DeMISTYfied IN JOGJA: The memory still rankles

JOGJAKARTA (MindaNews/16 January) — Alhamdulillah… it is heart-rending to see how our elders are once again putting themselves bodily on the line. This could only be for a worthy cause. In sha Allah.

The memory of Zamboanga Crisis and the fate of the Crisis Management Committee of Darul Iftah being deceived and betrayed by the local government of Zamboanga City and how their efforts to pacify and seek negotiation were rudely brushed aside by the National Defense department and Interior and Local Government headed by Gen. Voltaire Gazmin and Sec. Mar Roxas, respectively, are still vivid

These two national leaders, with bloodied hands were short of declaring an all-out-military offensive (in September 2013) and with a sleight of hand, at the same time washing themselves clear of responsibility by splashing on every major broadsheet and screaming TV headlines a smiling declaration: ‘Zamboanga Crisis is Over’ when it was not.

Truth be said that the national dispensation never laid a finger to prevent the rampage of looting and burning of our villages — that after declaring them “cleared,” the two said Offices responsible for national defense and public security simply abandoned and now conveniently left for domestic affairs the carnage, a simple criminal issue for the city authorities to sweep under the rug –they now no longer befit the National Government’s iron-gloved security touches where running after 300 local insurgents befitted tanks and bombs and a full battle-gear mobilization of the Armed Forces, but the lives of hundreds of thousands deserved just food packets and a jug for a supply of water for the day. That is how cheap our lives have become.

And to neatly lay down such scheme and make sure that it is taken as a benevolent act on the victim’s name, the City Mayor candidly explained why the crisis has to be declared over, albeit prematurely, “so that humanitarian aid and external resources could start coming in to help the victims.” In not a few instances, the same sugar-coated bile was used to feed the civilians and the IDPs with empty promises. When all we wanted was to return to our homes at no extra conditions, and even if we have to rebuild back on our own, but, no, our agonies were to be prolonged because the utility of the victims and IDPs still came in handy for the political maneuverings. We were always made to be the leverage waged in the many political “negotiations” for funds and resources.

There was a rehabilitation and reconstruction fund to the tune of 36 million pesos wrangled, but the works of Z3R and Planades could not proceed because they could not decide who or which agency should lead. Again, the benevolent captivity of victims were rolled our and used to the hilt as the bargaining chips when the redevelopment and reconstruction issue had to be resolved between the National Housing Authority (an agency headed by Vice President Binay’s office) and the presidential commissioned post-calamity Rehabilitation and Reconstruction committee chaired by former Senator Ping Lacson.

There was no abating the violent dispersal of our community by mysterious arson, the evacuees in the transit centers continued coming in in swells and went on for the next month and the next, until we were already counting years into the evacuations, two years and some months now until this day of writing and the population of Rio Hondo and Mariki are still in transitory sites.

In those congested camps at the height of crisis, the umber of IDPs soared to hundreds of thousands and deaths inside were by the hundreds, mostly of children and elderly. Souls languished in inhuman evacuation centers, even as everything was in sight of “humanitarian” aid groups including the U.N. and the Department of Social Welfare, they were all shame-faced and looked the other way, deliberate in defocusing and diverting everyone’s attention to the camp issues of evacuation sanitation, food shortage and petty crimes and oh, yes, relocation — and teaching fishers how to plant! But nobody talked about the political details of the roots of Zamboanga crisis and its deep consequences.

Meanwhile our religious leaders, the Darul Iftah and the National Commission on Muslim Filipinos were meeting with their counterparts in the City Hall on a daily basis, the Crisis Management Committee sometimes juggling multiple meetings into the wee morning light were made to submit voluminous documents, on-the-spot project proposals, reconstructions and rehabilitation designs, barangay resolutions, petition papers, documentary and legal evidences of the Muslim settlement, name it, and we produced those papers in record time, but to no avail because the burning continued, ceasing only when not a single post of the more flashy bungalows and permanent homes in Rio Hondo and Mariki stood. The memory still rankles. It sends chills to my heart, how you can never trust double-dealers. And it was the same anxious paralysis that gripped me when I saw our Muslim leaders once again “propped up on stage” like that.

But the nagging feeling soon turned to excitement and multiplied pin-pricks of apprehensive expectancy as the morning flowed into a serendipitous encounter with beloved friends, Julie Alipala, Land Ramos, and colleagues of our old Technical Working Group (TWG) of Darul Iftah – old friends rallying for the IDPs three years ago that now felt like ages, whom I had left with heavy heart and intrepid rage and sadness as I turned my back as a ‘hostile’ from the city that I used to write so lovingly about.

But there we were chorusing ‘reunion!’ with Tuan Ben Lutian, Engr. Al Urao, Tuan Gamz Hassan, Tn. Munib Kahal, Tn. Lahir Batin , although this time, we came each wearing our respective sectoral and stakeholder’s hats, in one voice we echoed Al’s prognosis that “the fateful 2013 Zamboanga crisis was a failed governance that sent more than 100,000 of our people homeless and up to today remaining in the streets as uprooted IDPs. Now, we have the hopes of a participatory governance and shared power and people’s leadership in a set-up of federalism.” We shall not let this tide pass by sleeping.

We were there to affirm that indeed we have never waned in faith for our traditional elders and religious leaders. Wherever they stand, we will be there and there is never a question of ‘why’. We have always been a sturdy lot, and by Allah’s help we keep pushing and bouncing back to stand up against oppression. We came to listen, and once again be reminded by our sheik, imam, alim, ustadh and hadji, “why, in all those years [in the 1970’s (Tripoli Agreement), in 1980’s (1986 Maimbung Congress and emissary with Pres. Cory Aquino), in 1990’s (Final Peace Agreement between MNLF and GRP), and now the BBL of 2014)], why, when we were in the threshold, and almost there, Allah did not give what we thought is due provision for us? Because He knows what is in our hearts. And Allah changes the condition of the people only when they change what is in their heart” (interview with Hj.Taha at DCG 01-11-2016).

(MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Born in Laminusa island, Sulu, Mucha-Shim Lahaman Quiling is founding directress of the Lumah Ma Dilaut School for Living Traditions. She is Vice Chair and Chief Executive Officer of Tausug think tank group Sulu Current Research Institute and consultant at the Sama Studies Center of the Mindanao State University Tawi-Tawi College of Technology and Oceanography in Sanga-Sanga, Bongao, Tawi-Tawi, where she is also a lecturer at the College of Arts and Sciences. She holds a Doctor of Philosophy in Inter-religious studies conferred by the Indonesian Consortium for Religious studies in University Gadja Madah, University Kristen Duta Wacana and Universitas Islamic Negara (Sunan Kalijaga) in Indonesia)