DAVAO CITY, Philippines—Gov. Mujiv Hataman of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) on Saturday sought to ease growing tensions between Muslims and Christians in Mindanao, saying that the current siege of Zamboanga City by Moro gunmen and the spillover to Basilan was “not a religious issue.”
Hataman issued the appeal amid reports that animosity between Muslims and Christians in the city was increasing.
“Let us look at it carefully. This is a matter of terrorism; that is what the government is fighting against,” he told the Inquirer by phone.
Hataman advised residents of Zamboanga City, and Mindanao in general, not to be misled by deceptive tactics aimed at putting religious color to the conflict and driving a wedge between Muslims and Christians.
“We need to be properly informed and not believe in deceptions,” he said.
Hataman pointed out that most of those displaced by the violence were Muslims.
“Look at the population of Rio Hondo, Sta. Catalina, Kasanyangan and Sta. Barbara, the majority is made up of Muslims. The barangay captains are mostly Muslims,” he said.
He said this was also the situation in Basilan. “Halos Muslim ang apektado so nasaan ang religious color doon (Almost all those affected are Muslims so where is the religious color there)?” Hataman said.
62, 329 displaced
As of Saturday, the Department of Social Welfare and Development’s operations center in Zamboanga City reported that 62,329 individuals had been displaced and were staying in around 20 evacuation centers as fighting in parts of the city entered its sixth day.
The increase in the number of displaced persons was brought about by renewed skirmishes between Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) men and government security forces.
“A lot of people, about 90 percent of them Muslim, are suffering from this manmade calamity that (MNLF Chair Nur) Misuari is answerable for,” Hataman said by phone.
“Let us unite against terrorism and let us pray that this would be over soon,” he added.
The ARMM governor also urged Misuari to come out and explain what was going on.
“If we send to jail a man for stealing a cell phone, why can’t we send to jail a man who uses terror to further his ambitions?” Hataman said.
“This is the making of Misuari’s faction and as MNLF leader, it is his command responsibility to explain what the skirmishes and hostage-taking of mostly innocent Moro civilians are all about,” he said.
The MNLF forces, most of them armed, arrived in Zamboanga City before dawn on Monday, saying that they were scheduled to hold a peace rally at Plaza Pershing, which is in front of city hall. Their presence caused panic among residents, and it later led to skirmishes with government forces.