International Religious Freedom Report 2003
Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor

The Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the Government generally respects this right in practice.

There was no significant change in the status of respect for religious freedom during the period covered by this report. Adherents of all faiths are free to exercise their religious beliefs in all parts of the country without government interference or restriction. However, socioeconomic disparity between the Christian majority and the Muslim minority has contributed to persistent conflict in certain provinces. The principal remaining armed insurgent Muslim group, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), continued to seek greater autonomy or an independent Islamic state. More incidents of violence on Mindanao occurred due to battles between the Government and MILF forces. Representatives from the Government and MILF met several times in early 2003 to prepare for the resumption of formal peace negotiations. As of the end of the reporting period, formal negotiations had not resumed.

There is some ethnic, religious, and cultural discrimination against Muslims by Christians. This has led some Muslims to seek a degree of political autonomy for Muslims in the southwestern part of the country. The once-largest Muslim insurgent group, the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), reached a peace accord with the Government in 1996, resulting in a strengthened Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).

The U.S. Embassy discusses religious freedom issues with the Government in the context of its overall dialog and policy of promoting human rights. The Embassy is actively engaged in the peace process between the Government and MILF and plans to monitor future peace talks.

Section I. Religious Demography

The country has a total area of approximately 118,000 square miles, and its population is approximately 80 million. Over 81 percent of citizens claim membership in the Roman Catholic Church, according to the most recent available official census data on religious preference (2000). Other Christian denominations together comprise approximately 8.9 million, or 11.6 percent of the population. Muslims total 5 percent of the population and Buddhists 0.08 percent. Indigenous and other religious traditions comprise 1.7 percent of the population of those surveyed. Atheists and persons who did not designate a religious preference account for 0.5 percent of the population.

Some Muslim scholars argue that census takers in 2000 seriously undercounted the number of Muslims because of security concerns in western Mindanao, where Muslims are a majority, preventing them from conducting accurate counts outside urban areas. The 2000 census placed the number of Muslims at 3.9 million, or approximately 5 percent of the population, while some Muslim groups claim that Muslims comprise anywhere from 8 to 12 percent of the population. Muslims reside principally in Mindanao and nearby islands and are the largest single minority religious group.

There is no available data on "nominal" members of religious organizations. Estimates of nominal members of the largest group, Roman Catholics, range from 60 to 65 percent of the total population. These estimates are based on regular church attendance. El Shaddai, a local charismatic lay movement affiliated with the Roman Catholic Church, has grown rapidly in the last decade and has a reported 8 million members worldwide. El Shaddai's headquarters in Manila claims a domestic membership of 6 million, or 7.5 percent of the population, although this cannot be accurately corroborated.

Most Muslims belong to the Sunni branch of Islam. A very small number of Shi'a believers live in the provinces of Lanao del Sur and Zamboanga del Sur in Mindanao. Approximately 20.4 percent of the population of Mindanao is Muslim, according to the 2000 census. Members of the Muslim community are concentrated in five provinces of western Mindanao, the only provinces in which they represent the majority: Maguindanao, Lanao del Sur, Basilan, Sulu, and Tawi-Tawi. Large Muslim communities are also located in nearby Mindanao provinces, including Zamboanga del Sur, Zamboanga Sibugay, Zamboanga del Norte, Sultan Kudarat, Lanao del Norte, and North Cotabato. Sizable Muslim neighborhoods can also be found in metropolitan Manila on the northern island of Luzon, and on the large western island of Palawan.

Among the numerous Protestant and other Christian denominations are Seventh-day Adventists, United Church of Christ, United Methodist, Assemblies of God, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons), and Philippine (Southern) Baptist denominations. In addition, there are three churches established by local religious leaders: The Independent Church of the Philippines or "Aglipayan," the Iglesia ni Cristo (Church of Christ), and the Ang Dating Daan (an offshoot of Iglesia ni Cristo). A majority of the country's indigenous peoples, estimated between 12 and 16 million, reportedly are Christians. However, many indigenous groups mix elements of their native religions with Christian beliefs and practices.

Christian missionaries work actively throughout the country, including most parts of western Mindanao, often within Muslim communities.

Section II. Status of Religious Freedom

Legal/Policy Framework

The Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the Government generally respects this right in practice. Although Christianity, particularly Roman Catholicism, is the dominant religion, there is no state religion, and the Constitution provides for the separation of church and state. The Government does not restrict adherents of other religions from practicing their faith.

