"Basilan Island will become another Bosnia," predicts Catholic Bishop Jose Maria Querexeta. He says the only hope is for quick, large-scale intervention by government troops. The area in the south Philippines has known warring between Muslims and Christians since the fourteenth century. Once again, it is accelerating.
In June, Muslim extremists stopped a bus, separated the Christians from the Muslims, then demanded $800 apiece to spare Christian lives. When none could produce the money, 15 male passengers were slain.
In July, extremists kidnapped a Catholic priest originally from Illinois, who was celebrating Sunday Mass. They also shot the priest, Clarence Bertelsman, who has worked in the Philippines for 43 years. He later was released and is in good condition. Experts say a Libyan-trained Muslim named Abu Sayyaf is responsible for fomenting the holy war in the southern Philippines.
Jun Vencer, based in Quezon city as international director of World Evangelical Fellowship, which represents 10,000 Filipino churches, believes the government is doing a good job in trying to contain the violence perpetuated by a few armed groups. Filipino marines have begun scouring the countryside with orders to capture Abu Sayyaf. "The government is determined that this will not be a holy war," Vencer says. "The danger is that Christians who take it upon themselves to fight back may cause an escalation."
Some Christian organizations have responded by avenging the deaths. They are believed to be behind the murders of three Muslims.