By Ali G. Macabalang
COTABATO CITY – Muslim executives and lawmakers have strongly condemned the brazen attack on Monday, Dec. 6 in Zamboanga City of two mayors from Basilan, one of them died and another critically wounded.
“The inhumane incident…(was) not only against the people of Basilan, but an attack on the democratic principles and values of the entire Bangsamoro people,” said Ahod “Hadji Murad” Ebrahim, interim chief minister of the autonomous region, in a statement shortly after the attack.
Ebrahim, who chairs the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and the United Bangsamoro Justice Party (UBJP), also called on the “security sector, the Philippine National Police and Armed Forces of the Philippines, to investigate the incident thoroughly and ensure the safety of our people.”
Motorcycle-riding gunmen staged the attack while Mayors Darussalam Lajid of Al-Barka and Alih Salih of Akbar in Basilan while walking in Zamboanga City after arriving on a speedboat past 8a.m. Monday. Lajid died while Alih sustained critical bullet wounds, police said.
A bodyguard of the two mayors was wounded and a driver who came to pick them up was killed, police said.
Probers were trying to identify the two gunmen and two companions who escaped on motorcycles and determine their motive, including the possibility that the incident involved a political rivalry.
The two mayors were seeking reelection in the May 9, 2022 elections. Al-Barka town, once influenced by the Abu Sayyaf bandit group, intermittently figured in political feuds. The slain mayor and his vice mayor, Mujib Jakilan, were recently settled amicably, it was learned.
Mayor Lajid’s killing brought to three mayors killed in Basilan. Their first two deaths happened in 2009 and 2015, said Zamboanga City-based journalist Julie Alipala, who frequently staged media coverage in the island province.
“I can understand the situation from 2009 to 2016 in Basilan (when) lawless elements (could) easily execute attacks against innocent civilians. What is unacceptable, when such conditions are now experienced in (Zamboanga) city these days and near the mosque. How can these armed men easily slip through borders and checkpoints and assassinate officials?” Alipala lamented in her online posts.
She described Lajid as “down to earth and low profile mayor,” roaming his place “unescorted, very accessible.” But early this year, she said, he was “obliged to tap someone to escort him due to increased pressures and threats.”
Basilan Governor Jim Hataman-Salliman and his younger sibling, Rep. Mujiv Hataman, have promptly condemned Monday’s attack, and called for an in-depth investigation to bring suspects behind the bars of justice.
The slain mayor was said to be among Basilan mayors brought by Gov. Salliman here to meet the chief minister and other key officials of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) government, and vowed support for the hosts’ campaign for extention in the regional tyransition operation amid brewing debates.
BARMM Local Government Minister Naguib Sinarimbo has likewise assailed Monday’s attack, expressed sympathy to the bereaved families of the victims, and assured his agency’s support in the search for justice.
Meanwhile, Ebrahim urged the bereaved relatives to observe “sobriety pending investigation of the incident,” saying the “perpetrators shall answer to justice, insha-Allah.” (AGM)