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Covid-19 in the Bangsamoro (Part 2 of 2)

This five-episode podcast was produced by UrbanisMO.PH and Young Public Servants with support from Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung Philippines, International Center for Innovation, Transformation, and Excellence in Governance (INCITEGov) and PCIJ.

BY AARON MALLARI WITH ICA FERNANDEZ / Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism

What’s the big picture? Physical distancing is crucial to containing the spread of coronavirus. But minimum health standards are difficult to enforce in evacuation centers for internally displaced persons (IDPs), such residents who fled Marawi City during the 2017 siege. In Part 2 of this two-part series titled ‘Covid-19 outside NCR: The Experience of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao,’ local leaders and stakeholders point to ways to ease the plight of IDPs and make sure they are also safe from Covid-19.

Why it matters: Internally displaced persons, stuck in cramped evacuation centers and with little or no access to food, water, sanitation and healthcare, are significantly vulnerable to the coronavirus, and the risk of outbreaks is high.

What are the facts? Bangsamoro parliament member Zia Alonto Adiong and Asrifah Mamutuk of the Lanao del Sur provincial government discuss the aftermath of the Marawi siege more than three years and a pandemic later, while NGO leader Fatima ‘Shalom’ Pir Allian calls attention to the plight of displaced Bangsamoro people outside the region.

The bottomline: The government needs to exert extra effort and devote more resources to help the ‘bakwit’ and prevent the pandemic from severely exacerbating the problem.

Covid-19 in the Bangsamoro (Part 1 of 2)

This five-episode podcast was produced by UrbanisMO.PH and Young Public Servants with support from Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung Philippines, International Center for Innovation, Transformation, and Excellence in Governance (INCITEGov) and PCIJ.

BY AARON MALLARI WITH ICA FERNANDEZ / Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism

What’s the big picture? The concentration of Covid-19 cases in Metro Manila and surrounding regions means the pandemic response might be uneven across the country. But places like the Bangsamoro autonomous region need extra resources to control the outbreak, and ill-conceived programs aren’t helping. Bangsamoro leaders, for instance, have to deal with returning overseas workers, some of them asymptomatic virus carriers, who were repatriated from their host countries and shipped back to their home provinces under the ‘Balik-Probinsya’ and ‘Hatid Probinsya’ programs. This is Part 1 of a two-part series titled ‘Covid-19 outside NCR: The Experience of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.’

Why it matters: The ability of localities to absorb the influx of returning migrant workers without compromising the health of their home communities is crucial to ensuring the effectiveness of the national response to the Covid-19 pandemic.

What are the facts? Bangsamoro ministers Naguib Sinarimbo and Laisa Masuhud Alamia discuss how the pandemic response has become one of the region’s biggest challenges to date, as it transitions to a parliamentary government that is autonomous, but somewhat still reliant on the national government. Prof. Rufa Guiam, an expert on governance and inclusion, weighs in on how the pandemic and the Bangsamoro government’s ability to deal with it is crucial to the peace process. 

The bottomline: Covid-19 is a test of governance for the Bangsamoro autonomous region, whose success is essential to achieving peace and prosperity in Mindanao.

Groups denounce killing of Moro human rights defender

Human Rights group Karapatan and Kawagib Moro Human Rights Alliance held an indignation protest Tuesday, September 25, at the Timog Circle in Quezon City against the recent killing of a Moro human rights worker in Mindanao.

Mariam Uy Acob, 43 years old and paralegal of Kawagib, was gunned down by suspected military agents last September 23 in Brgy. Dapiawan, Datu Saudi Ampatuan in Maguindanao. She was shot several times in her chest, stomach, shoulder and back.

Acob was a staunch critic of militarization in Moro communities. She consistently denounced the aerial bombardment and encampment in Moro communities by the 40th IB of the 6th ID of the Philippine Army.

In 2015 she led her community in a protest against militarization in Saudi Ampatuan as well as other parts of District 2 in Maguindanao.

Karapatan condemned the recent spate of attacks against human rights defenders under martial law in Mindanao. The killing of Acob is another blood on the Duterte regime, Karapatan added.

The killing of Acob came after seven young men were massacred after harvesting fruits in Sitio Bato, Brgy. Kabuntakas in Patikul, Sulu. The 55th IB accused the civilians as members of Abu Sayyaf.

