PEACETALK: “I say Muslim Mindanao is a nation… We are a nation of many nations”

(Maguindanao Rep. Bai Sandra A. Sema, one of the vice chairs in the Ad Hoc Committee on the Bangsamoro Basic Law delivered this sponsorship speech for HB 5811 or the “Basic Law of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region” at the Plenary Hall, House of Representatives in Quezon City on June 1, 2015. HB 5811 is the Committee-approved substitute bill to HB 4994 or the draft Bangsamoro Basic Law)

Assalamu’alaikum Warahmatullahi Wabarakatuh.

Mr. Speaker, Distinguished Colleagues, I stand before you today not only as the voice of my people but as a citizen of this country longing for peace in our Homeland.

Prior to the conquest by the westerners, the Bangsamoro people, together with the other peoples of this archipelago lived in peace and harmony.

We all know that the Bangsamoro have always been an unconquered people. We were challenged by Spanish religion, but we remained steadfast in our tradition. We were dictated upon by American education, but we were not swayed into western indoctrination. Our lands were exploited, our wealth dissipated, our structures vandalized, and our people negatively labeled. But history can attest that we continued to struggle for self-determination.

The Bangsamoro territory, like those of the Cordilleras, had been illegally annexed by the Americans and the Spaniards in the Treaty of Paris of December 10, 1898. On the principle that one cannot sell what one had not conquered, the Bangsamoro people refuse to recognize this document inked by foreign invaders. While most of the archipelago had succumbed to the pressure of foreign forces, the Bangsamoro people stood firm through the years, never wavering, never relenting.

That is why early on, the Moro National Liberation Front which included leaders and members of the now Moro Islamic Liberation Front continued to struggle for independence.

But times have changed. Most of the foreign forces have left the archipelago. And now we have to contend against those with whom our forefathers had shared these islands in peace and tranquility. We have learned to share the fruits of the Bangsamoro Homeland with the Ilocanos, with the Kapampangans, with the Bicolanos, with the Tagalogs, with the Warays, with the Bisaya, and with the other natives of this archipelago too numerous to mention. But as we share, we do not want to lose our identity. And I know from the bottom of my heart that the other nations within this nation also want to recover what little is left of their historical identity.

In signing an agreement with the Government of Philippines in 1976 in Tripoli, Libya; and the 1996 Final Peace Agreement, the MNLF had dropped its claim for independence and settled for meaningful autonomy. Its brother organization, the MILF, in signing the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro with the administration of His Excellency President Aquino III, has also dropped its claim for independence. Independence had always been in the hearts of the Bangsamoro people as they feel that they are not accepted as brothers by the rest of the Filipino nation. But now that no less than the 1987 Constitution guarantees autonomy for the Bangsamoro, with a show of overwhelming support from His Excellency President Benigno Simeon Aquino III, and the cooperation of the two major fronts – the MNLF and the MILF who just recently met in Kuwait, I do not see any reason why we should not give peace a chance.

Today, we are at the crossroads of our life as a nation. We were divided by foreign invaders, pitted against one another in war, and as some of their intended biases and prejudices survive in our borrowed cultures today, they have long abandoned our land, leaving us to realize today that, as we strike one another, we hurt our brothers and sisters who were just separated from us by our colonizers.

The bill that is being presented to us today is another challenge for us to unite or shall I say, to re-unite. The bright future will not come sooner to us, unless we learn to forgive and forget the hatred against one another that had been sown in us by people who do not want our nation to live in peace. 

Yes, we may be different in some areas, but we are united in many ways, in many words, in many aspirations. We are united in our pursuit for peace, for happiness and for progress.

I say Muslim Mindanao is a nation, and so are the Cordilleras, the Visayas, the Warays, the Bicolanos, the Ilocanos, the Ilonggos, the Kapangpangans, and the rest. We are a nation of a many nations. And we are called on to unite because in many things, we are one.

Muslim Mindanao had staged the longest and bloodiest struggle for self-determination in this country. So that no less than the 1987 Constitution mandates the enactment of an Organic Act or basic law for Muslim Mindanao. There had been several attempts to comply with this mandate, but the output had not been fully accepted by the major fronts.

This Bill which is now known as the Basic Law of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region is a consolidation of our efforts in attaining a just and lasting peace not only in Mindanao but for the rest of the country as well. Although it had been reviewed, screened, sifted, amended and revised, and it is the approximation of what the 75-member Ad Hoc Committee on the Bangsamoro desires, there is no guarantee that it is now a perfect bill. But shall we choose to continue with war, shall we choose to continue with misunderstanding, shall we choose to continue with fault-finding for an error in punctuation mark, in sentence construction, in emphasis, in questions of constitutionality that can be remedied sooner or maybe later? I dare say, we should not! Rather we must make the necessary suggestions, the corrections, or the perfecting amendments to attain the peace that we all desire and deserve.

In our pursuit of peace, all of us must be more open, more understanding, more forbearing.

Mr. Speaker, a favorable vote for the bill does not mean that one is less careful, less intelligent, or less perfect. A favorable participation and action means that one is a humble advocate of peace.

Thank you very much and may peace be with all of us.