MY, MY, MY MARAWI: From sandals to suits: Wahab Akbar, the rebel turned politician

Add being a former Abu Sayyaf,  three-term governor and now congressman in the last days of his life, that sums up the colorful history of this charismatic politician, who drew the ire of his political enemies for his padrino politics but reverence from his loyalists.

The lawmaker was killed from injuries from a blast Tuesday evening at the south wing of the House of Representatives. Police found a bomb planted on a motorcycle parked near Akbar's Fortuner near the lobby of the House.

Anak Mindanao Representative Mujiv Hataman, a fellow Yakan, said there are multiple possibilities on the causes of the blast.

"There were threats on life of Akbar," DILG Secretary Ronaldo Puno said in an Associated Press (AP) report. "The indications are that that was the case both in terms of location of the bomb and the manner it was set off."

President Gloria Arroyo consoled his first wife, Jum, the governor of Basilan. The two other wives are  Cherrylyn, mayor of Isabela City  and Nurin,  who ran for mayor of Lamitan town.

The Citizens Anti-Dynasty Movement noted that it was the first time that a man and his multiple wives became elected officials at both the national and provincial level.

Seven other politicians related to Congressman Akbar by bloodline, including a niece, nephew and several cousins, also won election victories in smaller towns around the island, which were affected by political violence in the last elections.

Akbar was a controversial figure, having been touted to have founded ASG with Khadafi Janjalani. He later distanced himself from the group upon entry in politics. "Mr. Speaker, when I joined politics, there were accusations that I was the founder of the bullshit Abu Sayyaf. Nung buhay pa sila, problema ko na, hanggang sa patay na sila problema ko pa rin" (when they were alive, they were my problem, now that they're dead, they're still my problem), he said in his privilege speech.

Beyond the ASG, Akbar talks of a poor life as a child in his hometown in Lamitan. "When I went to school at the age of seven, I used to report to my classes even without slippers, and worked as a bangkero and sold popsicles  to earn," he narrated in his  speech.

He claims he ran for governor in 1998 without spending any centavo but garnered support from the locals.

Akbar had helped the government in its anti-terrorism campaign against the Abu Sayyaf group  (ASG) on Basilan island. The Abu Sayyaf is on the run from a massive military manhunt. Akbar supported US military presence in Basilan and launched armed campaigns against the ASG.

In the same speech, Akbar named four locals responsible for the beheading of the military personnel in Al-barka  municipality. He also reminded the government to investigate the death of an imam and cautioned against military force. "Why should they inflict injury above injuries?  Why should they use their budget in search for the beheaders through a huge number of soldiers instead of using it in helping me plant more rubber trees so that there will be no beheading in the future? Why wouldn't they cooperate with the local leaders in order to settle  the problem by not inflicting more problems?"

Dubbed the "Terror of Basilan" by Newsbreak, Akbar denied he had links with ASG founder Abdurajak Janjalani or his group. In his early days as an Imam, he preached jihad  during his sermons when he came back to Basilan after six months in Libya in the 1980s. 

Newsbreak notes that Akbar, who used to wear a thoub, a long-sleeved one-piece dress that covers the whole body, a white pilgrim's cap, and a goatee, made his mark as a charismatic preacher in Basilan. However, he distinguished himself from Janjalani, who also preached jihad when he came home from Libya .

Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Jesus Dureza said Akbar was helpful in the peace process. Former Lanao del Sur Vice Governor Nurmalah Lucman said his death was a "big loss to the Muslims." Former Sulu Provincial Administrator Engineer Don Loong notes Akbar's wisdom in promoting rubber to uplift the economy.

And in his words, spoken three months before his death, Akbar departed from his beginnings as a rebel and called for peace. "Mr. Speaker, let's give Peace all chances that it needs if only to ensure the welfare of our children, and the children yet to come in my province. Lastly, whatever wisdom I have delivered it's from the blessings of the Almighty. On the other hand, whatever unfavorable thoughts that I may have said, it's only personal to me."

With a population of more than 300,000, Basilan is subject of US funding support as part of the war on terror. An ASG researcher, Joe Torres notes that while Muslims constitute 71 percent of the Basilan population Christians own 75 percent of the land. The Chinese control 75 percent of business. 

(My, My, My Marawi is Samira Gutoc-Tomawis' column for MindaViews, the opinion section of MindaNews. Samira describes herself as a "freelance writer,  peace advocate, artist-wannabe, co-convenor of the Young Moro Professionals Network, currently writing  a book on militarism in the Philippines and also MindaNews' correspondent in Marawi City and Lanao del Sur."  You can reach her at [email protected] This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it This email address is being protected from spam bots, you need Javascript enabled to view it .)