THE assertion of Moro and indigenous peoples on the fundamental right to self-governance in their own ancestral domains and in accordance with their own customs, traditions and belief systems has long been a challenging arena especially for decision makers in the government, and even in the corporate who refuse to recognize and understand the indigenous concept on land ownership where their sense of identity, including social, economic and political assertion is invariably linked.
Long before the colonizers came, and before settlers from other areas in the countries have started to make Mindanao their own home, the Moro and indigenous people have already their own tribal governance with a defined economic base, deep spirituality and culture, including security and defense. The land where their ancestors lived and where they are connected, is considered sacred for it is where the spirits of the ancestors roam, but which was desecrated with the entry of investment projects and development. The development aggression in these local communities has systematically plundered the natural reserves and allowed the pillage and devastation of ancestral lands. Compounding this violation is the use of force by paramilitary and private groups to quell any opposition.
Even the passage of the Indigenous People’s Rights Act (IPRA) law in 1997, which outlines the recognition, respect, protection, and promotion of the rights of the indigenous peoples on their ancestral domain, self-governance, culture and integrity, and human rights did not translate to protection. Owing to the different contentions and interpretation, there was difficulty in its implementation. Competing land claims and the hold of powerful elites further create tension.
At the core of the conflict is the disenfranchisement of local communities that continue to experience cases of land grabbing, harassment, and even death. When indigenous peoples start to internalize their situation, and even identify themselves as perpetually internally displaced persons or bakwits (evacuees) from their own communities, then it raises questions on what is being done to uphold their right to their ancestral domain, and the protection of their identity and culture.
The decades-old war and sanctions have already created an extremely vulnerable population and generated a generation of “bakwits” who have been traumatized, and robbed of the opportunity to fully develop their potential.
The journey towards peace, in and beyond the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region for Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) will always be anchored on the principle and recognition of the right to self-determination, equity, justice and on the totality of the relationship between the indigenous peoples, Bangsamoro and the Philippine state. Will the current and incoming generation see the dawn of peace?
There could be no assurance, except when the need for all stakeholders to come together in dialogue and confront existing human rights-related challenges have been met. Only then could things work out.
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