The hostages in Jolo have been useful to the government. When the BBC news or CNN cover the Philippines, they seem to go straight to Jolo. The war in central Mindanao is hidden, yet the death toll is huge and the evacuees are legion. One of the priests barely got out of Malabang yesterday. The fighting for Camp Busrah spilled across the highway to Marawi, cutting it for a while. From Malabang he could see the bombing planes and the smoke of battle, and along the road were people fleeing the fighting. According to The Philippine Star of 28 May 2000, 14 Army battalions and a Marine brigade are involved in that fight. I don't know the strength of those battalions, but that's a sizable army to go unreported, nearly as big as the UN forces in Sierra Leone. Archbishop Orlando Quevedo, chairman of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines, is trying to persuade President Estrada to drop his "all-out war" policy against the MILF (Philippine Daily Inquirer, May 27, 2000). Yet minutes ago I saw the president on local TV insisting that he must "end the Muslim insurrection after 14 years". Another Columban visited some Muslim friends who told him of four people, one a child, who died from fear and shock when caught in the middle of an encounter between the army and the MILF. The Muslim pleaded, "Can you not do anything?" I'm not an expert on Muslim-Christian relations but I believe that the present policy of the government is storing up years of mayhem for the people of this island.
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