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Zambo Muslims showing the way


A lady councilor in Zamboanga City got so peeved at published articles recently  that carried my appeal for “social cohesion” otherwise the armed incident might recur following the armed siege that   she asked the council that I be declared “persona non grata” and barred from visiting Zamboanga City again. Th proposed resolution was discussed in last week’s council session.   Wow,  I was almost floored there. But on second thoughts, my guess is that she had not read my series and she was shooting from the hip. But that’s understandable. She’s  a neophyte and on her first term. 

I didn’t realize that my effort in raising the alarm that an ethnically polarized Zamboanga would be received in that light  by  one of the political leaders of the city itself .  Good that the other city councilors thought it was a rash judgment call and wanted to hear me expound some more on my written thoughts. I committed to appear before the august body in January after the holidays.

I was glad this happened because then I can officially take my advocacy of helping Zamboanga to another level. I guess it’s about time that some wakeup call be made on some Zamboanguenos. No one is talking about the distrust and the hatred arising amongst groups due to  the 3-week Zamboanga siege. The terrorism inflicted by MNLF’s Ustadz Malik had polarized the locals. There is now quiet but seething anger and distrust against Muslims, specifically Tausugs, even if many of the unfortunate innocent victims  were  Muslims themselves. When I was there recently, even the well-intentioned and earnest plan of the city in not allowing the return of Muslims to where their houses were burned was being viewed as discriminatory against the tribes. Some  said it was better to clear those squatters areas, mostly by Muslims and Badjaos, to avoid similar incidents in the future.  I talked with ordinary folks in the streets, mostly christians  and they were angry and distrustful  at Muslims. They knew only Christians were taken and held  as hostages by Malik during the siege while  Muslims were freed and allowed  to go. Let’s face it.   We must rebuild these broken relationships amongst groups because Zamboanga is the focal center of diverse peoples coming from the neighboring island provinces of Sulu, Basilan and Tawi-tawi. Unless we heal those “social wounds”, incidents such as this one could recur.

I felt warm when I learned that recently,  as a gesture of reconciliation and a way of rebuilding trusts, a group of Muslims armed with hammers and carpenter tools helped rebuild a Catholic chapel that was destroyed during the siege. I hope the good lady councilor, instead of her proposed measure in the city council, lead a group of  Christian Zamboanguenos  in repairing the destroyed mosques in return. 

Her mindset , unfortunately,  may be reflective of that gap that we must all help to bridge. I had several thoughts. Perhaps,   she wanted to keep Zamboanga an exclusive enclave . She’d rather that those who “do not belong” to keep off Zamboanga.  I do not blame her for being traumatized by the MNLF incident, just like many Zamboanguenos I have talked to. But as I said, her   formula  would not work. It is a prescription for more trouble.     It’s better to rebuild broken relationships and restore trust for sustainable peace. I learned this in my long work in other conflict-affected areas in Mindanao. 

And by the way,  the last time I checked, we are still in a democracy.

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