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April 10, 2014

The Youth’s Role for the Bangsamoro: Are you in or Are you out?

As what was said by Dr. Jose Rizal, “Ang Kabataan ay ang Pag-asa ng Bayan”. This time, I would like to say and give emphasis on the youth having a critical role on the Peace Process for the Bangsamoro.

For most of us, young Non-Muslims or Non-Moros, what comes to mind are something non-relatable and that the Bangsamoro is just mainly for our Muslim brothers and sisters. For the Muslim or Moro Youth, it’s about how our elders or ancestors have been fighting for to bring about peace and development to the Bangsamoro land, and that it’s the work of government to resolve respective issues.

Young Moro Professionals by Zabra Yu Siwa

Young Moro Professionals by Zabra Yu Siwa

My uncle, Sultan Punduma Sani who belongs to the Top 90 of the Moro National Liberation Front would say with tears in his eyes, “Tumanda na akong tinataguyod ang kapayapaan para sa atin, at gusto ko sana bago man lang ako mamatay ay unti-unti kong makitang may pagbabago, o makita ko rin ang ilaw ng pag-asa na kaya itong matupad, Insha Allah.” Well, that’s where I’m coming from. I’ve always thought of hope in the darkness caused by conflict. For me, Winning the Peace in the Bangsamoro Land is also Winning the Peace for our brothers and sisters in the entire Philippines. Probably while reading this, most of you are asking yourselves or wondering, “Sandali lang. Ano nga ba ang Bangsamoro?” or “Ano nga ba itong Peace Process na ito?” Well, let’s start our journey in discovering more about Bangsamoro and the Peace Process by giving you a brief background, presenting The Past, The Present and The Future.

The Past

First and foremost, let us see what ‘Bangsamoro’ is all about. Bangsamoro means “Moro Nation”―as referred to us by the Americans before they transferred the governance of Muslim ethno-linguistic groups to the Filipinos. This is a political term used dating from the Moro National Liberation Front use of the word since 1972. The Bangsamoro contains different elements of a nation: government, people, sovereign territory, and resources prior to the coming of our foreign colonizers and before the establishment of the Republic of the Philippines in 1946. In 1924, during the time of colonization, our forefathers signed the Zamboanga Declaration of 1924 and the Dansalan Declaration of 1935 to protest the inclusion of the Moro Ancestral Domain. The Bangsamoro was the struggle for freedom and the birth of self-determination.

One of the common questions is “What could have worsened the Moro situation?” As what Uncle Duma and my father said, “What worsened the Moro situation is the influx of the settlers from Luzon and Visayas that caused mass dislocation of the Moro from their own lands due to legally sanctioned land-grabbing; too much politics; the Jabidah Massacre; the birth of Ilaga and Martial Law in 1972”. These thus resulted to the Bangsamoro Armed Resistance. First formed was the Mindanao Independence Movement (MIM) to fight for independence and self-determination, then followed by the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), until it reached a point of the creation of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM). Bangsamoro has been used to give emphasis and value on the Moro identity and right to self-determination. Some may have different views on using the said term, but for this particular article, I will be focusing on initially opening our hearts and minds about Bangsamoro.

Decades of challenges have been appearing causing more and more conflicts amongst our Bangsamoro brothers and sisters. The Mindanao Conflict is the second oldest internal conflict in the world. Up to this time, efforts are being done to achieve lasting peace and development for the Bangsamoro.

Kulintang by Zabra Yu Siwa

Kulintang by Zabra Yu Siwa

The Present

A Peace Agreement does not happen overnight. It is a rigorous process. At present, the signing of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) just took place in Malacañang. According to the said document from the website of the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP), underlying the CAB is the recognition of the justness and legitimacy of the cause of the Bangsamoro people and their aspiration to chart their political future through a democratic process that will secure their identity and posterity, and allow for meaningful self-governance. It is a product of the pursuit for a solution to the Bangsamoro Question with honor, justice, and dignity for all concerned. It ends the armed hostilities between the two parties and provides for the negotiated political settlement of the Bangsamoro Question, thereby ending the armed conflict between the GPH and MILF, and promoting peace and stability in our part of the world.

The said agreement would define and shape the Bangsamoro identity, territory and government. The non-Muslims from Mindanao’s common question is whether this would include all the inhabitants of the Bangsamoro Territory including Indigenous People (IP) and Christian settlers.  The current definition and uses of the word Bangsamoro as defined here is: the identity that is ‘exclusive’ to the natives and original inhabitants, their spouses and their descendants, no matter if they are products of intermarriages (mixed blood).  There are still a lot of questions and challenging realities about the present agreement. All the more that we ask those who are knowledgeable about it and be more vigilant as this is a critical time for all of us hoping for lasting peace and development for our people.

