First of 2 parts
I AM a Muslim Filipino who wants peace above all for Islam and the Christian world, for my country, my family, my friends and everybody else. As a former mayor of Marawi City, I worked hard to help convince former Mayor Rodrigo Duterte to run for President. I basked in his victory as a great boon for every Mindanaoan and every other Filipino who believed in change. I supported his war on drugs and against the Mautes before many others did, and would like nothing better than to see his unqualified success. With the President’s kind approval, Secretary Jess Dureza of the Office of Presidential Assistant for the Peace Process (OPAPP) appointed me as a consultant.
On May 23, 2017, when the Mautes attacked Marawi with the reported support of the Islamic State, and the President proclaimed martial law in the whole of Mindanao from Moscow, I was in Cagayan de Oro City with some 20 ulama, youth leaders and old friends from the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), discussing how to counter the spread of radical Islam and its threat to our communities.
Threat of attack
Two weeks before that, my brother Pre Salic, who also used to be a mayor of Marawi, had told me his fears that some radicals might be planning to attack Marawi. His in-laws and other relatives by affinity in Butig had been quietly relocating their kin out of Marawi, he said. I immediately sensed the danger and informed Secretary Dureza accordingly; the government, I thought, had to find ways of protecting the city and its inhabitants.
Like me, Pre abhors the radicals; our consultations with our ulama friends have led us to believe that ISIS radicalism was destroying Islam and Muslims all over the world. In Iraq alone, 24,000 Muslims were killed mostly by the IS in 2014. They devastated Iraq and Syria and are now launching terror bombings against Muslims in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Only very few non-Muslims have been killed. They obviously would like to destroy the Muslims so they could replace them with new Muslims who would put the line of warrior Islam above all, a perversion that is neither according to the Koran nor according to the Sunnah of the Prophet.
I learned that the fighting in Marawi, which broke out early that morning of May 23, involved about 40 foreigners, 150 or so Abu Sayyaf fighters, some 50 Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), and about 200 Mautes. At Chali Beach in Cagayan de Oro, I distributed some briefing materials on the radicals and their satanic schemes, and we tried not to be distracted by reports of the fighting. But as my wife and three small children had gone to Marawi to visit relatives that day, I could not help worrying about their safety. I had to call some friends in the OPAPP and some MILF officers linked to the peace process, and with their help I was able to get my family out of harm’s way before the fighting escalated.
But in the next few days I learned that I had been ordered arrested by the Department of National Defense, along with my brother Pre and three other members of my family, on suspicion of being supporters or financers of the Mautes.
How could this be? We are not supporters of Maute, never have been, and never will be. And financiers! With what? We are not paupers nor panhandlers, but some of my political supporters are convinced I would not have lost my electoral fight in 2016, which remains the subject of a Commission on Elections protest, if only I had more money and lesser moral principles. The arrest order was the cruelest joke, one that threatened not only our personal liberties but also our personal security and safety. But I continue to hope and trust in President Duterte. He knows the truth, and he knows me.
The reluctant candidate
Life is a puzzle, a game of twists and turns, friendships and betrayals, difficulties and blessings. When President Duterte was in the middle of his “urong sulong”—“I am not running, whoever compels me to run, I will kill him”— in the months prior to the election, I was one of those who attended most of the meetings to soften his resistance, subtly pressuring him to run by showing the widespread clamor of the people for a simple, strong leadership for change. People could have accepted his “I am not running” language, but they were given hope by the hints that he would eventually run through his succeeding pronouncements. “If I am the President, I will kill the criminals and fatten the sharks of Manila Bay, imprison the corrupt, leak poverty and unemployment, and solve our brother Muslims demand for righting the historical injustice done to them, by changing the Constitution and making the Philippines a Federal Republic to free all our regions from the domination of Imperial Manila and thereby allow every region to bring out their long suppressed unique productive skills and advantages.”
For me, his promise of federalization and my fantasies of a Muslim state with a chief minister, a state supreme court, a state parliament, a state police, and state control of the day-to-day local needs of our people like education, health services, electricity, water works and economic priorities (these I have seen in my study tours abroad) are a fulfillment of a long dream. In one of the assemblies in a resort in Iligan City, while we were again discussing how to persuade him to run, I said in jest that, “total mahilig magsabi ang kapatid nating si Digong na ‘papatayin kita’… sabihin natin sa kanya na kapag hindi siya tumakbo… papatayin ko siya, isasakay ko sa kabayo at gagawin kong El Cid para mabuhayan ng loob at lumaban ang ating mga kababayan sa likod niya”. (Since our brother Digong likes to say ‘I will kill you, let’s tell him that if he doesn’t run, we will kill him, ad place him on a horse like El Cid so our countrymen who support him will have the courage to fight.)
(To be continued)
BY OMAR SOLITARIO ALI, FORMER MAYOR OF MARAWI CITY