By Ali Macabalang
COTABATO CITY – Officials of two government institutions for Muslim Filipinos’ welfare have exerted parallel efforts in defense of three imams complaining about alleged arbitrary arrest in a recent anti-drug police operation in Region 2.
Public clamors spawned by a viral video on the arrest of Habib Sirad Ditingcopen, Noraldin Bantuas Lucman, and Mossanip Madaya, all Cagayan Valley-based young imams, drew interventions from the National Commission on Muslim Filipinos (NCMF) and the fledgling Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM).
In the video that went viral in Facebook, the Maranao imams were shown appealing in tears for help from higher authorities and complaining of being “framed-up” allegedly by policemen in their arrest on a roadside in Enrile town while travelling from Tuguegarao last week.
NCMF Secretary Saidamen Pangadungan instantly coordinated with police authorities and ordered North Luzon-based NCMF legal and medical teams led by Regional Director Abdullah Macarimpas to investigate the incident and assist the imams.
NCMF spokesman Jun Alonto-Datu Ramos on Wednesday posted photos showing Director Macarimpas and his staff conferring with Enrile town police officials and interviewing the imams in their cell.
Maguindanao’s elected Assemblyman Khadaffe Mangudadatu, now BARMM minister, sought explanation from PNP Chief Oscar Albayalde, Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) Director General Aaron Aquino, and Region 2 Police Director Jose Mario Espino.
Mangudadatu said Aquino confirmed that PDEA operatives had filed formal charges against the imams and an unnamed companion, allegedly a Muslim convert or “balik Islam,” from whom the raiding cops recovered six sachets of suspected shabu.
He said Espino, for his part, suggested that intervening parties will have to help the imams put up a strong defense in court to prove their innocence while in the company of persons suspected of peddling shabu.
Also on Wednesday, about 100 Cagayan Valley-based Muslim residents, mostly Maranao traders, trooped to the Tuguegarao City hall to vouch for the innocence of the imams.
“In all past arrests of suspected drug users among our ranks, we never lifted a finger to intercede because we were not sure of the true personalities of the suspects. We now stand in defense of the imams since we all know they are innocent,” once of the residents said in Maranao dialect in a video footage at the city hall.
Facebook netizens said the arrest of the imams became controversial for its religious undertone. They deemed the incident a blessing in disguise because “officials of the NCMF and ARMM (Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao) never worked together until now.
ARMM has been replaced by BARMM, which the government created this year in pursuit of its peace deals with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.