ILIGAN CITY (MindaNews / 28 September) — Noon, ito ang naging isang talumpati ko sa Regional Consultative Commission in Muslim Mindanao, sa huling Plenary Session sa Zamboanga Plaza, Zamboanga City, 30 Septiembre 1988. Isa ako sa dalawang representante ng Iligan City at bahagi ng Congressional District ng Lanao del Norte.
YES OR NO TO MUSLIM MINDANAO?
I wish to inform you my colleagues, the Honorable members of the Regional Consultative Commission, that I, as a member of the Committee on Title, Preamble, Territory and Declaration of Principles, am called upon to decide whether or not the title of the draft organic act for the autonomy in Mindanao should carry the word “Muslim.” It has been a most difficult task. I have reflected long and hard, sought counsel from friends, old and new. And the answer did not come easily.
You see, my dear colleagues, since June of 1973, I have embarked upon a campaign of my own, with prodding from no one, to help create a respectable social space for our Muslims within the Philippine social system.
From my historical researches, I have discovered how these people were reduced from the proud sultanates of the past to the present status of cultural minorities. It is true that the principal culprits were the Spanish and American colonizers. But by their effective utilization of divide and rule tactics, many of us, both Christians and Muslims, have been deceived into becoming unwitting tools. And the result, in sum, has been to the disadvantage of the Muslims. And so, in my lectures, speaking engagements and in my writings I have consistently spoken with sympathy for them. In 1974, when I did a study on the National Cultural Minorities of Mindanao and Sulu, I have added the Cultural Communities into the picture. I have been, since then, emotionally involved with both.
And now, here I am in the Regional Consultative Commission, still very much convinced about my self-imposed passion but no longer playing the role I used to enjoy, free and beholden to no one. I am now representing, along with Commissioner Pafs Mejia, the First Congressional District of Lanao del Norte whose constituents have spoken almost with one voice against their inclusion in the autonomy in Muslim Mindanao because with the word “Muslim” in there, they feel naturally excluded. They cited, to support their stand, flesh and blood stories relating their negative experiences with Muslims through the years.
Yet on top of this, I, as a member of a Consultative body that is the Regional Consultative Commission, am tasked with hammering out the draft of the organic act, as with every colleague, to find a solution to the age-old Mindanao problem with the framework of the 1987 Constitution. I am thus called upon, too, to serve the broad interest of my country, that is, be an active instrument of peace and reconciliation in Mindanao.
How (to) reconcile the conflicting forces in the middle of which I now find myself? Allow me to take a few steps backward.
When I was interviewed, first by the Mindanao Consensus-Building Panel, then by President Corazon Aquino herself, I remember stressing that for peace to be attained, we must be able to reconcile the fundamental interests of at least three major segments of the Mindanao population: the Muslims, the Cultural Communities and the Christians. How, I was asked? My answer then was a lame “I do not know.” But within me, I was sure from gut feeling that we must talk and talk in search for the light, as in the days of old when protracted negotiations led to a sandugo, a blood compact which in effect make the participants blood brothers. Because when talking stops, shooting begins.
I could not conceal my joy, therefore, when at the seminar to make the final amendments to the Iligan draft of the organic act last July 15-17, 1988, the participants arrived at a consensus on the wordings of the preamble, as follows:
WE THE FILIPINO INHABITANTS OF THIS AUTONOMOUS REGION OF MINDANAO, BELIEVING IN ONE ALMIGHTY GOD, BOUND BY TIES OF COMMON INTERESTS AND COMMITTED TO THE SAME DESTINY, ENTERING INTO A COVENANT TO CO-EXIST AS CULTURAL COMMUNITIES, MUSLIMS AND CHRISTIANS, IN MUTUAL ACCEPTANCE OF EACH OTHER IN AN AUTONOMOUS GOVERNMENT OF FREEDOM, JUSTICE, EQUALITY, UNITY IN DIVERSITY, PEACE AND PROGRESS FOR ALL, DO ORDAIN AND PROMULGATE THIS ORGANIC ACT.
Not everybody would agree to the wordings of this preamble, but to me, this contains all the basic ingredients of the ancient sandugo.
I realize that more than any time in our history, it is now that we need this kind of a sandugo, a written covenant among the Cultural Communities, the Muslims and the Christians. One that flowed from the people themselves through public consultations, put into print by members of the Regional Consultative Commission, enacted into law by Congress and ratified by the people in a plebiscite. What better way to settle age-old conflicts than this! But mark this: I have no illusion that is going to be easy.
Many fresh wounds are still there, sensitive to the slightest touch. Where wounds have healed, rancor burns quietly within many hearts. Many continue to speak out their minds, little realizing that they are spilling into resisting ears the very same biases brought to our shores by the colonizers, implanted to our social fabric and are now deeply ingrained into our psyche. These biases have found their way into our laws and government policies; they are revealed in our daily behavior. And they have been prejudicial to those Muslims and Cultural Communities who have been disadvantaged by history.
