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Filipino Muslims Bid Bad 2004 Farewell

Filipino Muslims Bid Bad 2004 Farewell



Filipino Muslims protest US military presence in front of U.S. Embassy in Manila .

By Rexcel Sorza, IOL Correspondent

ILOILO CITY, Philippines, January 2 - ( – Many Filipino Muslims believe 2004 was not a very good year, citing mounting waves of Islamophobia and the government’s failure to ink a peace agreement in the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).

“It’s not the best, that’s for sure. But I can’t say it’s the worst either. The worst is yet to come. I must say 2004 is not a very good year for us Filipino Muslims,” Macaosur Macalanggan told

He regretted the several illegal detentions of Muslims, who were later tagged as terrorists.

“I think there were more innocent Muslims who were arrested this year on allegations of terrorism,” he said.

Though the Philippine National Police has no exact figure of those arrestees, at least 100 Filipino Muslims are estimated to have been arrested and are now languishing in various jails in the capital, Metro Manila.

These include those held during a crackdown on alleged Muslim terrorists last March and those arrested in the ongoing police and military operations.

These arrests, Macalanggan said, did not only cause problems to the persons involved and their families.

“It also reinforced the stereotype that Muslims are terrorists,” he said, lamenting that the crackdown is “carried out by the government which is supposed to protect its people and promote inter-religious [tolerance].”

During the holy-fasting month of Ramadan, the country’s Muslims championed a campaign to wash away misconceptions about Islam and Muslims and distance their faith from terrorism.

Discriminated Against

Abdul Najim, another Filipino Muslim, also voiced dissatisfaction with the past year.

“I don’t think 2004 was a better year. There might be government projects and programs poured into Mindanao but the effect to most of us Filipino Muslims is not yet felt. What was obvious was the discrimination.”

He told IOL the government “failed miserably to include Muslims into the mainstream. Government structures have yet to pave the way for Muslims to live harmoniously with Filipinos of other beliefs. The government is so insensitive on this.”

Najim cited, as a case in point, the absence of any Muslim on the ministerial level.

“Look at the cabinet, there is no Muslim who heads a department,” he said.

All Out War

A group called Moro Christian Peoples Alliance echoed the same opinions.

Cosain Naga Jr., MCPA spokesperson, said Islamophobia is felt more in the country this year than ever.

He said all-out-wars, brutal slaying of Muslims, witch-hunting, unjustified arrests and red-tagging drives, sums up the situation of the Moro people under the Arroyo government.

Naga regretted treatment accorded to Pilipino Muslims, even in the capital Metro Manila.

“They are beleaguered by institutionalized discrimination. The Moro people in the urban center are pawns and scapegoats used by the state to fuel US-Arroyo tandem’s terrorism euphoria.”

He recalled that in last March “another hyped-up scare owing to the Madrid bombings led to a series of warrant-less arrests and community raids hitting our Balik-Islam brethren.

“The identification system and the anti-terror task force were put in Moro communities – showing the Arroyo government’s use of the armed forces and the law to legalize terrorism against the Moro people.”

He stressed that this “deepened the scar of a history of discrimination and has brandished the Muslims as terrorists.”

Senator Aquilino Pimentel lambasted a proposal to require Muslim residents in Metro Manila to carry with them identification cards, saying thus “smacks of discrimination which could only cause ill-feeling between Christians and Muslims”.


Fatemah Ali, a Filipino Muslim woman, agreed 2004 was “not a good year for us because of the still unresolved conflict in Mindanao .”

She told that many of her relatives have left the southern Philippine island, which is home to most of the country’s 10 million Muslims, “to find livelihood elsewhere.”

Ali believes that Mindanao ’s economy “would not benefit the ordinary people until lasting peace is present there.”

She said no investor would put in money unless there is an assurance that no armed confrontation would flare up anytime between the government troops and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) fighters.

“I think the government has not paid serious attention to the peace problem of Mindanao . It has announced the resumption of formal peace talks but nothing has taken place. The people of Mindanao and the Muslim Ummah there are thirsting for peace,” Ali stressed.

Eid Kabalu, MILF spokesperson, said they have always been ready for the resumption of the formal negotiations but the Philippine government was busy with other issues than the peace talks.

The government and the MILF have jointly announced last week that they would resume the peace talks in February 2005.

Negotiating teams from both parties met in Kuala Lumpur , Malaysia , on December 20-21 to iron out the details and map out the guidelines for the formal peace talks, which have been intermittently stalled since 2001.

Military Garrison

Naga regretted that Mindanao has become a “virtual military garrison and the Moro people are captives of the state’s reign of terror.”

He recalled that on August 13, during the highly-opposed US-Philippines Balikatan exercises in Carmen, North Cotabato , 200 families from Liguasan Marsh were forced to flee from their homes as gunship, Huey choppers and OV-10s pelt their houses with bombs.

“This armed forces of the Philippines-led offensive follow the Pikit and Lanao attack in February and May 2003 which led to the record-breaking 400,000 (more) war victims, which spawned all types of violations in the human rights vocabulary.

“The motive is one and the same: to purge Liguasan Marsh off the people, pulverize the MILF and root the United States’ absolute military control in Mindanao, a strategic Asia Pacific base for the US’s drive for hegemony,” said Naga.

“The 2003 and 2004 AFP-led all out war happened while the peace talks are on the table and ceasefire agreements between the MILF and the GRP are in effect.” He stressed that such large-scale anti-people crimes belie the peace posture that the Arroyo government projects.

“The Balikatan 2004 and the Liguasan Marsh purging in August were deliberately set wick wires, enough to trigger another clash between the MILF and GRP forces that could once again derail the scheduled resumption of the peace negotiations set in Malaysia . Until now, there is no clear reason to believe that ‘peace’ in Mindanao will ever be sighted.”

Not As Bad

ARMM Gov. Parouk Hussin disagreed.

He said all is not bad in Mindanao and among the Filipino Muslims. He said the year has been “challenging than ever” but “there is enough reason to celebrate.”

He said the image of Muslims as terrorists has “greatly been improved.”

With the help of everyone and the mass media, he said, “most Filipinos do not think Muslims are killers, kidnappers or terrorists.”

This is, too, Hussin added, with the help of the Arroyo government.

“President Gloria Arroyo herself told the entire nation that not every Muslim is a terrorist but only a very few.”

He added that the government also saw to it that no innocent individuals are arrested.

Hussin expressed hopes that the MILF and Philippine government would be able to finally ink a peace deal in 2005.

“I believe both parties are doing their best to solve the peace problem of Mindanao .”

An international network of non-governmental organizations lambasted in its annual report released Monday, April 26, the Filipino government over its failure to end the decades-old crisis in Mindanao .

"As long as the government talks peace but makes war, and as long as the economic model does not recognize the need to battle against inequality and poverty, human security will remain a remote possibility," said Social Watch.

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