The law requires organized religions to register with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and with the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) in order to establish their tax-exempt status. For SEC registration, religious groups must submit their articles of faith and existing by-laws. The law does not specify penalties for failure to register with the SEC. To be registered as a non-stock, non-profit organization, they must meet the basic requirements for corporate registration and must request tax exemption from the BIR law division. Older religious corporations are required to submit a 5-year financial statement, while new groups are given a 3-year provisional tax exemption. Established non-stock, non-profit organizations may be fined for late filing of registration with the BIR and non-submission of registration datasheets and financial statements. There were no reports of discrimination in the registration system during the period covered by this report.

The Government provides no direct subsidies to institutions for religious purposes, including the extensive school systems maintained by religious orders and church groups. The Office on Muslim Affairs (OMA), an agency under the Office of the President, generally limits its activities to fostering Islamic religious practices, although it also has the authority to coordinate projects for economic growth in predominantly Muslim areas. The OMA's Philippine Pilgrimage Authority helps coordinate the travel of religious pilgrims to Mecca, Saudi Arabia, by coordinating bus service to and from airports, hotel reservations, and guides. The Presidential Assistant for Muslim Affairs helps coordinate relations with countries that have large Islamic populations and that have contributed to Mindanao's economic development and to the peace process.

The ARMM, established in 1990, responded to Muslim demands for local autonomy in areas where they represent a majority or a substantial minority. In 1996, the Government signed a final peace agreement with the MNLF, concluding an often violent struggle that lasted more than 20 years. In August 2001, a plebiscite expanded the ARMM region, which covers Marawi City and Basilan Province, as well as the provinces of Maguindanao, Lanao del Sur, Tawi-Tawi, and Sulu.

The Government is working with MNLF leaders on a variety of development programs to reintegrate former MNLF fighters through jobs and business opportunities. The integration of ex-MNLF fighters into the armed forces and police has helped significantly to reduce suspicion between Christians and Muslims.

Peace negotiations between the Government and the separatist MILF continued during the period covered by this report. In June 2001, the Government and the MILF signed an "Agreement on Peace" in Tripoli, including an agreement to implement a cease-fire. However, intermittent clashes continued. In May 2002, the Government and the MILF signed another agreement outlining guidelines on the humanitarian, rehabilitation, and development aspects of the 2001 Tripoli Agreement on Peace.

In March the Government and the MILF peace panels resumed exploratory talks in Malaysia after a long hiatus, and the sides reached agreement on a "cessation of hostilities." However, as of the end of the reporting period, formal peace negotiations had not resumed.

The Government permits religious instruction in public schools with the written consent of parents, provided there is no cost to the Government. Based on a traditional policy of promoting moral education, local public schools make available to church groups the opportunity to teach moral values during school hours. Attendance is not mandatory, and various churches rotate in sharing classroom space. The Government also allows interested groups to distribute free Bibles in public schools.

By law public schools must ensure that the religious rights of students are protected. Muslim students are allowed to wear their head coverings (hijab), and Muslim girls are not required to wear shorts during physical education classes. In October 2001, the Philippine Military Academy (PMA) announced plans to erect a mosque on campus to provide Muslim cadets a place to worship and to enhance cultural awareness of Islam for all cadets. As of the end of the period covered by this report, the mosque was still in the planning stages and ground had yet to be broken. As of June, 9 of 1,009 PMA cadets were Muslim.

In many parts of Mindanao, Muslim students routinely attend Catholic schools from elementary to university level; however, these students are not required to receive Catholic religious instruction.

About 14 percent of the school population in Mindanao attend Islamic schools. There are 1,569 Islamic schools (madrasahs) across the country. Of these, 53 percent are located in the ARMM. To date, 1,140 madrasahs seeking financial assistance from local and foreign donors are registered with the Office on Muslim Affairs, while only 35 are registered with the Department of Education. This situation is due primarily to the inability of the madrasahs to meet the Department of Education's accreditation standards for curricula and adequate facilities.

In March President Arroyo called for the integration of the madrasahs into the country's national education system. During the 2002-2003 school year, the Government began to implement a program called Education for Peace and Progress in Mindanao, the goal of which is to integrate madrasahs into the country's national education system and "to foster religious understanding between the country's Muslim minority and the Christian majority." The five-point program agenda includes information and communications technology, madrasah education, peace education, Mindanao culture and history, and teachers training. The program initially involved madrasahs in the ARMM, with the intention of eventually expanding to all Mindanao provinces. Some critics have stated that the government program violates the prohibition against state-funded promotion of religion.

