For nine years the southern Philippines has been troubled by a Muslim insurgency that has drained the country's resources and cost as many as 100,000 lives.
Now President Ferdinand Marcos, an important US ally in Asia, faces a different complication. It is a new kind of violence further confusing the task of keeping order in Mindanao, the main area of fighting.
Fanatical religious sects have carried out a series of brutal attacks on Muslim tribes and Christian settlers. The victims are farmers on the the slopes of Mt. Malindang in northwest Mindanao.
Local villagers sometimes say the military has infiltrated minority religious sects and organized them into a paramilitary force to help fight communist insurgents. But it is not at all clear that those attacked, allegedly by the sects, are communists.
Between May and October, no fewer than 34 people were kidnapped, tortured, and executed in bizarre circumstances. The Muslim and Christian groups that have been victim have reportedly launched reprisals.
The communist guerrillas have gained foothold in these border areas of northwestern Mindanao previously dominated by the Muslim Moro National Liberation Front rebels.
Lt. Gen. Fidel Ramos, deputy chief of staff and head of the Philippine Constabulary, said he sent two investigating teams to look into the killings.
Lawyer and human rights advocate Jose W. Diokno has urged that the military refrain from using the civilians in its counterinsurgency campaign.