Sunday, June 8, 2014

The Challenge of Bangsamoro

The Challenge of Bangsamoro
June 4, 2014 at 2:55pm

Address: General Faculty Convocation, Ateneo de Davao University, June 2, 2014.
By Joel Tabora, SJ

Because of the historical moment, and the mandate that is ours as a Catholic, Jesuit and Filipino University at this juncture of history, I would like to focus on the Bangsamoro. Based on the Comprehensive Agreement Bangsamoro, the Transition Commission has drafted a Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL).

Soon, the draft, reviewed by the Office of the President, shall be submitted to Congress. The BBL, if approved, will create the Bangsamoro political entity to replace the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao. With the Bangsamoro, we hope for peace. But how bright are our hopes in the Bangsamoro? And what is the role that we must play from within our university in order to brighten these hopes?

We are at a historical moment in the history of Mindanao – as the Filipino nation shall deliberate on whether to pass or not to pass the BBL. In this moment, we as a Catholic, Filipino and Jesuit university community must understand our role.

It is a moment which impacts immediately on Muslims of 13 different ethno-linguistic tribes living in Mindanao and their longtime desire to find a homeland in Mindanao – a home where their customs and traditions might be practiced and respected, a home where they might worship and serve Allah in peace.

It may be said, once the homeland was theirs when the Muslim missionary Sharif Muhammad Kabungsuan offered Islam to two brothers. One, Tabunaway, accepted Islam in freedom; the other, Mamalu, did not. As brothers, however, both accepted to live on this their island in peace. Mindanao was home to the Islamized indigenous peoples; it was also home to the non-islamized indigenous peoples. Together it is said they lived in peace.

The harmony forged by brothers tolerant of differing faiths was broken by the coming of the Spanish conqueror. Islam had not been forced on the Filipino, but it came with a vibrant seafaring trade between Mindanao and communities in Indonesia, Malaysia, Brunei, Vietnam, and even China and India.

By the time the Spaniards came, the Islamized descendants of Tabunaway had organized themselves into indigenized communities of Muslims in Mindanao: the sultanates of Maguindanao, of Buwayan, and of Sulu as well as the four principalities of Lanao. When they were discovered by the Spanish conqueror as worshippers of Allah, they were called Moros – the same pejorative, hate-filled term they had used for the north-African Muslims – Moors – who had ruled Spain for 700 years. The Spanish conqueror claimed the entire archipelago for the Spanish crown and named it in honor of the Spanish prince, Felipe, who eventually became its king.

We know the Spaniards shared their faith with the natives of the Philippines, whom they first referred to with disdain as indios. In Luzon and in the Visayas “the child of colonization was the Filipino,” and most of us owe our faith and culture to that historic tradition. In Mindanao, however, the “offspring of anti-colonization was the Moro.”

The Moros refused Spanish rule because they had perceived it as inextricable from Christianization. When the Spaniards came to conquer, often with the help of islanders from Luzon and the Visayas, they also came with the conviction that the “infidel” should be brought to the true faith. The Moros resisted in defense of their way of life, their traditions and their religion. They resisted in cunning, valor, and ferocity. They were never conquered.

But as we know, when the fathers of our Filipino nation had used the fruits of the European Enlightenment against the unenlightened European conqueror, when Emilio Aquinaldo had declared independence from Spain, and when the Malolos Constitution had amply demonstrated the Filipino to be educated, enlightened and skilled enough for self rule, independence was snatched away from the Filipinos through the Americans. At the end of the Spanish American War, Spain sold the Philippines that had won independence from it to the United States, and along with it the sovereign sultanates they had never conquered.

Ironically, it became part of the “manifest destiny” of American imperialists, whose nation had been born under the “self-evident” notion “that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by the Creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” to impose their notion of life, freedom and happiness and their imperial interests on the unequal Filipinos.

While it was relatively easy for the Filipinos of the north to be reconciled with American rule, it was not the case with the Moros. After a brief interlude of peace, when the Moros thought the Americans offered them more religious freedom than they had ever enjoyed under the Spaniards, the true colors of the Americans emerged.

Once he had conquered the Filipinos of the north, he turned to conquer the Moros of the south. It was the American manifest destiny to “civilize” the “savage” Moros and make them into “true Filipinos” – his “little brown brothers,” just like the Christian Filipinos of the north. With superior firepower and military might, their way of pacification was savage carnage and slaughter – as in the Battle of Bud Dajo and in the Battle of Bud Bagsak in Jolo.

They created a Moro Province to further pacify the Moros and integrate them into Filipino society. In this “integration” they claimed respect for Moro culture, but subjected the Moros to the rule of Christian Filipinos in newly-created provinces. These had absorbed the American disdain for the savage and heathen Moros. In time, the Moros’ hatred for the Filipinos surpassed their dislike for the Americans, and many eventually preferred to be ruled by Americans than by Filipinos.

