Gonzalez claimed intelligence reports show that Muslim reverts become “extremists and terrorists” when they returned to the country.

By Rexcel Sorza, IOL Correspondent

MANILA, April 7, 2005 (IslamOnline.net) – A controversial memorandum by the Justice Department on monitoring Filipino workers returning from the Middle East, students coming back from Pakistan and reverts to Islam as an anti-terrorism measure, drew fire from the country’s Muslims as well as migrants’ watchdogs.

“It is profiling and discriminatory. It saddens us because once again the Muslims, particularly the reverts, are being labeled as terrorists and bombers”, Amirah Ali Lidasan of the Moro Christian People’s Alliance told IslamOnline.net.

“Filipino Muslims feel insulted with the issuance of the memorandum by Secretary Raul Gonzalez. It teems with discrimination against us,” Lidasan added, asserting that the directive is reinforcing the existing anti-Muslim phobia.

She charged that the memo speaks of the state policy of discriminating against the believers of Islam.

On March 30, Sec. Raul Gonzalez tasked the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) and Bureau of Immigration (BI) to monitor the entry of Filipino workers coming from the Middle East, especially Saudi Arabia, and even students from Islamic schools in Pakistan.

He defended his memo as being “necessary because intelligence reports show that some converts become Muslim extremists and terrorists when they returned to the Philippines.”

Filipino Muslims have complained of being wantonly tagged as “terrorists” and criminals, particularly in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks.

They say there is a brewing Islamophobia that has hit places around the world including the Philippines, which has an estimated Muslim population of 10 million.

During the holy-fasting month of Ramadan, the country’s Muslims championed a campaign to wash away misconceptions about Islam and Muslims and distance their faith from terrorism.

Imitating Washington

Migrante, an organization of Filipinos working on foreign shores, assailed Gonzalez’s order as “baseless, highly irrational, racist and definitely anti-overseas Filipino worker.”

“We condemn this government move to launch a witch-hunt on Muslim OFWs [overseas Filipino workers] and scholars”, Migrante Chairperson Connie Regalado said in a statement sent to IOL.

She dismissed Gonzalez’s claims of intelligence reports as “totally illogical and baseless.”

Regalado accused the Department of Justice of “mimicking the illogical and baseless tirades of the US government towards Muslims and other nationalities.”

The watchdog also contended that the memo “stinks of the United States government’s concept of ‘homeland security,’ racial profiling and terrorist branding and witch-hunting.”

A May 2004 report released by the US Senate Office Of Research concluded that Arab Americans and the Muslim community in the US have taken the brunt of the Patriot Act and other federal powers applied in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks.

A recent nation-wide poll, conducted by the Cornell University, showed that at least 44 percent of the Americans backs curbing Muslims’ civil rights and monitoring their places of worship.

Anti-Muslim

Migrante further lambasted the memo that “has practically branded all OFWs who believe in Islam as ‘potential terrorists.’”

Regalado maintained that the government is “again sending the wrong message to the public: that our Muslim brothers and sisters are a violent people”.

“Now they include our Muslim Filipino compatriots who were forced to work and/or study in the Middle East due to the lack of opportunities here in the country and the government’s war against Muslim communities that have destroyed the madrasahs and even mosques time and again since the 1970s. This is definitely anti-Muslim and anti-OFW,” she said.

Migrante branded the memo as “a witch-hunt on the very people who government always claims as the country’s ‘new economic heroes’”.

Caring Parents

Migrante Youth, composed of children of Filipinos working abroad, echoed the same position.

“It is revolting that no less than our very own Justice Department is profiling our OFWs as potential terrorists,” the organization’s spokesman Mac Ramirez said in a separate statement sent to IOL.

“Our overseas Filipino workers in the Middle East countries such as Saudi Arabia and Iraq brave bullets, bombs and abductions everyday just to provide decent lives to their families here in the Philippines.”

He put at some 1.5 million the number of Filipinos working in the Middle East, almost one million of them in Saudi Arabia.

Ramirez said the justice department’s order is an insult, noting that Filipinos in Saudi Arabia ranked second in dollar remittances to the country.

“They are not terrorists. They are ordinary fathers and mothers who are forced to seek employment even in the most dangerous situations abroad because of extreme poverty in the country and the Arroyo administration’s failure to provide gainful employment to its people.”