IN MY recent engagements with our partners in the communities in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (Armm), I spent much time in trying to convince my relatives to support the Bangsamoro Organic Law. I presented the pertinent points of the law to my young cousins who are public officials. One of my cousins asked me, what will happen to our security and safety of our family and land? I was not able to categorically answer the question.
As I reflect on the conversations I had with my relatives, I remembered what my elder brother, Datu Mohammad, told me regarding gun culture of the Muslims in Mindanao. My brother told me that “like any other governments, the political establishment, (The Sultanates) of the Muslims in the South of Philippines maintain an army. This armed forces managed to maintain peace and stability in their territories and repelled foreign invasion for more than 400 years and preserved their way of life. But gradually declined in the American Commonwealth era.”
He added, “in later years, this army merely became a militia, nevertheless; it provided security to the people and still does police work in the territories of the datus such as running after bandits, cattle rustlers, kidnappers and other criminals operating in their respective communities even if the government police force was already established. The bearing of arms was reserved only to the datus and their militia.”
He was also quick to say that, “times changed when the secessionist war between the muslims and the government of the Philippines began in the 70’s. The ordinary folk had the chance to bear arms and there arise commanders who became like the datus. They also command an army. The proliferation of loose firearms was so high that instead of providing peace it resulted to disorder. Many commanders became warlords in their area of responsibility. We often hear clashes between the militias and the rebels, rebel commanders going against a fellow rebel commander. Evacuees (locals call it bakwet) became synonymous with “civilian” muslim, just like DH (Domestic Helper) to Filipino.”
Moving forward he said, the “authority and responsibility of the datus were challenged by the commanders, settling of rido (clan wars) and other domestic security problem were often times done by the rebel commanders instead of the datus. Today, the militia whom the government calls as private armies became the guardians of status quo of the datus.”
Reflecting on my work as a Member of the Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC) and active practitioner of countering and preventing violent extremism, how do we reconcile the gun culture of the Bangsamoro with the current plan of the normalisation process within the peace process?
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