COTABATO CITY (MindaNews/09 May) — The Bangsamoro Development Agency conducted a consultative workshop on culture last May 7, 2014 at Estosan Hotel, Cotabato City. The participants from different organizations (government and non government) and institutions from the municipalities and provinces of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) traveled all the way to Cotabato City to attend the said workshop.
The consultative workshop aimed to achieve the following objectives: to analyze and identify the challenges on the development of the diverse culture in the Bangsamoro; to map out the existing institutions and programs in the promotion and development of cultures in the Bangsamoro; and, to give recommendations on the institutional building on the development and preservation of the cultural heritage of the peoples in the Bangsamoro.
I was invited in this workshop a week before the activity. I said to myself that this is in an interesting dialogue with the Bangsamoro Development Agency (BDA) and their network. Thus, I participated and gave my support for this workshop.
The opening program started with a prayer / dua led by Ustadz Abusaliha Macacuna, BDA Advisory Council. Then it was followed by Jamil Macaraya, BOD Member and Advisory Council of the BDA, to deliver the opening remarks.
The participants came from different organizations, sectors, ethnolinguistic groups, and national and regional government agencies. The divers composition of the participants showed the the positive sign that the BDA and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) civil society organizations were reaching out to other groups and ensure that there can be social cohesion among the peoples of the Bangsamoro.
There were four separate workshops for the participants. The first workshop was focused on levelling of expectations with the following questions: “What is your vision of Bangsamoro society?” This question tackles the general description of society they want to live in. The second question relates to their definition of culture. The third question was “What are the key issues/challenges regarding culture?”
The answers of the participants on these three questions were very interesting. My first impression was the Bangsamoro is indeed very much related to the Moros or Muslims in Mindanao. No matter how inclusive the definition of Bangsamoro is in the documents, the influence of Islamic traditions and practices mirrors the view of the people within the Bangsamoro. The common definition of culture among the participants was that “culture is a way of life”.
Some of the definitions about culture as raised by the participants includes. Culture is “dynamic,” is “a state of mind” and is “connected with identity.” Upon hearing this, I said to myself that my personal advocacy in the past decade has finally reached the Bangsamoro. Also, I believe that this is an important input with regard to the definition of culture. This is related to the question that I raised in my previous article in this column. What is the Bangsamoro development plan? What makes it Bangsamoro?
There were also conflicting views on culture and religion. Some participants limit the definition and scope of culture in terms of religious practices. They envisioned that within the Bangsamoro, Islamic and un-Islamic cultural practices will be defined. Some of the participants raised the point that this should not be the norm within the Bangsamoro region. The concept of Islam cannot be homogenized or what they say as making Islam in Mindanao more “Islamized.” The Muslims are diverse as much as the Bangsamoro peoples are also diverse.
As the workshop progresses, one group raised the issue on “kanduli” for the dead person, that Islam forbids the extravagant way of expressing kanduli for the dead. The current practice among the Maguindanaons, Maranaws, and Iranuns is that the family and the relatives conduct the Kanduli on the third day, seventh day, 20th day, 40th day, 100th day and the annual death anniversary. This is an expression of grief and as a way of giving respect to the dearly departed member of the family or community. For economic reasons, a participant from the MILF group said that this has to stop. There has to be a policy or a legislation that will stop this way of extravagant process of mourning and giving respect to the dead person.
Another issue raised was on “Islamic holidays.” A participant from the MILF also raised that in Islam, we do not celebrate the birthday of Prophet Muhammad (SAW) or what we call “Mauledin nabi.” He suggested that within the Bangsamoro, Islamic holiday must be limited to Eidl Fitr and Eidl Adha.
The issue on Maratabat was also raised. According to another participant, there has to be a way of having the proper use of maratabat. It must not be a way of discriminating other people, ethnic group, and communities. This is an interesting issue to raise within the context of the Bangsamoro. How do we define maratabat within the present context of the 21st Century is a challenge among the youth and the elders of the Bangsamoro communities.
Before lunch, we were made to undergo another workshop. This time we were made to answer in tabular form the key issues, major gaps, options approaches and methodologies, solutions and recommendations, and proposed interventions. It was indeed a very tiring workshop. But I was happy that my group was able to answer them appropriately based on our discussions.
We were all made to present our workshop output. Dr. Rufa Guiam, an anthropologist from the Mindanao State University in General Santos City, gave her comments and suggestions. As a member of the academe, she was able to give proper input with regard to the development plan of the Bangsamoro.
Ustadz Abusaliha Macacuna, BDA Advisory Council, also gave his comments and suggestions with regard to the workshop output. As I was listening to his presentation, I realized that even the BDA and the MILF are not really a monolithic group, he was not espousing one particular school of thought of Islam. He was welcoming the idea of improving the Maranaw culture in terms of arts, tangible, and intangible materials. He said that the Bangsamoro should respect our cultural practices in terms of the day of mourning for a relative or a family member who passed away; the protocols of kan datu and kaped sultan and the concept of kapamamagupa or the Maranaw term for bayanihan. He also emphasized the proper way of respecting the elders and having a proper etiquette in dealing with other people.
The last person who gave his feedback and comments of our workshop output was Dr. Guimba Poingan. He is the Bangsamoro Development Plan (BDP) focal person on Culture. His opening statement was that “culture of violence” has been the norm within the Bangsamoro. Now, they are looking forward of having a “culture of peace,” a short statement but with deep meaning. He concluded his brief statement by thanking the Muslim and non-Muslim intellectuals who were present during the workshop. He said that this is already a form of jihad for the Bangsamoro people.
Reflecting to the whole process of the workshop of the BDP on Culture, I sensed that the Bangsamoro is still a long work in progress. I may have a very deep different view on this concept, but as I move forward and helping the MILF in the process, I see a window of opportunity. I see that there can, indeed, be a chance for peace and development. However, this whole narrative of the Bangsamoro may encounter constitutional problems along the way because it is very much religious in its final essence. I do not know how Congress and the Supreme Court handle these points within the Bangsamoro. Points or provisions within the Basic Law that refer to religious peculiarities present in the Islamic faith may be deemed unconstitutional as of this moment.
Reflecting on culture, the issue of the Indigenous Peoples within the Bangsamoro also faces the challenge of being included in the whole political discourse. How will the lines be defined when historically, Tabunaway and Mamalu parted ways? When one embraced Islam, the other brother went away and lived in a defined ancestral domain. If the MILF and the Bangsamoro advocates look into the Bangsamoro as very much related with Islam, then they should give the IPs their own freedom and their right to self-determination. Otherwise, we may have another source of cultural conflict in the future. [MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Qun Faya Qun means "'Be! and it is." When Allah (subhanwatala) thinks of anything that He wants to create, He just says Qun Faya Qun and the things come into existence. It is also part of the last verse of Surratul Yaasin which is the heart of the Holy Quran. This column aims to remind the Muslim communities of the nature and character of Allah (SWT), and that we need humility and good character in life]