Journalists in Cagayan de Oro grilled and insulted a young man arrested on suspicion that he robbed a taxi driver. But the insults had more to do with two unrelated facts: that the suspect was a Muslim and a homosexual.
By HERBIE S. GOMEZ
CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY — What was supposed to be a simple case of robbery in this highly urbanized and relatively peaceful southern city turned out to be a showcase of media’s insensitivity and bias toward Muslims and homosexuals.
Last week, broadcasters here grilled and insulted on the air a young man arrested on suspicion that he and his companion robbed last Wednesday taxi driver Jerry Estañol.
The suspects, 20-year-old Ahmad (not his real name) and his 18-year-old self-confessed lover were arrested by the local police shortly after the robbery.
During the interrogation, Ahmad identified himself as “Richard Castañeda.” He also used the same alias when reporters and radio commentators interviewed him.
Later, police found out that Ahmad is a native of the predominantly Muslim town of Bayabao, Lanao del Sur. He is not from Marikina, Metro Manila, as he had claimed.
Journalist Jun Quiamco said Ahmad tried to give the impression that he was from Manila by pretending he did not understand the local dialect. Ahmad spoke in Tagalog during interviews with reporters. He also claimed to be a graduate of the “International Harvard University” which he said was based in Bangladesh.
But the suspect’s diction gave him away; it was obvious that his accent was that of a tribe of Muslims in Mindanao called Maranao. Worse, a resident phoned a local radio station to say that he was the real Richard Castañeda.
Upon realizing that Ahmad took them for a ride, reporters harangued the robbery suspect, calling him a liar.
Ahmad was also a homosexual, according to his companion, who admitted during a live radio interview that he and Ahmad had been lovers for five years.
That Ahmad sounded Maranao did not necessarily mean he was a Muslim, and whether or not his religion was Islam was beside the point just as his sexual preference did not have any bearing on the robbery case.
But local journalists, with their usual “nose for news,” found a potential “human interest” story in the Ahmad case.
“Are you a Muslim?” asked a DXIF-Bombo Radyo commentator. “Just answer me, are you a Muslim?”
“No,” Ahamd replied.
When a radio commentator told him “Assalamo alaikum”, a universally accepted greeting common to Muslims that simply means “peace be with you,” Ahmad replied in Tagalog: “What? I can’t understand a word you’re saying.”
Irked by Ahmad’s responses, the broadcaster snapped: “I’m going to send you lechon (roasted pig). Will you eat it?”
When Ahmad complained about the commentator’s rude attitude toward him on air, the angry radioman replied: “Do you think robbing a taxi driver was a right thing to do? You bisexual!”
Sick and Tired
Filipino Muslims have long been complaining about the way they are being treated by the news media.
“We’re sick and tired of all these. It’s as if Muslims are the only ones capable of committing crime,” said a Maranao who resides in neighboring Opol, a town in Misamis Oriental.
“When a man commits a mistake and he turns out to be a Muslim, expect everyone to gang up on him and say, ‘It’s because he’s a Muslim’,” said the Maranao who asked to be identified only by his nickname Randy.
Randy continued: “But if he’s a Christian or a Buddhist, no one would care about his religion. We don’t hear people saying ‘Christian rebels’ or ‘Christian thieves’.”
Randy is right. Newspapers in the Philippines and abroad carry screaming and insensitive headlines with the words “rebels” or “guerrillas” attached to the word “Muslim.”
This bias and downright insensitivity toward Filipino Muslims are also reflected in radio and television news broadcasts. The words “Muslim bandits” are still being freely uttered in radio and television broadcasts.
The stereotyping of Muslims in the Philippines take many forms, according to Muslim scholar Soliman Santos Jr.
“We pride ourselves with the ‘bloodless People Power’ but do not make the connection with the Moro blood sacrificed (during then President Joseph Estrada’s) ‘all-out war.’ We forgot to include this in the Articles of Impeachment, perhaps because, for some of the anti-Erap complainants, it (was) ‘immaterial and irrelevant.’”
Santos said even President Arroyo, during her inaugural, made historical references to the contributions of Dr. Jose Rizal, Andres Bonifacio and the late senator Benigno Aquino, but “forgot” to mention about the Muslim martyrs who fought and died for the country.
He said he noted how commentators and speakers in the media, political opposition and activist groups invariably refer to the aborted Estrada impeachment trial as a “moro-moro.”
The use of the word, said Santos, “unconsciously and subliminally reinforced the centuries-old prejudice of Christian Filipinos against Muslim Filipinos who are also called Moros.”
Santos said the word “moro-moro” was coined during the Spanish period in the Philippines when plays about Christian-Muslim feuds always showed Christians emerging as the victors against their Muslim enemies. The plays, later called “moro-moro,” were shown to foster biases against Muslims. (Bulatlat.com)