expressed this criticism officially and publicly. Many individual Bishops add their own critical statements.
In many issues of public concern the President has moved decisively. That is one significant reason why our faithful are generally supportive of the President, foul language and abuses not withstanding.
2. The Quality of Filipino Faith
Already in 1991 the Second Plenary Council of the Philippines (PCP-II) has observed that the faith of the Filipino is deep, solid, and resilient. But it has major flaws. It is to a great extent devotional, ritualistic, dwelling on externals. It is uninformed, an easy prey to bible-preaching evangelists. Most of all there is a dichotomy between faith and life. We believe but we do not practice what we believe. We have been sacramentalized but not evangelized. The consequence has been economic and political imbalances, such as poverty, the wide gap between rich and poor, corruption, structural injustice.
Hence we, the whole Church, have to embark on a journey of integral evangelization, one that seriously considers the Church’s mission of “integral liberation” as Pope Paul VI stated in his post-synodal exhortation, “Evangelii Nuntiandi.” It is a mission that includes as a constitutive dimension liberation from everything that oppresses the human person, especially sin.
Thus PCP-II more than 25 years ago. Its vision was for the Church to be a “Church of Authentic Disciples, a Church of the Poor, a Participatory Church, an Inculturated Church.”
The support of the faithful, including many priests and religious, for the violent methods in the drug war has highlighted once again the need for a new integral evangelization.
3. Terrorism, Other Concerns, and Martial Law
Terrorism is not simply a threat. It has been actual for many years in certain parts of Mindanao. We know that the Abu Sayaff Group (ASG) has been terrorizing foreigners, rich civilians, and Christians for many years through kidnapping for ransom. They are earning millions of dollars from these terroristic acts. They have murdered foreigners and Filipinos for not meeting their ransom demands. A Catholic priest was kidnapped with teachers from a Catholic school in Basilan many years ago. He was tortured and killed.
But ideological terrorism, ISIS style, is new vintage. Three militant groups have pledge allegiance to ISIS: the ASG, the Bangsamo Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), and most recently the Maute group. It is the Maute group with its overtly anti-Christian actions (the destruction of a Catholic Cathedral and its religious images, the burning of a Protestant school, the killing of hostages who could not recite verses of the Qur’an, the hostaging of Christians, including a priest and Church personnel) that has projected the reality of terrorism in southern Mindanao unto the world screen.
The additional horror is that the recruitment of young people to the terrorist cause is going on in various parts of Muslim Mindanao. Another terrifying factor is the involvement of international terrorists from the Middle East and Southeast Asia. It has been said that ISIS wants to establish a center in Mindanao.
Martial Law has been the response of the President to the situation. It is a controversial decision, much protested by the Left which has its own on-going revolution against the government, a revolution dating back to the early 1970s.
As events unfold, many are beginning to be aware of facts and figures of rebellion against the law such as:
- the connection between drugs and the Maute group,
- between powerful politicians and drugs,
- the extent of terrorist recruitment in many Moro communities in Mindanao,
- the attraction of the ISIS ideology to young people disillusioned by the government’s failure to act on Bangsamoro aspirations for limited self determination.
Upon the request of the faithful for guidance, the Mindanao Bishops issued a statement that Martial Law can only be a means of last resort and must be temporary. At the time they wrote the statement, they said that they were not privy to the hard information available to the government regarding the Mindasnao situation. Therefore, they could not definitively declare that Martial Law is morally reprehensible. They warned against abuses and violations of human rights and called upon the faithful to be vigilant.
On the other hand, many Filipinos also believe that there are enough Philippine laws that authorize the President of the Philippines to deal with lawlessness, including terrorism.
Terrorism has its roots in injustices, discrimination, poverty, underdevelopment, government neglect, poor governance, and in historic biases and prejudices between Muslims and Christians.
Government has to address the economic and political roots of terrorism. Religious leaders of different faiths, educational institutions and churches have to effectively address the deep-seated biases, prejudices and erroneous religious beliefs beginning with the young.
These issues demand long term engagement.
4. A Cardinal in Mindanao
The mantra that Pope Francis has frequently articulated is for the Church to go to the peripheries, to the margins of society where life is most disadvantaged.
It seems to me that this is what Pope Francis did when he appointed a Cardinal in Mindanao, especially one from a war-ravaged and poverty-stricken region of southern Mindanao, an arena of armed conflict.
