Filipino bishops to counter Islamic State group

Manila, Philippines — Leaders of the Philippine Roman Catholic Church, Asia's largest, vowed Thursday to counter extremist religions such as that espoused by Islamic State militants in Syria and Iraq.

Archbishop Socrates Villegas, who heads the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines, also asked the country's bishops to collect donations for Christians who have been displaced by the militants and whose places of worship have been razed "by a godless rage with which no genuine religion can ever identify."

Citing brutal actions by the Islamic State group, including the beheading of American journalist James Foley, Villegas said the Philippine Catholic church will "do our part ... to counter the defacement of religion."

"Those who kill and slaughter, wound and maim, destroy and burn in the name of God send the world the awful message that religion divides, that faith is oppressive, that belief can engender so much unkindness," he said in a statement.

Militants belonging to the Abu Sayyaf and another violent Muslim group in the southern Philippines have expressed support for the Islamic State group.

The military has said it knows of no Filipinos who have joined the fighting in Syria and Iraq, but Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin said Thursday that he has nevertheless asked security officials to check unconfirmed reports that up to 100 Filipinos may have entered the two countries to fight alongside Islamic militants there.

A confidential government document seen by The Associated Press said officials have received information that two Filipinos were killed while fighting with anti-government forces in Syria, although it indicated that the report needed to be validated.

The Department of Foreign Affairs has reported that at least one Filipino worker, not a militant, has died in the violence in Syria.

Philippine authorities are considering the creation of an inter-agency group that would set up a security database to help the government monitor any Filipinos who are recruited to fight with militants in countries such as Syria, according to the government document.