ZAMBOANGA CITY (MindaNews/ 14 December) – This week commences the campaign for the plebiscite on the Bangsamoro Organic Law (BOL) that will replace the Expanded Organic Act of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) and establish the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM). The formal launch of the affirmative campaign a few days ago at the ORG Complex in Cotabato City demonstrates a snippet of the commitment of those who have fought for it, those who are supportive of the new political entity, and new recruits to decades long struggle who see opportunity in the new political arrangement.
While the end-game can be summed up as either for or against, and yes or no, it is a great disservice to journey this way. There is more to citizen participation than just aligning or joining a bandwagon based on winnability as is a common view among electorates during election period.
Understanding the Past
Moro Islamic Liberation Front Chairman Ebrahim Murad in a recent meeting with a group of Moro insider mediators in Davao City drives down to us a key point – the need to understand
the Moro context. We may be tempted or be drowned by the present political circumstances, but it is important to understand why the so-called mujaheedin or freedom fighters are willing to undertake the ultimate sacrifice, selflessly leaving with us their orphans, widows and shattered lives. The support for the BOL is not just about us now, it should begin with understanding the historical injustices and the unresolved grievances. My sense is for this BOL to be meaningful and the BARMM responsive to not only affirm past injustices but also to heal them.
While the Moro identity was initially coined and imposed by a colonial power on a recalcitrant and sturdy people down south, reminiscent of a people who once conquered and dominated the Iberian Peninsula for centuries, the same was adopted by the revolutionary movements as a badge of honor and identity of a people unyielding, fighting for their homeland in this part of the world.
Regardless of its colonial beginning, the Moro identity was and is crucial in bringing together 13 diverse ethnolinguistic groups in the southern Philippines under the fold of Islam. The founders of the MILF found this Moro-Islam binary essential foundations in leaving the Moro National Liberation Front and establishing its own. Perhaps in their view, only Moro culture and Islamic religion can quell our tribalism, clannism and parochial tendencies; thus is born “Bangsamoro” entity, a political construct that can bring together the Meranaw, Maguindanaon, Iranon, Tausug, Sama, Yakan, and the rest; and that only an Islamic polity or polity derived from the Islamic teachings can tame the ethnocentrism among us. There is a belief that the best among them is not those with illustrious ancestry, the wealthy or intelligent one, but as taught in the Qur’an, the best are the “muttaqun”, the pious ones. No doubt, there are Moros who find echo in a recent presidential announcement, kahit walang eligibility, but honest and competent.
For this reason, the stance on the BOL should be pursued based on its relevance in addressing the historical wrong, not on immediate employment gains or superficial technical flows. We owe it to the mujahideen to raise beyond our present quandaries.
Beyond immediate gains, there is also the need to understand the BOL and BARMM through the prism of futures studies. Beyond the pros and antis is that notion there is no single future, but what lies ahead is a multitude of possible, probable, and preferable futures. Here lies the current wedge of perceived disunity among Moros who think unity can only be achieved through homogeneity, belying our multiethnic background to say the least.
Hence, the need for continuing shura (consultation) and ijma’ (consensus) building. The recent Bangsamoro visioning workshop to me is a generative and democratic exercise in gathering our rich and divergent experiences and aspirations. There were seven geographic clusters from across the historic Bangsamoro lands, from near Cotabato to far Palawan, from the mainland of
Lanao and Maguindanao to the insular provinces of Basilan, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi.
These geographic clusters were further woven across more than a dozen sectors from women to youth, from traditional to religious to political leaders, from displaced to minorities, from blue-collar farmers and fisherfolk to professional leaders, and so on.
There is a need to put meat into our Bangsamoro slogan and to agree on the contentious bones, no matter how iterative it will be. Hoping through this safe and inclusive visioning process, we shall be able discern unity within this rich fabric of diverse ideas and dreams. This iteration will not and should not end with the BOL or the BARMM, this should be the circulatory system that will gel the Moro tighter as a distinct community.
The hardest part for our leaders is to represent without deep awareness and commitment to our preferred futures. Consequently, instead of pursuing the collective aspirations, some are tempted and driven solely by their selfish, clannish and ethnocentric tendencies. Therefore, the stance on the BOL should be viewed in these immediate gains, and should be towards Bangsamoro that we can be proud to live behind for our children and their children’s children to come.
The Stance Today
Whether our stance is in favor or not is not just an electorate right, it carries responsibilities as we are at the threshold of correcting the historical wrongs and imagining a prosperous future.
Can we rise to this challenge or are we simply going to squander this epic opportunity? Can we right the historical wrongs now? Can we chart our futures beyond angsts?
When faced with important decision in life, as Muslims we are taught in our religion to take time to discern, to reflect, to think deeper. The blessed time to discern is that late night period prior to the pre-dawn Fajr prayer. Before we perform “Salatul Istikharah” or prayer for guidance, we perform wudhu’ to cleanse our body and mind. To humble our selves before the Almighty. To raise our hands in supplication, crying out and fighting our angsts and desires, seeking His guidance with a humble heart, saying – if this is going to be good for us, for our
faith, for our relations, then let this happen; but if this is going to be bad for us, for our faith, for our relations, then to keep it away from us no matter how we selfishly desire it and let us understand the wisdom behind.
The Almighty reminds us that our condition will not change unless we change what is within us. This is reiterated in Verse 11 of Chapter 13: Al Ra’ad of the Holy Qur’an, “… indeed, Allah will not change the condition of a people until they change what is in themselves…” (Sahih International translation). This “change of mind” or “change of heart” is crucial to our collective success because here hinges the change we need – changing our suffering into prosperity, growing and multiplying. This is the “hikmah” of approaching the BOL beyond affirmation and negation.
(MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Noor Saada is a Tausug of mixed ancestry – born in Jolo, Sulu, grew up in Tawi-tawi, studied in Zamboanga and worked in Davao, Makati and Cotabato. He is a development worker and peace advocate, former Assistant Regional Secretary of the Department of Education in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, currently working as an independent consultant and a member of an insider-mediation group that aims to promote intra-Moro dialogue.)