KISSAH AND DAWAT: Inclusion (pag-agad-iyagari) and the end of it (iban sin katikmuran niya)

ZAMBOANGA CITY (MindaNews / 14 July) – One of the buzzwords coming out of the BARMM plebiscite, as BTA members were being identified and as the first BARMM cabinet is being organized, is the call for inclusion. In Sinug, to be included or to be part of is ‘agad’ and thus inclusion can be ‘pag-agad-iyagari’ or ‘paghahambuuki’. In the Sama and Tausug psyche, the process of inclusion is as important as the end of it. This is based on the belief that the more people, groups and sectors are part of, say, the new political structure and system, the better it is for the success of this latest political experimentation in the Moro South. So much hope and optimism, not mentioning the lives sacrificed and resources expended to be where we are now.

Manifestations of Inclusion

This call for inclusion came about through a myriad of manifestations that we need to understand so that we are grounded as to why such altruism is so difficult to propel:

Firstly, there is the need to make sure that the new political process being set up in the region led by the MILF would also include the MNLF.

Secondly, there is the need for fair geographic representation to bridge the divide between mainland and island subregions.

Thirdly, there is a pervasive call for ethnic parity across the Moro’s 13 ethnolinguistic groups.

Fourthly, there is the call for fair representation of minorities within the region.

Fifthly, there is a call from within and for engagement with the status quo especially those in the local government, based on the argument that they are the duly-elected representatives of the people.

Sixthly, for the structural transition to succeed, there is a need to include technocrats and professionals.

Seventhly, women’s crucial involvement in governance is as loud as ever.

Eighthly, the royalists from Lanao to Maguindanao to Sulu believe that they too can have their rightful place in the modern era; after all, the foundations of self-rule in Moroland were laid by their illustrious ancestors through the sultanate government quadruple longer than the life of the current government in our country.

Ninthly, the ulama who have been the exponent of the Islamic ideology that underpinned the secessionist movement believe that the success of this latest political experimentation hinges on the promotion of what makes the region unique, i.e., Islamic traditional institutions and the ulama participation.

And finally, from within the MILF organization is the belief that the revolutionaries should be given their fair chance to demonstrate their capacity and competence to run a government based on the belief that if they can collectively run a successful revolt for decades based on selflessness and voluntarism, there is no reason they can’t run a regional government built on the sweat and blood of their compatriots.

Inclusion in Practice

What will sustain and keep these various actors on board is more than physical presence, but the strong sense of being part of the consultation, evolution, institutionalization and delivery of policies and programs. That sense of belief of being recognized and valued, and not just being present and seen. That sense of being part moving altruism into public services and being conduit of citizens in the redress of their grievances.

What will jell the physical and perceptual divides is the sense of being cohesive and distinct at the same time, being part of the regional plan while allowing for each geographic, provincial and ethnic distinctiveness to flourish. All areas within had experienced the horrors of war, and some particular areas continue to be in the midst of insecurities and vulnerabilities from armed groups. We therefore need to look beyond the conventional thinking of security; as the government of the day in the BARMM has the unique opportunity at hand to craft its peace and development agenda through the lens of human security, that is inclusive of economic, food, health, environmental, personal, community and political securities.

To be included is not just a matter of majority number game. The Moros may be a minority in this country, but within its realm it dominates. Certain Moro ethnic groups with huge population-size had lorded over the political discourse and will continue to do so. But what about the other ethnic groups whose number is small and negligible, what is inclusion for them when their voices are hardly heard and their concerns redressed? Democracy is not just the rule of the majority, but also the protection and promotion of its minorities. Take for example the Badjao, the most marginalized by all development indicators, yet not a single equitable and tailored program had ever been dedicated to their upliftment in order to break the cycle of structural violence that have shackled them for hundreds of years.

It will serve the majority Moro to demonstrate their parity and esteem for minority fellows within its realm through more tangible actions in policies and programs dedicated to the latter’s upliftment. Hegemony can legalize monoculturalism. A binary thinking and a scarcity mindset will only hasten either the assimilation or further marginalization of the minorities, because the doctrine of majority rule justifies such ill actions, the very situation the majority Moros sought to remedy against the national government.

Structural transition in a government setting requires the primary competences of organizational development (OD) and change management (CM) specialists. This means the critical involvement of technocrats who are nuanced in strategic, technical, operational and administrative matters, and the cyclical processes in public governance. Meritocracy, over a period of time and sustain action can build the foundation for an egalitarian society. Nepotism and kakistocracy will kill moral governance.

