Muslims identify with ‘terrorist’ ideals

By Johnna Villaviray, Senior Reporter 

(Last of three parts)

“I am JI.” 

It wasn’t a confession beaten out of a detainee. It

was the pronouncement of Ahmed Santos, whose property

the police raided last year for allegedly hosting

guerrilla training for Muslims. 

The Jemaah Islamiah he is professing his oneness with

is the global community of Muslims, not necessarily

the group blamed for the Bali, Indonesia, attack that

killed nearly 200 people last October. 

Non-Muslims don’t see the distinction, but this

doesn’t stop Santos from professing his faith. He

explains that it would be like a betrayal of Islam to

be cowed by external pressure. 

Islam could be the most misunderstood and, since the

September 11 attacks against the United States, the

most feared of religions. Muslims insist that theirs

is a religion of peace, but strangers to the faith

find it hard to believe, given the rising number of

bomb attacks attributed to radical Muslim groups. 

“Projecting Islam as a violent religion is propaganda

of the Jews and their surrogates,” Santos said,

alluding to the United States, which leads the global

antiterror coalition. 

The jihad the mujahideen—Muslim guerrilla

warriors—have been waging all these decades is rooted

in land; they want to retake Israel, which they say

belonged to the Muslims before the time of the

prophets. That secessionist Muslims in Mindanao have

the same argument—that the Southern Philippines was

Muslim land before Christian settlers came. 

The similarity in goals and the strong sense of

brotherhood among Muslims are potentially explosive

ingredients in the country’s already unstable security


The Police Intelligence chief, Sr. Supt. Arthur

Lomibao, acknowledged that Balik Islam is a “potential

security threat, but not in the short term.” 

There is no crackdown on Balik Islam, although

Santos’s Fi Sabilillah Da’wah Foundation, iscag, iwwm

and some other Balik Islam organizations are under

police and military surveillance. At least five Fi

Sabilillah members were reportedly abducted by the

Armed Forces’ intelligence service. 

Suspicion about these Muslim groups could be an

extension of the distrust of the organizations

established here in the 1990s by Osama bin Laden’s

brother-in-law, Jamaal al-Khaliffa. These

organizations include the International Islamic Relief

Organization and the International Relief and

Information Center. The other groups Khaliffa

established are not as active as before, owing to the

negative publicity generated by the US antiterror


Authorities believe that these nongovernment

organizations were used as fronts to fund the training

of mujahideen and to acquire weapons and ammunition.

With the NGOs under scrutiny, interest was supposedly

transferred to select Balik Islam groups. 

The following Balik Islam groups have aroused official

curiosity: Al Maarif Educational Center in Baguio

City, Da’rul Hijra Foundation Inc. in Makati City, Fi

Sabilillah, Islamic Information Center in Quiapo,

iscag, and the Islamic Learning Center of Pangasinan.

None of their principals, however, has been directly

associated with illegal activities. 

Jamil Almares, iscag’s operations chief, acknowledged

that iscag still receives donations from overseas,

primarily from philanthropists in Saudi Arabia and

other Middle East countries. He acknowledged that

funds are not as easy to come by now as before, but

explained that the drop in donations started long

before the anti-terror campaign. 

“Some of our brothers took advantage of the goodwill

of the donors, sometimes using funds for mosques and

madrasahs for personal use. That’s why the donors are

more careful now,” Almares said. 

He said being identified as a terrorist supporter or

financier just added to the reasons not to send as

much zakat, or the mandatory donation of at least one

percent of one’s annual savings. To offset the decline

in donations, iscag is renting out apartment space

inside its Dasmariñas, Cavite, compound. 

The iscag compound is one of the Muslim communities

established in Luzon. This was what Santos aimed to

set up in Anda, but the project was abandoned after a

police raid in 2002. Another community is being

established in Tarlac. 

Yousuf “Joey” Ledesma, a former La Salle economics

professor, said Muslims would only feel wholly

comfortable within an Islamic community. 

“There, we can be far from the temptations of Western

culture,” he explained.  

The increasing number of Muslim communities and

mosques in Luzon is a sign that Islam is spreading

fast here. 

In December 2000 the Office of Muslim Affairs (OMA)

recorded 33 mosques in Metro Manila, 29 in Northern

Luzon, 15 in Central Luzon, 56 in Southern Luzon

including Bicol, and 38 in the Visayas. 

“The spread of Islam is not necessarily the problem;

it’s the spread of the radical interpretation of

Islam,” said Senior Supt. Rodolfo Mendoza. He was a

key operative in foiling a plot to kill Pope John Paul

II during his 1995 Manila visit and the bombing of

several US jetliners bound for Japan in 1995. 

“We are at war with Islam, and the Muslims are the

aggressors. Nobody wants to recognize that, but that’s

what’s happening,” Mendoza said. 

Nobody else in government has gone public with views

similar to Mendoza’s, although some could be thinking

along similar lines. Acknowledging a religious war

would only widen the divide between the Muslims and

the secular government. 

The government recognizes, however, that it cannot sit

back and watch the rise of what even some Muslims call

a deviant form of Islam. 

“The spread is chilling because of the radicalism of

Islamic converts. There has to be a paradigm shift in

the thinking of the political leadership [to deal

with],” Mendoza said. 

He lamented the harassing or arresting of suspected

terrorist supporters as an ineffective way of dealing

with the problem. It would only heighten the animosity

of Muslims toward the government, he said. 

The government has been adopting a rounded approach to

the secessionist problem in Mindanao—military and


It hasn’t been very effective. But it is adding

another factor to complete the equation: education. 

The Armed Forces is carrying out a distance-learning

program to ensure that residents provide an

alternative to the jihad-locked minds of some Muslims.

It involves hooking up remote barangays to a satellite

dish where educational programs for the residents

could be beamed from Manila. 

“The aim is not to destroy their culture, because the

idea is to get programs from Muslim countries, but to

make sure they get inputs from other sources, not just

from whom they have access to,” Brig. Gen. Victor N.

Corpus explained. Corpus is the chief of the

military’s civil relations service. 

He acknowledged that radicalism could gain a foothold,

especially in remote areas, because residents have no

access to alternative points of view. 

But he stressed that it should not be viewed as an

attack on Islam. “The majority of Muslims do not

believe that the Philippines is an area where jihad is

necessary, because everyone is free to practice his or

her religion.” 

The office of Muslim Affairs chief, Zamzamin Ampatuan,

agreed that “improving the quality of life for Muslim

communities” is the key to dealing with the

secessionist problem in Mindanao and the pockets of

radicalism in the local Muslim community. 

But he pointed out that Muslims should share the


“We don’t have a bad image, because of misimpressions

alone. The image is created by the community also and

we have to work to change that image,” he said.


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