Military appeals to netizens: Shun ISIS attempts to induce sectarian war in Mindanao

June 7, 2017 - 3:20 PM
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A government soldier looks at a man holding a white flag who fled his home as government troops continue their assault on insurgents from the Maute group, who have taken over large parts of the Marawi City, Philippines June 1, 2017. REUTERS/Romeo Ranoco

MANILA – The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) on Wednesday called on netizens to stop circulating videos that may sow hatred among Christians and Muslims, thus helping prevent attempts by militants to induce a religious war.

“May I appeal to our social media users and our netizens. There are videos circulating around regarding certain armed elements destroying a church. We have requested that this be pulled out because it may fan hatred. It may fan hate and it is intended by these militants to induce other Christian elements to fight against these armed elements or to sow hatred among Christians and Muslim,” AFP spokesperson Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla Jr. said at a Palace briefing.

The military official made the appeal after an Islamic State video was posted online that showed armed men going on a rampage inside the St. Mary’s Cathedral in Marawi City.

The militants, who belong to the Maute Group which pledged allegiance to ISIS in 2015, were seen stomping at and destroying religious images before setting the church on fire.

“Please do not spread this. Let us not buy in into the plan of these terror groups to inflame the feelings of our other religions. This is not a religious war; this is a terror attack on the city of Marawi and we must be clear about it,” Padilla stressed.

Instead of circulating such materials, the AFP called on social media users and mainstream media to highlight more the compassion shown by both Christians and Muslims to their fellow citizens in this trying times.

Padilla said that the past days have shown how Christian and Muslim residents of Marawi City have helped one another in order to escape the terrors sown by the ISIS-inspired militants.

“Right before us, in the last few days were clear examples of compassion, of help between Christians and Muslims, of assistance coming from all sectors. Many of our Muslim brothers are helping their Christian friends and many Christian friends are now helping their Muslim brothers in the same way that all these help have been coming along,” he said.

“And we are very happy that these are coming out to debunk all these claims and attempts to make this a religious war. These are the good stories and may we request the media to highlight more of these in order to prevent the attempts of this terrorist group to make this a religious war of sort which is not,” Padilla said.

These videos are obviously meant,he added, to cast the Marawi conflict as a religious war, pitting Muslims against Christians when the fact is the Maute Group – teaming up with some units of Abu Sayyaf and other armed groups – were simply out to sow terror and court ISIS recognition.

Padilla said what is happening in Marawi – a progressive city where the predominantly Muslim population has long lived in harmony with Christians – is simply a bid by extremists to occupy Marawi in the first step of a mission to set up a wilayat or province for ISIS.

The AFP appealed to bloggers and other netizens to use social media more responsibly.

If an article or video seems to be of doubtful origin, netizens should refrain from sharing them in order to prevent the spread of false information, said Padilla.

Social media arm in Abella office

Meanwhile, the office of the presidential spokesperson is setting up a social media arm to be better able to monitor and engage Internet users.

Secretary Ernesto Abella said they are very careful in releasing information, and hoped the same prudence and sense of responsibility will be employed by all.

Abella clarified, though, that “when I say manage I don’t mean to say we put a spin. I’m just saying that we try to get as much as possible, we try to come up with responsible and carefully vetted news.”