While there is women’s presence in the regional leadership and governance, we need to ensure this does not stay the course of tokenism or symbolism. The underlying manifestations of oppression and violence in domestic and communal settings need to be redressed and this requires more than just legislation. We need a cultural shift and behavior change so that young girls will not anymore be ever forced to marry against their will, and simply be domesticated when they, as half of the population, can be harnessed to contribute peace and prosperity to the Moro society. The true test of women’s liberation is when girls can dream to be different and can pursue that dream without fear or threat.

We also need to understand that gender and development is not just about women empowerment. We need to revisit our census and similar data. It is not the girls who are dropping out of school or unable to complete studies, it is our boys. These are the boys who in our polyandric culture would be providers for several wives and families. Without employable skills, what will become of these families and the future of their children? How can we say we are inclusive when we are not addressing the beginning exclusion of boys in the education and employment ladders?

Royalists have been here since the establishment of traditional monarchies in this part of the world; and there continues in our midst who support its relevance in modern society. The so-called 2013 Labuan Standoff is both an effect of their frustration on government inaction on their plea for resolution of their historical claims and a realization that the government seems to listen more to any group who is armed and violent, rather than peaceful and dialogic. Is there an opportunity for royalists or some of their traditional institutions to be part of the uniqueness and contextual evolution of the new regional government?

Our ulama are schooled through the madrasah system, locally and overseas, which continues to exist alongside the government secular education system. Some elements of integration and mutual recognition had commenced in the recent past and this should be continued so that a semblance of a unified system we see in a number of countries can be realized in the region as well. The key is continuous and dialogic engagement. Dialogic engagement is not a one-oft intervention, but a symbiotic process of give and take and of growing together. The ulama have a set of advocacy and preferred engagement. We have begun development in madrasah and darul-ifta’, this can be refined and expanded. This year, the Institute for Autonomy and Governance (IAG) supported a study on the traditional madrasah with the end view of supporting the BARMM’s justification for the reinvigoration of madrasah as a critical sector in the regional education system. The Bangsamoro Organic Law provides for a Shari’ah system. But in order to actualize this, we need a bridging program to prepare and qualify ulama to become practicing lawyers and judges. They cannot do this individually or on their own, we need an institutional approach similar to the evolution of ulama to qualify as professional and permanent teachers in our public school system under the Accelerated Teacher Education Program (ATEP).

Let me make an appeal, our ulama advocate for tailored and comprehensive intervention for our orphans and widows of war through the institutionalization of a policy framework and support program to weather through these orphans and widows either through familial, communal or institutional support. Recently, The Asia Foundation (TAF) launched its rapid assessment on the aytām (orphans) and this is already a good foundation to begin crafting a policy framework at the BTA level and initial mobilization at the ministerial level. The ulama can help articulate jurisprudential justifications to mobilize zakat and sadaqah (charities) to complement governmental efforts, as well as provide the spiritual and emotional support. The works can complement each other. We need to follow suit another rapid assessment for the arāmil (widows) of war before their vulnerability to exploitation by violent extremist groups increases. If we will not create spaces and opportunities in the new regional government, we will be as guilty as the previous structures that exploited and marginalized them.

We need to understand the circumstances of the present dispensation: The current government of the day is not just leading the BARMM transition at the cabinet level through the movement from the old ARMM structure into the ministerial system stated in the BOL, it is also leading the transition to a full-fledged regional parliament which we may see unfolding after the 2022 elections. Together with the national government, the present leadership in the BARMM has to usher the normalization of thousands of combatants, as well as the transformation of their camps into functional communities. The government of the day has also to prepare itself as a political party because of the 2022 elections in order to continue leading the government, as well as start thinking of how as had been expressed by its leadership, will the MILF be transformed into a social movement in the shade of the success of Muhammadiyah in Indonesia; all the while keeping itself intact as MILF, the revolutionary group, that is now doing all of these, simultaneously.

This is the difficult business of inclusion in a post-conflict situation and operating in a fragile environment. On one hand, everyone expects to benefit from the low lying fruits, which is also what many means when they talk of inclusion. On the other hand, the unpopular and hard choices have to be pursued, choices that will build the foundation for the future. For at the end of the day, inclusion is more than being present or engaged in self-governance. The moral of inclusion is about shared happiness, and for those peoples of faith, across religious affiliation, it is happiness in dunya (on earth) and in akhirah (hereafter). This is what is referred in Sinug as ‘katikmuran’, the end-goal of the Moro’s struggle.

(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 is a member of an insider-mediation group that aims to promote intra-Moro dialogue.)