Some high-level government officials have claimed that a number of madrasahs in Mindanao were teaching extremism and inciting young persons to take up arms for their faith and noted that these madrasahs were functioning without the Department of Education's supervision. Some Muslim leaders denied the allegations and, in response, accelerated efforts to integrate madrasahs into the national education system. In June the ARMM's Bureau of Madaris (Madrasahs), an agency under the oversight of the national Department of Education, submitted an integrated curriculum, for both public and private madrasah schools, to the Department of Education. The curriculum incorporates the teaching of the Arabic language and new courses on Islamic values. ARMM officials also called for a new national Bureau of Arabic Language to serve as a coordinating body in the teaching of Arabic language and Islamic values to primary and secondary madrasah schools.

The Government has declared the Catholic holy days of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, All Saints Day, and Christmas Day as official holidays. In November 2002, President Arroyo signed into law a bill declaring the last day of Ramadan, or Eid al-Fitr, a national holiday, the first time the Government has made an Islamic holy day a national holiday. The law also established Eid al-Adha, which celebrates the annual pilgrimage to Mecca, as a holiday in the five provinces that comprise the ARMM. This declaration prompted a positive reaction from the Muslim community. A Senate bill introduced in May 2002 proposed the establishment of Eid al-Adha as a national holiday, but the bill had not yet passed as of the end of the reporting period.

Restrictions on Religious Freedom

Muslims, who are concentrated in many of the most impoverished provinces in the country, complain that the Government has not made sufficient efforts to promote economic development. Some Muslim religious leaders assert further that Muslims suffer from economic discrimination by the Government, which is reflected in the Government's failure to provide funding to stimulate Mindanao's economic development. In April President Arroyo announced a new government initiative to improve conditions in Mindanao, the Mindanao Natin ("Our Mindanao") Initiative. Leaders in both Christian and Muslim communities contend that economic disparities and ethnic tensions, more than religious differences, are at the root of the modern separatist movement.

Intermittent government efforts to better integrate Muslims into the political and economic mainstream have achieved limited success. Many Muslims claim that they continue to be underrepresented in senior civilian and military positions, and cite the lack of proportional Muslim representation in national government institutions. At the end of the period covered by this report, there were one Muslim cabinet secretary and one Muslim senior presidential advisor, but no Muslim senators or Supreme Court justices. Muslims held 9 seats in the 218-member House of Representatives. In March President Arroyo appointed a Muslim jurist to the Court of Appeals, the second highest court in the country.

The Code of Muslim Personal Laws recognizes the Shari'a (Islamic law) civil law system as part of national law; however, it does not apply in criminal matters, and it applies only to Muslims. Some Muslim community leaders (ulamas) argue that the Government should allow Islamic courts to extend their jurisdiction to criminal law cases, and some support the MILF's goal of forming an autonomous region governed in accordance with Islamic law. At the end of the reporting period, there were 17 Shari'a Circuit Court judges and no incumbent judge for the Shari'a District Court. As in other parts of the judicial system, the Shari'a courts suffer from a large number of unfilled positions.

Abuses of Religious Freedom

In January former ARMM Governor Nur Misuari, who faces trial for allegedly leading a rebellion in Jolo, Sulu, in November 2001, called for the reinvestigation of his case. The Department of Justice (DOJ) denied his appeal after he failed to prove that the investigating prosecutors were biased against him. Meanwhile, 120 Misuari rebels reaffirmed their commitment to the 1996 Government-MNLF peace accord and joined the mainstream MNLF.

During the reporting period, reports surfaced that some politicians in Davao Oriental were exploiting anti-Muslim sentiment among Christians to pursue their respective political agendas, as the majority of Christians were supportive of an aggressive military campaign against the MILF. A Muslim youth group based in Lanao del Sur claimed that the Government's "war" against the MILF more broadly aimed to eradicate Muslims from the province.

The terrorist Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) claims to seek the immediate establishment of an independent Islamic state in the southwestern region. In fact, the ASG is primarily a loose collection of criminal-terrorist and kidnap-for-ransom gangs, and mainstream Muslim leaders reject its religious affiliation, strongly criticizing its actions as well as those of its offshoots as "un-Islamic." Most Muslims do not favor the establishment of a separate state, and the overwhelming majority rejects terrorism as a means of achieving a satisfactory level of autonomy.

