Friday, April 18, 2008

Dear Fellow Filipinos:


By Armand Dean Nocum, former Inquirer investigative reporter

As a Catholic and an ex-seminarian, it’s heart-wrenching to hear about the bombing of Zamboanga City’s Immaculate Conception Cathedral. As a proud Zamboangueno, it makes me angry to hear people desecrating one of Zamboanga City’s most sacred grounds.

A day after the bombing, police authorities quickly pinned the blame on the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) even before they could actually gather strong evidence to back up their claim.

Instead of anger, what came to my mind was the feeling of fear – fear for my wife who is a Tausug and my two half-Muslim kids. What will their future be in a world where Muslims are always being associated with the ASG?

What will their future be when government authorities are quick to the draw in blaming the ASG for the bombings in Glorieta and Congress? All the reports proved false, but none of those who blamed the ASG came out to apologize.

I have no sympathy for the ASG, but neither can I tolerate the bias towards Muslims, most of whom just want to be respected and to live in peace, just like you and me.

It is bad enough that we have neglected our Muslim brethren, but it is even worse that we ostracize them by lumping them up with the ASG.

Bias will not make the Muslim secessionist and terrorist problem go away; neither will guns and bullets.

Bias will even stoke the fire that fuels the feeling of distrust and discontent felt by our brothers and sisters Muslims down South. You mix distrust and ignorance and you have a perfect formula for mayhem.

Instead of crippling bias, we should all work to reverse the long years of distrust and neglect towards our Muslim brothers and sisters.

We could start by helping show our young Muslim compatriots down South that we care for them and that they have a better future when they pick up books, pencils and play with computers instead guns and rocket launchers.

Thus, this commentary is not just one of the many ``bleeding heart’’ commentaries circulating the web; this one calls for action. And the action starts now.

I am finally putting into action a dream I have nurtured for 23 years – to launch a campaign or movement whereby discarded or used books from the more progressive side of the country are shipped down South.

The aim is to saturate schools and day-care centers in Zamboanga, Sulu, Basilan and Tawi-Tawi with books of interest to children to fire up young Muslim minds into realization that there is greater hope and power in knowledge/education than the barrel of a gun.

Education revolution down South will also open up the eyes of young Christians to the reality that they should be more understanding not only of Muslims, but also all other cultures of the world because bias and bigotry most often come from ignorance.

I am calling this campaign ``A-book Saya Group’’ or ASG to show that the problems relating to terrorism in Mindanao will not go away; just as we cannot sweep the existence of our brothers Muslims under the rug. We are living in the same soil and we might as well start doing all we could to foment inter-religious and intercultural understanding in what ever way we could.

Those wishing to give their books can drop it off at my Satti Grill House outlets in M.H. del Pilar, near the corner of Padre Faura and at SM-Fairview Food Court (near the grocery section).

In the future, I will add more outlets – including media and business establishments – where books could be dropped off. Since Metro Manila has been good to my family and my businesses, I will also set aside a portion of the earnings in my two food outlets to initially cover the cost of shipping the books to Mindanao.

But as the volume of donation increases, I would very much welcome donations and tie-ups with shipping companies to help defray the cost of shipment. Someday I will expand the donation to include old computers and other educational equipment that are so common to students in Manila but which those down South are yet to see.

Please join me in my quest to take even small steps to make the Philippines a better world. We may not change the world, but we could all be at peace with ourselves if we could only prevent one smart Muslim lad from becoming the next ASG commander or the next LRT bomber.

We could all find inner peace if we could stop just one ignorant and biased Christian lad from bombing mosques or making insults to Muslims and thus planting the seed of intercultural hatred.

No help is so small; what’s important is that we start now! Should you have no books to give, circulating this message to your friends or by word of mouth will do. Please call me at 9323609/3393732 or 09228169510 for details. You may also email me at or check out my blog at

The situation in Zamboanga is scary. Police there say the bombers of the Immaculate Conception Cathedral are out to ignite Christian-Muslim animosity.

Now you see that although the bomb killed no one, the biggest casualty was understanding and trust. The biggest explosion was bias and bigotry.


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