ANGAY-ANGAY LANG: The first President who accepted the Bangsamoro as an integral part of our nation

ILIGAN CITY (MindaNews / 27 June) — Sa kasaysayan ko, napaiyak ako sa dalawang presidente lang. Una, nang mag plane crash ang eroplano ni Presidente Ramon Magsaysay, first year ako sa high school Notre Dame Boys, sa siyudad ng Cotabato nang marinig ko ang balita. Automatic ang reaksyon ko. Napaiyak talaga ako. Wala akong paliwanag nito, basta ganon ang reaksyon ko.

Pangalawa nang sumulat ako sa reaksyon ko sa Framework Agreement sa pagitan ng GPH at sa MILF, nakinig ako sa speech ni PNoy sa documentong ito, ganito lang ang tawag ko sa kanya mula pa noon umuwi sila mula sa Amerika bunga ng pagkapatay ke Ninoy. Spontaneous din ang reaksyon ko. Heto ang sinulat ko tungkol sa dokomento. Apat na reaksyon ang sinulat ko. Sa pirmero, heto ang opening ko: Congratulations and good luck to the two negotiating panels. Mabuhay kayo!

(Fourth) Oktubre 15, 2012
Comments on the Framework Agreement

I first read the President’s speech, October 7, the same day it was delivered – my 70th birthday; I saw the GPH-MILF Framework Agreement later in the day. His words really hit me hard:

“This agreement creates a new political entity, and it deserves a name that symbolizes and honors the struggles of our forebears in Mindanao, and celebrates the history and character of that part of our nation. That name will be Bangsamoro.”

In that single paragraph, President Benigno Simeon Aquino III officially accepted and affirmed the Bangsamoro, presumably before the whole country and before the world, since we are now in the era of cable TV. The two panels watched it together on television in Kuala Lumpur.

My first reaction was: nahinog rin, sa wakas.

I did not shed a tear then but I did sob quietly earlier today… I could not help it, while drafting this article. I read in the news that the two negotiating panels watched and listened to the President’s speech. There were tears of joy, too, from both panels, including the chair of the MILF panel.

Tears of joy are perhaps left unexplained. I have heard many stories of parties in rido, sobbing, or even bawling aloud when the moment of settlement is reached, when mutual affirmation and acceptance is realized. That unexplained melting of hatred and rejection and the transformation to tears of joy and overwhelming spirit of brotherhood seems to be a typically human phenomenon.

From what I have heard and read, this happens all the time in sandugo and other similar conflict settlement processes.

The Framework Agreement reminds me of sandugo that runs deep in our culture. It comes in different names and is practiced in many tribes. I read about sandugo in history, the ones that the Spaniards had with the datus of Leyte, Butuan and Cebu. But I doubt that I grasped what it really meant. It was so remote from my personal existence. I understood it better when I did fieldwork among the Dibabawon of Davao del Norte in 1974.

Twenty-two years later, I did another field work among the Blaan of South Cotabato. I also interviewed my friends among the Tedurays of Upi in 2008. Now I understand that Tagalog saying: bakit kailangan pang daanin sa patayo kung kaya pa sa paupo. Now I also realize that the root word husay is found at least in Tagalog, Ilonggo, Bisaya and Manobo.

It is our generic equivalent of peace process. Long before the English peace process became popular, husay was already there, being practiced among many tribes in the country.

It is what sandugo is all about, called khandugo in Subanen, dyandi in Blaan and

Manobo. But what is remarkable about it is that there is mutually acceptable elder who presides.

He need not be from the same community, he can be from a neighboring community. Not much different from foreign facilitators in our government peace talks with the Moro National Liberation Front  and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front. Journeying between the two parties, on foot or by horseback, to determine the nature and details of the conflict from the parties separately, the damages and the estimated compensation for such damages.

We call this back-channeling today. By talking to the parties in conflict, the facilitator slowly thaws their hatred for each other and soon they are ready to come face to face, really to settle. Then the facilitator calls them together for a conference where the details of the settlement are further discussed.

The process ends with a ritual presided over by a baylan. The spirits are called upon to witness the event.

The parties become like blood brothers, regarded by the entire community as sacred. Their respective families, too, are party to the settlement. Order and harmony in the community is restored. Perhaps it is the vital role of the spirits that we do not have anymore. But having international witnesses to the signing generates a similar effect.

