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Volume IV,  Number 6               March 7 - 13, 2004            Quezon City, Philippines


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Suara Bangsamoro Party Nominees: 
Mindanao War Survivors Running for Party-list Seats

They may be new faces in Philippine politics but they are all veterans of the three-decade Mindanao struggle. Serving as nominees of the neophyte Suara Bangsamoro Party-List, the three aim to unite the 13 Muslim ethno-linguistic groups in Southern Philippines and give voice to a sector that the government has always sought to silence with guns – the Moro people.

Contributed for Bulatlat.com

Suara Bangsamoro members at a peace rally. 

Wahab Ibrahim Guialal 

When he was a child, Wahab Ibrahim Guialal, or Kabs to his colleagues, sold ice drop to help augment the earnings of his family. His mother died early and it was his grandmother who took care of him.

Kabs is the son of a farmer who was also an Imam, a Muslim prayer leader. At 40, he considers himself a veteran evacuee. His family has moved from Tacurong, Sultan Kudarat to Buluan, Maguindanao, then to Saranggani province and later to General Santos City, then still called Dadiangas, and still later, to someplace else in Mindanao, southern Philippines. 

“We evacuated non-stop,” he said. His family was affected by the war that intensified in the early 1970s and was sheltered by relatives as they were forced to sell their land for a meager sum. 

It was this relentless war in Mindanao that stimulated his political awareness and inspired him to participate in seminars and educational activities, some of which were held in Camp Abubakar, organized by various Moro cause-oriented groups and other progressive organizations. 

In spite of “walang katapusang pag-eevacuate” (as he puts it), Kabs was able to finish his Political Science degree in Notre Dame of Dadiangas College.

In college, he organized Muslim students through the Parhimpunan ng mga Moro Mag-aaral at Kabataan sa Ummah or PAMOKAU, which according to him is a parallel organization of the militant League of Filipino Students (LFS).   

In 1984, he helped organize the youth through the United Moro Muslim Association where he also served as its chair. From 1991-1998, Kabs was with the Moro People’s Resource Center (MPRC) and in 1998, he helped establish the MCPA, which he currently chairs. 

During the all-out war of Presidents Joseph Estrada and Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, he helped facilitate relief and medical missions in evacuation centers and documented human rights violations committed against the Moros, Christian settlers and Lumads in Central Mindanao. 

“The problem is the continued oppression and exploitation perpetrated against the Bangsamoro people by the collaborative efforts of U.S. imperialism, local big business, political warlords and kingpins,” he said of the Bangsamoro problem in a nutshell. 

If there was one thing the Macapagal-Arroyo administration has done, he added, it was to pave way for the exodus of the people of Mindanao to other countries due to lack of livelihood opportunities and the perceived hopelessness in the country particularly in war-torn Mindanao. 

Amirah Ali Lidasan: Voice of Muslim Women 

It was a fervent chorus of “Takbir!”, the Moro people’s cry of unity, that greeted the speech of Amirah Ali Lidasan, Suara’s second nominee, when she spoke during the party’s general convention in Cotabato City last January.

“That is how any Moro would respond if your words come from your heart, that is how passionate Mek-Mek is in her conviction,” said one of the delegates, using Lidasan’s nickname. 

A native of Parang, Maguindanao, Mek-mek belongs to the Iranon Muslim ethno-linguistic group. Her family is one of the most influential families in Maguindanao province. She, however, grew up in Manila where she took up her elementary to college education. 

Even as a child, Mek-mek was already sharp enough to hold discussions with the mujahideen (women fighters) whenever she would go to Maguindanao for vacation. This exposure helped her understand their lives and the essence of what the Muslims in the South are fighting for. 

Ever since Grade 2, she commuted on her own from her school to Quiapo where she lived. She was exposed to student activism and in high school, initiated a rally of Anti-U.S. and Anti-war stance when the Gulf War I was still burning. 

