ZAMBOANGA CITY, Philippines – Manila Mayor Isko Moreno on Thursday, April 7, concluded his two-day campaign sortie in the Zamboanga Peninsula with a promise that “there will be no war in Mindanao” if he wins the presidential race.
“Bilang regalo ko sa inyo, sabihin ninyo sa mga kaibigan ninyong Kristiyano, sabihin na ninyo sa mga kabigan ninyong Muslim, mga kakilala, mga kamag-anak, may awa ang Diyos, sa tulong ninyo, walang giyera sa Mindanao sa panahon ko,” Moreno told his supporters, many of them Muslims, at the Isko for President Movement headquarters in Zamboanga City.
(As my gift to you, tell your Christian friends, tell your Muslim friends, your acquaintances, your relatives, with God’s mercy and with your help, there will be no war in Mindanao during my watch.)
He added, “It’s a bold commitment. It’s hard to fulfill, but we must seek peace and prosperity.”
Moreno’s supporters at the campaign headquarters cheered and joined him as he chanted “Allahu Akbar!” (Praise God!) thrice.
The Aksyon Demokratiko standard-bearer made the promise in a city that has seen and was crippled by armed conflict on several occasions, the last of which took place some nine years ago.
For more than two weeks in September 2013, government troops fought it out with a faction of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) loyal to its founder Nur Misuari after the rebels attacked the city in their quest for self-rule.
The Zamboanga Siege crippled the city’s economy, and caused damage and destruction that reached as much as P3.2 billion, according to the Office of Civil Defense (OCD).
The crisis also resulted in the deaths of more than 400 people, displaced some 110,000 others, and traumatized many Zamboangueños.
It was reminiscent of the 2001 Cabatangan Siege – also in Zamboanga – when the MNLF disturbed the city’s peace and took hostage at least 125 residents for two days.
Months after he rose to become Manila’s mayor in late 2019, Moreno met Misuari in his office, and opened the first Muslim cemetery in Manila two years later, moves seen as strengthening his ties with his city’s Muslim population.
Manila’s Muslim cemetery is something Moreno has been very proud of, repeatedly saying that it was a fulfillment of a promise he made to his friend, the late Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) vice chairman Ghazali Jaafar, to give the city’s Muslims a place where they could bury their dead so there would be no need for them to send the remains back to Mindanao.
Moreno said the Mindanao conflict resulted from years of injustice and neglect of Muslim Filipinos, leading to decades of armed conflict that stunted the growth of the country’s second-largest island.
“As I moved around, I saw the value of our land, and it’s underdeveloped. Farmers are struggling with the increased prices of fertilizer,” he said.
Food and livelihood programs, he said, would be his priority if elected president.
If he makes it, he said, “Ipararamdam ko sa inyo ang pagkapantaypantay ng tao (I will let you feel that all men are equal)… Let there be peace in the Philippines…. Let’s bring back the glorious days of our country… Huwag kayong susuko, mananalo tayo (Don’t give up, we will win).”
Moreno, a former actor, was given celebrity treatment in Zamboanga City and won the endorsements of Panglima Adim Atti, the leader of the United Sama Bajau Association (USBA), United Nationalist Alliance (UNA) candidate for councilor Jerson Montenegro, and even by Admunir Albar, head of one of the groups that mobilized for President Rodrigo Duterte’s successful presidential campaign in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) in 2016.
He met several local politicians such as former congressman Erico Basilio Fabian, barangay chairman Eli Angeles of Santa Maria, barangay chairman Joel Esteban of San Jose Gusu, reelectionist Councilor Jihan Edding, and councilor candidate Nur Abing.
At city hall where he, running mate Dr. Willie Ong, and their senatorial candidates, paid a courtesy call on Zamboanga Mayor Maria Isabelle Climaco, cheering fans greeted the former actor.
It took Moreno some time to reach Climaco’s office as he acknowledged his fans including city employees and people transacting business at city hall, and briefly stopped to grant requests for photos. A visibly amused Climaco waited inside her office.
Despite declaring her support for the presidential bid of Vice President Leni Robredo, Climaco gave Moreno and his group a warm reception and received her Manila counterpart in her office. Climaco, who had earlier said that all presidential candidates are welcome in her city, also briefly met with another bet, Ferdinand Marcos Jr. as he departed from her city in late March.
In Zamboanga Sibugay where his group had a town hall meeting earlier in the day, Moreno was welcomed by Kabasalan Mayor Katrina Balladares. Days earlier, the mayor declared her support for Marcos Jr. and led about 700 people in joining the Marcos-led Partido Federal ng Pilipinas (PFP).
Moreno said he had no problems with those who support other political groups, reiterating that he can work with anyone.
“When I say anybody – dilaw, pula, o anuman ang kulay mo – balewala ‘yun sa akin as long as iisa ang ating mithiin na maitaas ang antas ng pamumuhay ng tao, you will be part of my administration dahil moreno naman ang kulay ng Pilipino,” he said.
(When I say anybody – yellow, red, or whatever your color is – it doesn’t matter to me and as long as we share the aspiration to improve the lives of people, you will be part of my administration because Filipinos are dark-skinned, to begin with.)
At the Southern City Colleges East Campus Gymnasium, some 7,000 supporters of Moreno’s ticket came to listen to the group that included senatorial candidates Jopet Sison, former agrarian reform secretary John Castriciones, former Bangsamoro Transition Commission member Samira Gutoc, Carl Balita, and Shariff Albani Ibrahim.
The Moreno-Ong ticket drew a crowd from Basilan, Sulu, Tawi-Tawi, and the neighboring towns in the Zamboanga Peninsula.
Moreno’s group was also in Ipil town, the capital of Zamboanga Sibugay, where he met with Governor Wilter Palma, Ipil Mayor Anamel Olegario, and other local officials. The group had a motorcade and a town hall meeting in the province.
They also met local officials and had similar town hall meetings and rallies a day earlier in Pagadian City in Zamboanga del Sur, and Dipolog City in Zamboanga del Norte. – with reports from Antonio Manaytay and Herbie Gomez/Rappler.com
Frencie Carreon is a Mindanao-based journalist and an awardee of the Aries Rufo Journalism Fellowship