BATANG MINDANAW: Serving the Bangsamoro: A Young Moro Lawyer’s Story

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COTABATO CITY (MindaNews / 22 July) — It was a typical day in a big Manila law firm: on the first floor, you would find docket human resources diligently speeding up to file the pleadings and motions before the courts on time; at their respective work stations, you would find executive assistants fervently making calls to confirm the engagements of their respective lawyers for the day; and at the conference rooms on the third through the ninth floor, you would find lawyers either exhaustively discussing legal theories and strategies with one another or ardently meeting with reputable clients whose companies are commercial giants in their respective industries.

As a first year junior associate who was going through the rigors of our training to be “Harvey Specters” in Philippine legal practice, you would find me moving from place to place — meeting with clients, writing submissions and legal opinions in between, and appearing in courts to represent the interests of our clients.

After coming from a ten o’clock client meeting for a Family case that day, I immediately went to my office to supposedly write a rejoinder for another case that was due that afternoon. Exhausted, I decided to take a break and checked the news to read up on what was happening in Mindanao. Martial Law had been in place for already a month and I could not help but worry for my little brothers and my relatives who were all living in Sulu. Browsing through my newsfeed, I got chills upon reading one of the headlines: “Central Luzon police eye ID system for Muslims.”

At the height of threats of terrorism, some government elements chose to respond with discriminatory policies that targeted my Muslim brothers and sisters on the basis of our faith, and on the basis of who we are as a people. I wanted to do something about it, but I could not. For the first time in my life, I felt helpless.

I went to work that day thinking that it was just another “tiring yet fulfilling day,” but I had never been so wrong. It was the re-awakening of the 2007 idealist version of myself — one who had the courage, tempered by his innocence, to stand before officials of Sulu to tell them that we had to create jobs at home because sending our fellow Tausugs abroad due to lack of opportunities was not something to be proud of, that we had to do something to bring the government closer to the people, and that we had to do something to help address the Bangsamoro struggle.

I tried to regain my focus as I still had tons of deadlines to meet but I was too distracted (and being obsessive-compulsive with work, I can tell you that being that distracted is not normal for me). I could not help but think that just a month ago then, I was trying to inspire my graduating students in UP to serve especially those who live within the margins. Yet, I found myself serving the interests of those who belong to the upper echelons of the society — helping the affluent accumulate even more wealth — far from my Bangsamoro roots where I was inarguably needed the most.

The conflict that resided within me and the desire to do something meaningful for the Bangsamoro were too strong that l finally decided to leave the “more comfortable” life in Manila to serve my Bangsamoro brethren despite not knowing anything about and anyone from Cotabato City then, the seat of the ARMM Government.

However, it would be disingenuous of me to claim that I had no hesitation about working for the ARMM Government. Rumors and misconceptions about widespread corruption within it were prevalent. I even received discouragement from a beloved relative who only had the best intentions for me when I told her about my plan to work in the ARMM.

“Masasayang ka” was the most overused phrase I got from people who were already fed up with the system whenever I sought guidance. It was a huge risk with a lot of uncertainties, but it was the risk I was willing to take because I was done being helpless, especially when it comes to the Bangsamoro cause.

Today, I have been working in the ARMM for a year already, and every day, I find a new reason and motivation to serve the ARMM with hopes that every legal opinion I render, that every representation I make takes us a little closer to the promise of a better Bangsamoro for our children, and our children’s children.

I find inspiration from the honest and competent ARMM officials and employees who work the long hours to see us develop and progress as a people, and who will stop at nothing until the last of us no longer faces any form of discrimination.

Today, you will still find me moving from place to place — meeting with officials, writing submissions and legal opinions in between, and possibly appearing in courts and administrative agencies, but this time, to serve and represent the interests of the Bangsamoro people.

(Batang Mindanaw is the youth section of MindaNews. Mohammad Muktadir A. Estrella, 27, is a Moro activist who hails from the province of Sulu. He is a lawyer and an educator by profession. His advocacies include indigenous people’s rights, Moro women’s rights, and environmental protection and conservation)

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