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Beyond misconceptions about the Bangsamoro

/ 05:12 AM January 02, 2019

There is obviously a need for further discourse on the matter of the Bangsamoro as part of the Philippines and Philippine history, especially in reaction to Jesse Angelo L. Altez’s piece, “Beyond autonomy” (Opinion, 12/18/18). We need to take a clear look at the obvious dichotomy between Moros and Filipinos—a cultural artifact from the Spanish colonial period and the American colonial period that still hurts all of us like a stake in the heart.

We should remember that, prior to colonization, there was no such thing as “The Republic of the Philippines.” There were self-governing communities, mostly ethnic groups, that later became part of the Republic of the Philippines, a country that was cobbled together after bloody battles with the colonizers who became the common enemy of these communities. These self-governing communities, including the sultanates of Sulu and Maguindanao from whom many residents in the Muslim areas of Mindanao are descended, all had a culture of service. They would not have functioned at all without this.

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We must also remember how the colonizers stayed in power for so long: by dividing the peoples of our country along tribal lines and lines of religion and regional loyalty.

But there is no reason these days to continue believing and propagating what, clearly, are lies. One would think we’ve outgrown these, but we haven’t—and it is high time that we did. For the Bangsamoro, we’d like to see the end of some erroneous preconceived notions about us that are so 1800s. We would also like to see an end to and, where possible, amends made for historical injustices against our people, not just during the colonial periods of our history, but more recently. The martial law era began only 46 years ago; many Moros in Mindanao died because of the atrocities committed during this painful period in our history, something we all share as Filipinos.

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The perception that Moros cannot be trusted has become so very tiresome. So has the perception that there is no “culture of service” among Moros. Even more tiresome are the negative perceptions we Moros have to swim upstream against, including the perception that we Moros are to blame for the politics of patronage we are trying so hard to get away from.

Gaslighting like this does nothing to help the situation improve. Trustworthiness is not something that belongs exclusively to one group of people or another; as in all other communities, there are many more trustworthy Moros than untrustworthy ones.

A culture of service takes generations to restore—and we in the Bangsamoro have been quietly working to inculcate the highest possible standards for public service, to improve communications and interaction between the government and the governed. Those who have time to bandy this outdated notion that there is no such culture of service in our communities have probably not visited us in the last decade or so.

As for patronage politics, that’s a nationwide problem, not just a Moro problem. We must all, as one nation, make this degenerative practice obsolete.

Though the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao was created to enable the Bangsamoros’ self-determination, we sought autonomy in full—and that is the promise of the Bangsamoro Organic Law that will soon be put to the plebiscite before our people, in what we hope will become the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.

One should abandon the privileges of living in a Filipino settlers’ community in Mindanao to see the bigger picture: There is life beyond dispossession. The struggle must continue, albeit peacefully now.

It’s 2019. It’s time we stopped saying what the colonizers said way before the Philippines came into existence as a nation. Why are we still drinking this poisoned water? If we are to have peace and prosperity in Mindanao and also improve the prospects of peace and prosperity across the nation, we need to forge a new path forward. We can begin doing this by dropping the derogatory, pejorative mindset about the Moro people and getting to work earnestly, honestly and with open minds.

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Amir Mawallil (amir_mawallil@yahoo. com) is a proud Moro writer and a Tausug. He has worked as a journalist, and now works in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao as the director of the region’s public information office. He is the author of the book, “A Constant Retelling: Exploring the Bangsamoro Narratives,” published in 2018 by Balangiga Press.

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