In recent years, a number of Abu Sayyaf victims have been Christians, including several students, teachers, a Roman Catholic priest abducted from an elementary school on Basilan Island in March 2000, and an American missionary couple kidnapped along with 18 others in May 2001. During the reporting period, six Jehovah's Witness missionaries--four women and two men--were taken captive in August 2002 on the island of Jolo. The two men were beheaded 2 days after their abduction. Two of the women escaped their captors in April, and the remaining two were rescued by the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) in May.

In June 2002, four Indonesian sailors were taken hostage by Abu Sayyaf. One was killed in captivity, but the other three escaped. In June another ASG hostage, a local dive instructor, escaped after 3 years in captivity.

On March 7, a group of Muslim villagers complained of government-sponsored religious abuse when AFP soldiers flagged down their bus bound for Davao City. After demanding to know whether Muslims were aboard, the soldiers allegedly accused some passengers of being members of the MILF disguised as civilians. The soldiers later claimed that checking all passenger buses was a national security measure. Further, they argued, it was logical to ask whether there were Muslims aboard because ASG and MILF members are predominantly Muslim.

Also in March, Lumad (indigenous people of Mindanao) and Moro (Filipino Muslim) farmers in Mindanao complained to a human rights group that government soldiers and paramilitary forces had tortured them on mere suspicion that they were members of the MILF. Government forces allegedly rounded up the farmers, arrested them without warrant, and brought them to an AFP detachment where they were harassed and tortured.

On April 2, bombs exploded in a wharf in Davao City, leaving 16 persons dead and 50 injured. On April 3, other bombs exploded outside three mosques also in Davao City. The media reported that the Davao mosque bombings, which claimed no casualties, were an attempt to fuel animosity between Muslim and Christian residents of the city. The MILF, initially suspected by the Government as responsible for the wharf bombing, denied the allegations and claimed that the attacks were attempts to sabotage the peace talks. The MILF in turn accused the military of responsibility for the mosque bombings; the military denied the allegations. A few days later, MILF separatist rebels reportedly raided the outskirts of Tupi Town in South Cotabato, Mindanao. They seized two Christian farmers, allegedly for failure to pay extortion demands. Moro leaders issued a statement calling for calm, fearing that the mosque attacks would trigger further reprisal from Muslim residents in the area. Roman Catholic bishops also severely criticized the bombings.

On April 3, unidentified gunmen abducted a Muslim village leader, and on April 6, an Arabic teacher was also abducted in Davao del Sur. Six Muslims have been abducted since the Davao wharf explosion, allegedly by members of the Philippine National Police (PNP). The disappearances were reportedly part of a police crackdown on suspected terrorists. As of the end of the reporting period, the victims had not been recovered, and the assailants had not been identified.

On April 16, suspected militiamen from North Cotabato tortured a 14-year-old Muslim boy and killed and disemboweled his 16-year-old cousin on suspicion that they were members of the MILF. Press reports stated that approximately 30 vigilantes posing as government militia seized and hog-tied the younger victim, who reportedly survived mutilation by faking death. Also in April, nine Moro farmers were ambushed and slashed to death. This trademark killing is practiced by the Ilaga, a vigilante group composed of private armies and some settlers in Mindanao, whom the AFP allegedly employed in its campaign against Muslim secessionists during the 1970s. Local government officials and the AFP discounted the alleged revival of the Ilaga and denied involvement in the killings.

During the widely-reported April 24 MILF raid on the Christian-dominated town of Maigo in Lanao del Norte, over 13 civilians reportedly were killed and more than 100 hostages were taken. They were later freed or rescued by government forces. In May Christian villagers raided a small Muslim settlement in a nearby village, which resulted in the death of a 6-year-old girl and the destruction of several houses, in retaliation for the Maigo attacks. After this resurgence of fighting in Mindanao, the Government's chief MILF negotiator resigned from the peace panel in May.

On May 20, the PNP arrested seven Muslims in a district of Manila on suspicion that they were part of a MILF bomb plot in Manila. The Government's "saturation drive," during which 70 persons were initially arrested, was allegedly based on intelligence reports that this area was haven to Manila-based MILF cadres. Several of the detainees appeared to be linked with secessionist movements in Mindanao, but many others were released without charge. MILF representatives criticized the PNP for raiding a Muslim community, claiming that the arrests were a government attempt to cover up the PNP's failure to solve a spate of bombing incidents in the metropolis. PNP officials denied allegations that Muslims had been targeted because of their religion.

In June, as a condition to resuming peace negotiations with the Government, the MILF formally denounced terrorism and declared that it had no links to any international terrorist organizations.

