Moro leader barred entry into US is second in 14 years

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 19 April) — The national chair of Suara Bangsamoro (Voice of the Moro People) arrived in San Francisco Tuesday night holding a 10-year multiple entry US visa but was deported the next day for still unclear reasons, the second Moro leader to be turned back in 14 years.

The 25-year old Jerome Aladdin Succor Aba, an Iranun Datu from Parang, Maguindanao, was invited by several church groups such as the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, the Sisters of Mercy, and the General Board of Global Ministries of the United Methodist Church, to speak on the Philippine situation at the 16th National Ecumenical Advocacy Days (EAD) in Washington DC on April 20 to 23, among others.

The International Coalition for Human Rights in the Philippines (ICHRP) sent this call via social media for a telephone barrage to the Customs and Border Protection to demand that young Moro leader Jerome Aladdin Succor Aba be allowed entry into San Francisco. Aba, a holder of a ten-year US multiple entry visa, was held for still unclear reasons, at the San Francisco airport upon arrival Tuesday, and was sent home Wednesday.

The EAD is one of the largest gatherings of church and faith-based groups across the US that discusses social issues and concludes their activity with a lobby day at Capitol Hill.

Aba, also vice chair of the Sandugo Movement of Moro and Indigenous Peoples for Self-Determination, is the second Moro activist from Maguindanao to have been barred entry into the US in 14 years.

In May 2004, Prof. Abhoud Syed Lingga, Executive Director of the Institute of Bangsamoro Studies andchair of the Bangsamoro People’s Consultative Assembly, who was invited to at least two conferences, including one in the United Nations, was detained upon arrival in Los Angeles and was sent home within 24 hours.

Amirah Ali Lidasan, former national president of Suara Bangsamoro blamed US  President Donald Trump’s “discriminatory and xenophobic Muslim ban policy” as the reason why Aba was denied entry in the US.

Lidasan said Aba’s case is the first recorded deportation of a Moro since the presidency of Donald Trump.

“We condemn Trump’s Islamophobic policy and enjoin Muslims in the Philippines to protest this,” said Lidasan as she called on Muslims in the country to “protest the incident at the US Embassy.”

In San Francisco, some members of the International Coalition for Human Rights in the Philippines (ICHRP) US Chapter gathered at the airport and launched a phone barrage to call the Customs and Border Protection Agency to demand his release and to allow his entry in the US.

The group said authorities had not released the basis for denying Aba’s entry.

The ICHRP statement said Aba was to “speak on the human rights situation in the Philippines under the administration of Rodrigo Duterte,” and speak before other groups as part of its “Stop The Killings Speaking Tour.”

Terry Valen, a spokesperson for the ICHRP told the that they were at the airport to welcome Aba for his 8 p.m. arrival. The plane arrived 25 minutes later but he did not show up.

Valen said that at around 7 a.m. Wednesday, Aba left a voicemail saying he had been denied entry to the US and would be deported the next day.

Lingga, who was also chair of the Bangsamoro People’s Consultative Assembly, told MindaNews in 2004 that he was told by US Immigration officials at the airport in Los Angeles that he was “inadmissible into the United States” and was given two options: return to the Philippines voluntarily or appeal before the Immigrations judge. Lingga opted to return home.

“When people do not welcome you, why insist?” Lingga told MindaNews in a telephone interview then.

Lingga left Manila for New York via Los Angeles at 10 p.m. on May 12, 2004 to attend the 3rdsession of the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues of the Social Policy and Development of the Department of Economics and Social Affairs in the United Nations in New York. The conference was scheduled on May 10 to 21 but was able to leave only on May 12 because he was granted a US visa only on May 11.

Unlike Aba who has a 10-year multiple entry visa, Lingga’s application for visa was actually denied on April 15, 2004 despite his presentation of the invitations from the UN Permanent Forum and from the Asia Society and United States Institute of Peace (USIP) which were sponsoring a conference on “Securing Peace in Mindanao: Resolving the Roots of Conflict” in New York on May 25. At that time, former US Ambassador to the Philippines Nicholas Platt was the President of the Asia Society while another former US Ambassador to the Philippines, Eugene Martin, headed the USIP.

When his US visa was denied in April that year, Lingga filed a petition for reconsideration which was granted on May 11 but despite showing his travel document and the invitations to the New York conferences, he was told upon arrival in Los Angeles that he was “inadmissible into the United States.”

He said he did not bother to ask why he was “inadmissible.”

Lingga said he was aware that he was a victim of discrimination but “when people do not welcome you, why insist? When I visit your house and you say you can’t come in, why insist?”

The May 25 conference was canceled and later re-scheduled to September that year after Lingga’s fellow resource persons from Mindanao withdrew participation in protest of what happened to Lingga.

But Lingga’s ordeal did not end there. While the US organizers got him a special document from the Department of Homeland Security to attach to his passport for the September travel to the conference, while he had a visa and the invitation letters from conference organizers, another set of problems began at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport where he registered an alert upon check in. Lingga’s fellow resource persons who were taking the same flight informed the US Embassy’s political officer in Manila that they would not leave Manila if Lingga would not be allowed to leave.

Lingga was finally allowed but upon arrival in New York was asked to disembark first and was held by Immigration for at least an hour.  From New York to Washington, DC to San Francisco, airport check-in took long for Lingga. But the worst was on their way home to the Philippines when Lingga was barred exit in San Francisco. His plane departed for Manila without him and Datu Michael Mastura on board.

Mastura, a former Maguindanao congressman, stood by Lingga.

The two left San Francisco for Manila the next day.  (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)