'Divine wrath’ for lechon celebration at Abubakar  – For eating pork on Muslim hallowed ground, ousted President Joseph Estrada got his just desserts, as Moro clerics believe.

And that’s not the end of it.

For most Moro preachers, Estrada’s conviction was just part of the murkah (divine wrath) he would suffer for feasting on roasted pork inside an Arabic school, or Madrasah, to celebrate the fall of a rebel bastion seven years ago.

Then President Estrada and some members of his Cabinet also brought in three truckloads of beer to the supposedly sacred ground for Muslims. As beer was passed around to soldiers, some of them were inside a nearby mosque, gorging on lechon with their muddy combat boots on.

Camp Abubakar, a stronghold of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), fell on July 10, 2000 during Estrada’s all-out war against the separatist rebels. It is located at the tri-boundaries of Shariff Kabunsuan’s neighboring Matanog, Buldon and Barira towns, and was established in the early 1980s by the MILF’s founder, the Egyptian-trained Ustadz Hashim Salamat.

The camp was the front’s showcase for a puritan Islamic community.

“It was a very serious offense and we’re happy with his conviction. He was booted out of power just months after the fall of Camp Abubakar,” said a Maguindanaon ustadz (preacher).

The ustadz, who asked not to be identified, said the conviction of Estrada should serve as a warning to government officials not to vilify Islam and to respect worship sites, regardless of whether these are owned by Muslims or Christians.

For Ustadz Abdullah Tandikan, a Maranaw, what was painful for Moro communities was that Estrada never bothered to apologize for bringing lechon inside a Madrasah, a day after soldiers hoisted nearby a Philippine flag following three weeks of air, artillery and ground offensives.

A missionary trained in Peshawar, Pakistan agreed.

“Allah is very merciful and kind to those who are repentant, but all these years, he (Estrada) did not bother to tell the country’s Muslim community he was sorry for having desecrated a religious site in Mindanao. His conviction for plunder by the Sandiganbayan was somehow a vindication for us,” said Alim Kaiser Sambutuan.

In a random survey, eight out of ten Muslim preachers agreed that murkah indeed fell on Estrada and his conviction was just part of the continuing punishment for his military adventurism in the south in 2000 that resulted in the deaths of hundreds of soldiers and MILF rebels.

MILF spokesman Eid Kabalu described as “fair” the conviction of Estrada.

“He was given all the chance to put up a good defense during his prosecution,” Kabalu told reporters in Cotabato City via text message.

Kabalu said the MILF is aware that during his presidency, Estrada channeled huge amounts of kickbacks from his illegal gambling rackets to the Erap Muslim Youth Foundation.

Kabalu said only few Moro youths have benefited from the projects of this foundation. – John Unson

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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