“Martial law has not solved anything but has merely increased the power of an abusive institution that is behind these attacks against the Filipino people,” Karapatan said. (Video and report by Joseph Cuevas)

Moro groups condemn Ramadhan airstrikes

Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) air and ground strike operations in Liguasan Marsh, Maguindanao during the recent Ramadhan displaced 1,716 people or 208 families, a Moro human rights alliance said.

Cotabato-based Kawagib said the AFP claimed that the attacks targeted ISIS members in the area but merely disrupted the lives of Moros instead, particularly in Barangay Dalgan in Pagalungan town.

Kawagib and other Moro and human rights groups said they conducted a fact-finding mission last June 24 and documented complaints from residents about the AFP airstrikes of June 12.

Residents said were up as early as two o’clock that Tuesday to prepare their meals but were surprised by the sound of helicopters and fighter planes that dropped bombs in their community.

The residents rushed to nearby Dalgan Elementary School and National Memorial High School for shelter but later fled to Pagalungan proper when around a hundred soldiers appeared later.

The residents stayed at the municipal gym for a week, fearful of returning to their barangay.

About 100 families also fled by boat and built shelter along the riverside in Kulangan in Datu Montawal, Kawagib said.

The military said no civilian area was targeted in its “surgical airstrikes” and ground operations against Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) gunmen, led by a certain Esmail Abubakar.

 Sixth Infantry Division commander, Brig. Gen. Cirilito Sobejana, claimed at least 15 BIFF gunmen were killed and eight others were wounded in their operations.

The AFP previously said the BIFF is an ISIS-inspired group.

Kawagib, however, belied AFP claims.

No BIFF

“Residents said the military’s claim that there is a strong ISIS presence in Maguindanao was fueled by rumors and speculations with no factual basis,” Kawagib spokesperson Cosain Naga said.

“This suggests that ISIS presence is being used to justify the deployment of hundreds of government troops and the intensification of military combat operations in a disputed area,” he added.

The group said the evacuation disrupted classes in Barangay Dalgan.

Dalgan Elementary School principal Faisal S. Kimula said they have yet to restart their classes as residents have occupied the schools for sanctuary.

“It’s so saddening to know that our registered students this academic year has decreased by 52 percent due to the bombing incident in our village,” Faisal told the mission.

Kawagib said fishermen also discovered their pump boats missing when they returned to their community while households complained of losing their livestock worth 186,000 pesos.

Lessons at a Quran school is also being disrupted when its Ustadz refused to follow the soldiers’ orders to leave, Kawagib said.

Second strike

The mission noted that the June 12 air and ground strikes at Brgy Dalgan followed military operations launched last March 13 when civilian Nazrullah Balao of Sitio Tukananes was reportedly killed.

Balao’s family said Nazrullah was hit by shrapnel from bombs dropped by the AFP and was found dead inside his house.

Balao’s family only received 500 pesos cash relief and nothing else from authorities, Kawagib said.

“What this State has done to this Moro community is not a victory, but a continuing threat to the Moro people,” Naga said.

“No cover up or military propaganda will justify this injustice brought by military offensive on them,” he added.

During Ramadhan

Naga pointed out that the attack happened during Ramadhan, which also happened in the past years.

Military operations against Moro communities during their holy month is a violation of their cultural and religious rights, Kawagib pointed out.

Kawagib demands indemnification for the victims of the military operations on Ramadhan in Barangay Dalgan, especially to the Ballao family.

“After what the state has done, there must be accountability. The government should take action and pull out [its] troops in Moro communities,” Naga said.

The Kawagib–led fact finding mission was joined by local organizations Suara Bangsamoro, Liga ng Kabataang Moro, and the Manila-based Hustisya. #

Congress mangled BBL, critics say

Critics have slammed the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) measures passed by both Houses of Congress, saying these fail to recognize the Bangsamoro’s right to self-determination.

In separate statements, Suara Bangsamoro and Bayan Muna have dismissed the approved versions of the bills at the House of Representatives and the Senate as a betrayal of the Bangsamoro people’s long-running struggle for justice and autonomy.

The House of Representative passed HB 6475 Wednesday while the Senate passed Thursday Senate Bill 1717 a few days after President Rodrigo Duterte has finally certified the bills as urgent.

“This milquetoast [submissive one] that they are passing off as BBL leaves the Bangsamoro with no control over the resources of the area they define as our autonomous area,” Suara Bangsamoro national chairperson Jerome Aba said.

“Just like in the ARMM (Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao Law), this BBL appoints the new Bangsamoro political entity to facilitate the wholesale selling of our territories and natural resources to foreign corporations under the guise of bringing growth and development to Bangsamoro areas,” Aba said.

