By DEE AYROSO
MANILA – Forced out of their homes in Marawi City, Filipino Muslims, specially the Meranaw (Maranao), are now subjected to a suffering worse than losing their properties: the discrimination and Islamophobia aggravated by the declaration of martial law in Mindanao.
Since the Marawi siege began, President Duterte, who claims to have Meranaw blood, has turned his ire on fellow Meranaws whom he claimed have allowed the extremists to stockpile arms in the city.
Sandugo, the national minorities alliance, in turn, denounced Duterte for having “stoked” Islamophobia and discrimination, as he toes the line of the US War on Terror, which raises the spectre of terrorism and spreads antagonism against Muslims who are portrayed as enemies. They said the President equates the Moro struggle for the right to self-determination to terrorism, and in the same stroke, uses this to justify US military presence in the country.
Islamophobia, the “fear of Islam,” has stirred prejudice and baseless anger against Muslims, specially with Christian chauvinism deeply ingrained among non-Muslim Filipinos. But such “fear” is transformed into attacks against Muslims, mostly from state security agents engaged in military operations.
Muslims, specially those from Marawi, are now generally suspected as “terrorists,” amid the government’s military offensive against the extremist group Dawlah Islamiya, led by brothers Omar and Abdullah Maute. Called “Maute group” by government, the name has now stuck to mean “Muslim terrorist.”
Cases of human rights violations, such as illegal arrests, torture and detention, enforced disappearance and extrajudicial killings were documented among Muslim residents and evacuees caught by soldiers amid in the conflict and suspected as “Maute.” Military checkpoints in Mindanao were also specially strict on Muslims.
“We condemn the Dawlah Islamiya in Marawi, but the US-Duterte regime is a bigger terrorist,” said Jerome Succor Aba, Sandugo spokesperson. On Sept. 10, the group held a forum on Islamophobia at sitio Sandugo, the Lakbayan camp at the Equine Stud Farm in the University of the Philippines, Diliman, Quezon City.
Aba said President Duterte not only continued the policies of the preceding administrations, but even outdid them, with the destruction of Marawi City due to government airstrikes and artillery bombardment. Ironically, Aba said Duterte claimed to be sympathetic to the Moro people’s struggle, but had ended up ordering the siege which turned the Islamic city of Marawi into a wasteland.
Other forms of discrimination against Muslims range from subjecting them to stricter security check, denying them employment or residence, name-calling, cyberbullying, or worse, subjecting them to questioning and attacks based on mere suspicion.
Islamophobia can take the form of an irrational anger at Muslims, and at Islamic symbols and places of worship, such as masjids.
Dr. Potre Dirampatan-Diampuan, of the United Religions Initiative (URI), cited the case of her daughter who evacuated to Cagayan de Oro, and was offered by her friend to stay in their subdivision. But the paranoid residents petitioned against them, and even asked the police and the National Bureau of Investigation to step in. Instead of warmly accommodating the displaced Meranaw family, Diampuan lamented that they were even subjected to interrogation and threats.
Diampuan, who is URI’s regional coordinator for Southeast Asia and the Pacific, said Muslim women, who showcase their faith with the hijab, or headscarf, suffer discrimination more than men because they are easily identified as Muslims. There were cases that female Muslim students were barred entry to a school, unless they remove their hijab. Many were also subjected to cyberbullying, and to bullying in school.
She also cited how people in other places, such as in Iligan City, now appear wary of Meranaws from Marawi. She said they used to be all accommodating, specially to market patrons. But all these changed since the start of government siege in Marawi.
The facilitator of the Sandugo forum, Kamaruddin Bin Alawi Mohammad of the University of the Philippines, recalled that he was rejected when he was applying for a call center job. He said his application was “redflagged” only because his surname had “Bin” and that his record showed he once studied in Basilan.
Equating Islam with terrorism
“As long as the US War on Terror goes on, the attacks and portrayal of Muslims as terrorists will continue, specially under Duterte, with his fascist direction towards dictatorship,” said Amirah Lidasan of the Moro-Christian People’s Alliance (MCPA). She said that Muslims civilians bear the brunt of the “anti-terror operations.”
Lidasan recalled how hundreds of Muslims were arrested in Basilan in the Sulu peninsula at the onset of the US War on Terror in 2001, following the 9-11 terror attacks in New York. Until before the Marawi siege, the military used to tag suspects as “Abu Sayyaf Group” or ASG. Now suspects are tagged as “Maute.”
This has since led to the entry of US troops and the joint military exercises or Balikatan with Philippine troops, supposedly to strengthen the fight against global terror. Massive military operations were repeatedly launched against the ASG in Sulu, as the Philippines was considered the “Second Front” in the anti-terror war.
Lidasan cited that a number of US military installation were put up in Mindanao, including one inside Camp Ranao in Marawi city, supposedly “to thwart terrorism;” but after more than a decade of joint exercises, and in spite the American military presence, the extremist group has taken a foothold in the city.
Although barred from joining combat operations, US troops have been sighted in various military offensives, including in the botched operation in Mamasapano where among the slain Special Action Force men was believed to be a Caucasian.
UP Manila professor Dr. Roland Simbulan said in many conflicts around the world, many extremist groups started out as “tools of the US,” and were created by the Central Intelligence Agency to weaken the regimes of independent leaders.
In the Philippines, Simbulan said the bandit ASG was created by the Philippine Constabulary intelligence officials to ruin the image of revolutionary Moro groups, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front and the Moro National Liberation Front. The ASG was meant to divide the revolutionary forces and inflict damage on their communities. Most of all, it was later used to justify the presence of US military troops in the country.
A common enemy
Aba said Muslims were the first to condemn extremist groups, such as the Dawlah Islamiya, because it is civilians who usually bear the brunt of government offensives. Councils of ulama Muslim scholars have condemned the Dawlah as “haram” or un-Islamic, and launched education campaigns against them.
He added that many communities in Mindanao are also fighting off extremism by keeping them out of their communities, specially in the areas where the New People’s Army is present.
Aba said Sandugo was formed to foster unity, particularly, between Moros and indigenous peoples. In effect, their cooperation serves to address Islamophobia and discrimination.