Vandals hit Catholic church in Maguindanao town

Shariff Aguak is a short distance away fromMamasapano, Shariff Saidona and Salibo towns. Google Maps
MAGUINDANAO, Philippines — Authorities are investigating the vandalism of an 80-year-old Catholic chapel in Shariff Aguak town and the burning of antique religious icons from there before dawn on Saturday.
 
Shariff Aguak Mayor Marop Ampatuan told The STAR on Sunday that he has requested the municipal police to find out who desecrated the church and prosecute them.
 
"This is something we cannot tolerate. We cannot allow terrorists to wedge the religious solidarity of Muslims, Christians and Lumads in our municipality," said Ampatuan, chairman of the municipal peace and order council.
 
Shariff Aguak is a short distance away fromMamasapano, Shariff Saidona and Salibo towns, where there are members and sympathizers of the three factions of the outlawed Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters.
 
Leaders of the three BIFF groups, mostly clerics, have been stoking animosity against non-Muslims using religious differences, poverty and other social disparities as talking points.
 
Catholic priest Eliseo Mercado, Jr. of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate congregation, who had served in Shariff Aguak and nearby towns during the early years of his priesthood, said the government should act on the incident swiftly.
 
The vice mayor of Shariff Aguak, Hadji Akmad Ampatuan, and Maguindanao Gov. Esmael Mangudadatu both offered rewards for information on who vandalized the chapel.
 
“We condemn that incident. That was blasphemy. Islam teaches respect for religions and worship sites. Islam teaches religious tolerance. We have a principle in our religion that says there is no compulsion in religion,” Mangudadatu said.
 
Army and police intelligence officials said they are validating information from villagers that sympathizers of Abu Toraife, the leader of one of three factions in the BIFF, are responsible for the desecration.
 
Toraife, also known as Esmael Abdulmalik, and his men were driven away from their lairs in Maguindanao province last September by forces of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front following six weeks of hostilities that exacted fatalities on both sides.
 
The MILF’s operation against Toraife and his followers was in keeping with its ceasefire accord with the government.
 
The interim security pact enjoins both sides to cooperate in maintaining law and order in conflict-affected areas in Mindanao.