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January 29, 2014

Mindanao is Mine

Oftentimes, we would hear others say:

“It is so dangerous in Mindanao.”

“Do not go to Mindanao or else you’ll be kidnapped.”

“The people in Mindanao are terrorists so you should be careful.”

Such remarks even heightened up after the Maguindanao Massacre wherein my mother in a hijab (veil) had an encounter at the supermarket where she was asked if killing people is being taught in Islam. Then, another remark from a taxi driver in relation to Zamboanga Siege who said:

“Bakit kayo ganyang mga Muslim, binibigay na nga sa inyo lahat nanggulo pa rin kayo?”

These seem to be a universal language when Mindanao is being talked about, specifically the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) where cases of armed conflicts have been reported. Such armed conflict have eventually made it to the big scene, diverting people’s attention to correlating Mindanao with war.

Mindanao and the Red Light

Most people in the Philippines living outside of Mindanao, especially the ones from Manila, would just hear the word “Mindanao,” then the red light starts flashing. The words risky and dangerous have been tagged with the Island of Mindanao and have been sensationalized by media (all forms) that I would say contributed much to this negative paradigm. Such paradigm have been stereotyped due to various political issues in the ARMM and has affected the tourism industry and productivity with its unstable peace and order situation.

Those from Manila who judge us, even though they haven’t had the chance to visit what some would call hot spots in Mindanao and have not yet known a Muslim in his or entire life except when buying pearls or DVDs from our brothers and sisters, give me an impression that we get scared of things that we do not exactly understand. Our perspective has already been clouded by what we see on television, read in the newspaper, hear over the radio, or from other people with the same kind of biases.

The Reality Behind Our Diversity

The Philippines is known as the 8th multi-ethnic nation in the world. The diversities of cultures, religious beliefs, and ethnic groups we have require a continuous and constant “schooling” for Cultural and Religious Understanding and Acceptance for every Filipino, may he or she be a Lumad, Christian, or Muslim. In my more than nine years of advocating for peace, there have been reported acts of discrimination and extreme biases or prejudices amongst different religions and cultures especially about Mindanao and the people of Mindanao, particularly the Indigenous People and the Muslims. Some of the factors leading to these incidents are lack of knowledge, understanding, and information. There is therefore a  need for more opportunities and venues for Filipinos to be more socially aware of others and eventually work together and be more responsible citizens or leaders influencing their communities to create a Culture of Peace.

Young Moro Professionals by Zabra Yu Siwa

Young Moro Professionals by Zabra Yu Siwa

The Beginning

It has been a beautiful journey for me as a Maranao Muslim with underlying roots from Bulacan because of my mother who is a Muslim-Convert (or also known as Muslim-Revert or Balik Islam). My sister and I have lived our lives studying and dealing with both religions and our families’ culture, tradition, and diverse backgrounds. I always tell myself that the Almighty has been preparing me all along to fulfill the advocacy and mission that He has given me. This does not only run in my blood considering the family background I have but the travails that I have faced at a young age and other significant experiences that resulted to who and what I have become now.

Being a Hijabi by Zabra Yu Siwa

Being a Hijabi by Zabra Yu Siwa

My commitment to peace was even hardened when I was faced with war at a young age. I was just seven years old during the Gulf War and I could still remember our doors and windows all plastered just in case a chemical explosion will occur once we hear the siren that warned us that a missile was coming. Once the missile drops on the ground without us knowing where it will fall, our room vibrates as if there was a strong earthquake. As young as seven years old, I was already taught how to protect myself with Karate classes from my father who is both an Engineer and a Kyoshi, a karate instructor. When the Gulf War happened, I was then taught to protect myself from chemical explosions by carrying our gas masks everywhere.

My beautiful journey began here and with more important events in my life that led me to my path now. In this journey, I came up with a formula that has been my guiding principle in this mission: I call it BRaVO Scheme. Let me share some significant points about Mindanao.

Since this is my first article in ManilaSpeak, I would like to prep you by looking into “The Other Side of Mindanao” using the BRaVO Formula before I further bring you to the world of peace advocacy and Mindanao. 


Formula BR: Breaking the Barriers and Building Bridges

Mindanao is said to be one of the most beautiful islands in the Philippines, ranging from its colorful dances, music, unique traditions and cultures handed down and preserved by many generations, to the richness and beauty of its land and kindness of its people. The common reportage about Mindanao has raised barriers between people from Mindanao and those living outside of Mindanao especially in Manila. Biases range from different perspectives. In peace camps or training workshops that I have been on, it became more vivid to me how many prejudices Filipinos have against one another and how much knowledge they lack about other cultures and religions.

