A new militia comprising about 300 armed "Christians" has emerged in the Muslim-majority, conflict-ridden Central Mindanao region in southern Philippines, and it says it's training to fight local terror groups and those claiming allegiance to Islamic State.
Declaring themselves as "Pulahan," which translates to "Red Warriors of God" or "Red God Defenders," the group made their first appearance before media this week, according to reports, which say their soldiers burned an Islamic State flag,.
"We are not an assault force. We just want to defend our land," a middle-aged man, who identified himself as Brother Asiong, told CNN Philippines.
The group, with mostly local farmers as its member, seeks to defend their lands and families from the atrocities of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters, or BIFF, a splinter group of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, or MILF, which has killed civilians in their attacks on local communities, according to Inquirer.
"We are always under attack even if we are just working in our farms. We were forced to arm ourselves. We don't want to die without doing something," Asiong was quoted as saying. He added that the military is not always in their area to protect them against the attacks of jihadists.
Pulahan was the name of a vigilante group of mostly farmers that existed in Mindanao in the 1990s to fight Communist and Moro rebel groups. It is not clear if the members of the new group are all Catholics. The Philippines is a majority-Catholic country.
BIFF spokesperson Abu Misry Mamah reacted to the formation of the Christian group by issuing a warning. "If a civilian is armed and is tolerated by authorities, he becomes part of the government, and thus, should be considered our enemy as well," he told CNN Philippines.
Local authorities have said civilians are not allowed to take up arms.
"What matters to us is that government should determine with finality who owns these farmlands," Asiong was quoted as saying. "Do these belong to them (Maguindanaon claimants) or to us? We are willing to turn these lands over to them, as long as they do not resort to violence. We are willing to comply with settlements coursed through the legal processes."
In late December, a 3-minute video was posted online by Ansar Khalifa Philippines, a group that is believed to be sheltering at least three South-East Asian extremists who have returned after fighting with IS in Syria, according to the Strait Times.
The video showed a group of men carrying the IS flag and urging Muslims to travel to Syria and fight for the terror group. It also showed what looked like a training camp in the middle of a jungle on the island of Mindanao.