In his speech explaining his rejection of the House of Representatives version of the BBL, Bayan Muna Representative Carlos Isagani Zarate said he could not vote for a measure that is full of compromises.

“This latest and watered-down proposed BBL is unacceptable. This Substituted HB 6475 does away with all the efforts to push for the Bangsamoro’s right to self-determination in the face of many limitations imposed by the government,” Zarate said.

Zarate added many provisions of the version submitted to Congress by the Bangsamoro Transition Council were deleted or changed.

“These include the downgrading of their territory to an autonomous region in the Bangsamoro, instead of simply ‘Bangsamoro’; the [bill’s] use of ‘geographical area’ instead of territory; and the conduct of plebiscites in the additional territory,” Zarate explained.

The Mindanaoan legislator added the deletion of the Bangsamoro’s exclusive control over power and energy, natural resources, public utilities, Bangsamoro police, and many others are also very important issues.

“The Substituted HB 6475 does not answer the Bangsamoro’s aspiration for their right to self-determination and genuine autonomy. This measure deserves to be opposed,” Zarate said.

Suara Bangsamo said it supports calls made by Makabayan bloc at the House of Representatives to truly scrutinize the contents of the present BBL and called on their compatriots to oppose provisions they say compromise the fight of the Moro people for self-determination.

“As the government continue to disregard Moro people’s struggle for the right to self-determination, it is in the hands of Moro people to continue to fight for genuine right to self-determination,” Aba said. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Group accuses police, military of massacre in Matalam

A Bangsamoro group has accused the Philippine National Police (PNP) of the “massacre” of nine Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) fighters who have reportedly already surrendered before being mercilessly mowed down with automatic gunfire last May 25 in North Cotabato.

The Suara Bangsamoro said that in the guise of an anti-drug operation in Sitio Biao, Kilada Village, Matalam, North Cotabato, a combined PNP and military team swooped down on the victims who are members of the 105th Base Command of the Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces (BIAF).

The nine victims reportedly surrendered during the raid and were disarmed by state forces who then fired at them, killing all on the spot.

“This is not an isolated case of massacre and extra-judicial killings. On December 8, 2017, three members of the MILF were killed by joint anti-drug operations of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the PNP in Brgy. Koronadal Proper, Polomolok, South Cotabato,” Suara Bangsamoro chairperson Jerome Succor Aba in a statement said.

On May 19, 2018, Mindatu Aminola, another MILF member from Brgy. Olonoling, Tupi, South Cotabato was also killed by state forces under the same pretext – anti-drug operation, Aba added.

Suara Bangsamoro said it believes the recent spate of killings and massacre were committed by state forces under the guise of ‘anti-drug’ operations.

Earlier, Police Superintendent Bernard Tayong, North Cotabato Police Office spokesperson said police and military operatives were serving a search warrant on suspected drug suspects Dadting Kasan and Intan Aban in Sitio Biao at about 11:15 p.m. on Friday when they were fired upon by the victims.

Kasan and Aban were among those killed in the incident.

The MILF, however, said the victims were their legitimate members.

MILF Coordinating Committee on the Cessation of Hostilities (CCCH) head Butch Malang said the nine fatalities were disarmed before they were shot at close range by policemen and soldiers on Friday and Saturday.

BIAF spokesperson, Von Al-Haq added the MILF aims to file a “strong protest” with the government section of the CCCH.

“Clearly, the Duterte administration, through its US-influenced military lapdogs, are using the ‘anti-drug’ campaign to pursue and cloak its counter-insurgency program – the ‘Oplan Kapayapaan,’” Aba said.

Peace spoilers

Aba added the Rodrigo Duterte administration is jeopardizing the hard-earned gains of the peace process between the government and various Bangsamoro groups such as the MILF.

“While the Congress is discussing the passage of the Bangsamoro Basic Law, the military and the police are also busy killing the primary stakeholders of its approval,” Aba said.

Aba said that like his predecessors, Duterte lacks sincerity in upholding peace agreements with its duplicity.

“While they talk about peace, they are also committing grave human rights violations, killings and massacres pursuant to its counter-insurgency programs,” Aba said.

Suara Bangsamoro urged the Moro people and the MILF to demand justice to their fallen comrades.# (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Memories of fasting in beautiful Marawi

By Angel L. Tesorero

Dubai, UAE—Dubai resident Inshirah Taib, from Marawi City in southern Philippines, has two contrasting pictures of her hometown and favourite city: Once a centre of Islamic grandeur and tradition, Marawi has been razed to the ground after Daesh-inspired Maute group laid siege to the city exactly a year ago.

