DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 12 September) — President Rodrigo Duterte and senior government and military officials are being urged to “be a model of decorum” following major gaffes that offended many during their visit to the Islamic Center in Marawi City on Monday, Day 112 of the war between government forces and the Maute Group.
It was the fourth visit to the troops in Marawi by the country’s first Mindanawon President and the first with Moro blood for having a Maranao grandmother.
Duterte, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon, Presidential Adviser on Military Affairs Arthur Tabaquero, Armed Forces Chief of Staff Gen. Eduardo Año, Philippine Army Chief Lt. Gen. Glorioso Miranda, Western Mindanao Command chief Lt. Gen. Carlito Galvez, other senior military officials and security escorts, as well as Special Assistant to the President Christopher Lawrence Go and Communications Assistant Secretary Mocha Uson entered the mosque without removing their shoes.
Muslims perform ablution and remove their shoes before entering mosques where they lie prostrate on the floor as a form of supplication and complete submission to the will of Allah.
Three days earlier, on September 8, 43 military and police officers lay prostrate in that same mosque for the first Friday congregational prayer since government forces took control of the Islamic Center on August 24.
The Maute Group used the Jameo Mindanao Al-Islamie, also known as Islamic Center or Grand Mosque, as its “command center” and “snipers’ nest” when the clashes started on May 23 until government forces took over three months later.
Friday’s congregational prayer was led by Marawi City Chief of Police Superintendent Ebra M Moxsir, who is also an Imam. Moxsir was not part of the President’s party on September 11.
Helmets on, firearms in, no veil
Clad in camouflage uniform and bulletproof vests, Duterte, Lorenzana and top military officials with them wore not only their shoes but also their helmets and also brought their firearms inside the mosque.
Wearing a camouflage top and tight jeans, Uson also entered the mosque with her long hair not covered by a hijab (veil) and a video clip shows her entering the mosque, guiding her audience as tourist guides do.
Mosques have separate entrances for women and women are expected to cover their hair and upper part of the body with a hijab. They are also expected to wear clothes loose enough so as not to reveal their body shape.
As with other religions, respect for a place of worship is important and silence must be observed.
The President has visited Marawi four times — July 20, August 4, August 24 and September 11 — but in all these visits, media coverage was not allowed. Photographs and video of the visits are released by Malacanang along with transcripts of the speeches.
“Be a model of decorum”
Samira Ali Gutoc of the Ranao Rescue Team told MindaNews that while the visit to the mosque shows President Duterte has “control and authority already, that we are nearing return to normalcy” but “in according respect to holy sites in this Islamic City, we urge the President to bring Islamic leaders on his side so the commander is advised of decorum inside a mosque.”
“We urge observance of courtesy in entry to mosques, no sandals much more so boots inside. As state authorities, we urge they be model of decorum of how citizens treat religious installations,” she said.
“We cannot even bear selfies in war zone, what more smiling in bullet-ridden mosque,” Gutoc added.
Rufa Cagoco Guiam, a retired professor who is an expert in gender and development in armed conflict contexts and in peace studies, said the release of the photographs by Malacanang is “like rubbing salt to the wounds of war of the Meranaws.”
Guiam said the President “needs to acknowledge this not only a faux pas but a serious affront to the cultural and religious sensibilities of the Meranaws and all Muslim Filipinos. Pero I guess this is asking for the moon. So let him be; later his loyal department of explanation, apology and retraction will come to his rescue!
Guiam, who served as the first Moro woman editor in chief of the country’s longest running Catholic newspaper, The Mindanao Cross, in Cotabato City, said “the offended must not be the one to beg the offender to offer an apology. He owes it to the offended. In other words he is the one to seek that forgiveness from the ones he offended.”
Robert Maulana Marohombsar Alonto, a former senior member of the peace panel of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front wrote on his Facebook wall: “We condemn in strongest terms any sacrilege done to our mosques or inside our mosques. It’s the right thing to do as Muslims. We should not tolerate any disrespect to our Faith by anybody, whether by a President or state security forces.”
