Muslim religious leaders, members of the Jamaah (congregation) at the mosque, students, the academe and civil society groups criticized the Bishop-Ulama Conference (BUC) for its ‘one-sided program of activities’ and alleged ‘malicious and suspicious process’ of event organization.
BY LEILA ASANI HALUD
JOLO, Sulu – “Allahu Akbar!” (God is great!)
Thousands of protesters cried in the streets of Sulu for three straight days to protest the simultaneously held general assembly of the 35th Bishop-Ulama Conference (BUC), which ran from November 18 to 21 at the Notre Dame of Jolo College.
Organized by the Apostolic Vicariate of Jolo, the BUC, composed of bishops and Ulama (Muslim scholars), is supposed to bring Muslims and Christians into an inter-faith dialogue and create a harmonious atmosphere, and craft possible resolutions on the prevailing issues between the two religions. It is a program funded by the Office of the Presidential Adviser on Peace Process (OPAPP).
Muslim religious leaders, members of the Jamaah (congregation) at the mosque, students, the academe and civil society groups in the province, however, criticized the BUC for its ‘one-sided program of activities’ and alleged ‘malicious and suspicious process’ of event organization.
The first day of protest gathered over a thousand participants, based on headcount, from the congregation of Tulay Grand Mosque in Jolo, Sulu. On the second until the last day, the youth and students walked out of their classes to join the Jamaah contingents.
Local government leaders Abdusakur Tan, Sulu Governor, and Hussin Amin, Jolo Mayor, were given the role to welcome the delegates of the assembly.
In a manifesto, Temo-gen “Cocoy” Tulawie, convener of Jamaah Lupah Sug which consists of various sectors in the province, criticized Bishop Angelito Lampon, Apostolic Vicar of Jolo, for his alleged ‘religious arrogance and prejudice against Islam and its Ulama.’
“This lack of decorum and of cultural sensitivity on the vicariate of Jolo is a big insult to the followers of Islam in this island of 95 percent Muslim populace,” the manifesto said,
The manifesto also stated that Lampon’s failure to consult his Ulama counterparts and to recognize Ulama’s contribution to the promotion of Muslim-Christian peaceful co-existence in the province was a ‘classic case of deception and false claim.’
“We cannot and will never allow other religious sects to insult our Ulama,” the manifesto further read.
When confronted with initial protests, Lampon offered an explanation that BUC-Davao actually organized the program. Nevertheless, the Vicar and his group pushed through with the assembly without the necessary modifications in the program.
According to Tulawie, he tried to communicate with one of the bishops to ask why the program was organized as such, “but Father Villanueva did not return my calls and days later, after the Jamaah decided to go on with the protest, he finally replied, ‘di ko napansin ang mga tawag mo’ (I didn’t notice your call)”.
The Jamaah was supposed to hand over their manifesto to the BUC delegates on the second day but was kept from entering the area surrounding NDJC. Tulawie’s contingency and Philippine National Police Sulu Provincial Director Julasirim Kasim had a row when the latter yelled while asking for a Permit to Rally from the protesters.
“That conference is a farce,” said Alhada Abayan, youth organization Baggut leader, described the controversial event.
“These bishops are using our Ulama to tell the world that they are organizing an “inter-faith” activity but if you take a look at their program, manipulation and control is clearly evident. There is only one unnamed Muslim religious leader in the program who, we later found out, was the Mufti of Sulu Ustadz Jul-azri Abirin who was unable to participate,” the youth Muslim said.
A few days before the assembly, Ustadz Abirin headed to Saudi Arabia for a scheduled pilgrimage.
Protesters also questioned why Fr. Jose Ante and Celina Unding were the ones who gave the brief history of Jolo. “And they have the audacity to lecture on the history of Jolo themselves? Isn’t that ludicrous? We are witnessing the most preposterous history in the making in our province,” Abayan said.
A source who requested anonymity said that the people are all too fired up which he believed would be sustained because they are already fed up with all the bogus political solutions to the Mindanao problem.
He also believes that the ultimate end of programs like that of the BUC is ‘to placate the Bangsamoro’s fervor for the real Bangsamoro aspiration and direct their minds into a mere submission to whatever the government and the mainstream Filipino society want.’
“They want to change the way we live our life as Muslims and the way we are as Moros. Certainly, we cannot allow that to happen.” He said.
Jon, a Muslim youth, said of his participation to the demonstration, “Ha supaya magbaynat in pag-pahgang natuh ha pagsud sin satruh mari. Maytah kagausan sin kafir ha Manila mag-demonstrate magkakal iban mga police in kita Muslim dih; in ha Palestine kagausan magpa-shaheed in kitaniyu Muslim dih? (So we may continue our fight to prevent the enemy from coming in [to Sulu]. Why can the non-believers in Manila afford to go in a brawl with police forces during demonstrations and in Palestine, they die fighting, and we Muslims here can’t?).
Jon is one of those who heavily guarded the Grand Tulay Mosque. A tour to the mosque is part of the program in the third day of the assembly. The BUC delegates finally decided not to pursue the tour.
The anonymous source said, “It rearticulates of what has been the desired end of the forefathers of the Bangsamoro struggle. On the other hand, it confirms the failure of attempts to fully realize peace and reconciliation despite the decades of negotiations. We may not represent the entire Bangsamoro people but we are definitely a part of it and we have to have a voice.”
In her comment to the recently-concluded assembly, Mucha Arquiza of Concerned Bangsamoro Muslim in Western Mindanao writes, “As community of believers, it is our religious and moral obligation to support and believe in dialogue and to establish understanding among peoples and cultures as steps towards peace, but only when it is of genuine exchanges between co-equal, imbued with sincere intention, based on mutual respect and aimed at establishing justice.” (Bulatlat.com)