Basilan governor slams vandalism on Catholic churches in the province

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, February 18) -- Basilan Governor Jim Salliman condemned a spate of "acts of desecration" of Catholic chapels in the province, which were discovered just as local parishioners were about to commemorate a religious ceremony marking the start of the Lenten season.

DXNO, a local radio station based in Isabela City, shared on social media on Wednesday some photos showing what appeared to be incidents of vandalism on three chapels in Lamitan City.

The image of San Isidro Labrador, to whose honor a chapel in the village of Sta. Clara was dedicated, was found knocked over and its head removed. Another image of the Virgin Mary was thrown on the pathway.

Religious icons in a chapel in Barangay Kulaybato were also removed from displays.

The destructions were discovered early morning while some parishioners were preparing to mark Ash Wednesday, the start of a 40-day season of fasting, penance and prayer that leads to Easter, one of the most important holidays of the Catholic faith.

On Tuesday night, residents also reported an incident of desecration of images in Maganda, another village in Lamitan. More statues, including a crucifix, were also discovered scattered on the road outside their chapel.

Salliman called these acts as "atrocious" and "discriminatory".

He said that the provincial government condems these incidents "in the highest terms".

Police in Lamitan are still investigating to determine the motive behind the attacks and if these were carried out by the same perpetrators.

Silliman has called on the authorities to act swiftly and resolve the cases, amid concerns this could "be exploited by groups and individuals whose sinister motive is to undermine the harmonious relationship that we Muslims and Christians are enjoying."

While Basilan is a predominantly Muslim island province, there are pocket communities in the cities of Isabela and Lamitan, where a significant percentage of the population are Christian inhabitants.

In a statement, Salliman called for sobriety among Catholics, Christians, and Muslim residents, and urged them to avoid "peddling rumors, lies, and hearsays that will cause alarm and panic among the general public."

"Words of peace, compassion and goodwill must prevail," Salliman said.