COTABATO, Philippines — Cardinal Orlando Quevedo of Cotabato has condemned “in the strongest terms possible” the reported desecration of a Catholic chapel by terrorist gunmen in the southern Philippines.
The June 21 incident, in the village of Malagakit, occurred when about 300 gunmen of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters, known as BIFF, attacked Pigcawayan town, resulting in the displacement of hundreds of residents.
The BIFF, a breakaway group of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front that has signed a peace deal with the government, has pledged allegiance to the Islamic State group.
Chief Inspector Reylan Mamon, Pigcawayan police chief, said the gunmen destroyed religious images inside the chapel.
“The crucifix and images of the Virgin Mary and Jesus Christ were destroyed while the sacred hosts were thrown all over the floor,” Mamon told ucanews.com.
Quevedo described the chapel’s desecration as “wicked.”
“Such acts are similar to the desecration of a mosque and the sacred Quran by non-Muslims. Both desecrations are gravely sinful,” he said.
The cardinal challenged BIFF leaders to punish its men who desecrated the chapel.
“If the BIFF wants to have an image as a respecter of all religions, it must punish its members who perpetrated the odious desecration and educate all its members in strictly respecting other religions,” he said.
Quevedo called on Catholics in Pigcawayan to restore the sacredness of their chapel.
Last month, terrorist gunmen also desecrated St. Mary Cathedral in Marawi, about 95 miles from Cotabato.
The siege in Marawi entered its second month this week with government forces retaking several areas of the city occupied by the gunmen.
Gov. Mujiv Hataman of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao has branded the desecration of sacred sites as “un-Islamic.”
“These terrorists are nothing but hypocrites who undermine the true essence of Islam,” he said.
The attack in Pigcawayan has displaced more than 1,700 residents and caused classes to be suspended in 14 schools, affecting about 4,000 elementary and high school students.