Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Wahab Akbar

Wahab Akbar:

Basilan Rep. Wahab AkbarThe governor learns the ways of the world.

Wahab Akbar believes destiny made him governor of Basilan, the tiny island province with 332,828 people and thousands of loose firearms. Even if he has to instill terror in the hearts of Basileños, Akbar says he would do it to bring peace and development to his “godforsaken land.”

Former Basilan Governor, later elected Representative Wahab Akbar was reportedly killed in the November 13, 2007 blast at the Batasan Pambansa Complex that killed two other individuals and wounded eight. This article was first published in Newsbreak's first special issue on Mindanao, January 2003.

“It would be better to kill 10 suspects than to let the criminals go and let everybody suffer,” the macho governor says. “I have to be tough. I have to be a dictator. I must not show pity.”

Akbar is an ustadz (Islamic teacher) who admitted his Friday sermons in madrasahs (Islamic schools) and mosques might have inspired young Muslims to join the notorious Abu Sayyaf Group bandits.

Born on April 16, 1959, in the village of Lantawan, Akbar, a Yakan, was only 11 years old when he joined his father, a rebel, in the mountains. “I was young, but I was already eating bullets in the jungle,” he recalls.

Akbar’s father, Hajji Mutamad Salajin (Akbar is the name of Wahab’s maternal grandfather), was a squatter in a logging concession owned by a multinational corporation. When security men burned his house and the mosque where he preaches on Fridays, Salajin took up arms.

“[The struggle] was actually selfish. [Most of the rebels] just wanted to have a better life, but there was no opportunity for them, so they joined the revolution,” Akbar says.

After three years, the government persuaded Salajin to surrender. He was given a piece of land and Ferdinand Marcos appointed him mayor of Lantawan. Akbar came down from the mountains and resumed his studies in Isabela, Basilan’s capital town. He was sent to Manila after a year and enrolled at Gregorio Araneta University where he took up agriculture.

He did not finish his studies. In 1979, at the height of protests against martial law, Akbar was arrested with other Muslim students and was detained in Bicutan for 40 days. After his release from detention, Akbar left for Sabah where he worked as a rice cake vendor, carpenter, mason, and driver until 1982 when he left for Syria to study Islamic jurisprudence.

“I also studied Sufism in a special institution,” he says, stressing that he did not become an “Islamic fundamentalist.” He stayed in Syria for five years until 1987 when he was sent to Libya by the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) to train as a commando.

Influencing the Abu Sayyaf

Akbar met Abdurajak Abubakar Janjalani, founder of the Abu Sayyaf, in Libya. “We met in a dahwah (Islamic preaching). He was a good student and was undergoing formal Islamic education in Libya while I was just bumming around,” Akbar says.

Akbar denies he had links with Janjalani or his group. He preached jihad (holy war) during his sermons when he came back to Basilan after six months in Libya. “If that is the context, then maybe I was able to inspire [future Abu Sayyaf bandits],” he says.

Akbar, who used to wear a thoub, a longsleeved one-piece dress that covers the whole body, a white pilgrim’s cap, and a goatee, made his mark as a charismatic preacher in Basilan. However, he distinguished himself from Janjalani, who also preached jihad when he came home from Libya.

“He had his own interpretation of Islam, which he might have read in books, but he did not really understand its teachings,” Akbar says of Janjalani. Sources say, however, that a good following among young Muslims.

Janjalani was arrogant, Akbar says. “He really believed in himself. That’s what I did not like in him. I told him, ‘Don’t tell me that you’re better than us, that you’re braver than us, that you know how to fight more than us.’”

Akbar left for Sabah in the early 1990s. “When [the Abu Sayyaf] were in the mountains, they always called on me and it could not be avoided that I would be linked to them,” he says. But sources say Akbar left because he did not become Abu Sayyaf’s emir (leader).

Khalifah Connection

When he returned to Basilan in the mid-1990s, Akbar resumed preaching in mosques and madaris. He tried to establish Islamic schools in villages with the help of some foreign donors, who included a certain Mohammad Jamal Khalifah. Khalifah, a brother-in-law of Osama bin Laden, reportedly built significant financial and logistical networks between the Al-Qaeda and the Abu Sayyaf.

“I learned that Khalifah was giving money to mosques and institutions, so I asked something for my family,” Akbar says. “He gave me money for the hospitalization of my wife and provided the capital for a bakery I put up in Tabuk.” Akbar’s relationship with Khalifah was short-lived. “I don’t actually like him,” Akbar says. “He looked down on me because I smoked.”

Khalifah rejected a proposal submitted by Akbar for the building of a madrasah. “He said the concept was too shallow. He said he wanted other ways to help Muslims,” Akbar recalls.

When Khalifah had projects in Mindanao, he brought with him Palestinians and Arabs to run it. “He did not trust Filipinos,” Akbar says.

When his relationship with Khalifah soured, Akbar approached local politicians for help. But he was turned down. “It was painful. They looked down on me because I was just a preacher.”