His message is special love for the Poor, option for the Poor. It is a message of Peace and Harmony among peoples of different religions. For this reason, during his trip to the Philippines to visit typhoon victims he prayed for the success of the peace process between the moderate Bangsamoro Islamic Liberation Front and the Government. He appealed for respect for the fundamental human rights of minorities (Christians and Indigenous Peoples) in the Bangsamoro territory. He and other leaders of the world’s religions also prayed for peace in southern Mindanao at the 2016 Assisi Day of Prayer.
5. Foreign Voices and the Philippine President
As of the moment the impact of international voices has little actual impact on the policies and practices of the President. He has said publicly that foreigners do not know the real problems of our country. They should not interfere. He has also said that if foreign government want to help, they should do so without conditions.
Foreign criticism reinforces the opinions of those contra-President and such criticism is given media mileage but does not dent the support of the pro-President majority.
Perhaps its impact may be felt only in the long term.
Answers to Questions from Polish OMI Magazine
14 June 2017
1. The Roots and Objectives of Terrorism
I can only speak of terrorism in the Philippines. I am not thoroughly familiar with the roots of terrorism in the Midlle East.
In the Philippines, there are two kinds of terrorism: one is criminal and the other is ideological.
The criminal kind is that of the Abu Sayaff Group (ASG), which split from the revolutionary Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) in an ideological split. To support its rebel activities it began kidnapping people for ransom. This was so productive economically that the ideological motive gave way to the criminal. Today it is simply a lawless bandit group earning millions of dollars for their kidnapping activities. They have no qualms of conscience killing those they kidnap, foreigners and Filipinos, who cannot or do not wish to give the necessary ransom. Their leader declared his allegiance to the ISIS ideology but this declaration, many people believe, is just to claim an image of political ideology.
Ideological terrorism is that of the recently founded Maute group which broke away from the revolutionary Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). The Maute brothers declared their allegiance to the ISIS ideology and raised the black ISIS flag in their sudden and quick take-over of the city of Marawi. Their aspiration and objective is the return of the golden age of the Caliphates, i.e., of the prophet and first Caliph, Mohammad. They wish to establish a caliphate in Mindanao, independent of the Philippine government, ideally free of “infidels.”
The Maute group destroyed the religious images in the Catholic Catheral of Marawi and razed the Cathedral to the ground. They also burned down a Protestant college, hostaged many Christians, both Catholics and Protestants, including a Catholic priest and Church personnel. They killed civilians trapped in the city if they could not recite verses from the Qur’an. They call as martyrs their members who have been killed in the on-going siege of Marawi. They are attracting many Muslim youth to their cause.
The roots of terrorism include:
- perceived social injustice,
- poverty and underdevelopment,
- government neglect,
- historic biases and prejudices between Muslims and Christians in the Philippines, and
- failure of the government to respond effectively to the fundamental aspirations of the Bangsamoro (Moro nation).
Since the beginning of the American colnization of the Philippines in 1900, the Bangsamoro have aspired for self-determination. Their present aspiration is for limited self-determination or autonomy that is qualitatively wider than the autonomy of the present Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao – ARMM.
Also an important factor for the rise of terrorism is the influence of secularism in society. Ideological terrorism reacts aggressively against western secularist ideology that does not recognize the necessity of God and religion in public discourse and introduces a public morality without any reference to God or to any religious faith. Therefore, ideological terrorism is against the westernization or secularization of culture, an emerging global culture which the Bishops in the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences (FABC) have also written against. Another objective then of ideological terrorism is the purification, preservation and promotion of pure Islamic faith in accord with their interpretation of the Qur’an. It is an interpretation that mainstream Islamic scholars have declared as selective and erroneous.
Such are the roots of terrorism in the Philippines.
2. Terrorists and Christianity in the Philippines
The theory of a clash of civilizations does not apply to the rebellions of Moros in the Philippines and recent-day terrorism.
Armed conflicts between Muslims and Christians in the Philippines go back to the 16th century when, in 1521, the Spanish explorer, Magellan, brought Christianity to the islands. Later the Spaniards later called Las Islas Filipinas, after King Philip of Spain.
But by 1521 Islam had already been established in the islands for more than 250 years. Muslim sultans ruled the islands, including Manila. They exercised sovereignty over a large swath of islands from Luzon to Mindanao. Spain tried to conquer the entire Philippines after defeating the Muslim rulers of Manila in the latter part of the 1500’s, but were not successful in conquering the Moros in Mindanao.