President Arroyo briefly declared a "state of lawlessness" in Basilan in July 2001 and gave the military the power to detain suspected ASG members and supporters for 36 hours without an arrest warrant. Over different periods in early 2002, the military detained 73 Muslim individuals under this authority. As of the end of the period covered by this report, all 73 remained in detention with their cases pending. Some of the detainees reportedly were arrested because they had names similar to those of ASG members. Several human rights groups maintain that the detainees are innocent civilians who have been targeted because they are Muslim.

Forced Religious Conversions

There were no reports of forced religious conversion, including of minor U.S. citizens who had been abducted or illegally removed from the United States, or of the refusal to allow such citizens to be returned to the United States.

Section III. Societal Attitudes

Religious affiliation customarily is a function of a person's family, ethnic group, or tribal membership. Historically, Muslims have been alienated socially from the dominant Christian majority, and some ethnic and cultural discrimination against Muslims has been recorded.

Christian and Muslim communities live in close proximity throughout the central and western Mindanao region, and, in many areas, their relationship is harmonious. However, efforts by the dominant Christian population to resettle in traditionally Muslim areas over the past 60 years have brought resentment from many Muslim residents. Many Muslims view Christian proselytizing as an extension of a historical effort by the Christian majority to deprive Muslims of their homeland and cultural identity as well as of their religion. Christian missionaries work in most parts of western Mindanao, often within Muslim communities. Predominantly Muslim provinces in Mindanao continue to lag behind the rest of the island in almost all aspects of socioeconomic development.

The national culture, with its emphasis on familial, tribal, and regional loyalties, often creates informal barriers whereby access to jobs or resources is provided first to those of one's own family or group. Some employers have a biased expectation that Muslims have lower educational levels. Muslims report that they have difficulty renting rooms in boarding houses or being hired for retail work if they use their real name or wear distinctive Muslim dress. Some Muslims therefore use a Christian pseudonym and do not wear distinctive dress when applying for housing or jobs.

Reports from the Mindanao region highlighted incidents of discrimination against Muslim refugees by Christian evacuees and officials. Muslims were often automatically associated with the MILF separatist movement apparently because of their religion. According to a Muslim relief operations officer in Mindanao, discrimination was notably high in evacuation centers in Munai and Maigo, both in Lanao del Norte.

During the period covered by this report, incidents of Muslim discrimination against Christians also occurred in traditionally Muslim areas, although to a much lesser degree. In March suspected MILF members attacked a Christian town in M'Lang, North Cotabato, killing five persons. On March 25, suspected rebels stopped a Christian truck driver and his helper and killed both men. In the same month, alleged Muslim rebels singled out Christian passengers on a bus based on their inability to speak the local Muslim dialect. Six Christians were killed.

Although Christian-Muslim relations remain strained in some areas and violent outbreaks occurred in Mindanao, relations improved somewhat during the period covered by this report. This improvement was mainly due to the policies of the Arroyo Administration to remain engaged in the peace process, and to such government actions as: Renewed efforts to negotiate with the MILF; the appointment of a Muslim cabinet secretary; the declaration of Eid al-Fitr as a national holiday; and increased government assistance to Muslims making the Hajj, or pilgrimage to Mecca. However, the Government's crackdown on the terrorist ASG beginning in July 2001 led to accusations by many human rights nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) of ongoing police and military abuses. Muslim leaders also expressed concern over a possible resurgence of anti-Islamic sentiment due to the worsening conflict in Mindanao and an intensified AFP offensive against the MILF.

On April 23, over 400 delegates participated in the First Muslim Summit on Unity, Peace, and Development in Manila. During the Summit, the Speaker of the House of Representatives called for an affirmative action plan to address the root cause of Muslim extremism and improve the lives of Muslims, Lumads, and Christians.

In May leaders of Muslim communities in Manila pledged to support the PNP in combating terrorism. They vowed to report "suspicious" persons seeking refuge in their communities. In addition, Muslim officials in Manila reportedly formed their own task force, Muslim Solidarity Assembly, to assist the Government in its campaign against terrorism.

From May 20 to 22, 120 religious peace advocates participated in a 3-day Muslim-Christian Interfaith Conference in Zamboanga City, Mindanao, sponsored by the Moro-Christian People's Alliance of the Philippines. Conference participants called for the resumption of peace talks and the end of military offensives in Mindanao. They also criticized specific military-led offensives in conflict areas in Mindanao, which resulted in a number of civilian casualties.

