Omar Solitario Ali: “I cannot be and I will not be a terrorist”

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 10 April) – Former Marawi City mayor Omar Solitario Ali, a commander of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) in Lanao del Sur during the Marcos dictatorship, lost his battle with brain tumor on Friday in a hospital in Cagayan de Oro City, his plea for a day in court unheeded. 

“I was never accorded a day in court, or the right to confront my accusers, and I can never agree that our Department of National Defense  can just come up with a listing of hundreds of names (out of unverified / unclassified raw intel reports contaminated with local political feuds) and that will make those listed as fugitives … What is happening to our country?” Solitario posted on his Facebook page on March 17, 2019.

“I cannot be and I will not be a terrorist,” he declared.

The 70-year-old Solitario served as mayor of Marawi City for two terms, from 2001 to 2007, ran for mayor in 2016 under the Partido ng Demokratikong Pilipino (PDP) whose standard bearer then was Davao City mayor Rodrigo Duterte, but lost to Majul Gandamra of the Liberal Party. 

Omar Solitario Ali after signing the candidates’ pledge for a clean and honest election in Marawi City in 2019. the former mayor (2001 to 2007) ran for mayor in 2016 and 2019 but lost to Majul Gandamra. Photo from his FB page

In August 2016, however, his name was included in President Duterte’s list of personalities allegedly involved in illegal drugs and during the Marawi Siege in 2017, was ordered arrested for alleged involvement in the attack on Marawi, his name included in the Arrest Orders 1 and 2 of Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, then the martial law administrator.  

Lorenzana’s arrest orders, issued following the declaration of martial law on May 23, 2017 — Day 1 of the Marawi Siege — directed the Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, Director-General of the Philippine National Police, Commandant of the Philippine Coast Guard, the Director of the National Bureau of Investigation and Commissioner of the Bureau of Immigration to “arrest, take into custody and conduct/continue the investigation on the following personalities for violation of Article 134 (Rebellion) of the Revised Penal Code of the Philippines or any crime related thereto.”

“Kampi ka sa gobyerno or kalaban tayo?”

On June 9, 2017, Duterte in a speech before soldiers in a military camp in Sultan Kudarat recalled that he gave Solitario a mouthful during his recent phone conversation with him. 

“Sabi ko, put__ina, ano ka ba? Kampi ka sa gobyerno o kalaban tayo? Kasi sabi ko pinapahuli ka ni Lorenzana, put__ina, ipapatay talaga kita” (I told him, put__ina, what are you? For government or against us. I told him Lorenza wants him arrested, I will have you killed). 

Duterte said he told Solitario to first clear his name before Lorenzana before they could continue communicating with each other.

Solitario denied involvement in illegal drugs and in the Marawi Siege. 

Peace rally at the Oval of the Iligan City High School with MNLF commander Omar Solitario Ali (extreme right) sometime in 1987. (L to R) Col. Raul Aquino, military commander of the Lanao provinces, Iligan Bishop Fernando Capalla and Ike delos Reyes of the National Democratic Front-Northwestern Mindanao. MindaNews photo by BOBBY TIMONERA

Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Jesus Dureza even vouched for him, explaining he was a consultant in the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP). 

Dureza succeeded in getting Solitario delisted from Lorenzana’s arrest orders. Solitario and his two sons were removed from the list on August 16, 2017 on the basis of a “conditional clearance” given by Lorenzana but six days later, on August 22, Lorenzana revoked it, citing “vehement objections” from the AFP, PNP and local leaders in Marawi and Lanao Sur.

Martial law, supposedly only for 60 days, was extended thrice, until December 31, 2019. 

PDP rally 

On April 12, 2019, still under martial law and still supposedly “wanted” on the basis of the Lorenzana arrest orders, Solitario showed up at the rally of the PDP-Laban at the Dimaporo Gym in Marawi City, a rally that was supposed to have been graced by President Duterte. The latter was a no-show. 

Solitario sat on the front row facing the stage and was publicly acknowledged by senatorial bets but was intercepted by the military as he stepped out of the Dimaporo Gymnasium and brought to the headquarters of the 103rd Infantry Brigade. 

The military said they did not arrest but merely “invited” the former mayor. 

Former Marawi Mayor Omar Solitario speaks in Meranaw to pacify his companions and supporters just outside the Dimaporo gymnasium where he attended the rally of the Partido ng Demokratikong Pilipino on Friday,April 12, 2019. Solitario was intercepted by the military and “invited” to the 103rd Infantry Brigade which was later ordered to release him. MindaNews photo by CAROLYN O. ARGUILLAS

Solitario in 2019 was one of nine candidates for mayor, running under the People’s Consultative Party but his campaign materials posted on social media bore the faces of President Duterte and  PDP senatorial candidates Christopher Lawrence “Bong” Go and Ronald dela Rosa. There was no PDP candidate for mayor. 

Campaign material of Omar Solitario Ali in 2019. Photo from his FB page

“We just invited him for an interview,” the commander of the 103rd Infantry Brigade then, Col. Romeo Brawner, said in response to MindaNews’ query if Solitario was arrested.

Asked where Solitario was, Brawner said he had been released. “We received orders to release him,” he said, but sent no reply when asked who ordered them to release Solitario. 

