TRAILING HADJI AKMAD BAYAM
The inclusion of a Hadji Akmad Bayam in the charge sheet in connection with the bomb blast in Makilala, North Cotabato last Oct. 10 has generated considerable controversy. The reason? The Hadji Akmad Bayam included in the Makilala charge sheet works with the office of Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita, said leaders of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).
BY ALEXANDER MARTIN REMOLLINO
Is it he, or is it not he? That, to paraphrase a well-known soliloquy from the great English poet and playwright William Shakespeare, is the million-dollar question.
The inclusion of a Hadji Akmad Bayam in the charge sheet in connection with the bomb blast in Makilala, North Cotabato last Oct. 10 has generated considerable controversy.
Two separate bombings occurred in Mindanao on that date. The first took place at early afternoon in Tacurong City, Sultan Kudarat, wounding four women. The second happened eight hours later in Makilala, North Cotabato, killing six people and wounding 29 others.
Also included in the Makilala charge sheet were Al Haj Murad, chairman of the revolutionary Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF); and Kule Mamagong alias Ustadz Kule; Daud Sarip; Biznar Salahuddin; Atti Lintungan alias Ustadz Atti; Samsudin Demaalo alias Commander Platon Blah; and Ahmad Akmad Batabol Usman alias Abdulbasit or Basit Usman; Zahide Abdul alias Zabiri Abdul or Bedz; and Usman Al Majad –- all alleged MILF commanders.
The charge sheet also included Dulmatin alias Amat Usman and Omar Patek alias Abdul Sheik, alleged members of the Indonesian-based terrorist group Jemaah Islamiyah. Dulmatin’s wife, who had been captured previously in Jolo, Sulu, had said the MILF is linked with the Jemaah Islamiyah –- an allegation the group’s spokesman Eid Kabalu has denied in several media interviews.
In a statement shortly after the bombing, MILF peace panel chairman Mohagher Iqbal had said that Murad and Bayam could not possibly be charged in connection with the same bombing.
“Anyone who is in his right mind won’t include Hadji Akmad Bayam (on the charge sheet),” said MILF vice chairman Ghazali Jaafar in a TV interview on Oct. 19, reiterating Iqbal’s statement.
The reason? MILF leaders say, citing information they describe as coming from a source in Malacañang, the Hadji Akmad Bayam included in the Makilala charge sheet works with the office of Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita. “He has been working with Ermita for a long time,” Kabalu told Bulatlat of Bayam, whom he also described as a former commander of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), another Moro revolutionary group.
This is not the first time that an official linked to the Arroyo administration has been accused of involvement in Mindanao bombings.
In July 2003, dissident soldiers belonging to the Magdalo group cited as one of the reasons for their armed protest action at the Oakwood Hotel in Makati City the alleged masterminding by then Defense Secretary Angelo Reyes of the Davao bombings earlier that same year. This, the Magdalo soldiers said, was meant to provide a justification for asking the U.S. for additional anti-“terrorist” funds. Early the next year, both the government-initiated Maniwang Commission and the independent Mindanao Truth Commission concluded that a “third party” was behind the bombings.
Following the allegations, several prominent Moro personalities –- among them Arsad Solaiman of the Moro Youth for Bangsamoro Genuine Empowerment (MYBGE) and lawyer Zen Malang of the Bangsamoro Center for Law and Policy –- urged Ermita to make a categorical statement either confirming or denying that Bayam works with his office.
Ten days after the Makilala bombing, Ermita told media that there is indeed a Hadji Akmad Bayam working in his office as an assistant secretary. He said he would check whether the Bayam working for him and the one charged in connection with the Makilala bombing are the same person.
The following day, Oct. 21, Ermita said the Bayam included in the Makilala charge sheet is different from the one who works for him as an assistant secretary.
“How could he be a bomber?” Ermita said of his assistant secretary. “Akmad Bayam used to be a Moro National Liberation Front commander. Later he came out of the organization and I recruited him to join our party, the Lakas-NUCD. I recently hired him to be one of my technical assistants.”
Ermita, who was involved in the GRP-MNLF peace talks, said Bayam surrendered to the government through him shortly before the signing of the Final Peace Agreement. He later joined the Moro National Rebel Returnees Association (MNRRA), of which he eventually became chairman.
Bayam’s name had rarely hit the news since his surrender, although it is known that from 2002 to 2004, he worked with the office of Jose Ma. Rufino, then presidential liaison officer for political affairs (now deceased). He resigned from that office in 2004 to run for a congressional seat in his native Maguindanao, but lost.
