wenty people were killed when Islamist extremists bombed a cathedral in southern Philippines on 27 January 2019. The first explosion went off inside during a Sunday service, and a second blast targeted worshippers as they fled. The attack was believed to be carried out by Abu Sayyaf, a militant group linked to Islamic State and active for decades in the majority-Muslim south of the Philippines, an archipelago that is otherwise more than 80% Christian.
The attack on the island of Jolo, capital of Sulu province, came six days after Sulu voters rejected its inclusion in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region of southern Philippines. The referendum approved – with 85% in favour – the creation of the Region in the mainly- Muslim Mindanao island group, which effectively formed an Islamic sub-state within the country. The much-delayed introduction of the Region, first proposed in 2013, was an attempt to end a 40- year conflict between the authorities and Islamist armed groups seeking independence for the south, in which at least 100,000 died in the fighting.
Many Christians were among the 100,000 people who remained displaced at the end of 2019, including at least 13,000 languishing in squalid tent cities, because the Philippine authorities delayed rebuilding the southern city of Marawi, left in ruins by an invasion of Islamic extremists in May 2017. During the five-month siege, militants burned churches and singled out Christians to killed. Others were taken hostage, made to undertake forced labour or used as sex slaves.
In August 2019, Christian leaders criticised the direction of the nation under President Rodrigo Duterte, who came to power in 2016. In a statement issued after Pastor Ernesto Estrella was shot dead in the street, they condemned the “alarming increase” of violent attacks against Christian human rights defenders.
Pray for peace in the Philippines and that Islamist militants finally lay down their weapons to end the campaign of terror against Christians. Ask that Marawi will be rebuilt and those still living in squalid camps will be able to return to their homes. Pray that President Duterte will uphold the rights of Christians in the Philippines and defend those who promote tolerance and peace in the community.