Column: Down in Maguindanao, up in Copenhagen

Published on December 8, 2009.

Something I read in an earlier column written by Neal Cruz continues to rankle. On Nov. 30, he discussed a conspiracy theory two distinguished Muslim leaders had raised to help explain the Ampatuan massacre. Amina Rasul and Nasser Marohomsalic had told him, he said, that they did not believe Andal Ampatuan Jr. was the true mastermind behind the massacre.

The key quote: “These two Muslim leaders think that the implications of the carnage may be deeper than it looks. For in the Muslim culture, women, children, the elders, the weak and the sickly, are accorded the highest respect. And yet they were among those machine-gunned and buried in the mass graves beside the roadside in Maguindanao. That is ‘un-Islamic,’ the two said. So it is possible that the real masterminds are not Muslims.”

There may be something to the Malacañang conspiracy angle—after all, nobody (nobody, nobody but you know who) saw the imposition of martial law coming—but religion has nothing to do with it.

If I parse the words (as Neal relayed them) of the cerebral Rasul and the respected Marohomsalic correctly, the real masterminds could not have been Muslim, because of the un-Islamic nature of the terrible crime. This is a grave mistake. The two Muslim leaders may have meant only to shield their faith from the barbarity of the mass killings of Nov. 23; instead, they have allowed the masterminds to wrap themselves in religion’s protective mantle.

Let me explain. An un-Christian act can be committed by a Christian. Indeed, because in the Christian understanding sin cleaves the human heart in two, Christians commit un-Christian acts all the time. Consider, for instance, the case of this powerful, devout, indeed ostentatiously pious politician—I mean the former Calauan, Laguna, mayor, Antonio Sanchez, convicted in the Eileen Sarmenta rape and murder.

For similar reasons, an un-Islamic act can be committed by a Muslim. Indeed, part of the horror in the dismaying spectacle of the Abu Sayyaf is their use of the rhetoric of religion to rationalize their banditry.

It may be that I am simply missing something here, or that Neal passed on a mistaken version of the two leaders’ position. I received the strongly worded statement of the Philippine Council for Islam and Democracy, written by Rasul and Marohomsalic, the same day they issued it; there was nothing there to suggest a necessary connection between the un-Islamic nature of the massacre and the non-Muslim character of the real mastermind.

The insolent abuse of power, an obscene lust for control, inordinate greed—these vicious sins know no religion.

* * *

I have not spoken to my friend Koko Pimentel in many weeks, but I understand he had agonized over his decision to press on with his election fraud case against the senator from Maguindanao, Migz Zubiri. He has been placing well in various senatorial-race surveys, and running again for the Senate would have been the easier choice. But that would have meant dropping his case pending before the Senate Electoral Tribunal. (As I have written, I think twice before, I believe the evidence of fraud is indisputable.)

Last week, I heard the SET gave Zubiri 52 days to prove his outrageous contention that Pimentel had cheated him. I understand this decision to mean, essentially, that the members of the SET (six senators and three justices) want to leave the resolution of what is the clearest case of electoral fraud in recent history to the next Senate.

I am certain I will hear again from Zubiri or his staff. Perhaps, to give direction to their response, I can ask them one simple question. Ito ang aking isang tanong: How is it possible for Zubiri to capture a share of the vote in Maguindanao that is double his share of the vote in his own home province of Bukidnon?

* * *

In the last few weeks, the prospects of a politically binding agreement on climate change being reached in Copenhagen have dramatically brightened. For the first time, China has agreed to specific reduction goals (although by using a controversial metric). And US President Barack Obama has agreed to attend in the last few days of the conference, a sign of increased political resolve. (Together, China and the United States account for about 40 percent of all carbon dioxide emissions.)

Perhaps as a consequence, the number of participants at the talks that began yesterday has surged. Bella Center can accommodate 15,000 delegates, but I understand the total number of participants is already double that. (Delegations are being urged to select which delegates can enter at which event.) The United Nations wanted to limit the number of journalists accredited to cover the talks (actually a series of parallel meetings, the biggest being the 15th Conference of Parties, countries that have signed the framework convention) to 3,500. I understand this limit was reached on Nov. 29 (or two days after I got my accreditation), and all requests have since been put on hold.

I am still waiting for my visa; those without, however, can cover the proceedings almost in their entirety. The open meetings will be webcast. Take a look at

More important links can be found here: www.webcast.cop15.dk. On Facebook, we can follow much of the discussion on www.facebook.com/cop15. There is a dedicated channel on YouTube, “Raise your voice,” at www.youtube.com/cop15 http://en.cop15.dk/about+cop15/press/press+info

For the media, a staggering number of press conferences has been lined up. (Apparently, even US Speaker Nancy Pelosi is scheduled to meet the press.)

Of course, as that 1990s ad used to remind us: You can’t fax a handshake. To which we can add: You can’t Facebook one either.

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