The exclusion of the Bangsamoro
Across a vast marshland, river systems, white beaches, pristine waters, and many picturesque plains, the Bangsamoro weaves a narrative of a beautiful dream—a true and lasting peace!
Sen. Alan Peter Cayetano’s rhetoric during the Senate inquiry into the tragic Mamasapano incident on Jan. 25 can be reduced to two things: money and terrorism. He is wrong in thinking that if the national government will allocate more resources to the Bangsamoro, the Philippines will be funding terrorists.
The senator committed a false dilemma by suggesting that the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), if we paraphrase his argument, can either join us in peaceful elections or they are terrorists by burning heavy equipment. The Bible says one will burn in hell if you disobey God, but is God a terrorist?
MILF chief negotiator Mohagher Iqbal is correct: “The government, or those working for the government, is not our enemy. Our enemy is oppression.”
The MILF chief negotiator showed class and statesmanship during the hearing. Senator Cayetano did not. But Senator Cayetano is not the greatest stumbling block to peace. Exclusion is.
Let us look at some figures. Francisco J. Lara Jr., in his book “Insurgents, Clans and States,” states that “only 26 percent of children of school age participate in primary school compared to 43 percent of Mindanao and 45 percent for the rest of the country, and of those that are able to enter school, completion rates are lowest in the ARMM (Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao), with only 37 percent of students entering the elementary grade making it to sixth grade, versus 53 percent for Mindanao and 66 percent for the rest of the country.”
Exclusion is most felt when people are deprived of their basic freedoms. The lack of access to education, the experience of daily hunger, and the constant threat of violence all point to the suffering of the people in the Bangsamoro. Life expectancy in Tawi-Tawi is at 52 years. Life expectancy in Cebu is at 72 years.
Some people wrongly look at the evil of exclusion as a matter of resource allocation. Many technocrats suggest that by pouring more money into the Bangsamoro, the lives of the people will improve overnight. This reduces everything to an economic question.
For instance, the debate pitting north versus south on whether the government should subsidize the trains in Metro Manila is misplaced. The Bangsamoro does not intend to take away from the urban poor in the metropolis whatever little good the national government is providing it. What the Bangsamoro needs is the power to determine its future as a people within the framework of the Constitution. It is for this reason that the Bangsamoro Basic Law has been submitted to a hostile Congress dominated by political elites.
Congress thinks that it holds the key to the liberation of a people. It does not. Freedom is not a commodity that you can transfer from person to person or from one place to another. It is intrinsic. For this reason, giving the people in the Bangsamoro greater autonomy is not meant to divide the nation; it is meant to unite us. The BBL will not take anything from Manila. Rather, it is intended to give what is morally due to our poor Muslim brothers and sisters.
Right now, the country truly needs to overcome one thing that exacerbates the problem in Mindanao, panned to greater heights by Senator Cayetano’s biased questioning: prejudice against Muslims.
Undeniably, and from a pragmatic end, any form of agreement will only lay the initial map to peace. But it is foundational toward the achievement of an ultimate goal: sustainable human development.
The present ARMM as a state apparatus is in itself a problem. Prior to the administration of President Aquino, the ARMM was simply a nonfunctioning bureaucracy riddled with ghost employees. Structurally, the problem of the Bangsamoro is that of the systemic failures of its basic institutions. These systemic failures in the state apparatus often wrongly legitimize the power of political clans, which render authentic and meaningful democratic participation inoperative.
Theoretically, the analysis of structures reveals that economic inequalities are a result of various hegemonic positional differences in the social hierarchy. The way forward and the only hope is democratic inclusion, which is meant to allow the people in the Bangsamoro to determine the design of their own policies within a constitutionally valid framework. Without authentic democratic inclusion, there cannot be good governance in the Bangsamoro.
The situated contexts of people are never equal. The problem, however, is that those who belong to the top of the hierarchy, like Senator Cayetano, abuse their privileged position. Yet, we have to admit, too, that the state-centric approach of Manila in forging a peace agreement in the Bangsamoro will not extinguish poverty within the region. Unless we understand the value of our basic humanity and commit ourselves to a universal concern for the poorest of the poor in the region, there will never be peace in our country.
Christopher Ryan Maboloc teaches philosophy at Ateneo de Davao University. He has a master’s degree from Linkoping University in Sweden.
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