Tibaldo: Zamboanga on my mind

Art Tibaldo

I HAVE been to Mindanao in the mid-90s as part of the contingent sent by the governing body of the Cordillera to study and observe the administrative and political setup of the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao or Armm. It was my first visit to the country’s southern islands and a learning experience not only to the region’s socio-political climate but also on the culture and arts of our Muslim counterparts. I can still vividly recall the amused face of the late Cordillera People’s Liberation Army Chairman Conrado Balweg when we were treated to a dinner party at the Mindanao State University where Muslim students garbed in their hijabs performed for us. The sight of MSU students dancing the Singkil and Pangalay ha Pattong to the beat of Agong and Kulintang was indeed a sight to behold and the food served truly made us feel like members of the royal family.

It was a family affair that led me and my wife to catch a plane to Zamboanga over the weekend as my niece Sofia Loren Pang-ot Deliu formally embraced Islam and tied the knot with her long-time boyfriend Abdul-Bassar Aburajak, a Tausog from Sulu. “I was born for you”, this is the wedding message flashed on screen that came strong in my mental notes. The officiating Imam further discussed its meaning during the wedding reception of my niece who wedded a Tausog police officer. To be a Muslim is not to be an Arab the Imam stressed as the new couple prepares to bond together and leave their respective families to raise a family of their own.

President Rodrigo Roa Duterte attended the wedding of Sofia, a Police Senior Inspector Sofia Loren Deliu assigned to the Presidential Security Group and Police Inspector Abdul-Bassar Abdurajak at the Palacio del Sur in Zamboanga City as the primary sponsor last March 10. President Duterte, congratulated my niece and her husband during the wedding saying that he now has a connection with the Tausogs of Mindanao. In his message to the couple, Duterte emphasized the lifetime commitment that comes with marriage. He advised Deliu and her husband to respect and understand each other’s differences, and show the same kind of passion at work in their relationship. “Marriage is not only exchanging vows. It’s also committing a life with eternal love and happiness despite all hardships and difficulties,” he said.

For Sofia, the President said “My advice to you, maybe it’s time for you to leave PSG and look for an assignment na magkita kayo araw-araw, importante ‘yan” adding in jest “para naman you start your marriage with a companionship that is constant. Para mabuntis rin kaagad. Para makita ko ‘yung… tingnan ko ‘yung mukha nito.”

We were seated among the PNPA classmates of the couple at table seven and we relied mostly on the giant LED screens for a closer view on the wedding event. Since the customary Islam wedding already happened at Abdul-Bassar’s hometown in Sulu, the rites with the President in Zamboanga was meant for a bigger occasion with friends, relatives, officemates and well-wishers formally gather just like in Christian wedding.

Before the wedding, Helen performed her official task by meeting with members of the Philippine Information Agency Zamboanga Peninsula and partner agency representatives where she discusses a possible formation of multi-platform approach in expanding communication reach of government agencies through a proposed Regional Information Centers.

While checking my smartphone for social media updates, an FB friend locator advisory marked one of my foster sons to be nearby and I immediately sent a message to Army Captain Mikko Castro that we are in Zamboanga. Upon reading my message, Mikko and one of his company mate met us at the barter trade district and they toured us to places that we haven’t been to like the Fortaleza del Pilar, a 17th century military defense fortress built by the Spanish colonial government in Zamboanga City on Mindanao Island in the Philippines.

We were also toured inside the military barracks and set foot at the Khaddafi Mansion where the late Libya strongman Muammar Gaddafi slept while in the Philippines and the nearby Fort Romulo Espaldon which is also tagged as Campo Islam in my iPhone shoots. In between our quick tours, I recalled the Zamboanga hostage incident involving Rizal Alih and General Eduardo Batalla in the late 80s. Historical notes states that Rizal Alih, an ex-policeman led a three-day siege of Camp Cawa-Cawa, Zamboanga in 1989 which led to the death of General Eduardo Batalla, then Philippine Constabulary chief in Western Mindanao, and several other hostages.

Accordingly, Batalla had a shouting match because the general did not accede to his request not to be transferred to Manila. That shouting match ended with Alih taking Batalla hostage, along with several others, including Batalla’s aide, Colonel Romeo Abendan which eventually led to a military operation in a bid to save Batalla, Abendan and the other hostages but the situation turned violent.

There are other historical accounts in Muslim Mindanao that are worth looking back like the Juramentados which led to the development of American side-arms from revolver to magazine loaded pistol. According to the research paper titled The Legend of the Colt .45 Semi-Automatic Pistol and the Moros of Robert Fulton, the Moros were indeed the reason for the development of a handgun with more stopping power than the .38 caliber revolver which was the standard side firearm issued to US servicemen.

From his book “Moroland: The History of Uncle Sam and the Moros 1899-1920”, Fulton corrected that the Colt .45 caliber Model 1911 semi-automatic pistol was not used in the American campaigns in Mindanao during the turn of the 20th century but the hand guns used against the fanatical Moro warriors were the Colt .45 Model 1902 and DA Model 1909 revolvers. Many instances were reported during those years where natives have been shot through and through several times with a .38 caliber revolver but still manages come on cutting up the unfortunate opponent armed with a sword called Kris. The word “fanatical” used by Fulton probably refers to the act of being a Juramentado.