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Ninez Cacho-Olivares

Agadir, Morocco — Moroccans who secretly converted to Christianity are demanding the right to practice their faith openly in a country where Islam is the state religion and “apostasy” is condemned.
At an apartment in a working-class part of the southern town of Agadir, Mustapha listened to hymns emanating from a hi-fi under a silver crucifix hung on the wall.
The 46-year-old civil servant, son of an expert on Islamic law from nearby Taroudant, was once an active member of the banned but tolerated Islamist Charity and Justice movement.
He said he converted in 1994 to “fill a spiritual void.”
“I was tired of the contradictions in Islam,” said Mustapha.
“I became interested in Christianity through a long correspondence with a religious centre in Spain in the late 1980s.”
He went on to qualify as a Protestant pastor and received a certificate from the United States after taking a correspondence course.
Mustapha kept his faith secret for two decades, but a year and a half ago he published a video online in which he spoke openly about his conversion. The reaction was immediate.
“Family and close friends turned their backs on me, I was shunned at work. My children were bullied at school,” he said.
Converts to Christianity form a tiny minority of Moroccans. While no official statistics exist, the American State Department estimates their numbers at between 2,000 and 6,000.
‘Persecution’
Over the Easter weekend, Mustapha and a dozen fellow converts met for an “afternoon of prayers” in the living room of Rachid, who like Mustapha did not wish to give his full name.
Rachid, who hails from a family of Sufis — a mystical trend of Islam — embraced Christianity in 2004 and eventually became a Protestant pastor.
A father of two, Rachid said he became interested in Christianity when he was a teenager after listening to a program broadcast by a Paris-based radio station.
He researched Christianity at a cyber-cafe, contacted a specialized website and they sent him a copy of the Bible.
“I read the entire thing, studied the word of God, took courses,” he said. “At the age of 24, I was baptized in a Casablanca apartment.”
In April, Mustapha, Rachid and other Moroccan converts submitted a request to the official National Council of Human Rights  calling for “an end to persecution” against them.
“We demand the right to give our children Christian names, to pray in churches, to be buried in Christian cemeteries and to marry according to our religion,” Mustapha said.
Islam is the state faith of Morocco but the country’s 2011 constitution, drafted after it was rocked by Arab Spring-inspired demonstrations, guarantees freedom of religion.
Foreign Christians and the country’s tiny Jewish community — of about 2,500 people — practice their faiths openly.
Moroccan authorities boast of promoting religious tolerance and a “moderate” form of Islam, and the country’s penal code does not explicitly prohibit apostasy — the act of rejecting Islam or any of its main tenets.
‘Ultra-sensitive’
But in Morocco proselytizing is punishable by law and anyone found guilty of “attempting to undermine the faith of a Muslim or convert him to another religion” can be jailed for up to three years.
“The subject is ultra-sensitive because it relates to the history of colonization and to the idea that Christianity constitutes a danger to the unity of Morocco,” a sociologist of religion told AFP.
But Rachid said the lines are shifting.
“The arrests have almost stopped, which is a big step,” he said. “Harassment has become scarce.”
Rachid, who says “I am Moroccan before being Christian,” practices his faith openly and lives a normal life in a working-class district of Agadir alongside his Muslim neighbors.
Most Moroccans who have converted to Christianity live in Agadir and the central city of Marrakesh, and the majority have said they are Protestants.
With the exception of local Jews, Moroccans are automatically considered Muslims and King Mohamed VI holds the official title of Commander of the Faithful.
Mustapha said the 2011 constitution and actions by the king “in favor of tolerance and coexistence” have helped bolster human rights in Morocco.
But “the penal code, political parties and society have not followed suit,” he said. AFP

She had it coming

Thursday, 04 May 2017 00:00 Published in Commentary

Gina Lopez’s rejection by the Commission on Appointments, a bicameral congressional body, was inevitable and anyone who followed the CA hearings already guessed that she wouldn’t pass muster, given her unintelligible answers to questions posed to her by the CA members.
It was evident that Gina Lopez was completely unfit and highly incompetent for the job as Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR).
She excused her lack of technicalities, but pointed out that the people she hired were technical experts.
However, it was very evident that even her hired personnel whom she claimed were technical experts, also looked like they were as ignorant as she is, in the matters of mining and other related aspects of the job.
Worse, Gina Lopez ignored the laws and made her own laws and rules that illegally imposed fines, the trust funds and bonds of some P100 million on mining corporations, apart from ordering the big mining firms’ closure, without a hearing and without the MICC body’s approval.
Lopez canceled dozens of contracts for undeveloped mines and just banned future open-pit mining projects as she tightened her crackdown of a sector she blames for extensive environmental damage.
As she put it, during the last of the three confirmation hearings, Lopez was quizzed on the basis of her memorandum imposing a P2-million trust fund per hectare of land disturbed by miners.
Her answer? Her memorandum was based on her “prerogative.”
So the law can go hang, where she is concerned?
The way it looked during the hearing, Lopez did not even know what open pit mining means.
Based on the Commission on Audit (CoA)’s audit of Gina’s department stated that consultants, numbering 55, and hired by Gina, had “no particular outputs.”
In a Manila Standard report by Christine F. Herrera, it was stated that the CoA ordered Lopez to justify the hiring of 55 highly-paid “ghost employees” receiving up to P120,000 a month or more than twice the maximum salary rates “with no particular outputs, deliverables or services.”
The CoA ordered Lopez to justify the hiring of 55 highly-paid “ghost employees” receiving up to P120,000 a month “with no particular outputs, deliverables or services.”
Of the 55 consultants, 14 claimed salaries amounting to P3.29 million without outputs and without proof that they reported for work, state auditors said in a memorandum to Lopez dated March 3, 2017.
In a 7-page Audit Observation Memorandum, the CoA state auditors directed Lopez to submit her basis for the rates given to the contractuals and consultants, according to the report.
“Of the 55 contracts of service (CoS) hired by Lopez, six were contracted with salary exceeding the maximum salary rates, 11 for positions not listed in the same salary tables and 14 as consultants with no particular outputs, deliverables or services requiring highly specialized or technical expertise in the field of special knowledge or training,” the state auditors said.
The CoA added that the contracts of the two technical assistants were given rates more than twice the rate as specified under the DENR memoranda at P57,500 each instead of the regular P15,000 a month, and with no daily time record furnished, another violation of CoA rules.
“Considering that the functions to be performed by these technical assistants are clerical and administrative in nature and they were not contracted for a specific job that requires the submission of a specific output, they have to work on a regular basis and submit approved DTR when claiming their salaries,” the state auditors were quoted in its report.
Lopez, they said, also contracted 11 people for positions not listed in the salary tables such as project management specialist, financial management adviser, development communication consultant, communication specialist, social safeguards specialist, project coordinator, rural infrastructure specialist, management information system specialist, media relations consultant, special assistant to the secretary on environmental law enforcement and special assistant to the secretary that were getting from a low of P42,652 to a high of P100,000.
The CoA said the hiring for these positions not listed in the salary table was not coursed through the chief of the personnel division for review.
The state auditors added that the contracts of 14 consultants were found not to contain stipulation requiring the submission of particular outputs, deliverables or of services that demand highly specialized or technical expertise.
As Lopez says, “it’s her prerogative.”
No wonder she was rejected by the CA.