Akbar ran for governor in 1998 to prove to the politicians that he could also be a leader. The people of Basilan supported him. They saw in Akbar an alternative to the traditional politicians who ruled the province for decades.

“I was part of those who destroyed the province when I was a rebel. When the fighting stopped, I waited for someone to rebuild the island, but nobody even tried,” he says.

The war only worsened, Akbar points out, people became poorer and only the politicians got rich. “I thought, ‘Shit, my family will be affected, my children will become victims, all of us will be in deep shit.’ So I said, if nobody will do it, I will do it.”

He says he hardly spent to win the elections in 1998, unlike in 2001 when he solicited money to run for reelection. “I had to look for money to win in 2001. My opponents were spending a lot,” he said. (Akbar refused to reveal his sources of funds for the 2001 elections. “It’s a secret among politicians,” he says, adding that he is a “fast learner.”)

Role Model

As a leader, Akbar points to his father as his role model. “He was hardworking and propeople. He became mayor but did not get rich.” His father once told him that whoever would finish Basilan’s circumferential road would be remembered forever.

Thus Akbar made it his mission to finish the province’s 230-kilometer road. When American forces came to Basilan in 2001 to hunt down the Abu Sayyaf, they rehabilitated the road, but Akbar says it should have been cemented for it to last.

When he became governor in 1998, he built a capitol to house government offices.

Inspired by the success of his first project, Akbar started dreaming of roads and bridges. He lobbied for money from the national government. His friend, then President Joseph Estrada, gave him P10 million for the circumferential road. He also borrowed P2 million from banks.

Everything looked bright for Akbar until 2001 when Estrada was ousted. In June of the same year, when the Abu Sayyaf attacked the town of Lamitan, Akbar was accused of facilitating the payment of ransom for the release of Abu Sayyaf hostages in Lamitan.

Akbar has denied the allegations. Akbar laments that when his projects started to take off, people began attacking him. “The Abu Sayyaf wanted me to fail, Candu [Muarip] and [Basilan Rep.] Gerry [Salapuddin] were happy that I would fail, [the Arroyo administration] didn’t want me as governor, and the military hated me,” he says.

Akbar is no different from other politicians, his critics say.

“He changed a lot since he became a politician,” says Djalia Turabin of the Moro Human Rights Center in Western Mindanao. She says Basileños supported Akbar in 1998 because he was a religious leader. “People looked up to him. They were willing to die for him.”

People saw in Akbar, who preached jihad, an alternative to Salapuddin’s traditional politics and bias for the Yakans. After four years in office, however, people say Akbar is worse than Salapuddin.

Akbar appointed relatives to juicy positions in the provincial government and lobbied for his siblings: a sister became Basilan’s representative to the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao while a brother is mayor of Maluso town.

Akbar knows that people are angry. “They don’t understand me,” he says. “But I have no time to explain to them what I am doing. I have no time to play politics. I have a lot of work to do.”

He adds: “I haven’t killed anybody. People look at me as if I am a killer, but nobody has been killed on my order. Many asked for my permission to kill, but I would always ask, is there really a need to kill?”

In a message to the Abu Sayyaf during the kidnapping of students and teachers of Tumahubong in 2000, Akbar said: “I swear to God that if any of them [Abu Sayyaf hostages] are harmed I will kill all members of your family.” He admits that he ordered the arrest of innocent civilians, including relatives of suspected Abu Sayyaf bandits, when the government put Basilan under a “state of lawlessness” in 2001.

Akbar doesn’t want to listen even to his advisers. “Nobody should question me. I am the governor. I will do what I believe is good for the people, whether they like it or not, whether they will love me for it or not, I don’t care.”

Adjusting to the World

On the personal side, Akbar stopped drinking at the age of 24 and stopped smoking early this year after doctors told him to quit. “My only vice is women, but I stopped [womanizing] last year,” he says.

Akbar has been married more than 10 times, but maintains four wives at a time to follow the tenets of the Koran. He has three children and his latest wife, a Christian, is pregnant.

He recently stopped wearing his Muslim garb and shaved his moustache and goatee.

“I have to adjust to the world around me. I don’t want people to look at me as a Muslim. I want them to look at me as governor of both Christians and Muslims,” he says. “It’s a sacrifice, but someday, I will return to my being a Muslim when the problems of Basilan are solved.”

“When there will be enough jobs, people here will realize that it is better to go to school or work than clean their guns the whole day,” a reflective Akbar says.

It will be time then to go back to the mosques and madaris.

The south wing entrance of the House of Representatives was bombed killing at least four people. That's the bad news. If the bomb was detonated inside where pork-feasting congressmen were having a session, that would have been good news.

A bomb ripped through the south wing entrance of the Batasan Complex killing Basilan Rep. Wahab Akbar. Half of Basilan's female population have been widowed.