Already under the Americans, but even under the Commonwealth, an insidious means of pacification and integration of the Moros into Philippine society was the resettlement of Christian Filipinos from Luzon and the Visayas into Mindanao. First through the Agricultural Colonies Acts of 1913 of the Philippine Commission, then through the Colonization Act of the Commonwealth Government of 1935, waves and waves of homesteaders came into the Mindanao “Promised Land.”

But the promised land for the migrant settlers disenfranchised the Moros and the indigenous peoples of their communally-owned lands, and the unfamiliar system of land registration imposed on them led to the loss of their lands when they did not comply. What ought to have been an orderly homesteading program became chaotic and often violent. Landgrabbing became the order of the day, with the educated and those familiar with the northern bureaucracy taking advantage of the uneducated and ignorant, among them the descendants of Tabunaway and Mamalu.

It must be noted that in both the Agricultural Colonization Acts under the Americans and the Commonwealth’s Colonization Act under the Filipinos, resettlement and repopulation was a tool of colonization. Not only the foreign Americans but the Filipinos subjected Moro territories to “colonization,” implying that they were colonizers and the Moros were foreign. For the Moros then, the Filipinos were foreign. Are we to be surprised at the deep-rooted ill-feeling Moros harbor for Filipinos?

Ill feeling became hatred, and hatred turned violent. To defend their new homesteads, the Ilongo settlers, the Ilagas, warred against the Moros. The Maranao Barracudas and the Maguindanao-Iranon Blackshirts retaliated. The Promised Land, now overrun with people who shared nothing of the fraternal harmony between the descendants of the brothers, Tabunaway and Mamalu, had become a battlefield of the imperialism, proselytization, “national” interest, greed and land hunger of intruders from the north, on which the Moros spilled blood in defense of their traditions and religion, and sacrificed their own.

As houses were burned and people perished, hatred and frustration deepened. Where they were regarded as “other,” outsiders, second-rate citizens, pagan, savage, mere means for the good of the Filipino nation in the north, they knew their aspirations for a homeland had not been achieved.

Some of us have personal memories of the ferocity of the Mindanao wars against the Muslims, triggered by the massacre of men, women and children who had gathered in search of peace in the mosque of Manili of Carmen, Cotabato. How had the Muslim suddenly become the national adversary on the island of his birth?

We may also recall the shamelessness and national treachery of the Jabidah massacre, where the adventurism of Marcos into Sabah, ended with his massacring the young Muslims he had recruited and trained in Corregidor, because they’d asked to be paid their fifty peso monthly allowance. How cheap Muslim blood had become! To cover up this murder, Marcos then renounced the Sabah claim that in fact was not his to renounce but belonged to the Sultan of Sulu.

Soon after the Maguindanaoan patriarch Udtog Matalam announced the Muslim Independence Movement; it was complemented by the emergence of Nur Misuari’s armed Moro National Liberation Front. The idea of Muslim independence sowed fear and terror in the hearts of many non-Muslim inhabitants of Mindanao. Soon the battlefield of Mindanao was to claim more victims, including an interlude when the President of the Philippines declared “all out war” against the Moros.

Today it is the Moro Islamic Liberation Front led by Al Hajj Murad Ebrahim that continues the struggle to break away from a past of discrimination, hatred, and violence, and find a homeland for the Muslims in the Philippines. After years of struggle and negotiation, the chance for that seems to have come in the political entity called Bangsamoro. It is the Bangsamoro Basic Law that is a chance for a Moro homeland in the Philippines.

I am not a historian. I confess, most of what I now understand – and moves me personally – concerning the Bangsamoro issue I have learned here through the various events and conversations we have hosted here on the issue plus my readings in relation to these.

Especially helpful have been been personal conversations with Datu Mussolini Lidasan of our Al Qalam Institute and with Dr. Heidi Gloria, author of the now sold-out, “History from Below: A View from the Philippine South.” I have also been privileged to travel recently through Lanao del Norte, Lanao del Sur, Maguindanao, and Cotabato City where I have conversed on the Bangsamoro with such as Orlando Cardinal Quevedo and Chairman Murad Ebrahim. In all this I have been conscious of the role that the ADDU as a Jesuit, Catholic and Filipino university is playing in the issue, and shall continue to play.

Today, I would like to invite us all, from all of our units, to the extent that is possible to each, to continue to play a defining role in this process. Work for understanding. Work for insight. Work for peace. Teach peace. Not the peace of the graveyard, not the tenuous peace that comes from signatures on parchment, but the peace that comes from what our Pope Francis calls “reconciled diversity.”

For us, this means making our contribution as our mission mandates: in the service of the faith, in promotion of justice, in sensitivity to cultures, in inter-religious dialogue, in the preservation of the environment.

First, the faith. As we are Catholic and believe in Jesus Christ, pertinent to the Bangsamoro, articulate the truth, no matter the cost, no matter how painful. Where we may have erred due to an overzealousness for our faith, or for our personal interests, that may need to be clearly stated in truth. That may need to lead to a more enlightened way of sharing our faith.

