THE Catholic Educational Association of the Philippines (CEAP) had their national convention at SMX Convention Center, Lanang, Davao City, last September 27 to 29. I was fortunate enough to be invited to speak about the Enhance Bangsamoro Basic Law (EBBL) 2017 and its importance for the CEAP and its member schools and universities to support the passage of this bill. There were at least 3,000 delegates coming from the different Catholic schools in the country. The theme for this year’s convention was “COMMUNIO: Building and Sustaining Ecclesial Communities for Life”. Hence, my speech was Building and Sustaining Peace in Mindanao.

I started my speech by sharing with them my work with the Al Qalam Institute of Ateneo de Davao University. I mentioned, “I was given the honor to work for an office that may seem ironic to many. Al Qalam is an Islamic research center within a Catholic University. Founded in 2011, Al Qalam Institute started as a research institute that also holds interfaith and interreligious dialogues. Fast forward and after countless partnerships with various organizations, Al Qalam branched out into becoming an action center that caters to the need of communities by providing trainings, knowledge exchange, economic opportunities and various developmental works. It also paved the way to my membership in the Bangsamoro Transition Commission. A 21- man commission mandated by the president to draft the Enhanced Bansamoro Basic Law.”

Then I discussed briefly my work with the Expanded Bangsamoro Transition Commission (EBTC) by mentioning, “After submitting the finished EBBL draft to the Office of the President on August 17, 2017, I and my fellow commissioners, through our individual initiatives made our rounds in different areas in the Bangsamoro, in Mindanao and in some places in the country. Our aim is to gather support from various institutions, organization, and influencers in different fields.

“In many of these rounds, there are occasional whispers that I unintentionally overhear, "BBL naman?" And some of you in here could be saying the same thing behind your head. At first, it makes me feel bad hearing those words from the very people we are seeking support from, then as I begin my campaign the feelings of frustrations and disappointments turned into motivation. I felt motivated to spread the word on why supporting the EBBL will not only benefit the people in the Bangsamoro and Mindanao, but every Filipino And that passing the bill is an ultimate move for what we aspire to be the "common good”.”

I explained further the reasons why we need to support the passage of the EBBL in this manner: “Social justice, respect to identity, and recognizing the self- determination of a group of people who’ve been denied their rights for centuries is both an Islamic and a Christian act. And expressing firm support to the passage of the EBBL is the translation of this concept into real action. We may have heard this so many times before and some may already have a ready argument against this, but the truth of the matter still stands—and that is, that the passage of the EBBL is the answer to the long struggle of the Bangsamoro people and the way to heal wounds caused by centuries of historical injustices. The passage of the EBBL then, is an act of justice, to which we all advocate for.”

Then I further discussed the economic and social benefits of having the EBBL. The main topic of my speech was related to the point on addressing violent extremism which for me is the key to build and sustain peace in Mindanao. I said in my speech, “I can even give you a long list (benefits of the BBL) if given the opportunity. But what is most noteworthy, relevant, and urgent concern that the EBBL could address is the growing activities of violent extremism in the country.

“It is not unknown to everyone that local extremist groups with support from international violent extremist organizations is starting to grow in many areas in Mindanao and other places in the Philippines. Al Qalam Institute’s work on the Prevention of Violent Extremism and Countering Violent Extremism (PVE and CVE) in partnership with many local, national, and international organizations, we have found out that although there is no definite profile for those who are vulnerable to the recruitment of violent extremist groups, they share common sentiments summed up into three: a. Crisis of Identity; b. Longing for a Sense of Belongingness; c. Quest for a Sense of Purpose.”

“Violent extremist groups exploit these weaknesses that are not too hard to find in the Bangsamoro Youth. The lack of understanding to their identity, the denial of their rights to self- determination and the struggle to take back not only their territory but their identity as Muslims and as humans cultivate a fertile ground for violent extremists groups to splurge. These groups effectively exploit these growing sense among the Bangsamoro Youth by crafting an effective narrative mixed with faulty religious and apocalyptical arguments.”

I ended my speech with a challenge by saying, “Hence, this is where fighting fire against fire is being called to order. If we seek to prevent and counter these extremist groups, we must craft an inclusive narrative built on the story of a country that recognizes and respects people’s identity, make them feel that they belong to a recognized community imbued with rich culture and valiant history, and giving them the purpose of building a better Bangsamoro nation within the Filipino nation. And we can only prove to them that this story is more real than the claims of violent extremist groups if we put into action a mechanism that grants them all of these—and that is the Enhanced Bangsamoro Basic Law.”

I fully believe that the EBBL is not yet perfect, it is a work in progress, it needs the brilliants minds of the people not only in the government, but also from other organizations and institutions like what we have in the Academe. It is through a collective effort and strong support to this proposed law that we become agents of social justice.

The need for our country to build a one community where the Moro Identity is provided a place in the Filipino nation’s story, where their identity is recognized so they become more loyal to the Philippine flag—the symbol of our freedom and democracy is our lasting legacy for our next generation.