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“Kasalimbago para sii ku Kalilintad”: How to Make Peace in Mindanao

Kalasimbago Para Sii Ku Kalilintad: How to Make Peace in Mindanao Peace in Mindanao Peace in Mindanao

By Yasmira Moner, Author

Let me tell you the story of a journey towards peace with fellow explorers from the other side of the world. These beautiful creatures are with me, to tell the world that peace is the way to go. Here at home, in Lanao, we have an expression for this kind of voyage, “Kasalimbago para sii  ku kalilintad” that literally means ‘concerted efforts towards a change for peace.’

On August 2013, I accompanied two visiting research fellows of UP Diliman, Stefan Khittel from the University of Vienna and Dr. Maria Vivod from Serbia. Both are social anthropologists and have keen interest in learning the cultures of various places and societies. My two-week travel with them was truly a remarkable experience, especially with Maria, as this was her first visit to the Philippines. They were truly grateful to the hospitality of the Pinoys and Pinays who were naturally friendly to foreign visitors like them.

In all her travels in the Philippines, she would reiterate the kindness of people in the country. Indeed, everyone deserves respect and acceptance.

Peace in Mindanao

With Stefan Khittel and Maria Vivod taken during our research visit to Marawi City in the Torogen (resting place), this is one of the traditional houses of the Royal Sultans of Lanao.

Peace in Mindanao

At the Ayala Resort Hotel, located in Mindanao State University, Marawi campus overlooking the scenic and beautiful Lake Lanao.

Aborted Travel

We planned an itinerary that included Zamboanga City with a side trip to Jolo, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi—especially Tawi-Tawi, a seafood-rich island province at the southernmost tip of Sulu archipelago.

Sulu used to be the entrepôt of maritime trading in Southeast Asia, the gateway of trading goods such as porcelain from China and spices from Malacca (known today as Indonesia). Sulu is also the home for the first Islamized ethnic-linguistic group in Southern Philippines – the Tausug, which is also the ethnic affiliation of Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) founding chair, Nur Misuari.

We were so excited as I told them about the famous Teng’s Grill restaurant that offers a gastronomic adventure of Mindanao located near the Zamboanga City airport. The Austrian fellow, Stefan, is even more excited to meet and interview Misuari who happened to be in his hometown in Jolo, Sulu last August. However, the scheduled interview that was to take place supposedly in Zamboanga City was cancelled. What went wrong?

On September 9, 2013, faction of the MNLF under the Sulu State Revolutionary Command (SSRC) led by Ustadz Habier Malik, whose group continues to recognize Nur Misuari as the MNLF Chair, initially attempted to stage a ‘political rally’ which turned to an armed encounter with the Armed Forces of the Philippines, (AFP).

The armed group of Malik allegedly took hostages in the four barangays of Mariki, Rio Hondo, Santa Barbara and Talon-talon in Zamboanga City. This was contested by the group of Misuari, who proclaimed the independence of the Bangsamoro Republik.

On August 12, 2013. A radio statement was made stating that his group was only intending to stage a ‘peace caravan’ just like what they did in Davao City and General Santos City.

The rest of the story is headlined around the country as the ‘Zamboanga siege’ which ended on September 28, 2013. The conflict has claimed an estimate of 200 lives, leaving more than 100,000 individuals locally displaced in the evacuation centers of Zamboanga City.

The Birth of a Movement

To his credit, Nur Misuari stands for his historic role in putting honor and pride to the collective identity of the 13 Islamized ethno-linguistic groups in Mindanao, Sulu and Palawan. This collective peoples is comprised of the Bangsa Moro or ‘Moro Nation’. The Bangsa Moro includes the three major dominant ethnic groups of the Maguindanaons or ‘the people of the flooded plains’, Meranaos, known as “the people of the lake” and the Tausug or ‘the people of the current’.

The remaining ten are the Yakan, Sama, Badjao (Sama Dilaut), Kalagan (Kagan), Sangil, Iranun (Ilanun), Melebugnon (Molbog), Kalibogan and Jama Mapun.

‘Bangsamoro’ is considered as one of the highly contested lexis in Philippine society and history. On one hand, it does come from the word ‘Moro’ or Moors, which the Spaniards used for Muslims who occupied the Iberian Peninsula, particularly in Spain and Portugal in the year 1521. On the other hand, this is the nationalist definition used by Moro Nationalist Fronts in the 1970’s referring to all inhabitants of Mindanao, Sulu and Palawan (MinSuPala) who have not been subjected to Western colonization. Bangsamoro encompasses the thirteen Islamized indigenous people in Mindanao, Sulu and Palawan. It also includes the non-Islamized indigenous people – known among the Visayan settlers as ‘lumad’. Eventually, the Christian migrants from the North and their descendants became part of this ethnic collective.