But when do we correct the inequities of the past? When do we accept each other as distinct from each other yet capable of uniting for a common end? Now is the time. The Constitution of 1987 has paved the way for precisely the purpose of reconciling our differing, many times conflicting interests. It has provided for the creation of the Regional Consultative Commission, and now the next move is in us, the members of the Commission. The Consultative process has brought old and new wounds to the surface but new vistas of government has been opened, too, and with proper reading of the consultation results, we can construct the structures of a covenant which will ensure the survival of a united people in the region.
It will therefore be the greatest undoing in our country’s history if we fail to take advantage of responding to a noble call for statesmanship.
And now for the issue at hand. What should be the title of the draft organic act? Should it or should it not include the word “Muslim?” Is it a constitutional question or something else? Is it a mere question of name or something else?
Judging from the tension generated in the Commission from the day Committee hearing started on July 21 on title, including a walk out by a Committee member a month prior when “Muslim Mindanao” was first discussed, no one would doubt that we are faced with something that strikes at no less than the gut level of the Commissioners themselves. It is the same factor that prompted me to reflect long and hard.
Proponents of the inclusion of the word “Muslim” in the title have not only cited the Constitution as the basis of their arguments. They have also painstakingly summarized the Muslim struggle as one of having to contend with invasion, annihilation, image destruction and, now, the deletion of “Muslim” from the title of the draft organic act. They view the last as an act tantamount to erasing the very identity of the Muslims.
Proponents of non-inclusion have consistently cited the negative sentiments of their constituents as their main basis, stressing that they cannot in conscience turn their backs on such an outpouring. They also add that the Constitution makes no mandate that the word “Muslim” must be included in the title.
So, where do I stand?
In the first place, I do not agree that the issue is in any way constitutional, except by implication. The 1987 Constitution provides in Article X, Sec. 15 that “There shall be created autonomous regions in Muslim Mindanao and in the Cordilleras consisting of provinces, cities, municipalities, and geographical areas sharing common and distinctive historical and cultural heritage, economic and social structures, and other relevant characteristics within the framework of this Constitution and the national sovereignty as well as territorial integrity of the Republic of the Philippines.”
“Muslim Mindanao” clearly refers to the territory of the autonomy but nowhere does it say that the title, or the name for that matter, should include the phrase “Muslim Mindanao.” Any interpretation, therefore, is a matter of opinion.
The real issue, it seems to me, boils down to how the various proponents perceive the sentiments of their constituents and, likewise, their respective roles in the Commission. It is quite sound to stand pat on not turning one’s back on the sentiments of constituents. But what if the sentiments of the constituents of the 27 districts are conflicting? What will the entire Regional Consultative Commission do?
It has been the unwritten understanding among the members of the Commission, from the time we took our oath of office, that autonomy is for everybody, for Muslims, Cultural Communities and Christians.
As a matter of fact, this was precisely why we easily came to an agreement on a modus vivendi within the Commission; this is why we came up with the 40-20 arrangement in the distribution of committee chairmanships and committee memberships; this was also the reason why we approved to have one chairman and three vice-chairmen. It was generally felt that for us in the Commission to arrive at a viable organic act where each major segment is reasonably accommodated we must first be able to accomplish a similar thing within.
Thus, by following the instincts of accumulated wisdom, tempered with Islamic and Christian principles, we were able to jointly sow the germ of a covenant among us from the very start.
The people from all congressional districts have spoken their hearts out with unusual candor and clarity. They do not want discrimination; they do not want domination. Speakers of Bisaya have often repeated the word angay-angay which most accurately signifies mutual acceptance and mutual accommodation.
Tasked with coming up with a draft organic act, a single document reconciling differing and conflicting views for one autonomous region, we the Commissioners are being called upon to put in an extra effort to rise above the emotionalism of the issues, extract points of commonalities from the jungle of ideas, and lead the way to peace and reconciliation.
We can do no less.
I therefore call for a covenant in the form of the draft organic act, one that is mutually acceptable from title down to the last provision. I see no other way.
BARMM or Bangsamoro Autonomous Regional in Muslim Mindanao. I am joyously excited with this happy ending of this long peace process, from January 1975 to February 2019.
[Si Prof. Rudy Buhay Rodil ay aktibong historyan ng Mindanao, tagapasulong ng kalinaw (Bisaya sa kapayapaan). Kilala siyang espesyalista sa paghusay ng mga gusot sa Mindanao-Sulu. Naging Komisyoner noon ng Regional Consultative Commision sa siyang nagbuo ng draft organic law ng Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao noong 1988. Dalawang beses siyang naging miyembro ng GRP Peace Negotiating Panel. 1993-1996, pakikipag-usap sa Moro National Liberation (MNLF), at noong 2004-2008 sa pakikipag-negosasyon sa Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). Naging visiting propesor sa Hiroshima University, Oktubre-Disyembre 2011. Nagretiro noong Oktubre 2007]