April 18, 2000
volume 11, no. 76
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NEWS & VIEWS     Acknowledgments
Articles provided through Catholic World News and Church News at Noticias Eclesiales and International Dossiers, Daily Dispatches and Features at ZENIT International News Agency. CWN, NE and ZENIT are not affiliated with the Daily CATHOLIC but provide this service via e-mail to the Daily CATHOLIC Monday through Friday.


    MANILA (CWNews.com/Fides) - A Philippines Muslim rebel group that kidnapped more than 70 Catholic students, teachers, and a priest last month have issued demands, including the removal of Catholic influences in the region, alarming missionaries in the southern Philippines.

    "Remove all crucifixes, have Islamic instruction in schools, release terrorists and kidnappers: these conditions laid down by rebels in Basilan wound to the core our hearts as missionaries," said a missionary who asked to remain anonymous for his protection. The Abu Sayyaf rebel group still holds a group of 29 hostages, including Claret missionary Father Rohel Gallardo. The rebels also asked to speak with the Italian ambassador Graziella Simboletti because "Christianity came from Europe."

    After receiving two truckloads of rice and other food on April 14 the rebels released two ten-year-old children who had been taken ill. The children were handed over to Father Nestor Banga, Catholic representative in negotiations.

    The rebels listed their requests in a letter to President Estrada signed by their leader Khaddafy Janjanlani. They demanded the release of terrorists now being held in the US including Ramzi Yousef, mastermind of a bomb blast at the World Trade Center in New York; Abu Haider, one of Janjalani's instructors, detained in California; and Egyptian sheik Abdurrahaman Omar, detained in New York. They also demanded the release of two members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, detained in the Philippines; the removal of all crucifixes in the area of the cities of Basilan, Sulu, and Tawi Tawi; and a presidential order to the Education Department to allow Islamic instruction for Muslim school pupils.

    "The destiny of the Catholic priest, the teachers and students is in your hands, as head of state and father of the people", the rebels' letter to Estrada continued. "We expect a reply. The release of the hostages depends on the government's decisions."

    The Philippine government has said it will not give in. Alexander Aguirre, a presidential councilor for national security warned the rebels that "the government's patience is not unlimited."

    In the meantime, the local Catholic community has organized peace marches and prayers for the victims. On April 13 in Quezon City, Claret missionaries organized a peaceful procession and interreligious prayer meeting, with Christians and Muslims. Among those taking part, Father Bernardo Blanco, a Claret missionary kidnapped in 1994 and held for 49 days by the same Abu Sayyaf group, told about his experience in the rebels' hands.

    The Abu Sayyaf group is a faction of the separatist Moro Islamic Liberation Front with 15,000 fighters which rejects an agreement reached between the other rebel group Moro National Liberation Front and the government to set up the Autonomous Muslim Region of Mindanao.


April 18, 2000
volume 11, no. 77

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