The Bishops-Ulama Conference of the Philippines, which meets monthly to deepen mutual doctrinal understanding between Roman Catholic and Muslim leaders in Mindanao, also has actively supported the Mindanao peace process. Those who convened the conference include the Archbishop of Davao, the President of the Ulama League of the Philippines, and the head of the National Council of Churches. This conference seeks to foster exchanges at the local level between parish priests and local Islamic teachers and community leaders. Paralleling the dialog fostered by religious leaders, the Silsila Foundation in Zamboanga City hosts a regional exchange among Muslim and Christian academics and local leaders meant to reduce bias and promote cooperation. Other active local organizations include the Mindanao State University Peace Institute, the Ranao-Muslim Christian Movement for Dialogue, the Peace Advocates of Zamboanga, the Ateneo Peace Institute, and the Peace Education Center of the Notre Dame University.

On June 12, more than 1,000 Muslims and Christian representatives of communities in Mindanao and some militant groups commemorated Independence Day with a protest rally calling for an end to the Government's military offensive in the conflict-affected provinces of Lanao del Sur, Lanao del Norte, and Misamis Oriental in Mindanao.

Religious dialog and cooperation among the various religious communities generally remain amicable. Many religious leaders are involved in ecumenical activities and also in inter-denominational efforts to alleviate poverty. The Interfaith Group, which is registered as a NGO, includes Roman Catholic, Islamic, and Protestant church representatives joined together in an effort to support the Mindanao peace process through endeavors in communities of former combatants. Besides social and economic support, the Interfaith Group seeks to encourage Mindanao communities to instill their faiths in their children.

The Government's National Ecumenical Consultative Committee (NECCOM) fosters interfaith dialog among the major religious groups, including the Roman Catholic Church, Islam, Iglesia ni Cristo, the Philippine Independent Church (Aglipayan), and Protestant denominations. The Protestant churches are represented in the NECCOM by the National Council of Churches of the Philippines and the Council of Evangelical Churches of the Philippines. Members of the NECCOM meet periodically with the President to discuss social and political issues. On June 11, NECCOM organized a meeting attended by political leaders to discuss the current conflict in Mindanao.

Amicable ties among religious groups are reflected in many non-official organizations. The leadership of human rights groups, trade union confederations, and industry associations typically represent many religious persuasions.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy

The U.S. Government discusses religious freedom issues with the Government in the context of its overall dialog and policy of promoting human rights. Embassy officers in Manila meet with representatives of all major faiths to discuss their concerns on a variety of issues. In addition, the U.S. Government actively supports the Government's peace process with Muslim insurgents in Mindanao, which has the potential to contribute to peace and a better climate for interfaith cooperation. The Joint Statement from President Arroyo's May 19 State Visit to Washington noted: "President Bush stated that the United States stands ready to provide diplomatic and financial support to a renewed peace process." The U.S. Government also announced that representatives from the U.S. Institute of Peace would be available to assist the parties in formal negotiations. In early 2003, the U.S. Congress voted to devote $30 million to promoting peace in Mindanao.

The Embassy also maintains active outreach with NGOs. In April the Embassy hosted a meeting of political and opinion leaders from the Muslim community to discuss the past, present, and future U.S. role in Mindanao. The open forum represented a key part of the Embassy's continuing engagement of host country communities outside Manila. In November 2002, the Ambassador hosted an Iftar dinner at his residence during Ramadan.

The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) budgeted $36 million for grant assistance to Mindanao in 2003, and much of this assistance targets the poorest regions of Muslim Mindanao. USAID operates the Growth with Equity in Mindanao program, which aims to bring about and consolidate peace in Mindanao; accelerate economic growth, specifically in conflict-affected areas; and support conflict resolution mechanisms. The Livelihood Enhancement and Peace Program assists in the re-integration of 25,000 former Muslim combatants and provides development assistance to hundreds of communities in MNLF areas. USAID, together with the Embassy, produced a DVC documentary of this "arms-to-farms" program.

During the period covered by this report, the Embassy sent both Muslim and Catholic leaders to the United States on International Visitor Program Grants. Program topics included women in economic development, foreign policy and human rights, leadership development for Muslim women, and the role of religion in the United States. The Philippine International Visitor Alumni Association established its own working group focusing on peace and Muslim-Christian relations. The Embassy provided small-grant assistance to various interfaith dialog initiatives, and promoted similar themes in its speakers program.