Keeping the hope alive
It’s wartime once again in Mindanao.
But I hope I am wrong.
As I write this, over 60,000 people, mostly children, are languishing in different evacuation centers in Maguindanao.
The exodus was expected following the offensive launched by the military against the armed group Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF).
It was the result of the provocative posturing of the BIFF that got a grating, almost a burning welcome from the Armed Forces of the Philippines that responded with the use of high-end firearms and tanks designed to blow bodies and destroy the dreams of those who are lucky to come out intact.
To leave was the best thing to do as bullets and splinters honor no one, not even children — like the 8-year-old girl in the town of Mamasapano who died in the firefight between MILF combatants and elements of Special Action Force of the Philippine National Police on January 25.
When AFP Chief Gen. Gregorio Pio Catapang ordered an all-out offensive against the BIFF, I began imagining the worst – something like what happened in 2008, when thousands and thousands of civilians left in fear after the MILF declared war because of the failure to pass the Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain (MOA-AD).
Right now, eleven towns in Maguindanao are affected by the fighting between government troopers and BIFF.
The target are the members of the BIFF, a group that has slowly come out to prominence courtesy of its media savvy spokesperson Abu Misry Mama, but it is the civilians who are in the evacuation centers now, painfully bearing the brunt.
No one can say when the fighting will be over. No one can exactly say until when the civilians will be staying in the evacuation centers. One thing is for sure, though – the number of the displaced persons is increasing every day. And the suffering will continue.
Just like in the previous wars, the civilians are always the biggest casualties.
As this develops, a little good news can perhaps brighten up the day.
The Aquino administration is pushing for the passage of the Bangsamoro Basic Law in June — not the March target, with Senate President Franklin Drilon saying the initial target is no longer doable. There is still hope for the BBL as the Aquino government appears to be holding on strongly to its promise of autonomy for the Bangsamoro.
A few nights ago, I caught Moro lawmaker Sitti Djalia Turabin-Hataman on TV. Her insights on the struggle of the Moro people and the conflict in Mindanao were impassioned. It was hard not to be shaken by it and be taken away.
She answered the most difficult questions about the Moro people and their aspirations. Her comment on the internally displaced persons gouged the eyes of the bull.
“The series of armed conflicts, which resulted in over a million displaced individuals, until now are not living normal lives. This is what many of us fail to see.”
Hataman was a picture of an intelligent, brave Moro woman, a Filipino, asking her fellow Filipinos, to listen to the narratives of a nation long pushed to the margins by years and years of armed conflict.
She said it clearly: The aspirations of the MILF are also the aspirations of the Moro people of Mindanao – the right to self-determination.
Under the United Nations International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights – all groups of people have the right to self-determination.
“The right to self-determination for us is to be able to live as a nation,” she said. “This is the right to freely decide. What it means is that we are able to determine our political status, that we are able to pursue our economic, social and cultural development as a nation.”
This is the essence of the BBL.
After the Mamasapano incident, lawmakers suspended the deliberations on the passage of the BBL, which, when ratified, will bring about the establishment of a Bangsamoro territory in Mindanao.
The decision was as shocking as the January 25 incident in Mamasapano that led to the death of more than 60.
It’s unfortunate that some of our lawmakers even contemplated about abandoning the peace process as they call for justice for the fallen members of the police in the Mamasapano firefight.
As a Moro youth, as someone who has seen the inhumanity of war, I appeal to our lawmakers to not ditch a process that for the Moro people is as important as their life.
As Rep. Hataman said, we cannot afford to be hopeless.
“We believe that we can do it,” said Rep. Hataman. “One of the best ways to show it is to establish the Bangsamoro for us to show them the alternative that we cannot always just go and take the path of war. There is a good solution, and a better alternative.”
It has been raining since this afternoon, the cold wind seeping through the cracks of my window. I grabbed my jacket to keep myself warm.
Just how cold the night could be for the evacuees.