Leave the Filipinos be

Wednesday, 03 May 2017 00:00 Published in Commentary

US media have been hitting out at Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, t he latest of which is the invitation to him to visit the US by President Donald Trump, saying that Trump has extended an invitation to visit the US to “admitted killer” Duterte, and this despite the fact that Duterte has already stated he may have to turn down the Trump invitation since his schedule for foreign visits is full.
It is not as if the Philippine president begged or even asked to be invited to the US, it was Trump who had invited him, and the US media, while hitting out at Trump, used this issue to hit out at their usual foreign non-US puppet, Mr. Duterte.
Yet the same media, while talking about the “authoritarian” and “admitted killer” Duterte, said nothing about the other Asean (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) leaders who were also invited by Trump. Why not, for the same reason? The Thai prime minister, aside from taking power through the barrel of the gun, was invited, so were the Vietnam, Singapore and other Asean leaders, yet US media only focused on Duterte, even saying that the Philippines has no influence over North Korea, and therefore, this is not enough reason for Trump to invite Mr. Duterte.
Apparently, the US media still do not realize that the US can certainly lose its strategic ally in Asean and even Asia, which the Philippines really can do without the US presence and bases in the Philippines, that very nearly happened when Mr. Duterte blasted the US for the years the US slaughtered Filipinos Muslims and threw expletives at then President Barack Obama was present during a Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Summit held in Manila. For that, the US media wants him out. Yet their own history is replete with killings and the way the Americans embraced slavery and mistreated, if not killed what they insultingly called Negroes, who were not fit to be equal to the “supreme” whites. Negr women were raped and their men were at times killed. So why do the US media get upset when Dutere brings up the massacre of the Filipino Muslims and the even the way American Colonial government jailed and punished Filipinos for even being loyal to the Philippine flag, calling it subversive?
At that time, with bad blood between Duterte and the US, Duterte was ready to cut ties with the US, and junk the bases agreement under the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement, which was important to the US, especially as China, at the time, was at loggerheads with the US over the South China Sea.
Ties warmed up with the Trump win in the US elections but the US media don’t seem to understand the importance of Philippines as a strategic ally in Asia.
Duterte can just let go of the US as an ally, despite the Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT) signed between the two countries and junk the bases agreement.
Besides, in all of time that the MDT bound the US and the Philippines to aid their countries mutually, the US never even once came to our defense not even on the claim of Sabah, and even the South China Sea. It was Henry Kissinger who, in a memo said the seas do not belong to the Philippines. And yet, they insist on the Hague court’s ruling?
It is the human rights groups and their yellow allies, most of whom are the US government’s puppets who adhered to the US government’s foreign policy and this is about the only time that the Philippines has a president who insists on a foreign policy independent of the US or any foreign government.
Then too, it is also the US media that have been portraying Duterte as monster, mainly because Duterte does not toe their line. Why just Duterte? Why not the other Asean and Asian leaders who are also fighting the drug menace? And why do they inflate by the week, the number of those killed in the drug war, and in the thousands too?
The US media slam alternative facts, yet they do come up with alternative facts at times, interviewing mainly critics of Duterte, to cement the perception that he is a monster and a killer and taking as gospel truth what these rights groups say, despite there being no evidence on what he is being accused of.
Why don’t the US media and the rights groups apply the same treatment when the US bombs innocent civilians, including women and children? They merely accept the claim of the US government that killing 375 or so civilians with US bombs that it was an “accident” and merely make it a one-day news item. There were more Muslims killed with their US bombs all throughout the US years in their fight against Islamic terrorists, whether in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Yemen and other countries in the Middle East all in the holy name of their war on terror. Yet the US media and these so-called rights groups don’t condemn the US killings on even innocents and justify their war on terror.
The Philippines is an independent country and it is the Filipinos, not the United States, who are free to chart their destiny.

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