Once in my journey, we encountered a nine-year old boy saying that he was scared of approaching us Muslims because he thought Muslims eat people. One of our friends who is a Manobo, one of the Indigenous People of Mindanao) named Jason—a co-founder of Tuklas Katutubo—shared that he was often asked about where his tail is since they know that he’s a lumad or an IP (Indigenous Person). I was also able to talk to a Muslim brother before who had a notion that Christians hate Muslims. But after being with Christians and IPs in a peace camp, he then had a change of heart and mentioned that Christians are kind and they do not have bad intentions towards minorities like Muslims and IPs.

With the cycle of violence in Mindanao and the stereotyping, there needs to be more venues of dialogue, interfaith, and intercultural celebrations that would lead to breaking the walls that divide us and build bridges amongst us. For the purpose of fostering the spirit of national unity, peace and prosperity, as well as intercultural and interreligious understanding, there is a need to change the mindset of the people and to create more opportunities that will educate more Filipinos about our goodness and our diversity.

Let us stop creating walls but let us start and help build more bridges of understanding.

Formula aV & O: Being a Voice and Helping Create Awareness to provide more Opportunities

Mindanao is the second largest island and is said to be the land of promise. It can also be a land of great possibilities with its richness and beauty that eventually will grow and become the breadbasket of the Philippines. This can definitely be done, one step at a time and with all of us working together. Cliche as it may seem but unifying the people of the Philippines is one of the keys towards further making Mindanao grow. And as responsible and concerned citizens, we can start helping with a simple step—being a Voice and Helping Create Awareness to provide more Opportunities to our brothers and sisters in Mindanao, especially those who have been affected by conflict.

The Mindanao Conflict is said to be the longest internal conflict in the world. There have been numerous news reports about the conflict in Mindanao but one remains a sad reality: Behind the war that we see in the news are innocent children who do not have food to eat, no clothing, no shelter, and have already stopped schooling. Their innocent eyes have been awakened by violence at a young age and they need proper care and attention; otherwise, such violence will just build up more generations with hatred and anger. Behind the conflict are women who have lost their children, their husbands, and who may have been faced with other kinds of violence that may scar their hearts and spirits forever. And behind all this violence are the men who fight with honor up to their last breath, may they be from the government or other forces.

War never had and never will resort to a win-win situation for any side. I just hope that when Mindanao cries for help, more of us would respond to their call. When they need a voice, we will be their voice carrying out their messages with as a response to their clamor for peace. When they need more opportunities, may we try to reach out to them and give them more opportunities in the best way that we could. Let us think of more venues to discuss this. It can start from small talks over coffee with people who are knowledgeable about the situation of Mindanao and the Mindanaoans, or by simply creating more awareness through our social networking sites.

We can be their voice and their door towards greater possibilities.

Shifting Gears, A Change of Paradigm

Mindanao still has a chance to be the Land of Promise. However, as the number of persons who are displaced by conflict increases, so will the conflicts and suffering if they remain without the opportunities and tools that the people need and continue to deal with the lack of action by the Filipino community. With the ongoing peace process that, realistically, needs much more participation from all of us, we are now called to shift our gears to try to change our paradigm about Mindanao and to get to know more about the land and its people.

Shifting gears and taking the step to change our paradigm is like falling in love. There are times that we are scared of letting others inside our hearts but once we feel that genuine love, it gives us genuine happiness. Let us start taking the steps by learning all that we can about the other side of Mindanao. Let us get to know more about our heroes from the Indigenous People and Muslims in Mindanao. Let us fall in love, learn to own and be proud of more cultures and faiths that our brothers and sisters have.

Talking about paradigm-shift, I came across a touching experience of a group of grade schoolers as part of their celebration for peace. They call themselves the Bean Club and was able to compose a song entitled, “Oh Mindanao.” The song was about seeing the peace and goodness of Mindanao even with the past conflicts. The first few lines go like this:

There have been a lot of fights but nobody sees the peace.

Everybody just talks about the bad things that are in Mindanao.

Oh Mindanao, you make the flag red and blue, Oh Mindanao we’ll be struggling without you

I guess what I am trying to say here is we can do our part even in the simplest ways and in our own spheres of influence.

As we do this one step at a time, we can begin by thinking that Mindanao is Mine—fall in love with it, be mesmerized by it, and do not ever let go of the the beauty and kindness that it can forever show if only we let it.

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One Comment on “Mindanao is Mine”

  • Tess Dianzon-Lumang says February 2, 2014 at 2:29 pm

    It might help to remind everyone of our NOTHINGNESS! We came to this world with nothing and we will also leave with nothing. Whatever we have on earth were given by our CREATOR from the beginning of time. Everything, as in every single thing, was given and created for MEN to use and enjoy. Therefore, men has no reason for conflict over things of this world. No individual can claim ownership of anything. All that we see around us is to be enjoyed and shared. That way, LOVE, UNDERSTANDING and PEACE.will prevail on Earth ^_^



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