“Don’t just talk with the military and the mayor, talk also with the internally displaced persons, some of them don’t even have adequate communal facilities such as toilets.”
By MARYA SALAMAT
MANILA – Being dispossessed, excluded and pushed to the extreme — this is how many Muslims in the Philippines are living today after the Marawi siege. Abdul Hamildullah Attar, a sultan of Marawi City, lamented the “unfairness of structures” toward the Muslims. With Sandugo Muslim leader Jerome Succor Aba, he aired some calls to address it at “YOUR SADAQAH Eid‘l Fit’r Solidarity Affair” held in UP Diliman June 19.
Eid‘l Fit’r marks the end of the Muslims’ month-long Ramadan. The interfaith “Sadaqa Al-Fitr” is an interfaith “Charity of Fast-Breaking,” a feast organized for the victims of Marawi siege by groups of Muslims, Christians, and indigenous peoples.
At the program before the feast, they recalled the following series of events last year. That during the Marawi siege which began with Ramadan last year, half a million Moro residents were forced to leave the lone Islamic City of the Philippines. What began as a failed attempt of the Philippine military to arrest an alleged international terrorist, and at the same time, a local power grab of the Maute clan, hit the news as an Isis-inspired attempt to seize control of Marawi. This provided justification for US-supported aerial assaults and heavy artillery shelling by the Armed Forces of the Philippines, ruining 24 villages in what’s referred to now as “ground zero” of the Marawi siege.
Moros and their friends recalled that the war on Marawi occasioned the imposition of Martial Law not just over Marawi or nearby towns but over the entire Mindanao. Today, Martial Law remains in force even after the Marawi siege has been declared as finished and the Philippine government has already established command in Marawi.
But even if the aerial assaults and artillery shelling have ended in Marawi, the repercussions of the siege still hound the Muslims. Tens of thousands of bakwit (evacuees) still live in tent cities and ‘home-based’ evacuation. Jobs, homes, schools have been lost, some irretrievably so. They complained that the planned rebuilding under the Marawi “rehabilitation” is also shutting out the Muslims.
“We have to involve other stakeholders for (rehabilitation) projects to be implemented,” Attar said during the program and in interviews. “More outsiders than locals are dominating the planned rehabilitation of Marawi.”
He dared President Duterte to not just consult with the rich and the elite, or with just the personnel of the Armed Forces of the Philippines and local government executives. “They do not feel or understand the real situation of the bakwit.”
He urged the president to talk to Muslims in the tent cities, especially those in clusters without communal facilities such as toilets. Attar tried staying inside one of three tents, where two to three families are squeezed together. “I sweated out three glasses in just two hours’ stay there,” he said.
“Don’t just talk with the military and the mayor, talk also with the internally displaced persons, some of them don’t even have adequate communal facilities such as toilets,” Attar said, addressing it to President Duterte.
Similar to what the Sandugo Movement of Moro and Indigenous Peoples for Self-determination, the organizer of the post-Ramadan feast that night, have been calling for, Attar said the Muslims shouldn’t just be involved in monitoring the rehabilitation but most importantly in planning and executing it.
The Moros have been especially chafing at being barred from the ground zero. “It’s as if there’s a mining operation there,” Attar commented. The Philippine military still watches over the zone.
The announcement that Marawi City’s ground zero will be leveled down for the rehabilitation is another new worry for the Moros. “It will create another emotional grievance,” Attar said.
How so? He explained that the Christian graveyards differ from that of the Muslims. Their graveyards don’t come with tombs and crosses and big markers. They bury their dead according to their own system and clans and only they know where exactly these are located. Leveling down the ground without Muslim engineers and architects will destroy their graveyards, Attar said. And it’s just an example of what they stand to lose if they continue to be sidelined in the rehabilitation process.
Attar’s home is in one of the 70-plus villages of Marawi that are not part of the ground zero. But they, too, cannot rest easy because of the threat it will be taken away for the government’s military reservation.
Against military reservation in Marawi
Residents of Marawi even those outside of the heavily damaged ground zero are still uncertain about their future. Much of it is caused by the government’s announcement that a portion of Marawi lands is for a military reservation.
If during the Marawi rehabilitation, military structures are constructed, it will legalize the government claim of having military reservations there, Attar said. It will be more difficult for the Moros to remove these structures or question the legality of having a military reservation in the Islamic city.
“President Duterte should address the historical injustice against the Muslims and to have a military reservation in Marawi is part of that injustice,” Attar emphasized.
To Jerome Succor Aba of Sandugo Movement of Moro and Indigenous peoples for Self-Determination, Pres. Duterte is increasingly a source of that injustice. He describes Duterte as “a hypocrite.”
“He called himself a Maranao, yet what he did to us was worse than what Marcos did,” Aba said.
He said the Moros now are fighting “only for genuine autonomy” (compared to before, when they were fighting for secession). “But even in peace talks Duterte has no sincerity,” Aba said.
“He doesn’t uphold peace agreements,” Aba explained, adding that the government has also muddled the issue and the peace talks again in the current BBL (Bangsamoro Basic Law).
Aba underscores the worsening situation of the Muslims, their being demonized as “terrorists” when in fact, based on what’s actually happening on the ground, he said, “it’s the Philippine government’s armed forces who are conducting themselves as terrorists.”
He cited the overkill bombing and destruction of Marawi, the killing of more than a hundred activists, and other military assaults happening elsewhere in the Philippines today.
His fellow Moro, Sultan Attar, experiences the “structures’ unfairness” to Moro through the apparent shutting out of the Moros from Marawi City’s rehabilitation, and through the threat that his family homes and graveyard are included in the 70-plus villages that may be seized by the government for military reservation. Aba, aside from these, has experienced the “structures’ unfairness” when he was tortured and held incommunicado for hours at a US international airport, on assumption by his interrogators that he was a “terrorist.” For this reason, he began the Ramadan this year protesting with Sandugo not just his torture at the hands of American Homeland Security but also the Palestine killings on the day the US Embassy was moved from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
“We are furious because state terrorism is continuing; the government is killing civilians and unarmed dissenters and critics. Yet, we, Muslims are always accused of being terrorists.”
But based on the sharing of Muslims and friends from various faith, it’s the government’s terrorism that’s engendering dissent. They scored the government’s penchant for vilifying dissent as “terrorism” or “extremism.”
In an interview, Attar related the story of the more than 40 madrasahs (Arabic schools) destroyed in Marawi. All its students were displaced. They are young and angry. Yet there was no talk of helping to rebuild the madrasah, Attar said. He was a teacher in a madrasah. Long before the bombing and shelling of the madrasah, they already have axes to grind against the government. No teacher in the madrasah gets any help or compensation from the government. They had to subsist on P2,000 to P3,000 contribution by the community, yet they function as public school teachers for the Muslims.
The displaced youth-students of these madrasah are “potential workforce for nation-building,” Attar said. But displaced and abandoned, angry, what would happen to them?
“We can’t address extremism without helping them,” Attar said.
In concluding the end-of-Ramadan program, Aba said, the Bangsamoro’s forbearance has its limits. They will continue fighting for genuine autonomy. And no, he said, the Bangsamoro people won’t find this genuine autonomy in Duterte’s BBL (Bangsamoro Basic Law) or in his federalism.