Today, after the Vatican Council II, we all accept freedom of religion and the right of all individuals to worship as their consciences urge. Today, as has been demonstrated by Pope Francis in his recent visit to the Holy Land, this includes the right of Muslims to worship Allah as they freely choose. But it also includes concerns, based on painful lessons in history, that the freedom of religions does not violate fundamental human rights and human dignity.

Today we hope that Muslims’ witness of faith in Allah might help us to witness to our own faith in the Triune God with deeper fidelity and generosity. We also hope that our shared worship of a God of Compassion turns us not into violent warriors but into persons ourselves of compassion.

Second, justice. As our faith in this world cannot be credible without justice, pertinent to the Bangsamoro, articulate the injustices that have been brought on to the Muslims living with us on this island, bring to your students and the world insight into the reality and shamefulness of these injustices. Cardinal Quevedo has said that the major issue pertinent to the Moros is injustice: injustice pertinent to Moro identity, to Moro political sovereignty, and to Moro integral development.

Say where we have been unjust. At the same time, Muslims may also give voice to occurences in history that have violated their collective conscience before Allah. For Christians and Muslims telling the truth can lead to a deeper experience of the God of compassion, on which we all depend. In this truth, through scholarship, teaching, writing, use of media and the social media, we can then act together to rectify injustice.

As we have underscored our obligation in the ADDU in our commitment justice to articulate the demands of social justice, we must contribute to an ever truer articulation of what the common good demands pertinent to the Muslim Community in Mindanao. What shall be the manner in which our different faiths complement and strengthen, and not undermine nor destroy one another? What shall be the manner in which the Bangsamoro and non-Bangsamoro areas recover something of the peace and tolerance that once characterized Tabunawa and Mamalu?

Third, cultures. The Bangsamoro is referred to as a “political entity,” and that is what the BBL defines it to be. But the Bangsamoro is also a bundle of cultural entities. It has been questioned whether the 13 ethno-linguistic groups which comprise the Bangsamoro is really a “bangsa” (a nation); it has also been questioned whether the pejorative term Moro is the appropriate term to refer to this bundle of cultural entities. While there are Moros who for reasons explained above reject the notion of their being “Filipino,” other “Filipino Muslims” accept this freely.

Among these in fact are Muslim communities that pride themselves in the level of their having been indigenized within the Philippine Garden, and distance themselves from a foreign process of homogenization into an Islam of the Arabian desert.

Yet other Islamized Moros – the Sama di Laut – are not Filipinos because they are seafarers and belong the sea, which connects to many countries. Finally, recalling Mamalu, we must recall the cultures of the indigenous peoples who have not embraced Islam, and today, the complex cultures of Filipinos who have embraced Christianity.

The question of cultures is among the major mandates of our university mission. Bangsamoro is a “work in progress” – especially from the viewpoint of its cultures. Perhaps the ADDU can contribute substantially to the discussion on what Bangsamoro means culturally, promoting a new cultural identity yet respecting a rich cultural diversity.

This may impact on the conduct of Bangsamoro education – which will promote values consistent with the Islamic faith, rather than those of secularism, materialism and hedonism, which are in fact also inconsistent with true Christian faith.

Fourth, Inter-religious Dialogue. Here, we must begin with a dialogue of life, whenever possible, sharing life between Christians and Muslims. Making friends. This is why I am proposing we support the newly approved JVP-like Volunteer Program between the Catholic Educational Association of the Philippines (CEAP) and the National Association for Bangsamoro Education, Inc. (NABEi). This calls for immersion of CEAP volunteers in Muslim communities for one to two years and their teaching DepEd “content courses” in selected madrasahs. This is the CEAP-NABEi Volunteer Program.

The mission shall be not only to teach subjects but to learn of Muslim life; not to convert others to Christianity, but deepen one’s own Christianity in encountering the faith and devotion of the Muslims. We can then move on to a shared engagement for the common good.

Finally, the environment. What we certainly share is the environment. We must learn together that our island is one ecosystem, and that the different regions of Mindanao must find in her the means of their sustenance and livelihood, they must preserve it also for future generations. Under no conditions should it be destroyed in favor of foreigners.

Reconciled Diversity

In singling out the Bangsamoro issue, I did not mean to denigrate the importance of our other engagements: our efforts for poverty alleviation, for peace with the NPA, for justice for indigenous peoples, for human rights, for progress against corruption, for the environment.

But we are at the historic moment of the Bangsamoro, which involves us specially because of our shared mission to faith, justice, cultures, inter-religious dialogue and the environment.

What we can hope for in the Bangsamoro may have to depend on how all may shape it as a true vehicle of peace based especially on justice and on its being a “reconciled diversity.” That I have underscored in this address. May the Bangsamoro – which encompasses all the aspects of our mission – inspire and challenge us all!

B'laan woman belonging to one of Mindanao's oldest tribes

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