Cotabato (Agenzia Fides) - The town of Marawi, on the Filipino island of Mindanao, in the south of the country, has been liberated: the regular army resumed full control over the entire territory which on May 23 had been occupied by Islamist militants, faithful to the Islamic State (Isis), who for five months fought, barricaded themselves in the buildings of the capital, while the soldiers besieged the city. The official confirmation of the liberation came from Filipino President Rodrigo Duterte who, in a visit to the city, thanked the soldiers engaged in the venture of freeing Marawi and has officially given the green light regarding the reconstruction phase.
Unfortunately 148-day conflict caused over 1,000 victims: 163 soldiers, 822 militants and 47 civilians. Yesterday the army had confirmed the death of terrorist leaders Omar Maute and Isnilon Hapilon who led the occupation, and were killed by government troops in the early hours of Monday night, October 16.
In a message sent to Fides, Bishop Edwin de la Pena, at the head of the Apostolic Prelature of Marwai, hoped that "the death of the terrorist leaders would lead to the end of hostilities and the beginning of a new life for the city", where also the Catholic Cathedral was looted and damaged.
Called into question by Fides Agency, Fr. Elisha Mercado, missionary of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate, at the head of the Institute for Autonomy and Governance at “Notre Dame University” in Cotabato City, expresses his satisfaction for the end of the conflict, but adds: "Now a battle of ideas begins. Violent extremism against respect and building of peace and common good; Islamic radicalism against dialogue, coexistence and inclusiveness. To win this, a global approach, not just military is needed. It is urgent above all that, in the Muslim majority areas of Mindanao Island, the government works hard for education, employment, economic development, eradication of poverty, and infrastructure construction. Only then one can destroy the grounds of terrorism, financed from abroad, and weaken the influence of radical groups on the Muslim population of Mindanao".
Fr. Mercado, among the top experts in the Islamic affair in Mindanao and today a consultant of the Presidential Office for the Peace Process, explains: "We are happy for Marawi, which is now in ruins, but will all be new. But in other cities of Mindanao, such as Zamboanga, Cotabato, Iligan, terrorist action could take place. The challenge today is to understate and remove effectiveness to what they say, and this is only possible in realizing the idea of fully integrating Islamic communities into Philippine society, pulling them out from marginalization and poverty". In this sense, he notes "the approval of the Bangsamoro Basic Law, which establishes a new autonomous Muslim region, could help". In this framework, the Church "promotes a full-fledged dialogue and a new, large-scale Islamic-Christian cooperation platform", concludes p. Mercado. (PA) (Agenzia Fides 17/10/2017)