PRIVILEGE SPEECH: Must we wait for another 34 years, hundreds of thousands more dead Filipinos and millions more homeless and traumatized by war?

(Privilege speech delivered by Anak Mindanao Rep. Sitti Djalia Turabin Hataman on the 47th Jabidah Massacre commemoration, 18 March 2015. Hataman is from Basilan. 

Bismillah ir-Rahman ir-Raheem.

Mr. Speaker, distinguished colleagues, honorable members of the House of Representatives, ladies and gentlemen, Assalamu alaikum Warahmatullahi taala Wabarakatuh. Good afternoon.

“Over the last eight years as a result of the so-called Muslim Mini-War in the Philippines, more than hundred thousand Filipino Muslims have lost their lives, over two hundred fifty thousand have come as refugees in the neighboring Sabah State of Malaysia, and more than one million have been displaced and rendered homeless…”

These words, ladies and gentlemen, are not new. In fact, they are not mine. These were from a speech given by Ninoy Aquino in Jeddah in May 1981— 13 years after the Jabidah Massacre, which happened March 18, 1968. Today is its 47th Year Commemoration. Again I quote:

“On the other side, according to President Marcos himself, about ten to 11,000 thousand Filipino soldiers have been killed over the last eight years as a result of the battle in the Southern Philippines…the Philippine government under President Marcos calls the Muslim fighters as rebels, he calls them outlaws, he calls them insurrectionists, and he calls them secessionists or far worst – traitors to the Philippines. The Muslims on the other hand see themselves as patriots, as holy warriors, birth right of self-determination from infidel attacks. It is most unfortunate that Filipinos are fighting against Filipinos today.”

These words, uttered 34 years ago, rings true to this very day. So we ask: why? What did we miss? What have we not learned?

From 2002 to 2013 alone—prior to the signing of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro in 2014—3.5 million Filipinos were displaced, a large majority concentrated in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao. 3.5 million Filipinos—that is more than twice the population of the city of Manila.

Must we wait for another 34 years, hundreds of thousands more dead Filipinos and millions more homeless and traumatized by war?

We need Peace and we need it now. We, who have long been living in fear and conflict. We, who are more familiar with the sounds of guns in our fields than the sounds of bells in our schools; we, who are more experienced in building tents in evacuation areas than building decent homes in our communities.

We need peace, we need it now, and this Peace we hold in our hands, honorable members of this august body.

Perhaps, for many of us legislators, and for majority of our fellow Filipinos, the Bangsamoro Basic Law is just a piece of legislation. But for us, the Bangsamoro people, this is the key to our aspirations, the recognition of our rights and identity, an acknowledgement of the historical injustices committed against us as a people, a recognition of our history and heritage, an acceptance of who we are and that we do not need to give up our identity to belong to this nation, that we are as much a Filipino as any other Filipino.

This is what the BBL is to us. It is a product of foremost, 17 years of negotiations between the Government of the Philippines and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, and second, because it seeks to preserve and build on the gains of the previous peace agreements, the BBL contains almost 40 years of peace talks.

But even as such, we know it is not perfect and that as legislators, it is our duty and responsibility to scrutinize every line, every word, every letter of the proposed law. By all means, let us do that. Our only prayer is for us to not lose sight of what this piece of legislation is all about – an integral component of a peace process, an enabling law towards the realization of a peace agreement. Thus, our earnest appeal, to remain consistent with the spirit of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro.

Yes, we understand the anger after Mamasapano and we are one with the nation in calling for justice for all the victims, including the innocent civilians, most especially, the 8 year old girl, Sarah Panangolang, who died in the same incident. Justice is due to every soul, regardless of faith, or sex or age or line of work.

But must we choose between Justice and Peace? Must we give up one in favor of the other? Is there no way we can give Justice to all who claim it and still give Peace to those who seek it? Can’t Justice and Peace come together, especially when this Peace is also in response to the decades of and continuing Injustices committed against those who yearn for it?

Some of us say, because of Mamasapano, we must give up the BBL. Napakadali pong sabihin, ngunit napaka hirap pong pakinggan at tanggapin para sa amin na halos buong buhay ay inalay na sa usaping pangkapayapaan na siyang nagbunga ng BBL. I started as a peace worker in 1997, then as a student activist. Five children after, we are now about to see a conclusion to the peace talks, only to be hostaged by an incident which is neither our fault nor something we asked for.

