Marawi siege sparks call to revive Muslim-Christian conferences

The attack in Marawi City in southern Philippines has prompted the country's Special Envoy for Intercultural Dialogue to call for the revival of interfaith dialogues, saying these may help resolve the trouble in Mindanao.

(REUTERS / Romeo Ranoco)Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo (R) and House of Representatives Speaker Jose De Venecia talk during the launch of the ''Philippines Millennium Development Goals Report 2007'' at a hotel in Manila October 10, 2007.

On June 12, Jose De Venecia Jr. told ANC's Headstart that the Bishops-Ulama Conference, which was first held in November 1996, has not been held these past years. He said the gathering, which started with Catholic bishops Ulama and Ustadz along with a number of Protestant ministers, is the best place for Christians and Muslims to meet.

In addition, De Venecia touted the Muslim-Christian conference as an effective strategy in Mindanao, especially now that the island has been placed under Martial Law because Maute and Abu Sayyaf militant groups have been fighting with government troops. He said it will encourage the participation of the moderate Muslims in the affected area.

"It will mobilize the moderate Muslim communities and the Christians and begin to isolate the extremists," De Venecia told ANC. "In the same way that the extremists were so isolated, the Abu Sayyaf, that they are only limited to Basilan and parts of Sulu because of the active participation of the moderate Muslims and the Christians."

Meanwhile, Filipino troops celebrated Independence Day by holding a flag-raising ceremony in Marawi City on June 12, amid the ongoing offensive against extremists in the embattled city. The participants in the ceremony were overcome by their emotions as they sang the Philippine national anthem, listened to speeches, and watched the national flag being raised at the recaptured city hall, Deutsche Welle reported.

Flag-raising ceremonies were usually held twice a week at Marawi's city hall, but the practice was temporarily halted when ISIS-inspired militants attacked the town on May 23. The majority of the city's 200,000 residents fled when the clashes erupted, but there are still 500 to 1,000 civilians still trapped inside.

Col. Jose Maria Cuerpo, a Philippine Army brigade commander fighting local terrorists in Marawi, said the ceremony was dedicated to the Filipino soldiers who sacrificed their lives in the ongoing offensives. The military said 200 militants, 58 soldiers and police, and at least 20 civilians have been killed in the violence.