This is part two of the article I wrote about Ms. Angel Locsin, actress and known philanthropist, on our group’s experience working with her when she held a relief mission for the displaced families camped in Munai, Lanao del Norte in 2009. The need to write a follow up article stems from my desire to urge our fellow Bangsamoro to show our support for Ms. Locsin in her battle against red-tagging from military officials such as Lt. Gen. Antonio Parlade, Jr.
Angel and her sister, Ella Colmenares, were tagged as supporters of the New People’s Army (NPA) due to their connection with GABRIELA, a women’s organization, right after actress Liza Soberano talked about the rape threats she received from a netizen in an online forum organized by GABRIELA Youth. Along with Miss Universe 2018 Catriona Gray, these four women have been red-tagged because of their stand on violence against women and the Anti-Terror Law.
I met Angel through Ella and her brother-in-law, Nardy Sabino. Ella and I have known each other since the 1990s when I was still with the National Union of Students of the Philippines (NUSP). We were supporting her case against the University of Sto. Tomas, where she had contracted an illness because of the university’s negligence in services.
But it was Nardy who introduced us formally when Angel wanted to experience life in a Bangsamoro community in an attempt to understand the conflict in Mindanao. Nardy and I worked in the same networks for interfaith and interreligious activities, he working with the Promotion for Church People’s Response (PCPR) and I with the Moro-Christian People’s Alliance (MCPA).
I was surprised that Angel was not afraid of going to a conflict area where there were reports of clashes between the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). Situated near the mountains identified by the military as MILF-influenced areas, Munai hosted more than 100 displaced families.
I was amazed when she laid down her conditions for the visit — no military or police escort, no politicians, and no media coverage. She also purposely did not invite her Meranaw relatives to come with her. She completely gave her life to us, for two days at least. Our team practically became her security escorts. We were ready to swat the hands of politicians who itched to raise her arms in a pose which they probably hoped to use in the coming elections.
She was determined to see, hear, feel — experience — what we have discussed. She absorbed everything in one day in Munai — the poor conditions of the municipality and the people, our fear of a possible encounter between the AFP and the MILF in the middle of our relief mission, and the surge of people in the area upon learning that a famous actress was in their midst.
Her media interviews after her two-day experience in Lanao del Norte reached more people than our months-long campaign against military operations in the Bangsamoro areas. Aside from her fans, she was able to make the masses understand the plight of the Bangsamoro people. She was passionate about calling for people to remove their biases against us Bangsamoro.
I felt her empathy for the Bangsamoro people, that despite the difference in religion, faith, and culture, she saw them as victims to whom she could extend her help, just like what she had done to victims of typhoons and floods.
Months later, she visited ALCADEV or the Alternative Learning Center for Agricultural and Livelihood Development, the Lumad school in Lianga, Surigao del Sur that was besieged by a series of military operations after accusations of being a school for the NPAs. Again, with no security escort and media coverage, she gave her life to the Lumad network organizations in Surigao and to the ALCADEV teachers and staff. She spent days inside that boarding school to learn more about the Manobo way of life, as well as hear stories of the threats, harassment, and displacement that they experienced in the hands of the military.
I admired Angel’s courage when she posted on social media pictures of her experience in Surigao. I assumed that she knew there would be backlash from the military and the public whose only information about the Lumad came from government propaganda tagging them as NPA fronts. It would be years after her visit that the people of Manila and the rest of the Philippines would empathize with the Lumad people, when ALCADEV’s school director and two Manobo datus of the Han-ayan community in Liangga were massacred by paramilitary forces in 2015.
Sure enough, in her battle against red-tagging by Parlade and a certain “Ka Eric” who works for the National Task Force for the Elimination of Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC), those same posts are now being circulated as their basis for Angel’s NPA connection.
It took almost a decade for Angel and I to meet and work again. This time, it was because of the destruction of Marawi City and the displacement of Marawi residents due to excessive aerial bombings by the military in May 2017. She was the only showbiz personality who reached out to our network and expressed her interest in coming to Marawi City, again with no security escorts and media coverage.
