By J. Albert Gamboa
THIS year’s commemoration of Eid’l Fitr or Feast of Ramadan coincided with World Press Freedom Day on May 3. Muslims worldwide observe this religious holiday to mark the end of Ramadan’s month-long, dawn-to-sunset fasting. It became a national holiday in the Philippines starting 2002.
On the other hand, World Press Freedom Day acts as a reminder to governments about the need to respect their commitment to one of democracy’s pillars — freedom of the press. It was the United Nations General Assembly that declared on May 3, 1993 and every year thereafter that the right to freedom of expression must be upheld in keeping with the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
The convergence of these religious and secular concepts may be found in the Philippine Center for Islam and Democracy (PCID), established in 2002 amid the global and domestic challenges confronting Filipino Muslims. At that time, the US and its allies were waging a “war on terror” — with the Philippines being tagged as the next front after Afghanistan. This new front was centered naturally in Mindanao mainly because of the Abu Sayyaf, a renegade band of fighters with alleged ties to al-Qaeda.
As a result, the “war on terror” fanned a growing global debate that Islam is incompatible with democracy, which threatened to undermine the democratic space in Muslim societies. This debate accompanied the rise in radical movements among Islamist organizations, culminating in the fatal attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City on Sept. 11, 2001.
Thus, the PCID was founded by three Filipino Muslim intellectuals who saw the need to articulate the voice of the Bangsamoro: Amina Rasul, who served in the Cabinet of President Fidel Ramos; Abrahan Iribani, previously the spokesperson of the Moro National Liberation Front; and Nasser Marohomsalic, a former Human Rights commissioner. Its members consist of prominent leaders and thinkers from government, business, academe, military, and other sectors, with representation from Mindanao’s major tribes.
Believing that democracy is enshrined in Islam, they recognized that the current elements of the continuing struggle for genuine self-determination are hallmarks of a functioning democracy for Filipino Muslims. These elements include just peace, human rights, credible elections, capable autonomous governance, and equitable development.
PCID treasurer and board of convenors member Yusuf Ledesma said the organization has been focusing recently on empowering women in war zones through a podcast series titled “She Talks Peace” hosted by Ms. Rasul. In partnership with Women and Gender Institute, PCID capacitates female participants on governance, economic empowerment, political participation, peace-building, and rights-based approaches to community development.
Mr. Ledesma said: “Women have quite a lot of power in the Bangsamoro community. They are often the business people in the Greenhills area.” He recognizes the empowerment of Bangsamoro women practicing their professions, including his own lawyer and some of the provincial leaders in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM).
It is not surprising then that BARMM Chief Minister Al Haj Murad Ebrahim has endorsed Vice-President Leni Robredo as the presidential candidate and standard-bearer of the United Bangsamoro Justice Party (UBJP), the political party of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). The UBJP’s endorsement is historically significant because this is the first time it ever declared support for a presidentiable.
According to Mr. Ebrahim, the UBJP decided to throw its support behind Ms. Robredo, because of the “compatibility of principles, goals, and values.” Concurrently the MILF chairman, he stated: “The political participation of the MILF in the 2022 elections through the UBJP ushers in a new brand of politics among which is our incoming President Leni Robredo.”
Ms. Robredo’s rival for the presidency, former Senator Ferdinand Marcos, Jr., is considered a “mortal enemy of the Muslims” based on the statements of Noroddin Pananggilan, a member of the MILF’s armed component known as the Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces (BIAF). “We can never forget the massacres. If Marcos wins, Bangsamoro loses,” he lamented.
BIAF commanders issued a manifesto last April 25 that sums up the sentiment of Moro fighters: “The Marcos years were bloody and brutal to the Muslims and indigenous peoples of Mindanao, as Marcos Jr.’s father waged a merciless war of genocide against our people, killing thousands. The sins of the father are not the sins of the son. But the son who does not see wrong in what the father did eventually copies and becomes what the father was.”
I hope the majority of Filipino voters will realize this when they go to their election precincts on May 9. Vote wisely for our nation’s future!
J. Albert Gamboa is the chief finance officer of Asian Center for Legal Excellence and chairman of the FINEX Media Affairs Committee. The opinion expressed herein does not necessarily reflect the views of these institutions and BusinessWorld. #FinexPhils www.finex.org.ph