Last of 2 parts
By Omar Solitario Ali, former mayor of Marawi City
I WAS present when our PDP-Laban party authorized Martin Diño to file his certificate of candidacy for president, to be eventually replaced by Mayor Duterte. That was the culmination of our dream, and for me, I felt I was the happiest man at that time.
Can I be blamed for feeling that way? I think not. I wasn’t that close to him and I knew I could not ask for any position or favor should he win, and I was sure he would win, but I was thinking more of the long-suffering, divided, misunderstood and many times confused Bangsamoro. They needed to be liberated from centuries of exploitation and deception. They have suffered colonization and domination since the coming of Legazpi in 1650 (367 years), but with Rody Duterte’s emergence, I thought the prospect of a truly new day—“ang pagbubukang liwayway para sa Bangsamoro” (the coming of dawn in the Bangsamoro homeland)—had finally arrived.
I have spent the most productive years of my life in the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) fighting Marcos and his martial law. Now in my senior years, I thought I could spend the rest of my life working with the government to transform not just Mindanao but the entire country. But about six months after the election, while I continued to savor my idol’s victory, I heard the President describe me as a “drug protector” on primetime TV. I was shocked, but could neither talk nor cry. No matter how insignificant, I did help President Duterte. I could not help asking myself, did I deserve to be treated this way? Fifteen large ulama and other Muslim religious organizations wrote the President telling him that I had worked with them for 40 years, and that they knew me as a learner, a reader, a good brother and that nobody smoked or talked foul language in my presence. Indeed, I demolished drug havens and neutralized big pushers when I was mayor of Marawi. My Christian friends like Archbishop Emeritus Fernando Capalla of Davao and Archbishop Emeritus Ramon Arguelles of Lipa also wrote letters to vouch for me as a man of peace. Muslim organizations in Cebu also wrote similar letters.
This helped to assuage my pain. The President sent Secretary Jesus Dureza to visit me in Marawi and tell me that the inclusion of my name on the President’s list of suspected drug personalities was an unfortunate mistake. I thanked Secretary Dureza for his visit and asked him how I could be of service to the President. He made me a consultant at the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP) and advised me to see the President. This I did. In Davao I thanked the President for allowing me to join OPAPP, and he said, that’s good. I got my ulama friends, some intellectuals, and youth leaders involved in promoting the President’s federalization idea, and I got OPAPP to support the transfer of DXSR Radio Salam to a better location so we could upgrade its operations. For this purpose, Vice Mayor Arafat Salic lent an old house which he had not been using for years, and I had it refurbished through OPAPP, and we revived our regular Sunday “Papandapatan Tano” (Let’s think about it) program to promote peace and Muslim solidarity, Islam as a balanced and middle way of life, and federalism. Unfortunately, the siege prevented the technicians from reporting to the station.
On June 23, some uniformed elements forcibly entered the radio station, planted five kilograms of illegal drugs and claimed they had seized it in the vice mayor’s house. Two days before the raid on the radio station, they had produced 2 kgs of drugs and claimed they got it from my old house in Bangon, which I had not used for seven years. For the past two or three years, the house was being used as a madrasah school by a Turkish group. The raiding party took a plaque of appreciation that had been given to me from the house, and dumped it with the drugs to suggest that the drugs also belonged to me. Who can contradict them now that Marawi is deserted, and they are in effective control of all the empty homes inside the ghost city?
The Maute/IS problem is huge enough; we cannot afford to add more to it. But local partisan politics tends to make the problem larger still. This shouldn’t be. Since the time of Osama bin Laden, we have been closely monitoring the depredations of terror in the Muslim world and have developed some clear insights, based on authentic sources in the Koran and the Sunnah, into the real nature of Islamist extremism. It is anti-Muslim, anti-Shia, anti-ulama, anti-peace, anti-co-existence, anti-Muslim leaders. The extremists are evidently connected to the enemies of Muslims and the enemies of the Arab people. Their main weapon is terror, which is now an international plague. The strongest nations, the US and Russia, are confronting the terrorists in Mosul and Raqqa with their latest conventional bombs but the terrorists are far from finished.
We have to unite against this menace. This is the only way we can defeat the Mautes and the IS. I have some ideas, some friends and some followers and I would very much like to do everything I can to help. The unfair and unjust treatment that my brother, the other members of my family and I have received from some of our politicians is rather unfortunate, but I do not take it against the President, and it has not diminished one bit my desire to be of service to this government. This sentiment is not mine alone; it is shared by so many others who have no higher wish and prayer than our country’s success. All we need is a chance to prove ourselves.