PEACETALK: Historical Moment in Mindanao: Bangsamoro

Author’s contribution to the session on Education and Culture of Peace: the Future of Mindanao on June 7, the second day of the International Conference of Cotabato at the Notre Dame University. Conference theme was “Peace is Living Together.”)

COTABATO CITY (MindaNews/08 June) –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 Bangsamoro Basic Law. My contribution will be to focus on the role of Catholic education in this process.

I suggest: Catholic education must work for understanding, insight, peace. It must teach peace. Not the peace of the graveyard, nor the peace that comes from closing eyes to truth and injustice. Not even the tenuous peace that comes from signatures on parchment, but the peace that comes from what our Pope Francis calls “reconciled diversity,” that must occur ultimately in our communities – Christian and Muslim – on the ground.

For us, as Catholic Universities, I believe this means working for peace 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, we must 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 or private interests, that may need to be clearly stated in truth. That may need to lead to a more enlightened way of sharing our faith.

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 the Muslims’ witness of faith in Allah might help us to witness to our own faith with greater integrity and refresh our commitment to human rights with deeper fidelity and generosity. We also hope that our shared worship of a God of Compassion transform us from violent warriors into persons ourselves of compassion.

Second, justice. As our faith cannot be credible in this world without justice, pertinent to the Bangsamoro, articulate the injustices that have been brought on to the Muslims living in Mindanao, bring to our students and the world insight into the reality and shamefulness of these injustices.

This includes a careful explanation of the historical antecedents of the Bangsamoro, including the peaceful manner in which Islam was accepted freely in Mindanao, the recognized sovereignty of the Sultanates of Sulu and Maguindanao, the Spanish sale of the sultanates to the American, the valiant Moro wars in defense of their way of life, traditions, religion, and way of life against the foreign intruder, the brutality of the American conqueror in such battles as Bud Dajo and Bud Bagsak, the insidious agricultural-colonization policy under the American and the colonization policies under the Filipinos complemented by a land registration policy that through homesteading and landgrabbing made the Moros aliens in their own homeland and made aliens lords of Mindanao, the “foreign face” therefore of the Christian Filipino from the north, the dastardly Jabidah massacre, the ongoing instrumentalization of the Moros for the interests of the north, the call of the Muslims for independence, the Ilagas, the Baracudas, the Blackshirts, the violent wars in Mindanao, the efforts now towards peace.

Where there have been historical injustices, universities must articulate 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.[i]   Say where we have been unjust. … At the same time, Muslims may also give voice to occurrences in history that have violated their collective conscience before Allah.   Telling the truth for Christians and Muslims can lead to a deeper experience of the God of compassion, on whom we all depend, and a deeper trust in one another, in whom 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..

Furthermore, 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 the brothers, Tabunaway and Mamalu.

Third, cultures. The Bangsamoro is referred to as a “political entity,” and that is what the CAB – and presumably 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,” 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 and flowered “within the Philippine Garden,” and distance themselves from a foreign process of homogenization into “an Islam of the Arabian desert”.[ii]   Yet other Islamized Moros – the Sama Dilaut 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 may be among the major mandates of the university mission. Bangsamoro is a “work in progress” – especially from the viewpoint of its cultures. Perhaps the university may contribute in dialogue substantially to the discussion on what Bangsamoro means culturally, promoting a new cultural identity yet respecting a rich cultural diversity. This may impact deeply on the future conduct of Bangsamoro education – which will be subject to the exclusive powers of the Bangsamoro government and promote values consistent with the Islamic faith, rather than those of “western” secularism, materialism and hedonism, which are in fact also inconsistent with true Christian faith.

We view with deep respect the statement MILF Chair Al Hajj Murad Ebraham made at the launching of the National Association of Bangsamoro Education: that the Jihad of armed struggle is nearing its end, and that now the more difficult jihad, the jihad of education, begins.

Fourth, Inter-religious Dialogue. Here, we must begin with a dialogue of life, whenever possible, sharing life between Christians and Muslims. Making friends. An example may be in supporting the Volunteer Program between the CEAP (Catholic Educational Association of the Philippines) and the National Association for Bangsamoro Education. This calls for immersion of CEAP volunteers in Muslim communities for one to two years to learn of their culture, language and traditions, but also to teach DepEd “content courses” in selected madaris..

We can then move on to a shared engagement for the common good – especially in promotion of social justice in Mindanao. Eventually, with careful preparation, we can move to a dialogue of theologies.

Finally, the Environment. What we certainly share is the environment. We must learn together that our island is one ecosystem, and that while the different regions of Mindanao must find in her the means of their sustainable sustenance and livelihood, they must preserve it also for future generations. We must be wary together of subjecting the Mindanao environment to the demands of a distant economic order controlled by big capital or foreign global interests. Under no conditions should our environment be destroyed in favor of foreigners or of privileged families. The environment belongs to our peoples and to our children on an island fought for as their homeland, not as a wasteland.

Reconciled Diversity

We are at the historic moment of the Bangsamoro. I have suggested where education may play key roles in faith, justice, cultures, inter-religious dialogue and the environment. What we can hope for in the Bangsamoro may have to depend on how we all shape it as a true vehicle of peace, justice and living together in “reconciled diversity.”[iii] Bangsamoro is not only a Muslim concern, it is our shared responsibility. May the Bangsamoro inspire and challenge us all!

(Fr. Joel Tabora, S.J. is president of the Ateneo de Davao University and Vice President of the Catholic Educational Association of the Philippines).

[i] Quevedo, Orlando “Injustice: the Root of the Conflict in Mindanao” in Bangsamoro: Documents and Materials, vol. 1, pp. xiii – xxii.

[ii] Oral contributions to CEAP Convocation on Bangsamoro of Dr. Yussuf Morales.

[iii] Pope Francis, Evangelii Gaudium, #230. “The message of peace is not about a negotiated settlement but rather the conviction that the unity brought by the Spirit can harmonize every diversity. It overcomes every conflict by creating a new and powerful synthesis. Diversity is a beautiful thing when it can constantly enter into a process of reconciliation and seal a sort of cultural covenant resulting in a ‘reconciled diversity.’”