Philippine Priest Fears Risk of Inter-Religious Conflict in Mindanao

MANILA, MAY 14, 2003 ( During today’s peace conference, Father Roberto Layson, peace advocate and parish priest, said that violence may escalate if the government and MILF do not go back to the negotiation table.

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The three-day conference, supported by the United Nations Development Program, opened May 13, with 80 peace advocates, mostly from Mindanao, MISNA missionary agency reported.

«Communal violence is the worse scenario and it is very difficult to control,» the priest said. Communities will retaliate against other communities. In the past week there was a case reported by Mindanews, an independent Mindanao-based news agency, of a Christian community attacking a Muslim community, although no injuries were reported.

Father Layson’s parish of the Immaculate Conception in Pikit, Mindanao, has also played a major role in assisting the evacuees, the majority of whom are children. Recently unidentified men fired a bomb at the parish gymnasium where several evacuees were staying. «Patience among the communities is running out while hatred is increasing. If one group is victimized, there is retaliation,» he added.

The Oblate missionary said that the military approach in resolving the Mindanao issue through counter-attacks against the MILF has worsened the situation. He urged the further resumption of the peace talks between the two panels.

«The foundation of peace talks is trust and without it, both parties will not sit down especially with the perception of betrayal and violations of the peace accord,» he explained.

«A third party mediation, as shown in the experience of other countries, will help a lot in the conclusion of the peace talks,» he added.

Father Layson also emphasized that the government should be cautious in tagging the MILF as a terrorist organization like the Abu Sayyaf Group which has no political ideology. Doing thus, he explained, would only hinder the early resolution of the peace talks.

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