A SOJOURNER’S VIEW: To dream the Mindanawon dream

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/27 June) — For those who ascribe their identity as Mindanawon, the Finster Auditorium of the Ateneo de Davao University might have provided them a space where the Mindanawon Dream delicately hovered as an alibangbang (butterfly) as they gathered to be participants at a Congressional Consultation in the afternoon of 26 June 2014.

There were a thousand of them gathered at the Finster Auditorium for this consultation labeled as Multistakeholders’ Perspectives on the Bangsamoro which was sponsored mainly by the ADDU University Community Engagement and Advisory Council and the Institute for International Dialogue (IID). Representing the Congressional panel were Hon. Nancy Catamco, the chairperson of the House committee on national cultural communities and indigenous peoples and her colleagues who included the Honorables Teddy Brawner Baguilat, Jose Panganiban, Mylene Garcia, Luzviminda Ilagan and Isagani Karlos Zarate.

Fr. Joel Tabora SJ, ADDU’s president gave the welcome and keynote address where he presented Mindanao’s history that explained the eruption of conflicts and the ensuing peace negotiations. A group of discussants was then provided a chance to present statements and testimonies addressed to the lawmakers. They included Archbishop Fernando Capalla (whose message was read by Fr. Pete Lamata), Atty. Percy Jane Ablan-Fune from the Davao Association of Catholic Schools, Dr. Ombra Imam of the National Association of Bangsamoro Education Inc., Datu Mussolini Lidasan of Al Qalam Institute, Datu Edtami Mansayagan who spoke on behalf of the United Nations’ perspective on the rights of indigenous peoples, Timay Alim Bandara of the Teduray, Mucham Shim Quiling who spoke on behalf of disenfranchised women and children and yours truly.

This is the text that I read at this event:

We, the citizenry of the Republic of the Philippines, are indeed living in very interesting times these days. There are so many interesting events unfolding and sometimes we find it hard to catch our breath to deal with the repercussions of these significant events. From the continuing incursion of China into Philippine waters to the arrest of those accused of pocketing the people’s money, our attention is riveted to the headlines screaming from both mass and social media outlets. For us gathered together today in this hall, the one headline news that has drawn our attention deal with the still unfinished task of making sure that the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro and the ensuing drafting of the Bangsamoro Basic Law will soon see the light of day. And you dear Congresspersons are the ones we trust could do the Filipinos a big favor by making sure the CAB will soon be submitted as an urgent piece of legislation in Congress, and thereby, play a significant role in waging peace throughout Mindanao.

For truth be told, we cannot anymore allow war to take place in any part of our beloved island which can again cause so much pain, grief and suffering. No more war! War never again! We echo the very same words spoken by the late Pope Paul VI at the United Nations Assembly in 1965.

Until a copy of the BBL is in our hands and we can scrutinize the text and do our share to make sure that it is faithful to the spirit of the Comprehensive Agreement, we hold our dreams for peace in Mindanao in abeyance. There is rumor circulating – and I hope that it is but plain rumor put forward by those who oppose this recent significant move towards peacebuilding – that the reason why there has been a delay in Malacanang’s submission of the BBL text is that the proposed BBL coming out of the CAB process is being substantially watered down.

For what reason would the executive branch want to do this, considering what it has invested so far in this peace process? It can only be that there are influential vested interests opposed to peace in Mindanao who lobby in the corridors of power so that they could still railroad this process. One hopes such a diabolical move could be stopped before it can destroy this peace process that we have all worked so hard to reach at this stage. You, our dear legislators, could play a crucial role in making this happen as you take the option for peace rather than war, for reconciliation rather than the perpetuation of conflict and for a future where children can run free rather than grow up in evacuation camps.

The dream of a peaceful and progressive Mindanao for the children we love and their offspring will also happen if the output and process of this peace initiative will not leave anyone behind. Those at risk of being alienated from this process are our Lumad brothers and sisters. Anchored in the narrative of Mamalu and Tabunaway, the Moro and Lumad peoples in Mindanao have a kinship binding their ancestry way back before the conquest era. If memory is the architecture of the Mindanawon identity, there has been a shared struggle for self-determination for the descendants of both Mamalu and Tabunaway. Peace will reign if this peace process respects the self-determination of all the ethnolinguistic communities living side by side in Mindanao.

We are fully cognizant of the fact that more than any of the past peace panels, it is the recent one that has made sure that the Lumad voices are heard during their deliberations and greater Lumad participation was sought in dealing with the Lumad discourses. However, until their just demands are incorporated into the legislation text, the talk is not translated to walk. If this will come to pass, it will frustrate the Lumad communities and could give rise to new forms of struggles, which – God forbid – could turn armed and thus, violent. It is in this light that as part of the network of Mindanao Peace Advocacy groups, I appeal to you dear esteemed legislators to make sure that the BBL responds to the aspirations of our Lumad brothers and sisters who continue to hope that their right to self-determination in the area of ancestral domain, governance system and cultural integrity be fully respected.

This is our prayer to the one God whose dream is for all of us to have the abundance of life; and as you are God’s instruments for peace, we pray to you, dear lawmakers of the Congress, that you make God’s and the Mindanawon dream be fulfilled in this our collective Land of Promise.

Following the presentation of the discussants was a vibrant Open Forum facilitated by Mr. Gus Miclat of IID. Many voices mainly touched on the concerns of the indigenous peoples especially those whose ancestral territory could be included within the Bangsamoro jurisdiction. Many of them were datus of various IP communities in Mindanao, including those whose ancestral domains most certainly would not be affected by the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law.

As I listened intently to the proceedings of this consultation which lasted until almost 6:00 at dusk, I could not help but imagine the alibangbang hovering over the participants, delicately and awkwardly spreading its wings and finding a space where it could land.

It is a common belief among many ethnolinguistic groups who have occupied territories in what is now the Republic of the Philippines that butterflies embody the spirits of ancestors or that they bring our attention to the presence of the ancestors’ spirits in our midst. With such a belief, we recognize the interfacing of butterflies and memories. If memory is the architecture of our identity as Mindanawons, deeply rooted in our psyche is a dream that has always been sacred to our ancestors.

This I dare claim is the Mindanawon Dream. (MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Redemptorist Brother Karl Gaspar of Davao City, former head of the Redemptorist Itinerant Mission Team and author of several books, including “To be poor and obscure,” and “Mystic Wanderers in the Land of Perpetual Departures,” writes two columns for MindaNews, one in English [A Sojourner’s Views] and the other in Binisaya [Panaw-Lantaw].)