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That lurid pink mosque

Our group of journalists from different parts of the country and different media networks was on our way back to Cotabato City when Carol Arguillas of Mindanews said we would be making a stop at the “Pink Mosque.” Carol was our de facto tour guide, not just because she is a very experienced and much respected Mindanao-based journalist, but also because she had helped organize the seminar on the “Post-Mamasapano” coverage by the national media.

Mamasapano was the site of that armed encounter in January 2015 between the Philippine National Police Special Action Force and members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Force and a breakaway group, the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters. Some had dubbed the encounter an “ambush” or, worse, a “turkey shoot,” while others said it was nothing more than a misencounter, the result of miscommunication and bungled leadership. (The situation was complicated, so we were told, by an ongoing “rido” or clan war in the area.)

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Whatever, the mission, which was launched to capture or kill Malaysian terrorist and bomb-maker Zulkifli Abdhir aka Marwan resulted not only in his killing but also in the death of 44 SAF members, 18 members of the MILF and BIFF, and five civilians (including a child).

We had already visited Mamasapano, where we prayed for the souls of the dead after crossing the infamous rickety bridge leading to the cornfield where most of the dead troopers were trapped. We had also taken part in a dialogue with MILF chair Al Haj Murad Ebrahim in the MILF headquarters. So as we made our way back to Cotabato City, we were nearly reaching saturation point on the peace process and the Mindanao conflict. A stop at a famous tourist site didn’t seem all that unusual.

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As we stepped out of our vehicles, our eyes literally ached at the site of a mosque, painted in lurid shades of pink and fuchsia, sitting in the middle of an empty lot beside the dusty highway.

This, said Carol, was the famous “Pink Mosque” in the town of Datu Saudi Ampatuan in Maguindanao. Pink was the favorite color of the mayor, Samsudin Dimaukom, and his wife, Anida, explained Carol, and the mayor had declared that to them the color represented “love.” And so there were touches of pink on traffic islands, directional signs, and even the facades of public buildings in the town.

Coming from our depressing exposure at Mamasapano, we eagerly gave way to our “touristic” impulses, posing for countless selfies and groufies with the bright, impossible-to-miss mosque in the background. Little did we know that the structure would pop up almost two years later, with the death—in either a shoot-out with police or an ambush—of the mayor famous for loving the color pink.

The official explanation for the armed encounter where Mayor Dimaukom and nine security escorts were killed was that three vehicles “loaded with heavily armed men … opened fire on law enforcers” as they passed a checkpoint in the town of Makilala.

Unusually, while such a heavily armed group suffered 10 casualties, no one among the police forces was killed or injured. Even more unusual, pointed out some observers, was that the three vehicles were found parked in a neat row on the shoulder of the highway, meaning the occupants had gotten out of the vehicles before exchanging fire. The police say they received information that the group was “to transport huge stocks of shabu to Maguindanao and Cotabato City from Davao” when it was intercepted.

Dimaukom was among five Maguindanao mayors in a list of drug lord officials that President Duterte presented early in his term. The day after the President aired the list, the mayor and his wife made a courtesy call on PNP Chief Ronald “Bato” de la Rosa, saying they wanted to clear their names.

Other versions of the story, aside from the police report, have since surfaced, ranging from an ambush or an execution. Concerned citizens in Mindanao are now voicing out the need for a full, public investigation and disclosure.

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I guess you don’t need a lurid pink mosque to draw the attention of authorities these days.

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TAGS: Datu Saudi Ampatuan, Maguindanao, Mamasapano, pink mosque, Samsudin Dimaukom
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