But Alonto, a supporter of Duterte particularly on his war on drugs and federalism, also asked his fellow Muslims to go into introspection. “We ought to condemn, too, any act of desecration or destruction done to churches, synagogues, or places of worship. It’s the right thing to do as Muslims. Salahudin al-Ayoubi prohibited it during the war against the European crusaders because Islam does not condone it. So why was there no loud outrage expressed when the ISIS thugs destroyed and burned a Christian church in Marawi City?” Alonto asked. The Maute Group later sent out through social media a video clip showing how they destroyed religious icons inside the St. Mary’s Church.
Drieza Lininging, Secretary-General of the Bangsamoro National Movement for Peace and Development and co-founder of the militant youth organization, Free The Bangsamoro Movement, likens the photos or Duterte’s visit to the mosque to President Joseph Estrada’s “bringing of pork and liquor inside Camp Abubakar after liberating it from the MILF (Moro Islamic Liberation Front) in year 2000.”
Liningding, who actively campaigned for a Duterte Presidency and was an avid supporter of the President until the early days of the Marawi siege, said it is “forbidden for non-Muslims to set foot inside the masjid (Arabic for mosque) as we consider this holy. Even Muslims are prohibited from entering without proper ablution, especially with the presence of Mocha, a symbol of what many Muslims will consider as pornography.”
“I would like to remind the President that the Islamic Center was occupied by the MG- ISIS they don’t own this, this masjid Islamic Center is considered to be the house of Allah (S.W.T.) for the People of Marawi’s use to worship him, our Almighty Creator! There is no need to liberate this as a symbol of victory,” he said.
‘No fire’ areas
For three months of aerial bombardment, the military said they made sure mosques are “no fire” areas.
On June 14, Galvez announced “we will not bomb or target any mosque” as mosques have “never been our target,” adding this was “the reason why I had more than 50 killed in action and 297 wounded in action because of our extremely restrictive rules of engagements.” As of September 11, the number of soldiers killed had reached 145, the number of wounded over a thousand.
In Malacanang also on June 14, Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla, AFP spokesperson reiterated that the AFP is “firm in its commitment to use other options that would flush out this Maute/Daesh-inspired group from these places of worship that they have converted into machine gun and sniper nest, defensive position, and arsenals for their war activities.”
He assured Muslims that they will “not go down to the level of these terrorists who desecrate places of worship to lure government security forces into responding to their violent activities in a similar manner.”
Three months later, the Islamic Center still stands as promised by government, but the President and the military are facing criticisms of “desecration.”
MindaNews asked Galvez why the basic rule of removing shoes before entering the mosque, among others, was not followed in Monday’s visit. He sent no reply.
“The least that the President and his men could do now to the almost half a million displaced Meranaws is to show some religious sensitivity. Their presence and of Mocha could be considered by many Muslims as a desecration of our Masjid. The President should apologize for this, if he still cares for our feelings. I personally condemn this act. They could take picture outside but not from inside,” Liningding said.
In a statement, Assemblyman Zia Alonto Adiong, spokesperson of the Provincial Crisis Management Committee, said that while the President’s visit to the Islamic Center is another statement that signifies the war in Marawi is coming to an end, “we should avoid actions that may offend our Muslim brothers and sisters.”
“We advise caution to our officials to prudently carry out their mandate in a manner that conforms with religious standards and protocols when entering religious establishments in order to maintain respect to the sensitive nature of places of worship,” he said.
Adiong reiterated it is “our civic duty and our obligation as peace loving citizens of this country to support our troops on the ground” but added that it is “also our moral obligation, civilians and officials alike, to guide our actions based on religious sensitivities and common respect towards religious establishments of every faith.”
Adiong posted in a Viber group a photograph of his son and nephew at the Islamic Center during the Eid’l Fitr celebration last year. “Notice how we teach our kids to leave their slippers and not to bring them inside the holy ground,” wrote Adiong. (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)