The official acceptance of Bangsamoro is a quantum leap from history. The Moro image to a Christian conjures images of raids upon Christian communities which Spanish chronicles loved to call Moro piracy. The Moros themselves hated the name. It was not until the MNLF and the MILF adopted it as an integral part of their revolutionary organizations’ official denomination that it did become a badge of honor.

Now, by adding these words: “a name that symbolizes and honors the struggles of our forebears in Mindanao, and celebrates the history and character of that part of our nation”, the President has memorialized the name as a sacred part of our national identity.

The Framework Agreement is not only a peace agreement between government and MILF, it also inaugurates a new relationship, a brotherhood, a kapatiran, a panagsuon, it also corrects and straightens out the ugly twists in history that created the Moro problem. Now we have a new united Filipino people, with full consent from the governed. We begin a new history.

Now, too, I can reiterate what I said in a book, Two Hills of the Same Land*, back in 1978-79 – my pen name then was Rad D. Silva which means “root of the forest:”

Dear Abdul, Moro friend and brother,

It is more than four hundred years since the Mindanao conflict started and there no sufficient indications that the end is near.

Since the re-escalation of violence a few years ago, ten thousands more lives have been snuffed out, thousands more wounded, and a much greater number uprooted from their homes and sources of livelihood.

The climate of mutual animosity continues to hang menacingly in the air. Indeed, too much bad blood has accumulated over the past few years, an addition to what has been there all along. The government soldiers, for instance, have no good word for the Moro. Take a trip to Jolo, to Basilan, to Zamboanga City, to Cotabato City, to Marawi City and listen to the soldiers’ spontaneous talks. It is from them that you hear the most saddening and revolting remarks about the Moro. The civilian Christian population especially in the embattled areas have also their negative impressions about the Moro. Naturally, of course, I do not expect your people to have a good word in turn for the government soldiers and our civilian population.

Brother Abdul, the issue of our brotherhood is very much under question. The little goodwill cultivated among a few has been transformed into an atmosphere of hostility.

Many times in the past, whenever the Moros rebelled, or raised the issue of separating from the Republic, our leaders raced forward with their loud proclamations of Muslim-Christian brotherhood. Brother, they come cheaper by the dozen! But as soon as the trouble subsides, usually after massive military campaigns, the loudmouthed politicians suddenly lose their voices and, as if nothing happened, simply continue with their merry-plundering: depleting the natural resources of Mindanao, expanding their logging operations, their ranches, their plantations, etc.

Such exploitative activities are even justified by brotherly admonitions like: “But we are also Filipinos! Mindanao is Philippine land! There should be equal opportunities for all!”

Brother, I’m glad you know how to fight. Look at the other hill tribes who do not fight. Where are they now? Who really pays attention to them? Panamin? The churches? Perhaps. Very little is left of their ancestral lands anyway.

Brother Abdul, I wish I could have a talk with you. It has been a long time since we last sat nights together at the beach, sometimes at Parang. At other times at Kusiong. At Linek. A few times on the well-kept campus of Mindanao State University watching Lake Lanao.

In those curfew-less nights, under the beautiful moon, we talked endlessly about life, the world, history, philosophy, everything. We swam in the cool waters of the Moro Gulf, then talked again. We never discussed Muslim-Christian brotherhood for there was no need to. It was flowing from you to me, from me to you. That is why, in a way, I feel strange now that I have to address you as brother. But now that I cannot talk with you, it serves as a useful reminder of the good old days.

Of these long talks I remember only one or two occasions when we seriously discussed the delicate situation that confronts our people, yours and mine. These occasions were always solemn, tense, and sad. Somehow, without saying, we both felt sharply apprehensive that you and I might just find ourselves one day in the same field of battle, rifle in hand, you at one end and I on the other. At these times, we felt the difference between us, you a Muslim and I a Christian.

Always I asked that you do not see me as a Christian but as a Filipino, for this was all that was me and I am proud of it. You for your part asked that I see you as a Moro. To you, being a Moro is the lasting symbol that you have never been conquered by the Spanish colonizers. In contrast, you pointed out, it is because we in Luzon and the Visayas have been conquered and colonized that we have come to be known as Filipinos. I had wanted to protest to this distinction, but I knew too little of my own history at the time. Besides, the heavy feeling resulting from our discussions often left me speechless. I understood that you were only giving expression to the common view of a people whose maratabat (sense of honor) has been, and still is, being seriously offended. You were taking a difficult position, and you knew it.