A Journalism graduate of University of the Philippines in Diliman, Mek-Mek ran for president of the College of Mass Communications (CMC) Student Council and won in 1994. She became chair of the National Union of Students in the Philippines (NUSP), a nationwide alliance of student councils, in 1995 and was elected as its secretary general in 1996. 

In 2000, when the Estrada administration launched its all-out war against the MILF and human rights violations against the Moro people were being committed by government forces, Mek-Mek volunteered to work in Karapatan’s (Alliance for the Advancement of People’s Rights) Moro Human Rights Desk.

When the armed forces started to drop their bombs in Maguindanao, Mek-mek was actually in Matanog, a municipality in the said province, visiting her grandmother. Being known to the military as an activist, she couldn’t stay in Mindanao and flew back to Manila and organized broad inter-faith rallies against the all-out war. 

Mek-Mek however says that it was under the Macapagal-Arroyo administration that the number of displaced families in Mindanao swelled. This is due to Macapagal-Arroyo’s own all-out war in 2002 and the series of U.S.-RP military exercises in the region. 

“President Arroyo is just using the Moro people. She authored policies that allowed business investors to take away the ancestral lands of the Bangsamoro people,” the feisty Moro leader said.  

She added, “It’s disheartening because she was catapulted to power by the people through EDSA 2; she promised reconciliation but actually employed war aggression.”  

Eventually, the MCPA, an inter-faith organization composed of Muslim and Christian individuals and organizations, was realized as an organization that asserts the rights of the Moro people and helps in their quest for genuine freedom and lasting peace. Mek-mek has served as its spokesperson since its establishment.

Esmael Abdula 

Moro youth and professionals around Campo Muslim, one of the major Muslim communities in Cotabato City, felt no surprise when they heard the news that Esmael “Bapah Mike” Abdula was elected as one of Suara’s three nominees.

Bapah is used to respectfully address an old Muslim man and Bapah Mike, as his peers and young followers fondly call him, has earned the respect of his fellow Muslims as he has fought most his life for the self-determination of the Bangsamoro. 

Like Kabs, Bapah Mike and his family went through countless evacuations, particularly in the early 1970s when he was still in grade school. On the day of his elementary graduation, a firefight between soldiers and defiant Muslims was taking place at the same time names of students were being called.

Bapah Mike vividly remembers how during his high school years, he would wake up with an M-16 aimed at him. Soldiers would force the men to line up and, usually, they would end up “bugbog sarado.” 

At his innocent age, he questioned why the military had to resort to fascism. “It’s as if human rights don’t exist for us,” he said. 

Together with his fellow students, Bapah Mike hit the streets when the military converted their school into a military camp, suspending all classes. The school was subsequently closed after he led a negotiation with the Department of Education Culture and Sports (DECS) and insisted that DECS either resist the military takeover of the school and its other oppressive activities or it stops the school from operating. 

When he entered college, Bapah Mike became a Moro youth organizer and founded the MINSUPALA (Mindanao, Sulu, Palawan) Student’s Solidarity Commission that aimed to strengthen the Moro students’ education by raising their political consciousness. The organization gained the support of Muslim youths from as far as Sulu and Zamboanga. 

He has since then worked with Karapatan and MCPA in exposing the human rights violations in Central Mindanao communities during the two succeeding all-out war campaigns under Estrada and Macapagal-Arroyo. 

According to him, the Bangsamoro problem is “political” and that “ARMM (Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao) has never served as an answer” to the long-standing plight of the Bangsamoro. 

“Nothing will happen if the decisions would always come from Malacañang and not from the Moro people themselves,” he said, adding that “a true Islamic leadership” should be “consultative, collective and transparent.” 

Aside from the Suara Bangsamoro Party-List, Bapah Mike is also with the Union of Mindanao Muslims for Advanced Humanity or UMMAH, which, in Arabic, means community. He presently teaches in Eastern Kutawato College in Maguindanao. Bulatlat.com

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