By Samira Gutoc
“Throughout my life I was a laborer, I was a driver, I was an operator of heavy equipment, I was a bakery owner, I was a fishpond owner, I was a fish broker, I was a banana broker, I was a cigarette smuggler, I was a coconut harvester, I was a rebel, I was a student of an agricultural school at the Gregorio Araneta University Foundation then. I was an activist against Marcos, I was a student of Islamic Theology, I was a preacher, I was the deputy commander of the MNLF,” controversial Basilan Congressman Wahab Akbar, 47, said in his first and last privilege speech on July 31 calling on military coordination with Basilan residents in the planned strike on Basilan on the killing of 10 military personnel by suspected MILF .
Add being a former Abu Sayyaf, three-term governor and now congressman in the last days of his life, sums up the colorful history of this charismatic politician, who drew ire against his political enemies for his padrino politics and yet reverence from his loyalists.
The lawmaker was killed from injuries from a bomb blast Tuesday evening, when police found a bomb to have been planted on a motorcycle parked near Akbar’s Fortuner car parked near the lobby of the House.
Anak Mindanao Representative Mujiv Hataman, a fellow Yakan (ethnic grouping), said there are multiple possibilities on the causes of the blast. “There were threats on life of Akbar,” DILG Secretary Reynato Puno said. “The indications are that that was the case both in terms of location of the bomb and the manner it was set off.”
President Gloria Arroyo consoled his first wife, Jum, the governor of Basilan. The two other wives are Cherrylyn, mayor of Isabela City and Nurin, who ran for mayor of Lamitan town.
The Citizens Anti-Dynasty Movement notes that it’s the first time that a man and his multiple wives have become elected officials at both the national and provincial level. Seven other politicians related to Congressman Akbar by bloodline, including a niece, nephew and several cousins, also won election victories in smaller towns around the island, which were affected by political violence in the last elections.
Akbar was a controversial figure having been touted to have founded ASG with Khadafi Janjalani, but later had distanced himself from the group upon entry in politics. “Mr. Speaker, when I joined politics, there were accusations that I was the founder of the bullshit Abu Sayyaf. Nung buhay pa sila, problema ko na, hanggang sa patay na sila problema ko pa rin,” he said in his privilege speech.
Beyond the ASG, Akbar talks of a poor life as a child in his hometown in Lamitan. “When I went to school at the age of Seven (7), I used to report to my classes even without slippers, and worked as a bangkero and sold popsicles to earn,: he narrated in his privilege speech.
He claims he ran for governor in 1998 without using any centavo but garnered support from the locals.
Akbar had helped the government in its anti-terrorism campaign against the Abu Sayyaf group (ASG) on Basilan island, where the militants are on the run from a massive military manhunt. He supported US presence in Basilan and launched armed campaigns against the ASG.
In the same privilege speech, he revealed the names of 4 locals responsible for the beheading of the military personnel in al Barka municipality. He also reminded the government to investigate the deaths of an imam and cautioned against military force. “Why should they inflict injury above injuries? Why should they use their budget in search for the beheaders through a huge number of soldiers instead of using it in helping me plant more rubbers so that there will be no beheading in the future? Why wouldn’t they cooperate with the local leaders in order to settle the problem by not inflicting more problems?
Dubbed the Terror of Basilan by Newsbreak, Akbar denies he had links with ASG founder Abdurajak Janjalani or his group. In his early days as a imam, he preached jihad (holy war) during his sermons when he came back to Basilan after six months in Libya in the 80s. The Newsbreak notes.Akbar, who used to wear a thoub, a longsleeved one-piece dress that covers the whole body, a white pilgrim’s cap, and a goatee, made his mark as a charismatic preacher in Basilan. However, he distinguished himself from Janjalani, who also preached jihad when he came home from Libya.
Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Jesus Dureza said Akbar was helpful in the peace process. Former Lanao del Sur Vice Governor Nurmalah Lucman said his death was a “big loss to the Muslims.” Former Sulu Provincial Administrator Engineer Don Loong notes Akbar’s wisdom in promoting rubber to uplift the economy.
And in his words, Akbar departs from his beginnings as a rebel and calls for peace. “Mr. Speaker, let’s give Peace all chances that it needs if only to ensure the welfare of our children, and the children yet to come in my province. Lastly whatever wisdom I have delivered it’s from the blessings of the Almighty. On the other hand, whatever unfavorable thoughts that I may have said, it’s only personal to me.”
With a population of more than 300,000, Basilan is subject of US funding support as part of the war on terror. An ASG researcher , Joe Torres notes that while Muslims constitute 71 percent of the Basilan population Christians own 75 percent of the land. The Chinese control 75 percent of business.