GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews/13 July) – Some 1,000 Muslim residents here have asked city officials to help in eradicating discrimination against them, in particular in the area of employment.
Members of the Sangir, Maranao, Maguindanaon, Tausog, and Yakan tribes aired this gripe during the first general assembly of Muslims at the covered court near the Oval Plaza on July 7.
Aside from discrimination, the meeting also tackled poverty, distrust, and the involvement of some Moros in drug trafficking.
Esmael Mutalib, chairman of General Santos City Muslim Leaders Forum (GSCMLF) and the principal organizer of the assembly lamented the refusal of private companies to hire Muslim job applicants.
He described it as a “lingering problem” which the government has reportedly failed to address.
Speaking in behalf of the Muslim populace in the city, Mutalib said he heard that Muslim applicants would opt to deny their religion in their application papers and use “Christian names” in order to get employed.
“We should resolve this matter and not wait for the time that the hiring officer will drive away our job seekers upon learning that the he or she is a Muslim,” he warned.
Former City Mayor and now Rep. Pedro B. Acharon Jr said he could not say there is discrimination in the city in as far as employment is concerned. He noted that there are many Muslim employees in the city hall.
He added private companies have the discretion to refuse or accept any job applicant.
Aside from Acharon, City Councilors Vicente Dante, Dominador Lagare Jr, Elizabeth Bagonoc, Ronnel Rivera, and Eduardo Leyson III also attended the assembly along with lawyer Guialil R. Kanda, Field Director of the National Commission on Muslim Filipinos.
The councilors said they will serve their constituency regardless of the differences in faith and culture.
Mutalib also recalled the hostile remarks of some pastors and priests when the Southern Philippines Council for Peace and Development was introduced in the city after the signing of Final Peace Agreement between the government and the Moro National Liberation Front in 1996.
“Dili kami ayon anang SPCPD kay basig maghari-hari ang mga Muslim (we do not want SPCPD because Muslims might dominate us),” he quoted a participant as having said in a consultation then.
“We feel that there is an ‘invisible wall’ that divides the Muslims and Christians here,” Mutalib pointed out.
He urged the people of the city to unite and destroy the wall that divides the followers of two faiths.
He also said there are many Muslims from neighboring areas who migrated to General Santos City to avoid being caught in the conflict between the military and Moro rebels.
“We can find them in our public market selling onions and tomatoes,” he said.
“We hope our local leaders understand our situation,” he stressed, adding majority of Muslims in the city are poor.
He explained that the gap between Muslims and Christians has existed since the Spanish colonial period.
“The Spaniards brainwashed the Christians from Luzon and Visayas and portrayed the Moros as bad, traitor and killers,” he said.
Dante, who represented City Mayor Darlene Magnolia Custodio, administered the induction of officers of the GSCMLF.
Founded two months ago, the organization comprises different civil society organizations and Muslim groups and aims to unify the voice of the Muslims in the city. (Gandhi Kinjiyo/MindaNews)