Wednesday, August 1, 2018

RLPB 466. Philippines: Priests Assassinated; Duterte signs Bangsamoro Organic Law (BOL)

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 466 | Wed 01 Aug 2018

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by Elizabeth Kendal

Toymaker, Dennis Mendoza, creates
Duterte dolls complete with firearms.
After being sworn in as president in June 2016, Rodrigo Duterte immediately instigated a 'war on drugs'. The lawless manner in which this 'war' is prosecuted has facilitated the emergence of a culture of violence and impunity. To date this 'war' has claimed the lives of some 23,000 Filipinos -- victims of extrajudicial killings. By speaking out against unjust and violent government policy, the Church has put itself in Duterte's 'sights'. Indeed, Duterte's expletive-laden, hostile and blasphemous rhetoric has increased over recent months to the point that it is bordering on incitement. Activist priest Father Robert Reye is unsurprised by Duterte's blasphemies -- as far as he is concerned, Duterte's attack on 'the God of life' began with his attack on life.

Vigil for assassinated priests
Three Catholic priests and 16 mayors and vice mayors have been assassinated since Duterte took office. The three priests -- killed in the space of six months -- were all vocal critics of government policies; two were assassinated while leading worship. On 4 December 2017 Father Marcelito 'Tito' Paez (72) of Nueva Ecija Province, north of Manila, was shot dead by gunmen on a motorcycle as he was assisting with the release of a political prisoner. On 29 April 2018 Father Mark Ventura (37) was shot dead after saying mass in northern Cagayan Province. On 6 June former police chaplain Father Rey Urmeneta (64) was on his way to a church meeting when he was shot and wounded by two gunmen in a failed assassination attempt in Calamba City, south of Manila. On 10 June Father Richmond Nilo (44) was shot dead through a church window in front of parishioners as he stood at the altar preparing for mass in Nueva Ecija Province. There is considerable concern that Duterte's 'war on drugs' is widening to include a war on dissent and, in particular, a war on the Church.


On Thursday 26 July President Duterte signed the Bangasmoro Organic Law (formerly known as the Bangsamoro Basic Law). A formal ceremonial signing will take place in MalacaƱang (the presidential palace) on Monday 6 August. The BOL is the embodiment of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) brokered in March 2014 between the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). The GRP and the MILF both deny that the BOL will establish a state within a state, or more precisely, an Islamic State within the Republic of the Philippines. Many analysts, however, are not so sure. If it is achieved, the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) will (from 2022) have its own elected parliament. While the BOL guarantees religious freedom, it also enshrines Sharia law [Article X (Ten)] which will be enforced on all Muslims. Consequently, Muslims will actually lose many of their constitutional rights, including the rights to question and leave Islam. Christians, meanwhile, are supposed to believe the GRP's and the MILF's assurances that Sharia will in no way affect them.

Stratfor map showing
proposed BARMM (2014)
Click on map to enlarge.
Before the BARMM can be established the BOL must be ratified by a plebiscite, and might even have to survive a legal challenge regarding its constitutionality. When the Supreme Court issued a Temporary Restraining Order on a similar law in August 2008, MILF responded with violence [see Religious Liberty Monitoring, Aug 2008].  The GRP and the MILF both extol the BOL as the road to peace. Most analysts, however, are not convinced. The Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF, which broke away from MILF just as MILF broke away from MNLF) and Abu Sayyaf have both pledged allegiance to Islamic State which is known to be regrouping and recruiting in the Southern Philippines. On Tuesday 31 July a Moroccan suicide bomber blew himself up at a military checkpoint in Lamitan city, on the southern island of Basilan, killing at least eleven, including five civilians. Islamic State claimed responsibility. Furthermore, disarming and demobilising some 30,000 MILF fighters might be easier said than done. Many might be tempted to keep their guns and receive salaries from Islamic State rather than try to work for a living in a depressed region with few jobs. Far from bringing peace, the BOL might actually trigger a whole new round of conflict.

RLPB 435, 'Battle for Mindanao far from over,' 6 Dec 2017
RLM (analysis), 'Bangsamoro Basic Law Looms Over Mindanao,' 11 Dec 2017

For the text of the Bangsamoro Organic Law click here: 


* redeem the suffering of the Philippine Church; may the sacrifice of those speaking in defence of justice, righteousness and life not be in vain. May the Lord bring revival to the Philippines; and may those who pursue violence repent.

* protect vulnerable Christian communities across Mindanao, in particular those in Muslim-majority regions; may the Lord lead, guide and grant wisdom to the Church in Mindanao as Islamic rule and Sharia Law loom over the Muslim-majority regions.

* intervene in the Philippines to restore security and preserve liberty.

'First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people,  for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.  This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Saviour,  who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.' (1 Timothy 2:1-4 ESV)


Three Catholic priests have been shot dead in six months, while a fourth has survived with bullet wounds. The targeted priests all openly criticised the violence and impunity being fostered by President Rodrigo Duterte. Meanwhile, President Duterte has signed the Bangsamoro Organic Law (BOL) which will place territory in the Southern Philippines under the control of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). The imposition of Sharia Law will see Muslims lose their constitutional right to religious freedom and make Christian ministry to Muslims even more dangerous than it is already. Before the BOL can be enacted, it must first survive a plebiscite and a legal challenge. While many hope the move will bring peace, it is actually more likely to trigger conflict. Please pray for the Philippines and its Church.


Elizabeth Kendal is an international religious liberty analyst and advocate. She serves as Director of Advocacy at Canberra-based Christian Faith and Freedom (CFF), and is an Adjunct Research Fellow at the Arthur Jeffery Centre for the Study of Islam at Melbourne School of Theology.

She has authored two books: Turn Back the Battle: Isaiah Speaks to Christians Today (Deror Books, Melbourne, Australia, Dec 2012) which offers a Biblical response to persecution and existential threat; and After Saturday Comes Sunday: Understanding the Christian Crisis in the Middle East (Wipf and Stock, Eugene, OR, USA, June 2016).