Some say because of Mamasapano, we must give up the BBL, because the MILF cannot be trusted. I am not an MILF Your Honor, I cannot speak in their behalf. But allow me to speak as a Moro Filipino.

September 2008, during the Holy Month of Ramadhan, the Mandi family were onboard one of the boats ferrying civilians who left their village upon seeing military planes hovering above them. With their parents, were the Mandi children Aida 17, Bailyn 10, King 8, Dayang 6, and Faiza 1 year old. All of them died, together with their father, when their boat was hit by a rocket from one of the planes of the Philippine Air Force. This was in Datu Salibu, Maguindanao.

As a Moro I ask, was there a nationwide demand for Justice for them? Was there a call to stop the peace talks because the Philippine government cannot be trusted based on the actions of some of its troops? I ask, magkaiba po ba ang halaga ng buhay nila sa buhay ng iba nating kababayan? Sila, na mga inosenteng sibilyan, at walang sinumpaang tungkuling paglingkuran ang bayan? Their only fault was to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, and yet, only a few human rights and peace advocates were interested to know their story and seek justice for them, which to this day, has not been served.

As a Moro I ask, will we, as a people, be made accountable for the Mamasapano incident? Will we be held responsible for what some of us think the MILF did?

Yes, the BBL is a product of the peace process between the GPH and the MILF, but what it contains is the aspirations of the Bangsamoro people, and not solely the interests of the MILF. Although we were not in the formal structures of negotiation, we as peace workers and advocates of the Bangsamoro people’s right to self-determination have ownership of the BBL. It is an ownership we claim regardless of what the MILF or the GPH or whoever thinks or says so.

The Bangsamoro Basic Law is not just about the MILF. It is about us. That is why, when we hear questions like, “Do they have the capacity to run a regional government? Are you ready for democracy? How can we entrust such and such to them?” These questions are not only directed to the MILF Your Honors, but also to us, Moro members of this august body, us, you all refer to as your esteemed colleagues.

The Bangsamoro Basic Law, as contemplated in the Comprehensive Agreement is not a solution that will only temporarily stop the bombs and the bullets. More than anything, it is about us trying to create a solution that will allow us to live alongside each other peacefully, while working towards our political, economic, social and cultural development, the realization of our right to self-determination.

It is not just another piece of legislation. We can have all the brilliant lawyers argue as to the legal provisions and their interpretations, but we pray that we also consider, how much it means to us as a people, the historical perspective of the Bangsamoro struggle it seeks to address. Kilalanin nyo po ang Bangsamoro, kilalanin niyo po kami. Now more than ever, we call for a deeper understanding of the Bangsamoro people and their cause, for the greatest injustice we legislators can do, is to enact or not enact a law, for a people we do not know, we did not care to know.

Lastly, allow me to humbly remind all of us, that enacting the BBL will not give rise to the Bangsamoro regional government, the decision of the people will. As legislators, our duty is to deliberate and enact the best law we can offer them, a law that will best serve the interest of everyone, not just the Bangsamoro and Mindanao but the whole country and our people. But at the end of the day, it will be them who will have the final say, whether or not to accept the law we passed. But to end it now, to not enact the law, is to decide for them and deny them that opportunity to make the decision.

Yesterday, the Honorable Speaker Feliciano Belmonte and other members of this House, met with the delegates of the Basilan Young Leaders Program. They were asked, what do they think of those who say the BBL is not the answer to the Muslim Mindanao problem. One young woman in her early twenties stood up and said, “Taga Basilan po ako, taga doon. Siguro po, kung may nakakaalam kung ano ang makabubuti o hindi para sa amin, kami po yun..” Another young man stood up and said, he himself was a victim of the armed conflict caught in a crossfire, and after narrating his story asked, “Ano po ba ang mawawala sa inyo kung ibigay nyo sa amin ang Kapayapaan?”

Sana, lahat tayo, ay magkaroon ng pagkakataong marinig sila. Listen. Hear. And so as I end my message, I appeal to everyone, to please, just listen and let us allow ourselves to absorb what each is saying, without the need to urgently respond or ask, just allow our words to sink in until it reaches our hearts.

And this time, instead of just hearing ourselves, may I ask each one of us to listen, to these people, men, women and children of Maguindanao, displaced by the recent conflict in their homeland. Sana po, Sila, hindi kaming mga politiko o ang mga rebolusyonaryo ang maalala natin sa tuwing pinag uusapan ang Kapayapaan para sa Bangsamoro.

(Rep. Sittie Djalia Hataman is representative of Anak Mindanao party list in Congress)