Oct 242014


Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
05MANILA1098 2005-03-09 09:23 2011-08-30 01:44 UNCLASSIFIED//FOR OFFICIAL USE ONLY Embassy Manila
This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.




E.O. 12958: N/A

¶B. 04 MANILA 5903

¶1. (U) Summary. Marawi, the capital of Lanao del Sur
Province in Central Mindanao, is officially an “Islamic city”
under municipal law, the only such city in the Philippines.
The city of 125,000 is 96-percent Muslim. The main campus of
Mindanao State University, located in Marawi, is a
nonetheless cosmopolitan bubble of Christian-Muslim
understanding and a crossroads of orthodox and progressive
Islamic thought. City officials are nonetheless striving to
make Marawi a purely Islamic enclave by legislating
conservative laws based on the Koran, while flatly rejecting
comparisons to the fundamentalist-oriented Taliban. The city
has a small Christian minority, which has generally good
relations with city officials. The local Catholic Bishop is
active in promoting interfaith understanding and
reconciliation. Despite its Islamic identity, the city is
plagued with an epidemic of drug abuse among local youth as
well as a culture of revenge violence. Marawi City and its
leaders are proud of a city where Islamic values flourish,
while remaining eager for and receptive to US engagement
efforts. End Summary.

Students And Townsfolk Appreciate Advocacy Visit
——————————————— —

¶2. (U) Poloff visited Marawi City February 12-14 to speak
about US foreign policy at a conference organized by students
from the College of International Relations at the main
campus of Mindanao State University (MSU). The students were
receptive to poloff’s remarks on US interests in Mindanao,
which stressed development and education as tools in
combating terrorism. The audience appeared grateful for the
Embassy’s participation (representatives from the Department
of Foreign Affairs dropped out). Other speakers included MSU
faculty members and local media personalities (one an
International Visitor grantee). Questions were largely
non-hostile, apart from occasional expressions of suspicion
of US “hegemony.” Poloff’s explanations of US global
engagement emphasized security, prosperity, and democracy as
central goals. Poloff’s separate impromptu remarks on US
development objectives and support for the Mindanao peace
process (translated into the local dialect for the weekly
“flag-raising” gathering of government employees at the
Provincial Capital Complex) received applause and approval.

MSU: A Moderate Bubble

¶3. (U) Mindanao State University’s Marawi campus has 17
associated schools and colleges, offering law, Islamic
Studies, engineering, nursing, agriculture, international
relations, and other programs. There are 12,000 students at
the campus, of whom 80-percent are Muslim. The university
prides itself on being a progressive-oriented learning
institution. According to Vice Chancellor Macabangkit Ati,
several MSU graduates have won national trade and vocational
awards, and the university promotes inter-faith understanding
as part of its mandate to provide quality higher education to
all of Mindanao — comparatively one of the most
education-deprived regions of the country.

¶4. (U) MSU-Marawi is also home to the King Faisal Center for
Islamic, Arabic, and Asian Studies, where students take
academic degree programs and classes on Islamic law, Islamic
history, Arabic language, and international relations. The
Center also operates a Koranic school, administered by Rachid
Ouabed, an Algerian. Ouabed also has a Palestinian on his
staff. (Both immigrated to the Philippines, married local
women, and now live and work in Marawi.) The school operates
under an agreement with the MSU Board of Regents, but
receives funding from the Muslim World League, based in
Mecca, Saudi Arabia. The school is similar to a madrassah
and conducts all of its classes in Arabic. The school’s
compound features a library full of donated books in Arabic,
several classrooms, and a spacious cafeteria and bathing
facilities. Ouabed told poloff the school is planning phased
renovations that will include boarding rooms and a separate
building for girls. Poloff visited one classroom with about
40 students, all boys in their early teens, studying
Koran-based science in Arabic. The students and
administrators were friendly.
¶5. (SBU) The King Faisal Center also houses the Marawi
chapter of the Center for Moderate Muslims (CMM) (ref A).
One of the CMM organizers — MSU faculty member and Embassy
contact Hamid Barra — explained that the difficulty in
promoting moderate ideals is due in part to the lack of mass
communication (no electricity) and the low literacy level,
especially in rural areas. “Extremists” easily visit rural
mosques, where they can teach “militant ideals” with
impunity, he claimed. The CMM supports peace initiatives
such as livelihood programs and family development. With
international partners such as the World Bank, the UN
Development Program, and the Asia Foundation, CMM reaches out
to local poor communities to provide literacy training, he

Islamic Pride and Conservatism

¶6. (SBU) Marawi is a self-proclaimed “Islamic City,” and in
that tradition city officials have enacted local laws based
on the Koran. Several city council members described to
poloff how their Islamic leadership relates to the national
secular constitution. Two recent city ordinances (“based on
interpretations of the Koran”) were of particular interest:
one requiring all Muslim women to wear Islam-appropriate
clothing, specifically a headscarf; and another “restricting
gays” and banning cross-dressing males. Both ordinances
prescribe increasing monetary fines with each offense and the
possibility of incarceration on the third offense.