Adding to the competing narratives in the Bangsamoro collective is the Islamist definition set forth by Moro leaders who were influenced by the Pan-Islamic movement, which took place in North Africa and the Middle East during the height of Islamic militancy in the late 1970’s.

The MNLF which was once a united front represented an ‘ethnonationalist’ movement of Moro’s resistance against both real and perceived oppression from within and from the Philippine government in Manila. This revolutionary movement had been once the collective voice of the Bangsamoro people for the war against corrupt governance, economic destitution, and political decay. Such significant role in the historic struggle for self-determination remains deeply-ingrained to us as a people.

However, in narrating the painful history of the Bangsamoro struggle, we are also conscious with the emerging realities of our time. First and foremost is the abiding quest for freedom in multicultural and diverse communities in Mindanao, Sulu, and Palawan.

My fellow Bangsamoro people has now recognized the lived reality of thriving cultural groups other than ours. The truth is, the Bangsamoro Muslims, need everyone – from Christian migrants and their descendants, together with the indigenous peoples – to be part of a growing community in the Southern Philippines peace process.

Bangsamoro Muslims, need everyone – from Christian migrants and their descendants, together with the indigenous peoples – to be part of a growing community in the Southern Philippines peace process

We share a common land in our vision especially our musings on how to achieve peace and to make stale or prevent armed conflict. We could not ask for something that we ourselves are not willing to give back such as hope, love and humility.

In the context of winning peace, we need to promote and mainstream cultural understanding and religious tolerance particularly in Mindanao and in the Philippines as a nation of diversity. Needless to say, Islam as a religion of peace adheres to the values of tolerance and moderation, which equally speaks on resolving conflicts in a just and peaceful manner.

Thus, Muslims are enjoined to do good and forbid violence, just like their fellow Christian sisters and brothers. As many would observe, prejudice and ignorance remains to be one of the stumbling blocks in achieving genuine peace and development in Mindanao. The burden of colonial history, where Christianized fellows formerly known as ‘Indios’ from Luzon and Visayas were used against their Islamized brothers and sisters in Mindanao. It has deeply entrenched in the Filipino narrative that the representation of Philippine Muslims and the Bangsamoro people are stereotyped as the ‘other’ – those that are discriminated by the mainstream Filipino nationalist agenda.

The persistence of the ‘Moro image’ as a pejorative term against the Muslims in the psyche of the non-Muslim majority in the Philippines requires a mechanism that would accommodate the suppressed historical narratives and appropriated cultural facts to recognize the nuances of the cultural practices and traditions of the Bangsamoro people and Muslims in general. These mechanisms could explore the opportunities in mainstream media, schools and in the policy-making process.

We have had enough of mutual animosities and prejudices between Muslims and Christians. We do not want our children’s children to inherit the cycle of violence that were largely a product of a bygone era. Dealing with the past is painful indeed, given the precarious nature of our country’s ailing democracy where “restorative justice” or a social justice program that would address the primary roots of the Mindanao conflict to be regarded as a historical and cultural artifacts rather than a reality. According to a known Muslim historian, Prof. Abraham Sakili, identifying the nature of  the “Mindanao struggle” as inherently legal or a mere economic issue confuses the outcome from the cause. Thus in the process, the Muslims appear as culprits rather than victims. At the heart of the Bangsamoro struggle is the recognition and respect for their distinct socio-cultural system with Islam as their common religion in a predominantly Christian Philippine society. Be that as it may, the struggle for social justice remains to be elusive in the midst of patronage politics, mismanagement of resources, and social apathy on the part of the common tao.

We have had enough of mutual animosities and prejudices between Muslims and Christians. We do not want our children’s children to inherit the cycle of violence that were largely a product of a bygone era. 

Porous Boundaries

In a technology-driven world of modernity, porous boundaries no longer matter in a world wide web of relationships.  Social networking sites are viable tools to move people around the world to spark social actions and to mobilize for a greater cause. For observers of the various impacts of media to social and political movements, the unthinkable ‘Arab spring’ was mobilized through the so-called ‘social media’. The social action that brought the ‘Springtime’ in most Arab countries in the Middle East and North African region started in December 2010 when a young, poor Tunisian guy named Mohamed Bouazizi, set fire to himself after government officials stopped him from selling vegetables in Sidi Bouzid, a suburban area in Tunisia. The video goes viral that caused the resignation of the 23-year old autocratic regime of Tunisia’s president Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali. The incident consequently inspired a domino effect of mixed violent and nonviolent social unrest across the Arab world such as Egypt, Libya, Yemen, Bahrain, Algeria, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait and Syria.

