Grace Poe: The child of ‘Muslim .357’
MANILA, Philippines – Only Allah knows how Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) chief negotiator Mohagher Iqbal kept his composure in the face of verbal attacks when he finally appeared before the Senate committee probing the Mamasapano incident on February 12.
"Why have I labeled the organization (MILF) as a terrorist? That is not meant as an insult, sir. Chairman Iqbal, I hope you understand it is an international legal term,” said Senator Alan Peter Cayetano, who was particularly unrelenting in his tirade against the Muslim rebel group on Day 3 of the Senate hearing on the January 25 clash in Mamasapano that killed 44 elite cops among others.
“I stand by my word and by my accusation that we shouldn’t continue the negotiations for peace with the MILF, but we should continue the quest for peace – unless talikuran ng MILF ang terrorism (unless MILF abandons terrorism),” he added. He earlier withdrew as co-author of the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law that would put the MILF at the helm of a transition to a more powerful autonomous Muslim region.
The senator was convinced that the MILF has links not only to the breakaway group Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) that has coddled international terrorists but also to the Al-Qaeda-linked Abu Sayyaf Group.
Iqbal adamantly denied the links, highlighting 17 years of hard work since the government invited the group to talk peace. (READ: Cayetano, Deles clash on MILF 'terror' links and ARMM governor holds back tears, defends Moros)
He was calm and appeared to be closing his eyes every time he answered questions, as if he was always in prayer. (FULL TEXT: Mohagher Iqbal's statement at Mamasapano hearing)
Senator Grace Poe, chairman of the Senate committee on peace and order, saved hearing from getting totally out of hand.
“I sympathize,” Poe began, addressing Iqbal after the 6-hour Senate hearing where he was put on the hot seat.
She then recited lines delivered by her father – the late actor Fernando Poe Jr – in the prizewinning movie Muslim .357. With that gesture, she reminded everyone that she is the daughter of a man who endeared himself to the Muslims because of movies that appreciated their culture and understood their fight for equality in a country dominated by Christians.
“Mayroong nabitawang salita, bagama’t sa pelikula. Sabi ng mga Muslim: noong dumating ang Kastila, lumaban kami. Umalis sila, naiwan kami rito. Dumating ang mga Amerikano, lumaban kami. Umalis sila, naiwan kami rito."
(These words were uttered, although only in a movie. The Muslims said: when the Spaniards arrived, the Muslims fought. They left, but we are still here. The Americans came, we fought them, too. They left, but we are still here.)
And then she improvised and added to his father’s lines. “Ang kadugtong po niyan ay: hanggang ngayon, lumalaban pa rin kami. At alam ko ang hirap din ng pagkakaroon ng pakikipaglaban sa isang komunidad.”
(The continuation is: up to now, we are still fighting. And I know the difficulty of having to fight for our own communities.)
Muslim .357 is the story of a Muslim police called to Manila to hunt down a criminal syndicate. He kills some of its members, but his cover is blown before he can accomplish his mission.
He is supposed to return to Mindanao, but the death of two children who have gotten close to him in the hands of the syndicate has angered him that, as a movie teaser puts it, “the Muslim in him surfaces." In a rido-like rage, he prepares his weapon – a Magnum .357 – and takes the law in his own hands.
His enemy turns out to be a fellow cop, one of his superiors played by Eddie Garcia. The lines repeated by her daughter before the Senate hearing are uttered at the end of the movie, before he kills Garcia, who has barked that Muslims like him have no place in the country.
In the movie, there is no debate that FPJ is the hero – a good cop forced to take the law in his hands because he has to avenge loved ones. His actions are all understandable.
In reality, it's a national debate that has pitted Muslims against Christinas. While the Philippine National Police (PNP) condemns the MILF for the 'overkill' of the Special Action Force commandos, the MILF insisted it was a "misencounter" that could have been avoided if only the cops coordinated with them properly. (READ: Inside Mamasapano: When the bullets ran out)
Poe's recollection of her father's movie was probably triggered by Iqbal's response to Cayetano explaining why MILF had to take arms.
Chairman Iqbal: The Bangsamoro have a particular narrative. Gaya po ng sinabi ko kanina, pagdating ng Kastila, hindi lang sa Mindanao ang saklaw namin. Pati rito sa Manila and Tondo was under the Muslims. And then during the Spanish times, we had a war. For more than 300 years, we were never conquered. Then, when the Americans arrived, from 1898, nakita nila na talagang iba ang mga Moros. So they granted what they called the Moro province. So, ganoon po. Ibig sabihin, if you look at history in a more objective way, talagang nawala na, nawala na ang dapat na hindi mawala sa Bangsamoro.
But even as she symphatized, Poe told Iqbal she also wants justice for the 44 fallen SAF commandos. “Kailangan din natin ang hustisya para sa mga nasawi (We also need to give those who died justice),” she said.
As she grilled the cops for failing to coordinate with the military and the military for its slow response to rescue the cops, Poe asked the MILF to put in place a mechanism that will give MILF leadership better control of its men on the ground.
The televised hearings are not over and more questions will be asked. Before closing Day 3, Poe made an appeal for everyone to listen to the other side. "Kung nagkabaliktad ang sitwasyon at ang 10%, sabi ni Professor Clarita Carlos, ay ang mga Kristiyano at ang 90% ay Muslim, siyempre gusto rin natin na marinig ang boses natin.”
(If, as Professor Clarita Carlos said, we had the reverse of the current situation, with the Christians comprising only 10% of the population and the Muslims the 90%, of course we would also want our voices to be heard.)
After the hearing, Iqbal approached Philippine National Police Officer-in-Charge Deputy Director General Leonardo Espina, and the two leaders who lost men in the Mamasapano hugged.