Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has just overseen the overwhelming passage of the Bangsamoro Organic Law plebiscite, which will establish a fully autonomous Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao. Duterte staked his leadership on the orderly and effective passage of this popular mandate which looks to end decades of insurgency between the Muslim majority regions of Mindanao and the rest of the mostly Roman Catholic majority Philippines.
Apart from being a leader guided by conscience rather than an avaricious desire for personal enrichment, Rodrigo Duterte is the fist modern Philippine leader from Mindanao and the first to have Muslims in his extended family. As such, the road to passing the Bangsamoro Organic Law was one on which Duterte spoke to Philippine Muslims (known locally as Moros) in a manner that won both respect and most importantly, secured trust. Now, the new parliament in the soon to be consecrated Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, will be an example of the wider aims of Duterte to de-centralise governance in The Philippians through federal reforms whilst the parliamentary model favoured in the new Bangsamoro region will be able to serve as a model for the rest of the nation that itself requires parliamentary reform at a national level.
Turkey was among the first nations in the world to congratulate The Philippines on a peaceful and decisive vote in favour of the Bangsamoro Organic Law. As Turkey seeks ever closer cooperation with the members of ASEAN, President Duterte’s support of Moros has clearly resonated in Ankara where President Erdoğan is widely seen as one of the most influential politicians in the Ummah (the global Islamic community).
But while Turkey has seen fit to congratulate The Philippine people for taking a giant step towards creating peace through prosperity and fostering social harmony through democratic autonomy for the country’s Muslim majority areas, Saudi Arabia’s Arab News has instead taken the opportunity to side with the resolutely anti-Duterte Roman Catholic Church of The Philippines, rather than with its own Islamic brethren in The Philippines.
In an article titled “Philippine bishops seek forgiveness for silence on concerns about Duterte”, the Riyadh based Arab News uncritically re-states the views of anti-Duterte Catholic clerics, whilst also indicating that prior to this week, the Catholic clergy in The Philippines had been mostly silent about Duterte. The fact of the matter is that the Roman Catholic Church in The Philippines has been opposed to Duterte from the beginning for a number of reasons. First of all, Duterte’s anti-corruption drive has helped to awaken many in The Philippines to the economic and social abuses conducted by the Church. Secondly, Duterte has been incredibly forthright about his departure from Catholicism after suffering years of molestation by an American born priest. Finally, it cannot be dismissed that Duterte’s clear affinity for Moros and Islamic culture has alienated a Roman Catholic Church that arrived in The Philippines as a result of traditional colonialism, whilst Islam arrived much earlier in The Philippines and did so as a result of global commerce and interaction. Specially, the Arab trader Karim Al Makhdum is thought to have introduced Islam to the southern Philippines in 1380 – long before a single Spaniard set foot in Mindanao.
As Saudi Arabia is home to the Holy Mosques in Mecca and Medina, one would assume that instead of undermining the unabashedly pro-Muslim President Duterte, Saudi media would instead take a more nuanced view on the matters as in fact official and semi-official Turkish media have done. In spite of the threat that Daesh aligned terror groups such as Abu Sayyaf pose to The Philippines, just as Daesh has threatened much of the Arab world, Duterte remains fully committed to achieving long sought after justice for Philippine Muslims, whilst looking to protect peace loving Moros and their non-Muslim neighbours from terror threats emanating from all varieties of extremism, including the Communist NPA.
One would think that Duterte’s position vis-a-vis Moros would be a source of celebration throughout Muslim majority countries. Saudi Arabia’s Arab News is apparently indicating something to the contrary.