A Catholic bishop in the southern Philippines called on warring parties to end the conflict in the region and allow displaced tribal people to go back home to their communities.
Bishop Jose Cabantan of Malaybalay called on the government and the various armed groups to “pursue true peace” and “find a solution to the deplorable living conditions” of people affected by war.
In a letter made available to LiCAS.news, the prelate said it is “ironic that the first settlers” in many parts of the country “are now homeless” because of conflict.
Bishop Cabantan said that in his diocese tribal families who fled from their ancestral lands due to the war are now living in makeshift shelters in the town center.
Amid the threat of the new coronavirus disease, the displaced tribal people “have no security in the place where they settle now,” said the prelate.
“They live in subhuman conditions with no basic necessities,” he said, adding that “education for their children is quite difficult because the school location is far.”
This year, the Catholic Church in the Philippines marks the “Year of Inter-religious Dialogue, Ecumenism, and of Indigenous Peoples.”
Amid the observance, the bishop said the country “still witnesses the sufferings” of those who have left their homes, livelihood, and livestock because of armed conflict.
“They are placed at the altar of sacrifice in this continuing war and violence,” he said.
The prelate stressed that incidents occurring in tribal communities are very significant for the Church and its celebration of the 500 years of the arrival of Christianity in Asia.
Bishop Cabantan said the Christian faith “found a home among our indigenous peoples communities,” which he called as “the first Basic Ecclesial Communities.”
He said the present situation of tribal communities “poses a real challenge” for the Church that advances charity and justice.
“We are all called to build a home together, hence we should rethink our position with their plight,” he said, adding that the situation of tribal communities “calls every one of us to find ways to reconcile our differences.”
“We cannot allow our biases to prevail in our relationships. Absolutizing our ideologies to the point of sacrificing the poor will not certainly lead us to harmony,” he added.
Bishop Cabantan urged the government and the public to “start somewhere to stop this cycle of violence that has affected the lives of many innocent people.”
As of June 2020, there are 4,129 families or 17,482 individuals who are still displaced in Mindanao due to armed conflict, according to the United Nations High Commissioner on Refugees.