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An unlikely place

"We can expect a retaliation by Muslim jihadists against Christians flocked in churches."


Fifty people were massacred at two mosques last March 15 in Christchurch, New Zealand. That the number of fatalities was high was not what gained the bloody incident world headlines. It did so because it happened in the most unlikely place. New Zealand is known as the safest place on earth, a country known for welcoming immigrants fleeing war and violence elsewhere.

The victims were Muslims attending evening prayers. They were shot by a cold-blooded gunman. Some of the victims were refugees who had fled the civil war in Syria only to meet the same violent death they escaped from in the Middle East.

Islamic leaders condemned the bloodshed, as did the government and the citizens of New Zealand. This is the first incident of its kind in the country. Prime Minster Jacinda Ardern led Parliament in holding a Muslim prayer for the dead in the incident that shocked the world.

On a personal note, I was almost assigned as Philippine ambassador to New Zealand. Given a choice of three capitals—The Hague, Christchurch and Budapest as possible postings- I opted for Budapest. I declined The Hague because it was close to Brussels where I served as senior foreign adviser to then Ambassador Roberto R. Romulo. The Dutch culture was almost akin to the Belgians’. New Zealand, I was told, was a boring place because it was so quiet and peaceful with more sheep than people.

Why Budapest? I wanted to see the transformation of the former communist countries under my concurrent jurisdiction—Hungary, Poland and Yugoslavia (now Serbia)—which used to be satellites of the former Soviet empire. I thought I made the right choice as I did see the sea change of the three countries from communist to republican states.

But going back to the New Zealand massacre, we can expect a retaliation by Muslim jihadists against Christians flocked in churches. We pray not because it will only trigger a vicious cycle of violence by both Muslims and Christians. Passion and senseless violence should not be the way to go for two diverse cultures and religions. This was how the bloody Balkan war started by Serbia and involved Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Albania. Serbia wanted to revive the former Yugoslavia federation which included the three above mentioned countries under the leadership of former President Marshal Broz Tito. When Tito died, the Yugoslav countries tried a revolving leadership but that did not work out because Serb leaders like Milosevic wanted a federation dominated by Serbia with Belgrade as the imperial city. Milosevic died in jail in The Hague where he was being tried for crimes against humanity.

A religious war between Muslims and Christians cannot be ruled out in the Philippines despite the passage of the Bangsamoro Organic Law giving Muslims autonomy in many parts of Mindanao. Many Christians in the Bangsamoro region resent being under a Muslim autonomous government. Even Moro National Liberation Front leader Nur Misuari who felt left out in the BOL talks threatened to go to war if federalism is not approved by the Congress controlled by President Rodrigo Duterte. What we have in Mindanao is uneasy peace despite the extentson of martial law in the country’s biggest island. The Abu Sayyaf and the Bangsamoro Islamic Fredom Fighters continue to wage ambushes against government forces without the MILF-run BOL doing anything to rein them in.

The BOL setup provides police enforcement covered in the autonomous areas. But we have yet to hear the MILF arresting the breakaway Sayyaf and BIFF elements who commit raids on police camps and extortion activities. How long before the Christians in the BOL region react with force to protect their families and livelihood?

A rethink of the BOL should be considered by the Manila government after a certain period of time ascertaining BOL’s benefits to the whole country. There are fears among Christians that the Bangsamoro with outside support from Malaysia could yet declare independence from the Philippines. Malaysia under Muhamad Mahathir is a friendly country as part of ASEAN. But then the Philippines has a long-standing territorial dispute with Malaysia on Sabah being claimed by the Sultan of Sulu.

Sabah is rich in rubber and oil and like our territorial dispute with China which claims nearly the entire South China Sea, the stakes are potential oil, gas and minerals under the sea Beijing covets for its rise as a superpower to challenge the United States.

Topics: Alejandro del Rosario , An unlikely place , Christchurch , New Zealand , mosques massacre , Muslims
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