(Photo: Wikimedia Commons)
A church pastor and a Roman Catholic priest were among more than 200 civilians kidnapped and held hostage by dozens of Muslim rebels recently in the Philippines.
The kidnappings were part of the most recent standoff between the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), a Muslim-minority guerilla group, and the Filipino government. Pastor David Nifras and Father Michael Ufana were among the dozens of hostages used by rebels as human shields seeking to protect themselves from military and police forces. Both Nifras and Ufana have since been reported to no longer be in captivity.
As the fighting has displaced over 100,000 refugees, many Christian churches have welcomed the tens of thousands of Muslim refugees who are not associated with the rebels.
Monsignor Chris Manongas, administrator of the Archdiocese of Zamboanga, said that despite the guerilla's attempts to terrify the population and destroy the villages, he would not back down.
"We are helping. We are not afraid. Our social action center here is working hard. We are even putting our lives in danger just to be able to help these people," Manongas said. "We condemn in the highest form this violent attempt to take over the city by the MNLF. We call on them to please listen to the voice of sanity."
The current stand-off has gone on for 10 days, killing 100 people and displacing close to 100,000 others, according to Interaksyon.
The fighting stems from the MNLF's desire for Muslim self-rule, a cause they have been pushing for since the 1970s. The most recent aggression began after the government made peace with a different Islamic faction earlier this year.
On Sept. 9, close to 2,000 members of the MNLF attempted to raise their own flag above Zamboanga city hall before they were intercepted by government forces and violence began to spread around the region. The city, which had largely been under the siege from the rebels, is only now beginning to reopen as the government slowly gains back control.
"There's this very complicated situation mainly because you have a few different Muslim terrorist groups that want to take and make that southern Philippine island into an independent Muslim state," said Jerry Dykstra, director of media relations for Open Doors USA, according to World Magazine. "Christians are caught in the crossfire. This conflict has been going on for four decades."
Christians make up the majority of the Filipino population with 93 percent of the population. Muslims make up five percent.