Islam scholars warn vs incendiary statements
Some senators’ alleged inflammatory statements about the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) may be fanning calls for war, according to Islam scholars and peace advocates.
Sen. Alan Peter Cayetano’s description of the MILF as a “terrorist” group and “coddler of terrorists” only added fire to calls for an all-out war against the rebel force negotiating a peace agreement with the government, they said.
In effect, the senator was blaming the MILF for the slaughter of 44 Special Action Force (SAF) troopers in Mamasapano in Maguindanao province on Jan. 25.
“That’s how we see it,” Mussolini Sinsuat Lidasan, executive director of the Al Qalam Institute for Islam Identities and Dialogue in Southeast Asia, said when asked if the senator was agitating for war in Mindanao.
“If you go to major cities in Mindanao, there’s a sentiment of anger toward him. He’s misleading; he’s giving half information,” Lidasan added in an interview after a Senate hearing on the proposed truth commission on Wednesday.
The Islam scholar said Cayetano’s documents from the United States about Malaysian terrorist Zulkifli bin Hir’s ties with the MILF were “outdated.”
Judging by some senators’ statements in the Senate hearings on the Mamasapano carnage, Lidasan said there was a need for Filipinos to have “an idea and knowledge of the Bangsamoro issues.”
These show “prejudices and bias toward the Muslim,” he said.
In last Tuesday’s hearing, Cayetano badgered MILF chief negotiator Mohagher Iqbal over the presence of Zulkifli, a Malaysian known as “Marwan,” and his Filipino cohort, Basit Usman, in their territory.
“There’s no encounter, but Marwan and Usman are hiding in your territory,” Cayetano told Iqbal in a heated exchange. Iqbal retorted that in Manila, a criminal could be staying in a home unknown in the neighborhood.
In the Feb. 12 hearing, Cayetano assailed the MILF for negotiating with the government through the “barrel of a gun,” and waging a rebellion that kept many provinces in Mindanao poor.
The SAF forces ran into rebels from the MILF and the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters after taking down Marwan in his hideout, triggering a 12-hourlong firefight.
Eighteen rebels and five civilians were also killed in the clash.
The carnage has threatened to further delay the passage of a draft law carving a bigger Bangsamoro region in Mindanao.
Statements calling one party guilty of crime even before the Senate could wrap up the hearings don’t help the chamber’s image, said Nasser Marohomsalic, former human rights commissioner.
“People know who are grandstanding and biased,” Marohomsalic, convenor of the Philippine Center for Islam and Democracy, said in an interview, without naming names.
Edmund Tayao, a political science professor of the University of Santo Tomas, also observed that by their pronouncements, some senators were suggesting an “all-out war” against the MILF.
“It’s like they’re pinning the blame on the MILF,” Tayao said in an interview, referring to the Mamasapano incident. “Precisely because you have these political leaders who are only after mileage, the public is misled or fed a different context that the focus on the need for a Bangsamoro regional government is lost in the horizon.”
“The blame is not good only for the purpose of identifying who’s at fault. We’d like to identify who started it, who called the shots, so we’ll find who’s responsible and so we’ll know if we can still push for a regional government,” he added.
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