IN THE past few months of my work in the Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC), I was fortunate enough to meet members and officers of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front who are veterans of the Moro struggle to right to self determination. I heard their stories, hardships, frustrations, and battles on the ground. They also told me how they were forced to leave their families, stop studying in high school or college, and joined the armed struggle.
Listening to their stories, I remember when I was a young boy, I often hear about the stories of the Top 90 core members of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF).
The Top 90 were the MNLF fighters who had their training on guerrilla warfare in Pulao, Pangkor, Malaysia in 1969. They completed their training in 1971 to become a combatant at a young age. It was in late 1972, after the declaration of of Martial Law, when the MNLF became a national liberation movement with Prof Nur Misuari as its founding chair. The Top 90 were composed of the different ethno-linguistic groups of the Muslims in Mindanao. More than half of them were Meranaos from Lanao provinces.
When I was in college, I studied the history of the moro struggle and the profiles of the core members of the MNLF. I have learned that the Top 90 were young Muslims, most of them were coming from prominent families of Lanao, Maguindanao, and Sulu. They all have one thing in common, they were radical (mostly secular oriented) Muslims who questioned the socio political landscape in Mindanao and aimed to fight the social injustices towards the moro people. In 1972, from the Top 90 core members of the MNLF, they expanded and recruited 300 young Muslims to join their group.
Unlike the first batch, the guerrilla warfare training of the second batch was conducted somewhere in Central Mindanao. One of the trainees of the second batch was Hashim Salamat, who eventually organized the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.
In April 28, 1974, these young men signed a Manifesto that defined their vision and mission of their struggle: "We, the five million oppressed Bangsa Moro people, wishing to free ourselves from the terror, oppression and tyranny of Filipino colonialism which has caused us untold sufferings and miseries by criminality usurping our land, by threatening Islam through wholesale destruction and desecration of its places of worship and its Holy Book, and murdering our innocent brothers, sisters and folks in a genocidal campaign of terrifying magnitude... [hereby declare] the establishment of the Bangsa Moro Republic. Reading between the lines, the manifesto calls for a revolution, building a separate national identity for the Moros, with the aim of giving justice to its people.
It also had an Islamic influence of Jihad (struggle) with an end in mind of bringing moral, ethical, spiritual, and political transformation and to change the socio-economic and political order of their homeland.
Looking at the Top 90 and Top 300 freedom fighters of the Moro fronts, what message does it give to our Moro youth today? With the global rise of violent extremists and Isis inspired ideologies, what message does it convey to our families, communities, and our nation today? For me, the very essence and symbol of the 90 and 300 was the core of radicalism in the hearts and mind of the youth. Sometimes it is okay to be radical.
Like the young Nur Misuari or Hashim Salamat, their stories conveyed to us the jihad (struggle) to fight any form of injustice, and to give voices to the oppressed moros. But their stories are far from over. They are still in the process of having a new chapter.
Hopefully, the new chapter will show how the present leaders of the MNLF and MILF will bring peace, justice, and equality to the Bangsamoro people. As I listen to the speeches, manifestations, and interventions of my fellow commissioners and invited resource persons in our BTC sessions, I asked myself, what is the future of our people? Will the Bangsamoro Basic Law bring to reality the desires of our people to have lasting peace in our homeland? These questions are not that easy to answer. They are complicated enough that requires our understanding of the nature and dimensions of the peace process. The first dimension refers to the vertical tract or the political settlement. This involves the government and the MILF.
The second dimension refers to the socio cultural landscape of the people in Mindanao. This involves the families and communities. The BBL covers the political settlement. As long as it will be crafted to be inclusive, just, respects human dignity, and it is for the common good, then the BBL will be an effective tool to bring lasting peace in Bangsamoro and Mindanao. The biggest challenge for all of us is the second dimension. This is where we need to address prejudices and biases between Muslims and Christians. This is where we need to have the endless desire to work for the common good of our people.
In Shaa Allah (God Willing), time will come we will have a new definition of the Top 90 and Top 300 of the Bangsamoro people. For the millennials, they will have Top 90 Moro businessmen or government officials, and Top 300 scholars, engineers, doctors, and scientists.