Marawi, the capital of Lanao del Sur province, is the religious centre of the Maranaos, a tight-knit indigenous Muslim community in Mindanao. With strong Muslim tradition it was renamed in 1980 as ‘Islamic City of Marawi,’ the only Islamic city in a predominantly Christian country.

“Marawi is the spiritual centre for the Maranaos, the most devout of major Muslim groups in the Philippines. Muslim moral values are part of the city code. Muslim women cover their heads, the sale of pork is forbidden and alcohol and gambling are banned,” Inshirah shares.

The city used to be full of life during the holy month. Every house had dazzling lights; women would bring out from the drawers their colorful ‘mukna’ which were used for Taraweeh prayers and the elders would stay at mosques, spending the entire holy month reading the Holy Quran,” she adds.

“But now the beauty of Marawi is gone. A year after the internecine conflict, many residents are still living in evacuation centres collectively called as ‘Tent City’. At ground zero, including our own place, the government has not yet allowed anyone to return – because of threats of unexploded bomb and ordnance. Buildings which are still precariously standing are likely to collapse after most structures suffered heavy bombings. And some residents now call our place as haunted city, because of the desolation brought by the futile war which claimed more than 1,100 lives and brought the displacement of more than 400,000 residents due to daily air strikes and intense ground combat which lasted for five months after the Maute group rampaged the city on May 23 last year,” Inshira shares.

Residents of Marawi and nearby villages had to put their lives on hold; farmers and breadwinners lost their means of livelihood. Children were forced to stop schooling. Up to now, bones and skeletons of those who were caught in the crossfire are still being unearthed from the rubbles. Worse, the faithful now have to spend Iftar and recite their prayers at the evacuation centres as bullets and bombs left gaping holes on mosques.

But this was not the Marawi that Inshirah grew up with. She shares: “At Banggolo, the heart of Marawi, where the plaza is located we had various programmes, including Islamic lectures during the month of Ramadan. There was also a contest for the most beautiful voice reading of Quran and residents would showcase their talents. Marawi used to be known as “the land of cars” because most families had cars and most of us drove, including girls or teenagers. Visiting of relatives and friends was common and highly encouraged. Once, I along with my brothers, slipped away with our father’s car just to visit friends from the nearby village.”

She continues: “Every night during Ramadan the town plaza was crowded with people enjoying all kinds of street foods and sweets. Eateries, numbering to more than a hundred, served “Palaw A Apang” (mountain of hotcakes) and different flavours of broasted or grilled chicken.”

“The well-to-do families sponsored Iftar for groups of people while the less-fortunate ones never felt hungry because Ramadan is a time of giving,” adds Inshirah, who has been a resident of Dubai for a decade and married to her kababayan (compatriot) Ahmad Jumar Taurac, and mother to one-year old Safiyyah.

“It hurts that the present generation will not experience the beauty of Marawi but its memory will never be erased in my mind. Ramadan is very much missed in my hometown but it is always in my prayers as I cry to Allah in supplication and lay prostrate on my prayer mat to revive the glory days of Marawi,” Inshirah concludes. #

(This article was originally published in The Khaleej Times)

Mindanaoans lead condemnation of Martial Law on its 1st anniversary

In the first anniversary of the declaration of Martial Law in Mindanao, various minority groups gathered at Mendiola to denounce the effectiveness of it in bringing peace in Mindanao.

Pointing its negative effects to the people, Mindanaons led in condemning martial rule in the island, adding the military uses it to further oppress marginalized groups like the Bangsamoro and the Lumad.

Jerome Aba narrates ordeal in US

Jerome Aba, Sandugo co-chairperson, narrates his ordeal at the San Francisco International Airport when denied entry and interrogated by US immigration and homeland security agents for nearly 30-hours.

He was invited by Church groups to talk about the human rights situation in the Philippines.

Rally held at San Francisco airport in support of detained Filipino activist

Dozens of supporters held a rally at the arrival area of the San Francisco International Airport upon learning that Sandugo co-chairperson Jerome Aladdin Succor Aba was held by the United States Immigration Service and denied entry despite a valid 10-year multiple entry visa.

Aba was supposed to address church groups and go on a speaking tour about human rights violations in the Philippines.

Aba was nonetheless deported back to the Philippines on board Philippine Airlines at 12:30, San Francisco time.

He is expected to land in Manila on Friday, April 20, at six o’clock in the morning.