It was, therefore, first a political clash and secondly a religious clash, as the Spaniards tried to conquer and convert the Moros by the sword and Cross. The Moros successfully resisted the Spanish attempts through the next four hundred years to conquer and convert them. The historic bias and prejudice between Muslims and Christians were born and deepened in these years of armed conflict.
In 1898, the Americans defeated the Spaniards in the Spanish- American war. The minoritization of Moros in the land of Mindanao which they had owned and and ruled for six centuries began. Government programs opened up Mindanao to waves and waves of Christian migrants from the central and northern islands of the Philippines. In the space of less than fifty years, from 1920 to 1965, the majority Muslims became a minority, limited in territory to what is at present the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao.
In the early 1970s the revolutionary MNLF took up the cause of Moro independence through armed warfare. Terrorism (the Abu Sayaff and later the BIFF and Maute groups) arose when peace negotiations between successive Moro liberation fronts and the government failed.
Hence, the Moro fight against infidels emerged from Christian attempts to conquer and convert the Moros. They then also attempted to do the same through armed jihad against the Christians.
The escalation of jihadism from the Middle East to the Philippines was first a political one, as the ummah ( Muslim spirit of brotherhood) attracted Filipino recruits to fight against foreign invaders in Afghanistan and Iraq. The religious factor became prominent in the emergence of the Taliban and Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan and Iraq and later of ISIS in Iraq and Syria.
For the Philippines then, a clash of civilization is not applicable to explain terrorism. Neither is a hatred for Christians the reason for terrorism if considered apart from the political history of conquest. For in general despite deep seated biases and prejudices, ordinary Chistians and Muslims in the Philippines live together in relative harmony and peace. Even in the Maute siege, Muslim employers helped their Christian workers to safety, while in Iligan Christians assist Muslim refugees who fled from Marawi.
3. Inter-Religious Dialogue and Hope in the Reality of Terrorism
Given the reality of terrorism in Mindanao it is my belief that inter-religious dialogue (IRD) is not only possible but also necessary.
At present there are IRD movements in various parts of Mindanao. At the regional level, the Bishops-Ulama Conference meets regularly. This body consists of Catholic Bishops, Protestant leaders and Muslim ulama. It meets quarterly to discuss social concerns of mutual interest and sometimes conduct a dialogue of theological exchange. It initiated a Mindanao Week of Peace that is celebrated all over Mindanao during the season of Advent.
Other dioceses have replicated the Bishops-Ulama Conference and now hold similar group IRD discussions involving Priests and Religious, Protestant pastors, Muslim ulama and imams, including lay people of different religious traditions.
With the tragic reality of terrorism, IRD has become more imperative and indispensable. It is the task of religious leaders to address the root causes of terrorism, especially false beliefs of their respective constituents about others, the mutual biases and prejudices that are deep-seated and sometimes explode into the open when social disputes, crimes, and violence occur.
Such tasks of correcting erroneous beliefs and eradicating or least substantially reducing biases and prejudices have to start from early childhood through parenting at home, through informal and formal education, in religious schools, and through simply being together in ordinary day-to-day dialogue of life. Such dialogue takes place in markets, offices, in schools, in work places, in the streets.
While it may not be possible to dialogue with terrorist themselves, their religious scholars could convince them of their erroneous Qur’anic interpretation. But many Mindanao terrorists and disillusioned youth could be dissuaded by political action, specifically the early government approval of the draft of the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) that expresses the basic aspirations of the Bangsamoro for self-determination in their own territory under the sovereignty of the country.
Peace and reconciliation, therefore, are not impossible. There is realistic hope despite terrorism. Ordinary Christians and Muslims want to continue living in peace.
4. Filipino Joy in the midst of Poverty
Even in the apparent hopelessness of poverty, Filipino faith is deep and resilient. We believe strongly that everything, every time and season, fortune and misfortune are in the hands of God. Everything depends on God’s will. In misfortune and disaster Filipinos do grieve deeply but also have the ability to laugh, rather than curse the darkness.
The Filipino spirit of united voluntary cooperation, bayanihan, also helps promote joy. The poor help one another. Thus poor farmers do bayanihan, planting and harvesting.
They welcome one another with warm hospitality. The strong family kinship is transported abroad where poor overseas Filipino workers missing their families back home greet one another kuya (brother) or ate (sister) thus reducing homesickness and giving one another some sense of family joy.
Such are some cultural and religious reasons that create the Filipino spirit of joy in the midst of poverty and daily struggles for a better life.
+Orlando B. Cardinal Quevedo, O.M.I.
Archbishop of Cotabato, Philippines