General Gilbert Gapay, Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), on Friday clarified that he was not linking madaris, learning institutions that teach Islamic studies, to radicalization and terrorism.
“I never said that madaris are spreading radicalization or sowing terrorism among its students because I believe that Islam is a religion that espouses peace. What I meant to say was there are unscrupulous individuals wanting to infiltrate schools to do just that — spread hate and plant the seeds of terrorism,” Gapay said.
“[T]his is what we, in the AFP, [want] to vigorously prevent,” he added.
Major General Edgard Arevalo, AFP spokesperson, said Gapay only meant that the military is looking into sectors of the communities that could be targeted by violent extremists and are in danger of being radicalized due to their “vulnerabilities and prevailing circumstances.”
More than a week ago, the AFP Chief had received backlash from the Muslim community after he said that the military has been monitoring madaris in Mindanao, where they suspect that radicalization of students is happening.
“The madaris and other schools in Sulu, we are monitoring them really where we suspected that there is some sort of radicalization activities going on,” Gapay had said in a virtual forum last October 14.
He earlier expressed concern about the increasing number of suicide bombings in the country involving Filipino terrorists.
In the past two years, at least five suicide bombing incidents have been recorded by the military.
The latest of such attack happened last August 24, 2020 in Jolo, Sulu when two suicide bombers blew themselves, killing eight soldiers, six civilians, and a police commando, and injuring 74 others.
As part of its counter-terrorism measures, Gapay bared that the military has partnered with the Department of Education (DepEd) to keep an eye on several Muslims schools because “it is in one of these institutions or areas where recruitment is occuring particulary [among] the youth.”
But Basilan Representative Mujiv Hataman called out Gapay for his “dangerous and unfair” remarks.
“The armed forces should not be making general statements linking madrasas to terrorists without presenting irrefutable proof of its existence. It is dangerous and unfair, and it serves no real purpose but to unjustly put our schools in a very compromising situation,” he said.
Gapay acknowledged that he “might have offended” the Muslim community but he said his message was taken out of context.
“[W]hile I am sincere with my desire to warn against radicalism and defeat violent extremism, I am mindful as I am concerned that I might have offended the feelings of some of our Muslim leaders, brothers, and sisters. That was never intended,” he said.
The military chief disclosed that he will initiate a dialogue with Muslim leaders “as a gesture of sincerity,” and to further clarify the statement he previously made.
“I am confident that by listening to each other, we can thresh out and resolve issues,” Gapay said.
“And we are one with the Islamic ummah in our desire to keep our country safe from the clutches of terrorism,” he added.