On the run

I personally do not know Sulu-based human rights lawyer Cocoy Tulawie, who hails from a political clan in that province and who is alleged to have been framed on false criminal charges by people close to the incumbent governor. He is still on the run (which a lawyer who believes in the rule of law and the justice system would definitely not do, unless there are highly exceptional security reasons that warrant such a flight). Read the article below.

Inquirer Mindanao
Top Sulu rights advocate on the run
By Jeffrey M. Tupas
Inquirer Mindanao
First Posted 20:05:00 10/30/2010

FOR HUMAN RIGHTS advocate Temogen Tulawie, the future of Sulu is bleak and unrest amid lingering conditions of misery and abuses will persist among its people, having already seen too many senseless deaths and battles in their lives.

His voice low and gentle that even strong words came out in near-whispers, Tulawie says the suffering and violence is the result of the government’s obsession over power and greed. The criticism flew with a smile—his face awash of even the slightest hint of anger or regret.

Best known as Cocoy, 40-year-old Tulawie comes from a family of politicians, whose stronghold is the vote-rich municipality of Talipao. His father, Kimar, is a former vice governor.

“The disease that has afflicted Sulu is the result of the government’s anti-people policies designed to only serve their self-vested interests and the interest of the American government. Unless this conspiracy is dismantled, and the basic issues of poverty, protection of human rights and true democracy are left on the side, peace in Sulu is next to impossible,” he says.

“Something has to be changed. Something has to be done. Sulu is deteriorating and that is because of the policies that gravely affect the people. Added to this is the practice of corruption that has worsened the gap between the rich and the poor. You move around Sulu and you will be welcomed by mansions and palaces of corruption.”

Even clan members

Tulawie acknowledges that some members of his clan are part of the problem.

“I must admit, some members of my clan are also corrupt. That is the truth,” says Tulawie, who studied community development at the University of the Philippines—where he, according to him, became a Moro youth organizer after he saw the social injustices and the suffering of the poor.

Now, Tulawie is a fugitive.

The Inquirer interviewed him recently somewhere in South Cotabato. He has been moving from one place to another since last year, when a warrant of arrest was issued against him for being the alleged brains behind the ambush on Goveronor Abdusakur Tan on May 13, 2009.

Another warrant was issued for his arrest after he allegedly masterminded the bombing of the arrival area of the Zamboanga City airport on August 5 this year that left Tan and several others wounded.

Tulawie, who was in Zamboanga City when the warrant was issued, had to leave and move around Mindanao—never having to see his family since.

A big joke

“I am really confused now. I am not scared or ashamed to admit that. I am really confused … all these allegations against me are ridiculous … big joke,” he said.

Tulawie, a father to four, says he moves around Mindanao to look for the perfect next move and time.

“I will never turn my back on this case. I will face them anywhere where patas kaming lahat [all of us play a fair game],” he says.

But he could not go back to Sulu now because “my presence will ignite a war.”

“I know I am safer in Sulu, but I know any attempt to get me in Sulu will spark conflict. I will go back there when the time is already right,” he says.

Tulawie says that if he really desired to see Tan dead, he could have simply shot the governor and the death will develop into a rido (family feud), something that can be settled through Muslim customary laws—without the intervention of the authorities.

“But bomb him? I am not stupid to do that and appear like some terrorists being hunted by the authorities. I admit that my relationship with Tan is not good but harming him would mean that I am also waging war against the other members of the Tan family who are like brothers and sisters to me and my family,” Tulawie says.

The usual suspect

Swearing that he was not behind the bombing and the assassination attempt on Tan, Tulawie says he was being blamed because he is a “usual suspect.”

“They came up with all sorts of accusations against me. I was accused of being an NPA [New People’s Army], a member of the MNLF [Moro National Liberation Front], MILF [Moro Islamic Liberation Front] or the Abu Sayyaf. Lahat na, pati [everything, even] assassination,” he says.

“At first, I felt that they only wanted me to be scared, run away and hide. And I am not saying that I am not scared. Maybe I just know how to hide it. And maybe they felt that they have to come up with something else, something bigger … a case against me to really stop me.”

Tulawie admits to being a consistent critic of Tan and the government’s policies in Sulu. As the convenor of the Bawgbug-Sulu, he had conducted cases of human-rights violations allegedly perpetrated by the government and American forces, whose presence in the province he severely criticizes.

He was also vocal against the declaration of the state of emergency in Sulu after the bombing on September 20, 2009 and questioned the Civilian Emergency Force. He, too, blocked the imposition of the ID system in the province which he said “invited more and more abuses and violations of the rights of the residents of Sulu.”

The major force behind the Concerned Citizens of Sulu, Tulawie was at the frontline when thousands of residents of the province went to the streets to demand the immediate release of MNLF chair Nur Misuari in 2001.

Voice of courage

Amirah Ali-Lidasan, former national chair of the Suara Bangsamoro Party, says Tulawie was the “courageous voice when no one dared to speak in Sulu.”

“He was there when no one from the MNLF was already speaking. He became the inspiration of the people of Sulu because they saw hope in him. He was the symbol of change for Sulu,” says Lidasan, who first met Tulawie in 2002 when human-rights groups Karapatan and Moro-Christian People’s Alliance conducted a national fact-finding mission on the cases of human-rights violations as a result of the military crackdown on Abu Sayyaf and MNLF members in 2001.

“It was the time when massive human-rights violations were reported as a result to the military crackdown. Meeting him for the first time was a little scary. He is someone who is from a known clan of warlords and that was enough reason for me to get a little scared. But it was not long to know that he was sincere in his stand on the protection of rights of the people of Sulu,” Lidasan says.

It was the common passion to stand firm on the protection of human rights that became the foundation of the friendship of Tulawie and Lidasan.

Soft but fierce

“The locals describe him as lungko-lungko or soft, but he was fierce in his principles. He was endeared to many people of Sulu, especially when he provided voice to those who were afraid to speak. And when he spoke, his words were incisive—going straight to where it hurts. And because of that, he was well-loved by the residents of Sulu,” Lidasan says.

She says Tulawie gathered many followers, even without him really trying hard to do it. His house in Talipao, he had said, was welcome to everyone.

“He comes from a rich and landed clan but his house is very simple. That alone was enough reason for the people to trust and believe in his sincerity. There were no even armed guards … just hundreds of people everyday,” Lidasan says.

In 2003, Tulawie recalls, a tension between the residents of Sulu and government troops erupted when the government pushed to put the entire province under military control. Many civilians armed themselves and were prepared to fight the government troops.

see - http://newsinfo.inquirer.net/inquirerheadlines/regions/view/20101030-300632/Top-Sulu-rights-advocate-on-the-run
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