Friday, October 22, 2021

Lidasan: Why is it so hard to be Bangsamoro?


PEOPLE, at heart, are creatures of habit. If it were up to us, we would always maintain the status quo. However, staying the same can be repetitive, boring, and even destructive. For example, if I ate the same thing every day, I would get sick of it.

You can imagine what it is like for our Moro brothers and sisters who see war and strife every day. They have grown so used to it that even giving them a glimmer of hope might turn them away. They have been promised better lives over and over again, but these are yet to be fulfilled. For us in the Bangsamoro Transition Commission, we aim to keep our promises.

However, it is easier said than done. In the upcoming Bangsamoro Transition Authority, there will be 80 members that have been given the enormous task of rebuilding an entire region. We are not just cleaning house -- we are building a new one.

In this new house, what do we envision? For us, I see all of our tribes represented, at the dinner table, eating side by side and enjoying each other’s company. This is a vision for the Bangsamoro that many of us hold dear, even if we do not call ourselves Bangsamoro.

But why is that? Why is it so hard for us to identify as Bangsamoro? Historically, we have been called many names by people who have attempted to conquer us -- the Spanish called us one name, the Americans another. And now, this new government is giving us yet another name. Why is this even necessary?

Just like in the BTC, we have changed the meaning of the term by law. In R.A. 9054 the definition of the Bangsamoro is as follows: “These are citizens who are believers in Islam and who have retained some or all of their own social, economic, cultural, and political institutions.”

RA 11054 redefined the term to mean the following: “Those who, at the advent of the Spanish colonization, were considered natives or original inhabitants of Mindanao and the Sulu archipelago and its adjacent islands, whether of mixed or of full blood, shall have the right to identify themselves, their spouses and descendants, as Bangsamoro.”

These legal definitions, alone, are not enough. This is not enough to win the hearts and minds of the people, those of whose opinion matters most. These questions cannot be answered by one person alone.

So, I talked to members of my team -- Al Qalam, just like its partners, is multicultural and multi-faith -- on whether they even consider themselves as Bangsamoro. And, if so, how can they say that? What I didn’t expect was that the answers ranged from economic capability to structural reforms that they wished to establish.

One answer, in particular, struck me. “Sir, I am Bangsamoro because I cannot be otherwise.”

This falls into the prerequisites of one’s humanity; identity, purpose, and sense of belonging. This answer, although short, managed to encompass all of these aspects. Can you imagine not being a Bangsamoro? That, to this individual, being a Bangsamoro is not just a name, but a set of values and principles to live by?

This is the story that we wish to write for the Bangsamoro. That our human dignity and compassion calls us to be what we are born to be: in this case, to embrace our identity as a Bangsamoro along with our other shared identities.

Yes, you can be Tausug, Maranao, Maguindanao, Sama, Yakan, Iranun and Filipino... these cultural identifiers are not being challenged by the name “Bangsamoro.” They are being strengthened, reinvisioned, and built anew.

As we build this house to be strengthened, to be culturally resilient and to withstand the extremist narrative, may we never forget the spirit of those who have fought for the freedom to even call ourselves the Bangsamoro.

As Abraham Lincoln once said, “A house divided upon itself cannot stand.” We must embrace the identity of the Bangsamoro, as our humanity demands this of us. We cannot be otherwise.


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