Saturday, November 21, 2009

Will the Philippines Police also shoot Christian Squatters?

I am in Jakarta, participating in a conference on counter-terrorism and the role of civil society. How ironic to receive the news from Manila about police shooting Muslim squatters. Three Muslims were killed, according to reports, as a result of the violent demolition incident in a Muslim community in Baclaran on November 18. The fatalities included a 7-year-old boy, while 20 more were injured. I am trying to recall whether the police also shoot to kill Christian squatters.

Can’t think of any incident in the last 20 years. This is how the state makes it easy for terrorists to recruit new members from Muslim groups. Treat them violently but treat non-Muslims with kid gloves.

News accounts indicate that the demolition started to become violent when the demolition team, backed up by the Pasay City police, started to tear down a mosque in the community and when Pasay City policemen opened fire at resisting residents.

I share the indignation of all Muslims with this blatant disregard for human life. I share the sentiment of Anak Mindanao Party List Rep. Mujiv Hataman when he said that the demolition drive, though covered by a court order, “was brutal and bereft of respect for the human rights of the hapless residents.” This is simply criminal!

The police are there to maintain order. When people started hurling stones, is it correct police procedure to fire at unarmed civilians? Shouldn’t they just withdraw and allow negotiations to ensue so that the matter can be resolved without killing three Muslims?

The demolition team should have been sensitive to the rights of the people, especially in the case of tearing down a mosque without the assurance of a relocation site. In the news reports, the police, who under usual circumstances would have dealt with the resistance with maximum tolerance, fired their guns directly at the Muslim residents.

Let me be clear: I believe in protecting property rights, and I do not condone violence, be it throwing of stones and debris or shooting someone. But it is important to put this unfortunate event into perspective.

How can any society justify the shooting of homeless people who were resisting the demolition of the area they call home? I can at least understand the police shooting at bank robbers who fire back at them.

But these are informal settlers whose only fault is that they do not own a house in their own country.

According to a report by the Metro Manila Inter-Agency Committee on Informal Settlers (MMIAC) one out of every five residents in Metro Manila is a squatter. This represents 21 percent of the 2.6 million households population in Metro Manila.

This is therefore not just a question of property rights but also a question of social justice. I saw on TV one Muslim sister shouting, “Hindi kami bobo, hindi kami magpipilit sa isang lugar na hindi amin! Pero saan kami pupunta? Saan kami titira?” What has become of our society? People demand for shelter and we give them bullets?

And it also strikes me as ironic that the mosque at the center of the controversy is named after Rajah Sulayman, one of the three Muslim rulers (the others are Rajah Matanda and Rajah Lakandula) who governed Manila during the mid-16th century. Today, Muslims are squatters in this territory that were previously ruled by their ancestors.

I cannot help but recall the tremendous dislocations of Muslims in Mindanao as a result of Christian immigration to the island. According to the venerable scholar, Dr. Samuel Tan, the Muslims comprised 49 percent of the total population in Mindanao. By 1970, it was down to 18 percent. The Christian population, on the other hand, increased dramatically from 22 percent to 69 percent of the total population. Today, if government figures are to be believed, Muslims comprise 20 percent of the Mindanao population.

This dramatic shift in population was brought about by an incredible growth of government-sponsored Christian Filipino immigration from northern provinces to the Muslim South. In addition, the land laws of the first Philippine Republic defined all unregistered lands in Mindanao to be public land or military reservations.

Just to dramatize the hostility with which the state treats Muslims: In September 2009, the military bombed a village in Indanan, Sulu as the villagers were preparing to go to the mosque to celebrate Eid’l Fitr, which marks the end of the holy month of Ramadan, one of the 2 most sacred celebrations of the Muslim world. The military operations, to arrest three “high value targets,” killed several, caused panic among the worshippers, and disrupted the celebrations altogether. It forcibly displaced 300 families in Marang, Indanan, and other barangays. Government troops then raised the Philippine flag on a hill at Sitio Talibang in Indanan town on Jolo Island. Would government have approved such a military operation if the terrorists were in a village in Bicol, to celebrate Christmas Eve mass with their families? I think not.

I do not wish to suggest that an inflammatory Christian vs. Muslim perspective because we at the Philippine Council for Islam and Democracy have long been advocates of interfaith dialog. But violations of human rights of the Muslims such as what transpired in Baclaran do remind us so eloquently that we are a minority in this country and that justice is not always tilted in our favor.

And I am here in Jakarta, to contribute my thoughts on how we in civil society can help the state counter terrorism. First, let the State treat Muslims as citizens, as humans. And then perhaps we can discuss how we can collaborate to fight terrorism. By Amina Rusel for the Manila Times.

Editor’s note: The Philippine National Police continues to deny that there has been any death. But says nine persons, including six from the demolition team, were hurt. No names and details of slain victims have been given by Muslims to the authorities at press time. But they claim they immediately buried or cremated the dead.

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