THE BRUTAL deaths last year of 44 Special Action Force officers in the hands of Muslim rebels in the Mamasapano, in Mindanao, led to a degree of mistrust between Christians and Muslims as reflected in social media, according to a US Department of State report.
In its 2015 International Religious Freedom Report, the state department cited the January 2015 incident as serving to boost anti-Muslim sentiment in the mostly Christian country.
Apart from the slain officers, also killed in the clash were more than 20 Muslim rebels and civilians, as well as Zulkilfi bin Hir, alias Marwan, a foreign bomb-making expert who was the original target of the ill-fated operation.
“Observers stated the controversy surrounding the Jan. 25, 2015, Mamasapano incident… caused distrust between Muslims and Christians to resurface in social media, online commentary and public statements,” the report said.
The report is carried out every year by the state department’s Office of International Religious Freedom in about 199 countries. It is headed by Ambassador-at-Large David Saperstein.
A video that found its way to the public showing one of the 44 being shot twice at close range “spread very quickly on social media,” although at the time it was circulated, the full context was not verified, it said.
Its release, coupled with gory photos that came out after the attack “showed the increasing strain in relations between Muslims and Christians,” the report said.
The report noted the observation of the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility that press reporting on the video “used loaded language” that served to boost “already high levels of anti-Muslim sentiments.”
Delayed BBL passage
It said the Mamasapano incident also significantly delayed the passage of the Bangsamoro Basic Law which, among others, would have led to an expanded Muslim autonomous region in the south.
The ill-fated operation was heavily criticized for the SAF’s lack of coordination with the military, and for the role that ex-Philippine National Police chief Director General Alan Purisima played.
Purisima knew of the operation even though he was serving a six-month suspension, while then Interior Secretary Mar Roxas and then acting PNP chief Leonardo Espina testified in a Senate inquiry that they were left in the dark.
The Philippines’ 100 million population is predominantly Roman Catholic at 81 percent, with 9 percent belonging to other Christian groups, and 6 percent Muslim.
The US Department of State noted the Philippine Constitution provides for the free exercise of religious worship and bars the establishment of religion by law.
Despite this, there were “instances of discrimination in economic opportunities and public statements—via the internet and social media—denigrating the beliefs or practices of particular religious groups, particularly Muslims, or nonbelievers.”
Citing religious scholars, the document said there were reports of tension between different religious and ethnic groups, especially in conflict-affected areas.
“Some Christians in the southern part of the country expressed fear that if the BBL were passed, it would exacerbate religious tensions and allow Muslim leaders to impose sharia (law) on the Christian minority,” it said.
The Philippine Council of Evangelical Churches said some former Muslims who converted to Christianity faced verbal abuse and mockery from their families and communities.
Others feared that revealing their new religion would result in being beaten, disowned or isolated from their communities, the report said.
The US state department also cited the participation of religious communities in “interreligious efforts” to alleviate the friction and address discrimination. TVJ
On January 25, 2015, 44 members of the Philippine National Police’s Special Action Force (SAF) were killed in the hunt for Malaysian terrorist Zulkifli Abdhir, aka “Marwan,” in Mamasapano, Maguindanao province. Their mission may have succeeded, but one year later families of the slain SAF44 and affected civilians today continue to seek justice from a government which allegedly broke chain of command and poorly handled the mission. Visit the INQUIRER tribute site at inquirer.net/mamasapano.