.- According to one Filipino bishop, a cycle of terrorism and kidnapping continues to plague the lives of Christians in a group of islands in the southern Philippines. The island of Jolo, located in the historically Muslim region of Mindanao, made international headlines in 2000 when the radical separatist group Abu Sayyaf kidnapped foreign tourists from the nearby Malaysian island resort of Sipadan. But, according to the bishop, the plight of Jolo’s tiny minority has been mostly forgotten.
Speaking to Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) recently, Bishop Angelito Lampon of Jolo said that Christians in his vicariate were being caught in the crossfire of terrorist activity. According to the prelate, militia men and criminal gangs are preying on Christians as an easy target for extortion and kidnapping for ransom – motivated by money more than politics or religion.
“The Christians have no guns and no protection,” explained Bishop Lampon. “Police in the southern provinces, where some areas already have a degree of autonomous local government, are reluctant to act for fear of retribution.”
“Law and order had collapsed,” said Bishop Lampon, adding, “How would one confront a syndicate when they have more people and guns than you? If you try, they will get you and your family. So better turn a blind eye – it’s the safest way to stay alive. And even if a case is filed in court – which is rare – there is no judge to handle the case. Even Muslim judges do not want to be assigned in Jolo.”
According to the bishop, even priests and religious have not escaped the terrorism. He said that in the last 15 years many sisters and clergy have been kidnapped or murdered.
Lampon’s house is currently under the protection of seven marine guards and several more are on duty 24 hours a day at Jolo’s Cathedral.
“Abu Sayyyaf’s violence stirs up prejudice and suspicion,” said the bishop. “No doubt the majority of civilian Muslims do not want trouble. They are tired of this constant conflict. The few who do these negative things somehow cast doubt on the many who are peace-loving. There are lots of efforts being exerted to bring about peace, but people are getting sceptical about the result because of the periodic and constant blemish of wanton killing, extortion, and kidnapping.”