MANILA: Residents of the southern Philippines rallied on Saturday in solidarity with Palestinians and committed to boycotting products from Israel and countries that support its war on Gaza.
The rally covered several locations in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao — an area of the predominantly Catholic Philippines that is home to the majority of the country’s 7 million Muslims.
The rally was organized by Bangsamoro Action Against Injustice — an alliance of political, civil-society, and private-sector organizations — and began with a motorcade from Cotabato City in Maguindanao del Norte province, which crossed six towns to end in Shariff Aguak in neighboring Maguindanao del Sur.
“At the venue in Shariff Aguak, an estimated 10,000 people converged at the provincial gymnasium, but there were more outside, and we believe we surpassed 20,000 participants,” Abdul Basit Benito, BAAI communications officer, told Arab News.
The residents of Bangsamoro can relate to the suffering they see in Palestine, as the region was, until 2014, at the heart of an armed conflict that lasted more than four decades.
“That’s what motivated us to make a call to hopefully stop the violence against our Palestinian brothers and sisters: We have already experienced that violence will not bring anything good,” Benito said. “No matter what religion, no matter what group, tribe, or nationality you belong to, when you see what is being done — the massacres, destruction of property, even children not being spared — it really slices your heart. Whoever is not touched, maybe he should ask himself if he is a human.”
Since last month, daily Israeli airstrikes have killed at least 12,000 people and injured tens of thousands more in Gaza in retaliation for the Oct. 7 attack by the militant group Hamas, which governs the enclave.
Two-thirds of the dead are women and children, according to Palestinian health authorities. The UN humanitarian affairs office estimates that around 2,700 people — including 1,500 minors — are missing. They are believed to be buried in the ruins of buildings destroyed by Israeli bombs.
Emran Mohammad, president of the Bangsamoro Communication Network — a member of BAAI — said the organization was calling on Philippine authorities to push for a ceasefire in Gaza.
“The people of Bangsamoro cannot just watch nor keep silent or do nothing with what is happening in Palestine where people are collectively punished mercilessly,” he told the participants while reading the BAAI’s manifest.
“As the Zionist Israeli government intensifies its genocidal acts and ethnic-cleansing campaign against the Palestinians … we declare economic war against the apartheid Zionist regime and the Zionist Israeli government and their allies.”
Mohammad said the people of Bangsamoro will “take pride” in avoiding Israeli products and international brands that directly or indirectly support Israel, which he claimed included McDonald’s, KFC, Starbucks, Burger King, Nestlé, and Coca-Cola.
“We will no longer buy, eat or drink any of their products,” he said. “Eating or drinking the products of any of these companies is like eating the flesh and drinking the blood of our Palestinian brothers and sisters.”
Several groups affiliated with BAAI have already been boycotting these products and companies for the past two weeks, BAAI communications officer Benito told Arab News.
“I already received a call from the owner of a franchise of one of these companies here in Cotabato asking for a dialogue. So, this means that our campaign is effective,” he said.
Trade relations between Israel and the Philippines have been on the rise, with $534 million worth of goods traded in 2022. Officials from both countries expect the volume to reach $1 billion in 2024.
Seeing the demand in the Philippines for Israeli products and technology, Tel Aviv opened the Israel Economic Mission to the Philippines in Manila in 2021 to further boost commercial ties.