COTABATO CITY, Philippines—Former president Joseph Estrada was never anti-Muslim as his critics claimed, even though he launched an all-out war against Muslim rebels in 2000 that caused numerous deaths and massive displacements among Moro communities, his son, San Juan Representative Jose Victor “JV” Ejercito said.
Ejercito made the clarification, more than 12 years late, while campaigning last Wednesday in Sultan Kudarat province, which is a Central Mindanao province with a sizeable Muslim population that was affected by the fighting triggered by Estrada’s declaration of all-out war against the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.
“God knows the heart of the former president; he was there to uplift the living condition of Filipinos, regardless of tribe and religious affiliation,” Ejercito said in a speech aired over a local radio station.
He said contrary to claims by critics, the former president was always “fair and just in all his dealings.”
Ejercito said proof that his father was never anti-Muslim was that he welcomed, as mayor of San Juan, Muslim families fleeing the violence in Mindanao in the 1970s and 1980s. Among them, he said, was the family of the late Senator Salipada K. Pendatun.
Another example of his father’s fair dealing with all types of people, Ejercito said, was the influx of Moro traders to San Juan in the succeeding years, which even prompted the local government and the private sector to set up Green Hills, the town’s shopping hub.
He noted that “the harmonious Christian-Muslim partnership has done wonders for San Juan and resulted in an increase of P100 million in revenues during my first year in office.”
The MILF has said that because of his father’s “anti-Muslim” stance, it will campaign against Ejercito’s senatorial bid.
In contrast, an MILF official said the MILF will likely help administration candidates win the elections because President Benigno Aquino has “word of honor” and has invested so much effort to forge peace with Moros.
“We will repay his sincerity. If he asks for our support for his candidates, there should be a mutual understanding. Sixty to seventy percent will support him,” Abufahad Kinda, deputy commander of the MILF’s Central Mindanao unit, told the Inquirer during Aquino’s visit to Camp Darapanan earlier this week.
MILF guerrillas have been ordered by rebel chieftain Murad Ebrahim to register as voters in preparation for the upcoming referendum to ratify the Bangsamoro Charter.
While they have specifically registered for the upcoming plebiscite, they may also vote in the May elections.
Ejercito said he was not worrying about not getting the MILF’s support because many Muslims knew that his father’s other goal in declaring war against the rebel group was to put a stop to some of its members’ “lawlessness,” such as “kidnapping for ransom, extortion and terroristic activities.”
He said he believed that many Filipinos, including Muslims, still support his father and their family, especially because of the former president’s fight for the downtrodden and that would propel his bid for a Senate seat.
Ejercito noted that during the 2010 elections, his father came in second to Aquino.