Once, for the first and last time, I asked you about Islam. For the next hours, you explained, you described, you lived Islam. Spellbound, I completely lost track of time listening to you. You answered all my questions, even the most trivial ones. Perhaps, you were not aware of it but I was also reflecting the ignorance of my own people about Islam. Finally, in the end, you invited me to become a Muslim. I was tempted to and when I refused, my heart was heavy. You I had to refuse.

I remember telling you that if I were to become a Muslim, it would not be for religious reasons. I was mainly because as a people, you and I have a common history, though distinct, and share common aspirations for a better future. Your people and my people are burdened with common problems. And so, I expressed instead my desire to join hands with you in easing up you pains and doing away with the very cause of this pain. Your people have never been my enemy. If this has yet to be proven, then as a Filipino I shall prove it.

But you are a Moro and I am Filipino, you argued. How can we live together?

But haven’t we been living together? Abdul, you yourself said that when in the early days of Islam, the Holy Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) and his followers were being hounded and persecuted by the rulers of Mecca, it was to the Christians that they ran for protection.

But that was in the 7th century, you insisted. After that, Christians and Muslims fought each other in the Crusades. In our own history, from the time Magellan set foot on these islands up to the present, it has been the Christians who have hounded and persecuted you, who have sought to obliterate you from the face of the earth.

Yes, Brother, how indeed can we live together?

That was how we parted.

At home that night, until today, I have been disturbed, restless. Often I would mutter to myself, insisting:

No, that cannot be the ending.

I have not heard from you since, nor have I heard about you. It is not likely that we will meet again in the near future. You have your obligations to your kith and kin and I do not know where to find you. And so I am writing this, hoping it will find you sometime, somehow, if only to remind you that I am still your brother and your friend.

I have been searching. “How can we live together” is deeply etched in my memory.

For the way we parted cannot be the ending.

It cannot be because your people and mine have the same basic causes for the same basic pain. Do we not therefore have the same basic solutions?

[In the middle of the long letter, the beginning and the end, here is the journey back to history; the story of how Moros and Filipinos were made to fight one another by colonial powers]

Brother Abdul, the Mindanao problem is clearer to me now. I hope it is clearer to you, too. Its enormous weight is upon me — all over. But I am no longer disturbed. I am at peace, with a steady glow burning within. I feel I now stand on firmer ground. Our difference, I am certain, is not of our own making. Nor is it beyond repair.

You said we cannot live together because you are Moro and I am Filipino. Am I not also the son of Rajah Sulayman of Manila, that Moro who said to Martin de Goiti in 1570: “He was pleased to be the friend of the Spaniards, but the latter should understand… that they would not tolerate any abuse… on the contrary, they would repay with death the least thing that touched their honor.” I remember his words well, my brother. Nor have I forgotten that among my closest friends, it was a Moro who said to me: “You are my friend, I‘ll die for you should anyone cause you dishonor.”

I am happy that you are proud you are a Moro. Now I am sure it is not just a name. It carries the weight of more than three hundred years of determined struggle against foreign domination. Blood and lives were always willing to pay to remain free, to protect your honor. You maratabat is rooted on solid ground. It must be kept alive.

I ask again that you accept me as a Filipino. If in the past I said I was proud to be one, I am even prouder now. The name, I discovered after we parted, was used originally and pejoratively for Spaniards who were born in the Philippines. But from Rizal to 1898, the essence of that name has been radically transformed. We have transformed it through struggle. With lives and blood, we wrested it from our conquerors and made it our own. It is stamped with the blood of our fathers, it now stands for freedom. Upon this rests my maratabat.

It is with a deep sense of sorrow and anger that I see the grave wrongs we have committed against your people. But words, I know, are not enough; they will never be. Rajah Sulayman, my Moro friends, your history and mine – they all have taught me that it is not enough to have a common origin. We must also have a common vision.

The mutual hostility between your people and mine was sown and nurtured in times past.
The situation now is different.
New enemies have emerged,
new friendships must be born.

Nahinog rin, sa wakas.

It is the story of how two streams, divided by history, finally converging and becoming one. One, not by virtue of colonial fiat, but one by force of an agreement, an act of the will. It was an agreement acknowledging history but not living in history. History is history. It had its pains. We must rise above it. We now live a new life. We can now design a new future. As one.


PNoy, to me, in my notes, you are the first Pinoy President who accepted, in public, the Bangsamoro as an integral part of our Nation.

(MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. A peace specialist, Rudy Buhay Rodil is an active Mindanao historian and peace advocate)

*The 2021 edition of Two Hills of the Same Land will be available soon.