Nothing would be heard from Bayam since then until mid-2005, when he made headlines as chairman of the Philippine Muslim Solidarity Council (PMSC), a group of Muslims who had called on President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo to step down in the wake of the so-called “Hello Garci” scandal.
The surfacing of the so-called “Hello Garci” tapes –- a series of recorded and allegedly wiretapped conversations in which a voice similar to Arroyo’s is heard instructing an election official, whose voice sounds like that of Commission on Elections (Comelec) Commissioner Virgilio Garcillano to rig the polls renewed widespread suspicions of fraud in the 2004 presidential election and revived calls for the president’s removal or resignation from office.
Among the groups that emerged in the revitalized campaign for Arroyo’s removal or resignation from Malacañang was the broad coalition Unity for Truth and Justice, launched on July 21, 2005. The PMSC took part in this coalition. In fact, during the group’s inaugural meeting, Bayam was among those nominated to form a caretaker government that would take over in the event of an Arroyo removal or resignation.
When former presidential staff officer Michaelangelo Zuce testified before a congressional investigation later that same month that there was fraud in the 2004 election, Bayam –- who told of having worked with him in Rufino’s office –- was behind him. That is, until Zuce produced an affidavit saying it was Bayam who had endorsed Garcillano’s appointment to the Comelec.
He belied this allegation of Zuce and even accused Makati City Mayor Jejomar Binay and former Internal Revenue Commissioner Liwayway Vinzons-Chato –- both convenors of the Unity for Truth and Justice –- of offering him money in exchange for “helping” them. Chato responded by saying it was actually Bayam who had asked for money –- to the tune of P700,000 –- in exchange for his help.
He then disappeared from the scene and even his colleagues in the PMSC could not locate nor even contact him.
Nothing would be heard from or about Bayam since then until September this year, when Ermita in media interviews lauded him for his role in the “recovery” of Grace Gonzales, daughter of Western Mindanao State University (WMSU) president Dr. Eldigario Gonzales. Grace had been kidnapped a month before in Zamboanga. In news reports on Grace’s “recovery,” Ermita was quoted as saying that Bayam was his assistant secretary.
A month later, a name similar to his appears on the charge sheet in connection with the Makilala bombing.
Bayam has branded as “malicious” the allegations that he was linked to the Makilala bombing, and challenged his accusers to face him and swear by the Koran while making allegations. Ermita has denied the accusation against his assistant secretary.
Bayam has also talked of having had a falling-out with the camp of former Defense Secretary Fortunato Abat, also a convenor of the Unity for Truth and Justice.
MILF leaders swear that the Bayam charged with multiple murder is the same man working for Ermita –- citing information which they describe as coming from no less than a source in Malacañang.
The MNLF and the MILF
During the presidency of Diosdado Macapagal (1961-1965), Sabah, an island near Mindanao to which the Philippines has a historic claim, ended up in the hands of the Malaysian government. His successor Ferdinand Marcos later conceived a scheme which involved the recruitment of between 28 and 64 Moro fighters to occupy Sabah.
The reported summary execution of these recruits in 1968 by their superiors, which Moro historian Salah Jubair says was due to their refusal to follow orders, led to widespread outrage among Moros and led to the formation of the MNLF that same year.
The MNLF, which fought for an independent state in Muslim Mindanao, entered into a series of negotiations with the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP), beginning in the 1970s under the Marcos government. Conflicts on the issue of autonomy led to a breakdown of talks between the GRP and the MNLF in 1978, prompting a group led by Dr. Salamat Hashim to break away from the MNLF and form the MILF. Since then, the MILF has been fighting for an Islamic state in Mindanao.
In 1996, the MNLF signed a Final Peace Agreement with the GRP which created the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao –- composed of Sulu, Basilan, Tawi-Tawi, and Maguindanao –- as a concession to the group. That same year, the MILF began peace negotiations with the GRP. The issue of ancestral domain had emerged last month as the most contentious issue in the GRP-MILF peace negotiations, which are being brokered by the Malaysian government. The MILF is proposing a Bangsamoro Juridical Entity based on an ancestral domain claim over Mindanao, Sulu, and Palawan. But the government had insisted that any areas to be included to the Bangsamoro Juridical Entity in addition to the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) should be subject to “constitutional processes” –- something which, the MILF said, had not come up in any of the signed documents related to the talks since 1997.
The recent bombings in Mindanao took place shortly after the deadlock in the GRP-MILF peace talks over the issue of ancestral domain. Among the suspects is one Hadji Akmad Bayam. Bulatlat