COTABATO Archbishop Orlando Cardinal Quevedo on Friday challenged the leadership of the terrorist Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) to punish its members who desecrated the Catholic chapel of Malagakit in Pigkawayan, North Cotabato on Thursday.
“If the BIFF wants to have an image as a respecter of all religions, it must punish its members who perpetrated the odious desecration in Malagakit and educate all its members in strictly respecting other religions,” said Quevedo in a statement condemning the sacrilege in the chapel.
The prelate said that what the BIFF members did in Malagakit was no different from desecrating mosques and the Koran.
Quevedo called on the Catholic faithful of Malagakit to restore the sacredness of their chapel and on the entire Cotabato archdiocese to pray for peace and harmony among believers of different religions.
Similar acts were also made by the Islamic State (IS)-linked Maute group when they destroyed statues and other religious symbols inside the St. Mary’s Cathedral in Marawi City last month.
In contrast, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) has refused to bomb mosques in Marawi City even they were being used as logistics hubs and snipers’ nests by the Maute men.
‘BIFF not capable of attacking Duterte’
BIFF members on Wednesday stormed a village in Pigkawayan, North Cotabato and engaged soldiers in a firefight, but later retreated to a public school.
The terrorists tore Duterte’s portrait in a classroom and left a message for the President. On one blackboard, they wrote: “It’s shoot to kill for Duterte.”
The Palace and the AFP on Friday said the BIFF was not capable of launching any attack against the President.
During the “Mindanao Hour” news briefing in Davao City, Palace spokesman Ernesto Abella said the BIFF could not cause harm on the President as the group had “no ground support” among Muslim communities.
“The local Muslim community, the Maranaos especially, do not want this. And for whatever reason that they are dealing with this, whether it is personal interest or what, there is no ground support for them,” he said.
Brig. Gen. Gilbert Gapay, deputy commander of the Eastern Mindanao Command, dismissed as “desperate” the threat of the BIFF to kill Duterte.
“Somehow, [it’s] a diversionary attack resulting from the setbacks, major setbacks they have been experiencing in their stronghold in Maguindanao, specifically the SPMS box, because our forces there have also intensified operations against the BIFF,” he said.
“SPMS box” refers to the Maguindanao towns of Shariff Aguak, Pagatin (Datu Piang), Mamasapano and Shariff Saydona.
The military official also said the threat posed by the BIFF was not as serious as that of the Maute group’s.
“Actually, it’s not as serious as the one we’re fighting in Marawi because BIFF is contained in their stronghold in SPMS box and our troops there are doing very well in containing the BIFF,” Gapay said.
Gapay, however, said it was “very possible” for the two terrorist groups to have a “tactical alliance.”
He recalled that in 2015, the Maute and the BIFF’s Bongos faction pledged allegiance to the IS.
“As far as tactical alliance is concerned, that is very possible and we have seen that in some operations wherein BIFF fighters were sending augmentation to, not just Maute, but also other local terrorist groups,” Gapay said.
Gapay also assured the public that the Presidential Security Group was adjusting its security measures, “based on the level of threats,” to ensure Duterte’s safety.
AND CATHERINE S. VALENTE