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Manila Muslims Face Kidnap Threat

Mindanao Muslims who head north in search of better life targeted by renegade police officers.
It was 1984. Hadja Amina Jed, then 29 years old, packed her things, left Maguindanao in Western Mindanao and sailed north to Manila.

She is the second of eight children. Her mother died while she was still a child, and her father was a fisherman.

“Life was hard. During times when father had no catch, we also had nothing to eat,” said Amina.

Amina was determined to change her family’s fortune. Going to Manila to find work seemed the only option. Twenty-three years later, she works in the capital for an employment agency that sends mostly Muslim Filipinas to the Middle East for work. She stayed single and was able to send all her siblings to school. Today, she has a car and a comfortable house in Quezon City.

Lika Amina, Mosrifah Labay also saw a move to the north of the country as the best option to change her life. She left Marawi City in Mindanao in the 1990s. Ten years later, she runs a series of small market stalls, selling ready-to-wear clothes in Quezon City.

Amina and Mosrifah are just two of the 1.6 million Muslims who left Mindanao – the second largest Philippine island – in pursuit of a better life in the capital.

Yet while the women no longer worry about what food to put on the table, instead they’re concerned about their safety. Both claim to have been abducted and held for ransom by renegade members of the Philippine National Police, PNP, said to be targeting Muslims living in the capital.

Amina recalled the events of a late Sunday afternoon in May 2006. She was on her way home to Quezon City from a beach excursion in Cavite, a province located on the southern shores of Manila Bay. While crossing Tandang Sora Avenue, a group of armed men waved her down. They demanded that she get out and commandeered the vehicle.

The men identified themselves as police officers and said they were arresting Amina for involvement in illegal drugs. None of them, however, produced an arrest warrant.

At the police station, another officer who Amina alleges failed to identify himself, accused her of being head of a drug syndicate in Tandang Sora’s Culiat village, where many Muslim settlers from Mindanao live.

“The officer said I was a drug queen in Culiat village,” recalled Amina.

She was told that a criminal case against her had already been prepared, but that she could escape the charges if she handed over the equivalent of 13,636 US dollars.

Amina, who denies ever having been involved in any illegal activity, told the Philippine Human Rights Reporting Project that she was left frightened, confused and intimidated. She called her relatives and appealed for help. Together, they raised around half the sum demanded.

The police officer accepted the payment and Amina found herself freed four days after her arrest. While no case was ever filed against her during her detention, she was threatened she would be killed if she reported the incident.

Mosrifah tells a similar story. She said that one day two years ago, armed men suddenly jumped out of a maroon van parked outside her store and pushed her inside their vehicle.

With each brandishing a gun, the men took her jewelry, mobile phone and purse.

Mosrifah said she was petrified, and felt that any sudden or rash move she made might be her last.

Her abductors introduced themselves as police officers who were arresting her for selling drugs – but that she would be freed and the charges dropped if she paid about 22,727 dollars. She was driven around in the back of the van for what seemed like hours.

Luckily for her, her relatives had alerted the government’s Office of Muslim Affairs, OMA, which immediately got in touch with senior PNP officials.

Mosrifah believes the officers in the front of the van must have gotten wind of an attempt by senior PNP members to set a trap for them, and so she was dumped in Cubao, before any ransom changed hands.

The OMA said that instances of renegade police officers kidnapping Muslims and subjecting them to extortion are so common that it has coined its own word for this – “hulidap”. Huli means arrest, while dap is short for kidnap.

“There are days we have as many as 10 people coming to our office to complain about hulidap,” said Datu Hassan Dalimbang, OMA director for the National Capital Region, NCR.

According to Dalimbang, about one per cent of the police force comprises these renegade officers, who also regularly target Muslim businesses.

Despite official attempts to clamp down on the practice, hulidap remains a serious problem, said Dalimbang. Corrupt officers are believed to pay informants in the Manila Muslim community to alert gangs to rich pickings among the Islamic business world.

These rogue cops usually accuse their victims of involvement in the illegal drugs trade.

A number of hulidap victims have complained of physical torture, too. Dalimbang said that men have been beaten in an apparent attempt to pressure their families to produce money quickly, while some women were raped after being abducted.

Alima Mangotara has yet to get over from the trauma she went through while negotiating the release of her husband, who was allegedly abducted by a hulidap gang on Valentine's Day two years ago.

Over the phone, she would hear her husband screaming in apparent pain while being beaten. “I cry whenever I remember it,” said Alima.

Alima, who is 27, said that when the gang learned of her age, they demanded she too go to the police station alone. Having heard of cases of hulidap victims being raped, Alima politely backed off, saying she was heavily pregnant and close to labour.

Senior PNP management said it is aware of the problem of hulidap and maintains it is tackling the issue. However, senior officers complain they face an uphill struggle, since most alleged victims are too scared to come forward to register an official complaint, for fear of reprisals.

“We cannot work in an environment where everyone's afraid,” said Geary Barias of the National Capital Region Police Office, NCRPO, before adding that this was not a reason for the PNP to ignore the crime.

Instead, the PNP has been running surveillance and counter-intelligence operations on its own men. As a result, more than 200 police officers in Manila have so far been dismissed or charged with various offenses, including extortion.

In one successful operation, Amina's captors were arrested and now face charges in court. “We are committed to disciplining our people. We cannot allow undesirables in our [ranks],” said Barias.

The PNP has also been active in meeting with different Muslim organisations in a bid to rescue its tarnished image within the community, while the OMA has also gone around Muslim communities conducting awareness campaign to educate Muslims of their rights.

While Muslims have learned to fit in well with their fellow countrymen in Manila, many still complain of discrimination. Some blame this on media, which they say is responsible for perpetuating misconceptions and bias against Muslims.

Hadja Alnahar Baby Lazo, OMA-NCR Settlement Division chief, said it is common for news reports to identify criminal suspects as Muslims.

“I cannot understand why the media have to identify a suspect as a Muslim. Why is there a need to include somebody's religion? They should just identify the name,” he said.

“People think we Muslims are war freaks and violent,” said Abubakar Sansaluna, chief of the OMA-NCR Cultural Division.

He said that while misconceptions are hard to fight, stereotypes have to be constantly challenged if there is to be any real improvement.

Claire Delfin is a television news reporter with the GMA Network.

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