KIDAPAWAN CITY: Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel Piñol has withheld aid amounting to P60 million to a conflict-stricken area in Butig, Lanao del Sur, saying its release was jeopardized by two of the town’s councilors who allegedly made a pass at his female staff.
The agricultural support plan was for the grant of seedlings, machinery and other farming facilities to Butig residents so they can recover from devastation caused by clashes between government forces and local supporters of the international jihadist group, the Islamic State (IS), whom authorities have called the Maute Group.
Known as one of the 39 towns in the country’s poorest province, Butig was also used by the jihadists as one of their lairs in southern Philippines called “IS [in]Ranao.”
Previous firefights in the town had left in their wake destruction and displacement of thousands of residents.
Piñol said the misconduct of the two officials – Saibin Panolong and Makakiling Ismael – has jeopardized the agricultural support plan.
The suspects allegedly touched the butt of one of the Agriculture chief’s female staff, an engineer, during their February 9 visit to “the de facto capital of the Islamic Caliphate in the Philippines.”
The controversy went viral when Piñol uploaded the suspects’ photos on Facebook, describing the two Butig councilors as bastos na unggoy (rude monkey) because of their alleged actions.
Panolong and Ismael apologized on Monday through an open letter uploaded on social media in reaction to Piñol’s demand for a public apology.
They said they “unintentionally” touched the female staff of Piñol when she was taking pictures while they were moving hurriedly at a congested area.
“We offer our sincerest apologies to her if we hurt her due to our haste. We were not able to say sorry at the time,” Panolong and Ismael said in their joint statement.
“It is true we laughed because we were joking that it is hard to be old because we can be left behind. People in Butig know that we just like to joke around but we did not really intend to be rude or make fun of her,” they added.
Addressing Piñol, they said, “We don’t have the slightest malice, much less molest your female staff, or any person for that matter, in front of so many people.”
The officials, who belong to the conservative Maranao tribe added, “In the spirit of justice and truth, we humbly submit ourselves to any investigation that may arise from this unfortunate incident. We will report to DILG-ARMM Secretary Kirby Abdullah at the soonest time possible to clear our names. We are willing to step down as councilors should we be proven guilty of such an indecent act,” the two added.
DILG is the Department of the Interior and Local Government and ARMM is the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.
Piñol recognized the open letter as an “acceptable” letter of apology so as “the incident will no longer be disputed just to put this issue to rest,” saying he already talked with the engineer who said “she was willing to forgive and forget.”
“The offered apology is accepted and as a gesture of goodwill, I will delete my original post about the incident [with the photos of the officials that went viral],” he said.
The original post showing the photos of the accused was deleted late Monday but other websites echoed the secretary’s disgust.
The controversy drew several reactions from netizens, with some hailing the secretary for his good deeds while others labeled him as “anti-Muslim” for freezing the project and reporting the incident on social media.
“Now, I am the one put in a bad light and called anti-Muslim. I don’t think this is right,” Piñol said.