THIS year’s commemoration of Eid’l Fitr or Feast of Ramadan coincided with World Press Freedom Day on May 3. Muslims worldwide observe this religious holiday to mark the end of Ramadan’s month-long, dawn-to-sunset fasting. It became a national holiday in the Philippines starting 2002.
On the other hand, World Press Freedom Day acts as a reminder to governments about the need to respect their commitment to one of democracy’s pillars — freedom of the press. It was the United Nations General Assembly that declared on May 3, 1993 and every year thereafter that the right to freedom of expression must be upheld in keeping with the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
The convergence of these religious and secular concepts may be found in the Philippine Center for Islam and Democracy (PCID), established in 2002 amid the global and domestic challenges confronting Filipino Muslims. At that time, the US and its allies were waging a “war on terror” — with the Philippines being tagged as the next front after Afghanistan. This new front was centered naturally in Mindanao mainly because of the Abu Sayyaf, a renegade band of fighters with alleged ties to al-Qaeda.
As a result, the “war on terror” fanned a growing global debate that Islam is incompatible with democracy, which threatened to undermine the democratic space in Muslim societies. This debate accompanied the rise in radical movements among Islamist organizations, culminating in the fatal attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City on Sept. 11, 2001.
Thus, the PCID was founded by three Filipino Muslim intellectuals who saw the need to articulate the voice of the Bangsamoro: Amina Rasul, who served in the Cabinet of President Fidel Ramos; Abrahan Iribani, previously the spokesperson of the Moro National Liberation Front; and Nasser Marohomsalic, a former Human Rights commissioner. Its members consist of prominent leaders and thinkers from government, business, academe, military, and other sectors, with representation from Mindanao’s major tribes.
Believing that democracy is enshrined in Islam, they recognized that the current elements of the continuing struggle for genuine self-determination are hallmarks of a functioning democracy for Filipino Muslims. These elements include just peace, human rights, credible elections, capable autonomous governance, and equitable development.
PCID treasurer and board of convenors member Yusuf Ledesma said the organization has been focusing recently on empowering women in war zones through a podcast series titled “She Talks Peace” hosted by Ms. Rasul. In partnership with Women and Gender Institute, PCID capacitates female participants on governance, economic empowerment, political participation, peace-building, and rights-based approaches to community development.