But how can we make her visit low-key, when at that time, each visit to Marawi City and Lanao del Sur should be registered with the military? Pictures of Angel in Iligan City were already circulating in the social media even before we made our interviews in the evacuation camps.
When she told our group that she wanted to see the inside of Marawi City, I was nervous. Everyone, even her relative from the Pacasum family, relied on me to make the decision. It was like throwing ourselves to the lions’ den.
Ever since President Rodrigo Duterte declared Martial Law in Mindanao on May 23, 2017 and ordered the military to commence airstrikes against the combined forces of the Maute Brothers and the Abu Sayyaf Group, our network has been very active in calling out the government for violating people’s rights in Mindanao. There were still civilians trapped in Marawi City when the airstrikes began. Several houses and mosques were already destroyed.
The military saw us as their enemy and refused our requests for visits to the evacuees inside Marawi City. They kept saying it was risky, that we might be shot by stray bullets. Before our visit, there were several reports of miscalculated aerial strikes and misfires that cost the lives of civilians and their fellow soldiers.
What we did not anticipate was the presence of the media when we got to the capitol grounds. This meant that Angel had to make a public statement. And she did have a strong statement — calling for a stop to this (to the bombings, to the “gyera”) so that the displaced families could return to their homes.
Our Maranao brothers and sisters, and the whole Bangsamoro people, should thank Angel for making those statements, risking her superstar status and probably her endorsements. She spoke in behalf of the displaced residents of Marawi City, at a time when public opinion about the military offensives and aerial strikes in the city was biased in favor of the government because of their fear of the Mautes and the Abu Sayyaf, who identified themselves as the ISIS group in the Philippines and were reported to have launched the attack.
It took the government five months of aerial strikes to subdue this threat, resulting in the massive destruction of Marawi City. Twenty-four barangays were destroyed including religious infrastructures and ancestral homes; 350,000 to 400,000 persons were displaced; an unknown number of civilians were killed with their bodies missing or buried but still unidentified.
How would Angel react to the news that three years after the government announced the “liberation” of Marawi City, it still hinders the return of the displaced residents to their homes? The Department of Social Work and Development (DSWD) listed 12,000 families who remain homeless while the Task Force Bangon Marawi (TFBM) pegs them at 17,000 families still scattered in transitional shelters or forced to live with relatives in different parts of the country.
How would she react to the fact that since 2017, the government has had billions of pesos at their disposal, supposedly for the rehabilitation of the most affected areas and services for the displaced? The think-tank consultancy center iLead or Institute for Leadership, Empowerment, and Democracy showed in a recent forum that since 2017, more than Php 50 billion has been appropriated from the national budget for the recovery of Marawi City. However, most of these were not fully released and implemented.
Displaced residents complain not only of the slow rehabilitation but also of misplaced priorities. The community is still in shambles, resisting President Duterte’s push for the construction of a regiment-size military camp and the TFBM’s prioritizing of construction for the purpose of boosting tourism and an economic zone.
I am really interested in having these conversations with Angel, to know her point of view. She is a breath of fresh air from the politicians who use the Marawi crisis for their agenda — be it to pursue political leadership or enrich themselves by acquiring contracts for construction and other rehabilitation projects. She is definitely the complete opposite of personalities like Mocha Uson, former assistant secretary of the Presidential Communications Operations Office, who was part of President Duterte’s entourage that disrespected Muslim culture by walking inside a ruined mosque in boots and without a hijab. She is the opposite of fellow celebrities who became apologists of President Duterte’s carnage.
But now that she is the one under attack of red-tagging and, in the long run, terror-tagging with the way the government implements the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020, she needs our help. So I am calling to my Bangsamoro brothers and sisters, and especially to the Maranaw people, to make a stand and speak for Ms. Angel Locsin. She spoke for us despite the risks of associating with people tagged as terrorists. It is time to show her our appreciation by helping her fight for her rights, which are also ours. (davaotoday.com)
Amirah Ali Lidasan is a Bangsamoro rights defender who belongs to the Iranon tribe from Maguindanao, BARMM region. She is the current secretary-general of Moro-Christian Peoples Alliance (MCPA) and former national chairperson of the partylist group Suara Bangsamoro.