MindaNews asked Lorenzana then on the status of Solitario, if he had been cleared of the charges.  “We are in the process of doing it. We’ll know in a couple of days if he will be cleared and removed from the arrest order(s).”  

Then Armed Forces Chief of Staff  Gen. Benjamin Madrigal was also asked who ordered Solitario’s release but did not reply as well. 

On April 13, 2019, the day after the PDP rally, Solitario posted on his Facebook page a statement: “This is to clarify that Hon. OMAR SOLITARIO ALI was just INVITED by AFP and some VIP Guests in Brigade to discuss matters regarding the turn-over of his houses in MSU, Marawi City.” 

“Dirty politics”

In a post on March 17, 2019, he blamed “dirty local politics” for the accusations against him.  “Politicians will saturate our information with politics to use the AFP to neutralize their political opponent. That is what happened to me and my family.”

“I, Omar Solitario Ali, have nothing to do with the Mautes of Butig. It was just a coincidence that my brother Pre Salic was married about 35 years ago to Rasmia Romato who happened to be a first cousin of the Maute Brothers. That was before the Maute Brothers were born. Those guys were infected with the extremists virus perhaps just five years ago, but the greater number of their relatives abhor their idea of extremism,” he wrote. 

He said he met the Maute brothers in Butig only when then Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Jesus Dureza sent him to talk to them.

“I met the Maute brothers in Butig when I was sent by Sec Jesus Dureza to talk to them, the day the president visited Butig, and I did talk to them but it flowed very confrontational – Omar conciliatory but Abdullah and myself debated very heatedly on their concept of Islam and social change.” President Duterte visited Butig on November 30, 2016. 

He noted that if he were not a revolutionary leader before and had no relation by affinity, “they might have killed me right there and then.” He went home, “gave up the idea of convincing them to stop fighting and to give the President a chance to prove he will cause shift to federalism, which will accommodate their demand for a society substantially Islamic.”  

But religious leaders prevailed upon him to give it another try, spoke to the Mautes and reported to him three days later that the Mautes had organized a team to talk with him three days later. “Unfortunately, OPAPP conveyed to me that AFP (Armed Forces of the Philippines) disliked the idea,” he said. 

“After Marcos, violence should only be in Moro history books”

Solitario narrated that on Day 1 of the siege on May 23, 2017, he was in a meeting in Chali Beach, Cagayan de Oro City, with “10 old comrades in the MNLF, 10 high ranking officials of the MILF … many Ulama, Professionals,  and youth leaders” to discuss “ways to oppose and contain the spread of the radical and destructive Islamic State  ideology.”

He said he had a radio program every Sunday night for four years discussing the “menace of extremism and the need to stick to the Authentic Islam” which he said he studied for decades and “I believe I am a strong pillar of moderation in religion.” 

“I am 67 years old. I finished law school. I have MDM (Master in Development Management) degree from AIM (Asian Institute of Management). I used to be a PA Major in the Reserved Command, I have 46 grandchildren. I used to be the Regional President of PDP-Laban, I cannot be and I will not be a terrorist,” Solitario said, ending his narrative by saying he was “never accorded a day in court, or the right to confront my accusers,” that the arrest orders contained a list of “unverified/unclassified raw intel reports contaminated with local political feuds” and this question: “What is happening to our country?”

Ten days later, on March 27, 2019,  Solitario again posted on his Facebook page that some people, whom he did not name, were trying to pin down his family “after they failed in their first attempt to fabricate stories.”

“Hanap pa sila ng paraan para i-pin down nila ang aming pamilya (They are still looking for ways to pin down my family) after they failed in their first attempt to fabricate stories. This is another attempt to malign my family,” he wrote. 

He said the “fabricator” of stories against him could launch attacks and blame these on his family. “Para sa akin at sa pamilya ko (For me and my family), after Marcos, violence should only be in Moro History books,” Solitario said.  

In another post on February 16, 2019, Solitario said he believes it was “not a coincidence but a divine determination that I am not the leader of Marawi when the siege happened.”

“I would definitely have asked those Daula Islamia terrorists to abandon the city and prevent its fatal destruction or I led to fight them and die in the process. I may also have pleaded and insisted to our AFP to give me time to negotiate the pull out of those bad guys, and not bombard and destroy MARAWI. I do not want to live and lead to witness the destruction of my birth place, unless the perpetrators will kill me in the process,” he said. 

Triumphant

MindaNews asked Lorenzana on Saturday if Solitario had been cleared in relation to the Marawi siege. He said he has to check. “Too long ago. I’ll check with the PNP” (Philippine National Police), he said. 

Friends of Solitario told MindaNews he did not receive any written clearance. An official in a government office who is a close friend of Solitario said there may have been a clearance but “verbal only.”  

Lawyer Omar Sema, Member of Parliament of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM), described Solitario as “one of the MNLF leaders who has proven the democratic process works in our collective search for self-determination and genuine self-governance.”

Sema, son of Muslimin Sema, chair of a faction of the MNLF (now Labor Minister of the BARMM), said Solitario and “the other leaders with no established machinery paddled their way against the current of traditional politics in the Bangsamoro – and by all means they were triumphant. Their success is a barometer for the current brass of revolutionary leaders who have embraced the process as a way to achieving total victory. Total victory of the Bangsamoro Jihad Fii Sabilillah.”  (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)