Indeed, the power of social media could not be underestimated. Coupled with the information and communications technology (ICT) this era of social media is a discursive battle of consciousness and ideas. These days, a mere ‘tweet’ may inspire social action that could turn the world upside down.

The question lingers. How do we mend broken hearts and wounded souls brought by prejudices? How do we keep the seeds of hope and faith for the dawning of an enduring peace in Mindanao?  How do we protect the most vulnerable sectors such as women, children and elders in times of recurring armed conflicts? How do we prevent war and sustain peace?

peace involves human beings, relationships, emotions and movements engaged in an everyday struggle for peaceful coexistence. It is a journey, a “Kasalimbago para sii  ku kalilintad”

To be candid about it, there is no exact formula for peace building, neither technical rules for precision and predictability. Common sense would tell us that peace involves human beings, relationships, emotions and movements engaged in an everyday struggle for peaceful coexistence. It is a journey, a “Kasalimbago para sii  ku kalilintad”.

Peace in Mindanao

Interview with Atty. Datu Michael Mastura in his residence at Cotabato City.

Kindness of People

It was during our stay in Cotabato City where Maria told me how wonderful it is to live in the Philippines. She was greatly amazed by the rich tradition of the cultural heritage of Mindanao. She puts her admiration this way, “Yash, you are lucky to live in a rich country with beautiful people”.

Maria expressed her empathy with the struggle of the Muslims in the Philippines, having lived in a multi-ethnic society in Serbia where Muslim-Christian conflict exists. As a member of the minority in a Christian-dominated country similar to Bosnian Muslims in Serbia, Maria’s empathy is striking, despite her being a Catholic, and I, a Muslim. The key here is communication, cultural dialogue and a common ground for understanding.

I am grateful to Maria throughout the trip until the day she bid goodbye on her flight back to her homeland. We remain in touch through social media and oftentimes via email. She plans to write an article and a book in the future about her “Island trip and escapade from Camiguin Island of Northern Mindanao to the famous Boracay beach” in Aklan, and to the other beautiful places in the Visayan region including Negros Oriental, Bohol and Palawan. In all her travels in the Philippines, she would reiterate the kindness of people in the country. Indeed, everyone deserves respect and acceptance.

We are all in this together

Finally, the on-going peace negotiation between the Philippine government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) is a necessary yet insufficient mechanism for the complexity of the Mindanao peace process. The Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro (FAB) gave hope to Muslims, such that the primary goal of this politically-negotiated agreement is to address the historical injustices and human rights violations committed against them. As Muslim scholar Sukarno Tanggol points out, “…had Spain not come into the Philippine shore, then perhaps, the country would have a ‘Christian problem’ not a ‘Moro problem’…” Moving on with the distinct features of the FAB, it is noteworthy that this milestone agreement is commended for recognizing the historic role of the Bangsamoro people in their quest for self-determination by adopting the term ‘Bangsamoro’ as the new name in lieu of ARMM dubbed by many as a ‘failed experiment’ on regional autonomy.

It is with high hopes from both the Philippine government and the MILF together with civil society groups as stakeholders in the Mindanao peace process, that the drafting of a more comprehensive peace agreement could be nurtured towards the dawning of a just and lasting peace in Mindanao.  If we are to learn from history and herstory, then let us not leave peace to a sheer political chance.

If we are to sustain the peace process, then we could not leave everything to politics alone, just like economics are left to economists. Peace is everybody’s business and responsibility. As an advocate of peace building, we could start it within our organizations by being a good example. Take the case of the Young Moro Professionals Network (YMPN), a group of young Moros in Metro Manila engaging to dialogue with fellow professionals and youth leaders in transforming the nation into a model community where peace is a way of life. In doing so, YMPN endeavors to promote their shared vision of unity in diversity, promotion of cultural and religious tolerance and respect for the universal value of human dignity.

Each of us could start with a sincere heart to reach out to our fellows and serve others in the spirit of peace and transformative change.

After all, we are all in this together. If peace is socially-constructed, then let us all be part of constructing it in the spirit of brotherhood and sisterhood, mutual respect and tolerance amidst diversity and adversity.

Indeed, as stated in the Holy Qur’an “God will not change the condition of men and women until they change it themselves”.  Peace is a choice that we have to make, to act upon and to live freely with our goal of universal happiness and purpose-driven lives.

Peace in Mindanao Author Yasmira Moner Photo by Rogelio Braga

Photographer: Rogelio Braga, Editor

Yasmira Moner

I am a Muslim feminist.A hijabi and adventurer from the land of beauty and bounty, Mindanao. Dare to speak for change!

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