Here’s a part of President Benigno Aquino III’s speech to give you an overview of what’s going to happen next after the historical signing. This was during the signing of the CAB.

Our mission now is to draft and pass this law so that it will be presented to the people for ratification in a plebiscite. Our goal: to have the Bangsamoro Transition Authority in place by 2015, when it will serve as the interim Bangsamoro government until the elections in 2016. In this manner, the people themselves will turn the tide of strife into an era of peace and equitable progress; they themselves will prove that the democratic space is vast enough to address every Filipino’s grievances and concerns.

We thus call on everyone to widen the avenues for trust and positive engagement; let us cast aside past prejudices, and contribute to the atmosphere of optimism that has, for the first time in a long while, become prevalent in Muslim Mindanao. It should be the paramount concern of all people of goodwill to do their part: Let us exchange our bullets for ripening fruit, our cynicism for hope, our histories of sorrow for a future of harmony, peace, and prosperity. We must remember that, for so long, Muslim Mindanao has been left in the margins. The amount of attention that the national government granted it ebbed with the electoral cycle, and this broken system was exploited by the powerful few who lorded it over everyone else. For generations, fellow Filipinos in the region were embroiled in a cycle of poverty, injustice, and violence. The huge imbalance between Muslim Mindanao and the rest of the country served to breed resentment, and consequently insurgency. When the Bangsamoro people felt that they had no redress within the system, they then tried to address their grievances from outside of the system. We must therefore give them a significant boost up, so that they can catch up: If we are to truly address the root causes of conflict, we must close the gap between the region and the rest of Filipino society.

As the law is about to be drafted and passed, let me reiterate that we should even be more vigilant. Whatever the outcome is, it is our generation that will reap the fruits (may they be good or bad) of their toil. This is the time of our generation. Our role is critical in this part of history. As I was gathering insights from my colleagues in the Young Moro Professionals Network with regard to youth’s role for the Bangsamoro, I got inspiring thoughts from very talented and smart young Muslim professionals who have been active in the Peace Process.

According to Amir Mawallil, the youth has been complaining of non-inclusion of their agenda in major issues, and the peace process is no exception. He said that if we want our agenda to be highlighted, we must participate in the process. We must take up the cudgels. He also emphasized that time calls for youth’s real participation―being part of the process and body that executes or implements the agenda. Recently, youth groups such as Generation Peace Youth Network and Young Moro Professionals Network have presented the Youth Agenda on the Bangsamoro to the Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC), which was lauded by the BTC. Groups like these two are really exerting efforts to include the voice of the youth and eventually have a seat in the said new entity. Groups like these have to be multiplied to further strengthen our voice and our stand with regard to what should be included in the law that is being drafted.

For Tasneem Abdulrauf, the youth should be part of the peaceful process of changing the status quo. Youth are also  stakeholders and agents of change, not mere recipients of the envisioned future. She further reiterated that the voice and role of youth in the peace process is important so that they can both harness their potentials and actively participate in ensuring institutions will work. She thinks of being a part of the Mindanao Peace Process as a blessing as she was able to contribute in promoting understanding and mobilizing support towards the achievement of peace and progress especially for people in the South long affected by conflict.

These are just some of the insights that I want to share with our younger generations as we will inherit the outcome of this peace agreement. I am really encouraging every youth in this country to take part in this process.

The Future

Let me say it again, Winning the Peace for Bangsamoro is also like Winning the Peace for our country. What most of us do not realize is the interconnectedness of Bangsamoro to the lives of the rest of the nation. Moreover, the Bangsamoro as we all know, has not been conquered by foreign invaders, which I would say is something that the Filipinos should be proud of. We may have different views about this, but one thing is very certain: we all want to have a peaceful society for our families to live peacefully and live the best of their lives. Let us try to find a common ground and discuss whatever realities we have been witnessing.

The Bangsamoro Land is a land full of potential. An even more developed Bangsamoro is also the development of the Philippines. Imagine a brighter future for the Bangsamoro… for the Philippines. Yes, the said agreement may not be perfect or may contain lacking points, but let us try to have an open mind and heart. Instead of throwing negativity in the air about it, why don’t we ourselves find ways to voice out our concerns, understand it better, write a letter or have a dialogue with the Peace Panel. It’s just a matter of asking ourselves: WILL I BE IN or WILL I BE OUT?

Well, why don’t we all BE IN. BEING IN can give us a chance to positively change history. BEING IN can give us an opportunity to transform the lives of others. I am personally saying that I HAVE BEEN IN. Now, how about you? Will you take this challenge?

Credits: OPAPP and the Young Moro Professionals Network

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