Market’s Reaction

Despite last night's bombing at the House of Representatives, the stock market snapped a two-day losing streak rising sharply by 2.28% in today's trading even as the peso opened higher against the US dollar. Traders who refused to be identified said both the peso and the market would have performed much better if the casualties included more congressmen.

Top 5 Things Overheard Outside the Batasan Complex After the Bombing

5: "Sabi ni JDV, nakauwi na raw siya ng bombahin ang Batasan. Sayang!"

4: "In fairness to Trillanes, wala 'ata siyang theory this time."

3: "Sana Malacañang na ang next!"

2: "Bakit naman labas lang pinasabog? Sana sa loob rin!"

1: "Don't tell me may LPG din sa lobby ng Batasan."

Good News: President Arroyo puts up P5-million reward for info on Batasan blast

Bad News: Half of the P5M came from Kampi; half came from the League of Governors

Blast blamed on Akbar's rivals

The blast that ripped through the south wing of the Batasang Pambansa in Quezon City Tuesday night is the handiwork of political opponents of Basilan Rep. Wahab Akbar and his family.

This was the statement issued by the Basilan provincial government hours following the explosion Tuesday night. Akbar died at the hosptial after being severly injured in the blast.

Cris Puno, Basilan's provincial information officer, said that the explosion was meant to kill Akbar.

Puno said that it was a move of Akbar’s opponents to grab power in Isabela City, Basilan and in the entire province.

Puno added that "enemies of Akbar" are working hard for him to be out of power because they cannot accept that he holds power in Basilan.

Akbar's first wife, Jum, is the governor of Basilan while his other spouse, Cherilyn is the mayor of Isabela City.

Puno declined to name the perpetrators of the blast.

In a related development, Negros Oriental Rep. Henry Teves is in critical condition after sustaining severe blast injuries and burns following the explosion.

Those who were rushed to General Malvar Hospital on Commonwealth Avenue were identified as Gabriela Rep. Luz Ilagan, who sustained shrapnel wounds to the legs and back; Ismael Lim, driver of Gabriela Rep. Liza Maza; Kim Ar, bodyguard of Akbar; and Maan Abustanilo, a staff of Teves.

Teves has been transferred to St. Luke’s Medical Center where his relatives, including his grandfather, former congressman Herminio Teves, and his uncle, Finance Secretary Margarito Teves, rushed to be with him.

Teves's relatives refused to issue a comment as of this posting.

Metro Manila under red alert
Metro Manila has been placed on full red alert after the explosion.

National Capital Regional Police chief Geary Barias ordered check points around the metropolis. Police are also coordinating with the Armed Forces of the Philippines for the security clampdown.

Bombing well-timed
Bayan Muna Rep. Teddy Casiño said the bombing "well-timed."

“If it was a bomb, it was very well timed. The session has just ended and congressmen were making a beeline to the exit into their cars. If someone was to set up a bomb at that place that was the right time," Casino said.

Philippine National Police chief Avelino Razon said one fatality, who was identified later as Ilagan's driver Marcial Talbo, was found inside the Toyota
Hi-Ace van parked in front the building’s south wing.

He added that four vehicles were damaged by the blast.

“Ito po ay iyong kay Congressman Akbar, Congresswoman Ilagan at Congressman Teves ng Negros. Dini-determine pa naming kung sino ang may-ari ng pang-apat the sasakyan (These are those owned by Congressman Akbar, Congresswoman Ilagan at Congressman Teves of Negros. We are still determining who owns the fourth vehicle),” said Razon.

Politicians condemn bombing
Several lawmakers, meanwhile, have condemned the “bombing.”

Speaker Jose de Venecia said the explosion "is a work of an anarchist, a terrorist.”

He added that the “bombing” was intended to threaten the House of Representatives.

“Certainly hindi ito granada. Siguradong sinadya para takutin ang Kongreso para wala nang session (This is certainly not caused by a grenade. This was done to scare Congress so that there will be no session),” said de Venecia.

He added that Congress is now conducting a full scale investigation together with the Philippine National Police.

“There will be a clean sweep tonight to make sure that there is no bomb left in the premises. We will hold sessions tomorrow, unless the PNP says otherwise,” said de Venecia.

For his part, Sen. Aquilino Pimentel urged the administration to hunt down the perpetrators of the blast.

"To restore confidence of the people, [the] administration must identify, arrest and prosecute those responsible for the bomb explosion in Batasan,” Pimentel said.

Pimentel also warmed President Arroyo from declaring martial law.

“PGMA (Mrs. Arroyo) must be warned versus doing a Musharraf or else [there will be] more problems ahead,” he said.

Akbayan Rep. Risa Hontiveros-Baraquel said the attack is an appalling attempt to destroy “life, freedom and democracy.”

"Nothing can rationalize this act. We urge the authorities to immediately investigate the incident and go after the perpetrators of the bombing… It is meant to injure and scare members of Congress, especially since it was timed immediately after the adjournment of the session,” she said."

"||abs-cbn interactive news"

No comments: