MANILA, Philippines - The military yesterday said it is resuming its operations against the al-Qaeda-linked Abu Sayyaf and Jemaah Islamiyah terrorist groups with the end of the month-long Ramadan.
Muslims worldwide celebrate today Eid’l Fitr, the end of Ramadan that required fasting from dawn to dusk aside from prayer and reflection. During Ramadan, Muslims pray five times a day facing the direction of Mecca, and give alms to the poor.
The military ceases operations in deference to the religious holiday.Lt. Gen. Ben Dolorfino, commander of Western Mindanao Command (Westmincom) said they are still pursuing 200 members of the Abu Sayyaf in Sulu and 100 in Basilan.
He said a number of Jemaah Islamiyah members are taking refuge with local terrorist groups.
Among the targets is Radullan Sahiron, the “amir” or leader of the Sulu-based Abu Sayyaf who commands sub leaders Yasser Igasan, Juhurin Hussin, Gumbahali Umbra Jumdail alias Dr. Abu Pula, and Isnilon Hapilon.
The leader of the Abu Sayyaf based in Basilan is identified as Kair Mundos with sub leaders Furuji Indama and Nurhassan Jamiri.
Among the Jemaah Islamiyah, the military is pursuing a leader identified as Marwan, who escaped the police operation in Maimbung, Sulu last Saturday.
Marwan was supposedly operating with Gafur Jumdail, brother of Dr. Abu Pula, who was killed with two others in the operation.
Dolorfino said Marwan is suspected to be hiding in Sulu. “But (Marwan) was no longer heard now, including Omar Patek. (They) are no longer seen by the informant,” he said.
Dolorfino said another Jemaah Islamiyah leader identified as Mawiya is also suspected of hiding in Sulu. He said that in preparation for the resumption of pursuit operations, the Marines have upgraded their night combat weapons system.
“Definitely, many members of the Abu Sayyaf will fall. Even if they own the terrain, we own the night,” Dolorfino said. The Marines have also organized a K-9 unit to track down enemies fleeing after an encounter and to detect bombs.
The trained dogs would also be deployed in checkpoints. Catholic Bishops fear a rise in violence as a result of the resumption of military operations after Ramadan but at the same time, hopes that the end of Ramadan would give way to the reinforcement of the peace process.
“That is our experience, usually after Ramadan, there are incidents of violence… that’s why we take extra precautionary measures,” said Jolo Bishop Angelito Lampon in an interview with Church-run Radio Veritas.
Cagayan de Oro Archbishop Antonio Ledesma expressed hope that the peace talks would resume soon.
“We hope that with the new government and the creation of the new peace panel will be a venue to really get involved in the peace process and set aside our differences so we could work together,” said Ledesma, chair of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines Episcopal Commission on Inter-religious Dialogue.
A time for reflection
Local government executives in Maguindanao said the month-long Ramadan should have given Muslim leaders in Mindanao the opportunity to reflect on the political hostilities in the province.
“I hope all political leaders in the province have had enough spiritual reflections during the fasting season on the need for us to cling to the unifying rope of Islam for us to easily foster peace and sustainable development in Maguindanao,” said Dustin Mastura, the vice governor of the province.
Mastura said that during the campaign period, he did his best to reach out to those with whom he had political animosity to help restore political normalcy in the province.
Nash Abpi, an official of the Land Transportation Office in Central Mindanao, said he prayed for political tranquility in the province.
Abpi, a devout Muslim, has a modest worship site in his own property in Datu Odin Sinsuat, Maguindanao. “Forgiveness and respect and love for each other are essential for us to have economic prosperity and political stability,” Abpi said.
Abpi, who comes from the conflict-stricken Datu Piang town in the second district of Maguindanao, said he is optimistic that the peace talks between the government and the Moro Islamic Front would resume a few days from now.
Political hostility in Maguindanao reached new heights last year after 57 people, many of them journalists, were massacred in Ampatuan town, the bailiwick of then ruling Ampatuan clan.
Among those killed was Jenalyn, wife of now Maguindanao Gov. Esmael Mangudadatu, who was on her way to file her husband’s certificate of candidacy. Salik Samad, a 35-year-old fish vendor in Maguindanao said during Ramadan, he prayed for the normalization of the political situation in the province.
“That incident (Maguindanao massacre) changed the political landscape of Maguindanao. Our leaders became so divided. That’s why I prayed for unity among them,” he said.
As a military officer and an imam (Muslim religious leader), Lt. Col. Sanuan Akkuh, chaplain of the Armed Forces Westmincom, said understanding and tolerance should be exercised to bring peace in Mindanao.
“We should strive to achieve peace. All the people will be affected (if there is a war). It will also involve our resources. I think we should promote justice, love, understanding and tolerance,” Akkuh, who is currently in Zamboanga City, told The STAR in a phone interview.
“We must be optimistic. The war has dragged for around 40 years… Personally, I think war is not the solution to the problems of our country. We should treat each other as brothers. We should talk to each other,” he added.
Akkuh, who has been an imam for more than 20 years, promotes the culture of peace by counseling victims of war regardless of their religion.
“Sometimes, we are misunderstood because we are Muslims. Some people feel uneasy when they are with us especially during encounters,” he said. “But it is part of my responsibility to give comfort and to counsel our casualties, the wounded and their families. Personally, that is my obligation as a chaplain.”
As an imam, Akkuh is part of the military’s technical service branch and does not belong to any of the major military services.
The branch is composed of personnel like doctors, nurses, priests, and imams sent to the field to take care of the physical, mental and spiritual welfare of troops.
These personnel, however, are also trained for combat and can be deployed by commanders in extreme cases.
Akkuh said he feels sad every time he hears about the casualties of armed encounters because such clashes pit Filipinos against each other.
“We are sad. Many are affected in the communities. These casualties have families,” he said.
Akkuh believes that the ideals promoted by Eid’l Fitr and Ramadan – love, generosity, justice and understanding – are relevant to the peace situation in Mindanao.
“The message here is love, sympathy, and empathy. That is the Ramadan spirit. You fast while observing Ramadan and by doing that, you will know how it feels to be hungry,” he said.
Akkuh, who is married with five children, said lasting peace would be a good legacy that this generation can leave to the youth.
“That (peace) is our legacy for the young generation and for the future… Let us leave them with a good legacy,” he said.
Peace talks between the government and the separatist group Moro Islamic Liberation Front were stalled after the Supreme Court ruled as illegal a controversial land pact in 2008.
The agreement would have created a Bangsamoro Juridical Entity, which expanded the scope of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.
President Aquino has said his administration will respect the primacy of the peace process.
The government is yet to complete the negotiating panel with the Moro Islamic Liberation front (MILF).
For Muslims, Eid’l Fitr celebrates spiritual rebirth after a month of trying to achieve spiritual perfection through self-restraint.
“Ramadan was prescribed among us for us to learn the importance of self-restraint as a spiritual force that could help us achieve oneness with people around us and with Allah,” said Ustadz Ebrahim Esmael, a member of the local Darul Iftah (House of Opinions).
Muslims, traditionally perform a congregational prayer in an open field after sunrise to celebrate Eid’l Fitr.
source phil star