In an historic move in the Philippines, President Rodrigo Duterte, has signed an agreement in Mindanao to give local rebel groups a new autonomy with the Bangsamoro Organic Law (BOL).
Numerous administrations have conducted peace negotiations with rebel groups including the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), resulting in multiple versions of the proposed law, which was earlier called Bangsamoro Basic Law.
The Bangsamoro area has a large non-Muslim population. Sharia law elements are expected to take hold and only be applicable to Muslims. By instigating this law, it allows an Islamic sub-state within a secular, multicultural and mainly-Christian country to evolve steadily, which over time which will enlarge their governance in Mindanao.
What does this mean for the Christians in this area?
VOM Australia received this report directly from our national contact in Mindanao.
“President Duterte has already signed the Bangsamoro Basic Law for Mindanao and there are many areas in Mindanao where the newly formed Bangsamoro government will be implemented, and their jurisdiction of areas, territory and dominion will expand to many towns, and other barangay or villages where they will have their domains. Townships like, North Cotabato, Lanao, Maguindanao, and many more provinces will feel the full effect. In fact, Davao del Sur is also mentioned, but there will be a plebiscite where the citizen or residents in those specific areas, town, cities, barangays are able to vote for the acceptance for their domain.”
“Help us pray, as there are pastors I have met, located in Muslim areas that are so concerned with the Bangsamoro government and what may be the result and effect to their Christian faith.”
Background to the Bangsamoro activity and how it has affected believers in Mindanao.
Voice of the Martyrs Australia has met with believers on the Philippine island of Mindanao, where Christians are severely persecuted. They live under continual threat of attack by rebel separatists. In addition, the rebels steal their crops, enforce land grabbing and hijack their motorbikes, in an attempt to force them out of the area. It is likely that their lives will become even more difficult, as the law comes into effect.
In October 2012, the Philippine government signed a preliminary agreement with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (a rebel group) to create an Islamic region in Mindanao called Bangsamoro. Mindanao Christians expressed great concern that the agreement is a step toward the establishment of an independent Islamic region. While the agreement states that Christians and other non-Muslims will not be subject to sharia (Muslim law), Muslims in Bangsamoro may not have the freedom to leave Islam.
We asked a pastor why he stays in Mindanao when he could have a peaceful life in another part of the Philippines.
He said, “For me, it’s not really difficult. We need to feed the sheep.”
The pastor asked only for more Bibles, as many Christian families in his village do not have one. VOM is working to ensure that Christians in Mindanao who live under threat of attack by Muslim rebels will have Bibles and other Christian literature they need.
Christians in Mindanao today now face many hardships as a result of the instability in the region.
Some Christian communities have positioned watchmen on the boundary of their villages to keep 24-hour surveillance and warn of impending attacks. One senior pastor in Mindanao told us.
“We really need your prayers. We don’t know what the Muslims plan next to do to us, but what we do know is that they are determined to destroy the Christians and especially our places of worship.
Please pray for us as many of our church members are frightened.”
Last October in Mindanao, ISIS fighters from the Middle East and Indonesia joined established Islamic extremists. Hundreds of terrorists attacked the Philippine army in the region’s island city of Marawi. Civilians were taken hostage, thousands of them fled and almost the whole city was evacuated. The fighting continued for months and, at the end, 400 terrorists were killed along with more than 100 civilians and Philippine troops.
All the elements of terror are here in Mindanao waiting patiently to erupt at any time.
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