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Allow us our own self-determination

Growing up in rural Kapatagan, I remember going to the ukay-ukayan almost every other weekend. It was, for me, a sign that my mother had extra money to spare for a couple of shirts, jeans and, sometimes if we were lucky, a few more short pants.

One of my fondest memories would be listening to the accent of the Maranao woman seller saying “Aydaaaw aki” (sort of “oh, dear”) in answer to my mother’s “Pahangyoa ko bi” — an appeal for the lowest price, something like “please give us a better deal.”

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Once outside their makeshift tents, we would hear more women in hijab chanting their wares on offer — DVDs, CDs, kettles, pans, feather dusters; name it, they had it.

My mother would check their goods on display, and again those words: “Pahangyoa ko bi.” Most of the time, she would get a good deal out of the bargaining.

During interschool competitions, students in the Division of Lanao del Norte would gather in one place — Muslims and Christians alike — and represent their schools (which are usually named after their municipality) with great honor and pride.

Pantao-Ragat, Sultan Naga Dimaporo, Tangcal, Maigo, Kauswagan, Kolambugan, Kapatagan, Baroy, Magsaysay — all these communities coexisted peacefully, even during the competition. They uniformly applauded in awe during the showcase of festivals at the Mindanao Civic Center.

These are some of my memories of my hometown, my province, my Mindanao. We coexist peacefully, accept each other’s differences and acknowledge the presence of each other’s culture and religion in the same area. Take Kapatagan, for example, where the church and the mosque are just a few steps away from each other.

This is why it pains me to hear about bombings in parts of Mindanao — all supposedly because of the pursuit for “self-determination.”

I know self-determination, of course. I remember clearly from my Political Science 4 class that under Article 1 of the Charter of the United Nations, all peoples have the right to self-determination — a right to decide on matters concerning one’s economic, social, political and cultural development. This is also the exact right the indigenous peoples of the Philippines have long been asserting and wanting for themselves.

But, why create chaos in the fight for self-determination?

The Philippine government has long conducted painstaking efforts through talks with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front to give peace a chance — precisely why we have the Bangsamoro Organic Law (BOL) now.

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From the drafting of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro, which served as a framework for the BOL, up until the BOL’s approval, the operative term was always “self-determination”—to let people govern themselves the way they deem best and fit for them.

This is why I don’t understand the bombings in specific municipalities that say “No to Inclusion.” For God’s sake, we, too, have the right to self-determination just as much as these violent dissenters have.

I write this on my phone inside the jeepney, on an eight-hour ferry ride away from my beloved Kapatagan. But my spirit boils with everything I cannot quite fathom. My classmates are scared about all the fearful news they’ve been hearing. My family is thinking of evacuating so they would be safe. These are people who have been in Kapatagan their entire lives. And they are afraid to remain in their own land. How in the world is that right?

This is my prayer and plea to those who dare raise their guns at people and plant bombs and grenades: Pahangyoa mi bi. Allow us to exercise our right to self-determination, too.

Please give peace a chance. Madakel a salamat.

* * *

Chanda Pearl B. Simeon, 25, is a deputy executive director at the Sugbu Chinese Heritage Museum Foundation Inc. in Cebu.

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TAGS: Bangsamoro Organic Law, BARMM, BOL, Chanda Pearl B. Simon, Mindanao bombings, self-determination, Young Blood
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