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Many Muslims in Philippines Complain about  Job Shortage - 2004-05-10

Many Muslims in the Philippines say the government has not done enough to provide job opportunities for them, or protect their rights. They went to the polls Monday hoping the country's next president will improve conditions for their communities.

At a school near Manila's Golden Mosque on Monday, sample ballots litter the streets while residents check the voter registration list for their names.

Datu Amerol-Gulam Ambiong, chairman of the Manila Muslim Coordinating Council for Peace and Development, says the government must pay attention to the plight of Muslims in the Philippines.

He says they live in poverty, without access to good education or health care.

?We are always appealing to the government to give us attention [to see] how can they embrace the right of the Muslim in Manila?. We are waiting for their promise that the discrimination for Muslims in the Philippines will be crushed,? Mr. Ambiong said.

The Philippines is a predominately Christian country, but about five percent of the population is Muslim. They are among the poorest groups in an impoverished country. Most Filipino Muslims live in the under-developed southern islands, where economic growth has been slowed by decades of insurgent fighting.

In the national elections held Monday, Mr. Ambiong says many Muslim voters in Manila backed President Gloria Arroyo. He warns, however, that if conditions do not improve, some members of the community may turn to violence.

The government has been fighting several Muslim separatist groups in the south for three decades. Many Muslims have come to Manila to flee the conflict, which has killed thousands.

The militants at times have resorted to bombing shopping malls and other civilian facilities. The government has cracked down on the terrorist threat, and in March, police arrested several men accused of plotting bomb attacks to disrupt the elections.

Some Muslim citizens, however, say they are now being unfairly harassed and bullied by the army and Philippine National Police - or PNP.

Hadj Nasser Lalanto lives in the capital's Quiapo district, home to 80,000 Muslims. He planned to vote for movie star Fernando Poe Junior for president, in hope that Mr. Poe would help end discrimination against Muslims.

?Civilian Muslims can be easily apprehended or arrested by the PNP, as well as the Armed Forces of the Philippines because the understanding of the military is all Muslims are a member of the terrorists so that for that reason they're going to discriminate this Muslim population of the country,? Mr. Lalanto said.

The government denies Muslims are being unfairly targeted. However, both Mrs. Arroyo and Mr. Poe have promised to provide more jobs and better access to education for Muslim communities.