SHARIFF AGUAK, Maguindanao— Local officials want the perpetrators of the arson attempt on a Catholic chapel here identified, arrested and prosecuted as soon as possible.
Mayor Marop Ampatuan of Shariff Aguak said Sunday that he has requested the municipal police to identify the culprits and prosecute them at the soonest possible time.
“This is something we cannot tolerate,” the obviously angry town executive told reporters. “We cannot allow terrorists to wedge the religious solidarity of Muslims, Christians and Lumads in our municipality.”
The mayor currently chairs the municipal peace and order council where the police chief is the vice chair.
At past 9 p.m. of Nov. 9, unidentified men set on fire the San Isidro de Labrador chapel’s altar that damaged religious articles and statues, according to Fire Officer 1 Alonto Blaim, the town fire marshall.
Shariff Aguak is proximate to the towns of Mamasapano, Shariff Saydona and Salibo where high presence of the outlawed Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) is noted.
The BIFF had been espousing radicalism by stoking animosity among Maguindanaons and is promoting violent extremism.
Catholic priest Fr. Eliseo Mercado Jr. who had served in Shariff Aguak and nearby towns during the early years of his priesthood, said the government should act on the incident swiftly to give justice to the chapel and its congregation.
Hadji Akmad Ampatuan, Shariff Aguak town vice mayor, and Maguindanao Governor Esmael Mangudadatu both offered reward money to any informant who could identify the people behind the attack.
“We condemn that incident. That was blasphemy. Islam teaches respect for religions and worship sites. Islam teaches religious tolerance. We have a principle in our religion that says there is no compulsion in religion,” Mangudadatu said.
Army and police intelligence officials blamed the incident on a BIFF faction headed by Esmael Abdulmalik, who has pledged allegiance to the ISIS, as the group behind the attack.
The Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), which is currently forging a peace deal with the government, is helping the Philippine military neutralize the BIFF Abdulmalik faction.