Army search in mosque stirs protest
ILIGAN CITY — An Army operation to secure a mosque in a Lanao del Sur town was being deplored by several Maranaos, mainly in social media, as a form of disrespect of Friday prayers because the operation was conducted in the mosque at the height of the prayers.
A video of the search for guns by soldiers inside and around the mosque in the town of Bacolod-Kalawi was posted on Facebook and quickly drew sharp reactions from Maranao netizens.
The netizen who posted the video, Faisal Pacalna Cali, of Lanao del Sur, said while Mindanao was under martial law, the search inside the mosque and around it was a sign of disrespect and was deplorable.
“This is too much,” he wrote on Facebook.
Aina Bulat, a resident of Bacolod-Kalawi, said soldiers were in full battle gear and interrupted the prayers.
She said the imam (Islamic priest) was about to start his sermon when the soldiers came.
“They milled outside the mosque and we thought they left,” Bulat said.
“Then they started entering the mosque again. I told them they were not allowed to enter the mosque because they were Christians,” Bulat told the Inquirer.
“They made the Tausug soldiers come in,” she said.
The military, however, disputed versions of the operation that spread in social media, known for being a hub of fake news.
Turning to social media, too, the Army’s 55th Infantry Battalion (IB) released a statement through its Facebook account, saying the operation was just to “ensure the security and safety of all civilians of Bacolod-Kalawi.”
Soldiers, the statement said, were responding to reports that unidentified gunmen were headed for the mosque.
The search for guns was also in connection with the “prevalence of firearms in the area” and a clan war in the town, which led to a gunfight on Jan. 5.
The Army unit that conducted the search, led by Lt. Col. Emmanuel Valdez IV, said it was necessary to rid the area of illegal firearms as remnants of the Maute group were aggressively recruiting and training new members.
In its Facebook statement, the 55th IB also said soldiers entered the mosque “with permission.”
The imam accompanied three Muslim soldiers who removed their boots before entering the mosque and searching for bombs, the statement said.
“The AFP meant no disrespect,” it said.
No frisking was done, said the Army battalion, as men coming out of the mosque were “humbly” requested to just lift their shirts for soldiers to see whether they were carrying weapons.
“No touching was done,” said Col. Romeo Brawner Jr., deputy commander of the antiterror Joint Task Force Ranao.
The operation, Brawner said, was “prudent given the fact that the security and safety of Bacolod-Kalawi” was a concern.
Zia Alonto Adiong, spokesperson for the Lanao del Sur crisis management committee, said he agreed that places of worship “must be respected at all times.” —Reports from Divina Suson and Allan Nawal
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