¶7. (SBU) Marawi City Mayor Omar Ali and the city councilors
have stressed collectively that the laws are to “protect
Islamic culture” in Marawi and to present the city as
Islamic-friendly to the Muslim world. According to one
official, the city even discourages men from wearing shorts.
City councilors contended that, without the ordinances,
Muslim women would be at risk of harassment or physical
assaults for not wearing appropriate dress. Officials
discounted a comment that Marawi might be transforming into a
“Taliban-esque” city. Female councilor Jehanne
Mutin-Mapupuno noted that the Maranao tribe — based in
Marawi and the surrounding Lanao provinces — is the most
conservative of the three main Muslim ethnicities in the
Philippines. (Note: Marawi is 90-percent Maranao, and many
prefer to speak the Maranao dialect instead of Tagalog. The
other two main Muslim ethnicities are the Maguindanao,
centered on the province of the same name, and the Tausug,
based in the Sulu Archipelago. End Note.) “There is
religious freedom” in Marawi, she insisted, emphasizing that
the ordinances are an expression of how Muslims “should” act.
As leaders of Marawi, the city counselors had a
responsibility to “protect” Islam from “corrupting
influences,” she claimed. In reference to the
anti-homosexual ordinance, one councilor claimed to be
tolerant of gays, but stressed “they should not act like
women while in Marawi.”

Little if any enforcement

¶8. (SBU) According to the sponsor of the headscarf
ordinance, local people largely supported both measures.
However, one MSU student told poloff the ordinances are
indeed a concern to the student body. The student noted that
this is in large part due to the interfaith and cosmopolitan
nature of the university. There is apparently discussion of
exempting the MSU campus, in the city’s outskirts, from the
ordinances, either explicitly or by default.

¶9. (SBU) According to Mayor Ali, Marawi does not have a
“religious police,” but ad hoc ulama (Islamic scholar) groups
exist in the city that could serve this enforcement function.
Local police officials had a “vague awareness” of the
ordinances, but appear indifferent to enforcement, officials
noted. Marawi also has a Sharia (Islamic law) court, but so
far there have not been any prosecutions under the new
ordinances, according to officials. (Note: It is not clear
whether authorities have levied fines under these ordinances
yet. End note)

¶10. (SBU) Manila-based Department of Interior and Local
Government Undersecretary Wencelito Andanar separately
predicted to poloff that such ordinances would not stand up
to scrutiny under the Philippines’ secular constitution,
adding that it would be “interesting” to see a challenge
reach the Supreme Court. He admitted that this would “take a
long time.”

Christian-Muslim Coexistence

¶11. (SBU) Marawi Catholic Bishop Edwin de la Pena, who
presides over around 2,000 in the Marawi Prelate of six
parishes, cited challenges in being the de facto leader of a
tiny religious minority. He noted “prejudice” from both
Muslims and Christians, and occasional deadly violence, which
claimed the life of a foreign missionary priest in 2001. He
complained that violence goes unchecked and murders unsolved,
and voiced suspicions of the involvement of the local drug
trade. He said that he tries to serve as an intermediary
with the city government on behalf of his followers, although
he has no official political representative role. He claimed
that Marawi leaders readily listened to and cooperated with
Marawi’s Christians. In one instance, the city cleaned up a
litter-strewn thoroughfare in front of the main church in
Marawi. There are also local organizations through which
Christians and Muslims learn about reconciliation and
interfaith understanding, he added.

Other Social Woes

¶12. (SBU) According to local observers, Marawi is plagued by
several social problems, including drugs and clan-based feuds
(known locally as “rido”). City officials said that many
young people are now addicted to methamphetamine (locally
known as “shabu”). City councilors and police blamed
“outsiders from Manila” or transnational traffickers from
“China and Taiwan.” Several students said that they
suspected local politicians were complicit in the trade.
Councilor Mapupuno suggested that high local unemployment and
the lack of positive activities for the young contributed to
the problem. Other city officials lamented the lack of a
family-oriented sports league or a rehabilitation center.

¶13. (SBU) In examples of the “rido” problem (ref b),
officials described the deaths of at least seven government
troops and 12 others in late January in a firefight between
influential Maranao families in Tuburan, Lanao del Sur
Province, about 40 miles south of Marawi. Councilor Mapupuno
opined that such disputes are best handled outside the
“distrusted Philippine justice system” through a culturally
preferred “Elders’ Council” that arbitrates disputes on a
case-by-case basis. The Council determines settlements that
range from directed intermarriage (to join families together)
to blood money. However, additional vendetta killings often
occur when one party is reluctant or unable to pay, according
to the Councilor.

Comment: A City Open To Engagement

¶14. (SBU) Marawi is truly a unique part of the Philippines,
which, like other Mindanao cities, has its share of
challenges. While coping with its problems, the city strives
to establish and maintain its conservative Islamic identity,
although it remains open to US engagement. US public
diplomacy programs are prevalent at MSU, which is a welcoming
platform for speakers from the Embassy and visiting lecturers
from the US. The American Studies Resource Center is a
useful hub for MSU students interested in US topics and
education programs. USAID is active in the city, with a
range of development assistance initiatives, including
offering computer and internet education for several local
high schools and matching funds for community organizations
committed to school improvement. End Comment.

Visit Embassy Manila’s Classified SIPRNET website:
http://www.state.sgov.gov/p/eap/manila/index. cfm

You can also access this site through the State Department’s
Classified SIPRNET website:



Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.