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Kris-Crossing Mindanao

Bangsamoro, one more try

THE BEST way to kill any discussion on the Bangsamoro is through prejudice. Considering all the opposing views on the proposed Bangasamoro Basic Law, I think it is well on its way to rigor mortis. It has been killed by prejudice, more than by anything else.

We still have not learned from history: Prejudice can never be the way. Prejudice is most insensitive—to put it rather lightly—to the plight of the Moro, indigenous peoples and settler masses of Cotabato who are the most vulnerable to war. We who have no need to resort to alsa balutan at a moment’s notice simply do not feel even just vicariously the horrors of war.

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A conversation this week with Fr. Robert Layson, OMI, who lives in Pikit, North Cotabato, drives home that point. One of the most incisive champions of people displaced by war in Mindanao, Father Layson has been attending to the plight of internal refugees, Moro and non-Moro, for decades. It is from this advocacy that he has seen for himself the root cause of a war that, mind you, has seen no victors to this day.

Father Layson recounted to us the tragic story of a Moro family who, together with fellow Christians, had fled their village in Cotabato, which had been caught in the war. The parents decided to go back to retrieve their family’s belongings. That was the last seen of them alive. The next day, they found the husband’s corpse, with a gaping wound in the head from artillery fire. The pregnant wife was found with her entrails spilling out, revealing the infant she was carrying in her womb. The priest found no words to comfort the crying children left in the parish evacuation center. How would one tell very young, helpless, unknowing orphans that their parents were never to return? Even a priest, trained in the work of compassion, was at a loss for words.

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In the marketplace of ideas, where views on what to do with Mindanao’s wars are being traded, doors must never be closed. We who are in the academe know only too well the usefulness of being open to different ideas—this allows the intellect to flourish. That is where the academe differs from politics. Suffice it to say that in the academe, there are no strings attached. If politics is hard put to listen, the academe is not hard of hearing.

Our interest was thus stirred when a group of 30 young women professionals initiated what may sound like a miniscule effort to open intellectual discussions on the Bangsamoro and Mindanao. IDEA 2015 adheres to a simple philosophy: The promotion of peace and conflict resolution in Mindanao is as essential to the region’s life and death as it is to the nation.

What IDEA 2015 wants to do is nothing earthshaking. In fact, the method has been tried previously—to provide an avenue by which the young can exercise their creativity and express their thoughts on the Mindanao wars. For in our environment of political bickering, the answer may not lie in politics and politicians. While we see prominent personalities on the national stage, few efforts on the microcosm are being hyped and given media bites.

“Mindanao continues to be seen as an island of chaos and conflict,” says one of IDEA 2015’s conceptualizers, Martha Rodriguez who, in fact, may be your most unexpected organizer of IDEA. She has carved her own name as one of the country’s upcoming creative designers and has come up with bags made of hand-woven indigenous fabrics. She actually counts among her progenitors the Surigao-born, now Davao-based, avant-garde metal sculptor Ann Pamintuan, sister of her mother Mary Grace. The sisters are daughters of the recently deceased Surigao history scholar, Dr. Nena Tiukinhoy.

Martha is certainly a chip off the old block. Moreover, unknown to many, her father Maximo Rodriguez Jr. sits in Congress as representative of the party-list Abante Mindanao. She is thus well-versed in the political equation of the Mindanao question. Creativity (UP Diliman, Clothing Technology) and socio-civic advocacy are being put to good use to bring another dimension to the Mindanao issue on the awareness map.

“Mindanao continues to be seen as an island of chaos and insecurity and of war and conflict. We deeply feel that it is our responsibility to tell the world that Mindanao has so much to offer,” she says. With Martha Rodriguez in this endeavor are the 29 other young women-members of the Rotary Club of Cagayan de Oro Premier, which was chartered in April 2015.

IDEA 2015 is actually a competition for high school students to be held for two days (Sept. 11-12) in four scholastic challenges: debate, essay, editorial cartoon and painting. “The project is designed to give a broad platform for young citizens of Northern Mindanao to make sure that their views are seen and heard, especially on issues that hit close to home,” explains Martha who coordinates the essay competition.

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IDEA 2015 also aims to be a public awareness and information platform on the peace process and the struggle for identity, stability and progress in Mindanao. We must put a stop to prejudice. One way is to give impetus to the exchanges in the marketplace of ideas. Political dictations are not the way. Giving voice to the grassroots is.

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