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Filipino Muslims slam Cagayan governor over anti-Muslim remarks

The National Commission on Muslim Filipinos (NCMF) slammed Cagayan Governor Manuel Mamba for his anti-Muslim remarks during a Senate hearing on Wednesday, November 25, where he linked the Muslim community to peace and order problems. 

In a Senate hearing about the recent Cagayan floods, Mamba mentioned Muslims as he boasted of Cagayan’s potential, implying they don’t have peace and order problems because “we do not have Muslims here.”

“If we dredge the river, restore the Cagayan River to its old glory, I think Cagayan and the North will enjoy so much, as far as the economic activity of Luzon is concerned. We do not have Muslims here. We don’t have a problem as far as peace and order is concerned here,” Mamba said in a mix of English and Filipino.

Dr Jun Alonto Datu-Ramos, spokesperson of the NCMF, condemned Mamba’s remarks and demanded an apology.

“Maliciously meant or otherwise, Governor Mamba needs to rethink his statement and issue an apology for Muslims everywhere, not just in the Philippines,” Datu-Ramos said in a statement Wednesday evening.

“To categorically state that the absence of one group of people ensures peace and order in a locality is not only discriminatory, it is also unbecoming of an elected official who supposedly represents the Cagayan residents,” Datu-Ramos said.

In a separate statement, lawyer Raihana Sittie Sarah Macarimpas, NCMF regional director for northern Luzon, said they “strongly deny the statement of Governor Mamba that there are no Muslims in Cagayan province.” NCMF records show at least 300 Muslim families live in Tuguegarao City alone. 

Macarimpas said Mamba’s statement “is a discriminatory remark that hit us hard.” She lamented how, despite the NCMF’s efforts to spread awareness about Islam as a religion of peace, and also to fight violence and extremism, “discrimination against our religion and our fellow Muslims still exists.”

“We will not accept this kind of discrimination,” Macarimpas said.

‘I have a surprise for you, Governor’

Bangsamoro Parliament member Zia Alonto Adiong also blasted Mamba’s statement, saying only bigots would link religious groups to peace and order problems.

“There are Muslim diplomats, Muslim businessmen, Muslim doctors, Muslim scientists, Muslim inventors, Muslim academicians, Muslim legislators, and so on. You name it, we have it. We even have Muslim heads of state. There are also Muslims of various nationalities and races. And yes, we do have Muslim governors doing exactly the same job as Governor Mamba,” Adiong wrote.

“I have a surprise for you, Governor, we’re everywhere! Don’t be scared because we do have Muslim policemen and soldiers as well to keep us all safe and protected. What we do not have are officials who think that the presence of other religious groups is a problem to the peace and order situation in our areas, because, seriously, who would ever think that way except bigots?” he added. 

Public apology

The Cagayan governor later issued a public apology, which Datu-Ramos shared on Facebook. According to the Cagayan Public Information Office, Mamba did not mean to offend the Muslim community.

The public apology read, “Nililinaw po ni Governor Mamba na ang ibig niyang tukuyin ay, ‘Walang paniniwalang extremism sa mga kapatid na Muslim na naninirahan sa Cagayan.’” (Governor Mamba would like to clarify that what he wanted to say was, “There is no extremist belief among our Muslim brothers and sisters living in Cagayan.”)

Datu-Ramos said Mamba’s apology “is appreciated.”

Saidamen Pangarungan, secretary of the NCMF, said they consider the apology issued by the Cagayan PIO “as an offer of peace.”

“Though we appreciate the effort, a signed document made by the Governor himself may have been more impactful considering the amount of damage it caused to the Muslim Filipino community nationwide,” Pangarungan said.

Basilan Representative Mujiv Hataman said: “Although an apology was issued by the province's information office on the governor's behalf, I feel that an explanation must come from him directly in order to clarify his comments, which may be construed as an affront to Muslims everywhere. It sets us back a long way in our struggle to root out discrimination that is deeply rooted in our culture.”

This comes as Muslims worldwide denounce Islamophobia most recently in France, where President Emmanuel Macron defended the right to show cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad even if this is offensive to Muslims. 

The Muslim community has long suffered discrimination in the Philippines, as they are wrongly associated with Islamist groups that misuse Islam to justify violence for political objectives. – Rappler.com

Paterno R. Esmaquel II

Paterno R. Esmaquel II, news editor of Rappler, specializes in covering religion and foreign affairs. He obtained his MA Journalism degree from Ateneo and later finished MSc Asian Studies (Religions in Plural Societies) at RSIS, Singapore. For story ideas or feedback, email him at pat.esmaquel@rappler.com.

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