[Welcome Address to the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamore Multi-Stakeholder Forum, ADDU, Finster Hall, May 17, 2014]
We come together today in quest of a deeper consensus on a homeland.
All of us look forward to a permanent home bathed in the light and splendor of the one God we worship. Life is a journey through life’s shadows and darkness towards this home in Light.
Compared to that heavenly home, all our earthly homes are passing, at times new and exciting, at other times old and venerable, repositories of our most cherished hopes, our most sacred memories, our deepest loving and creativity, our connectedness with our forefathers and their forefathers, our most defining experiences. In our earthly homes, wisdom has been passed on from generation to generation; toil, tools and industry have supported life; dance, song and festive tables have celebrated it; warriors and weapons, passion and death have defended it. In these homes, all, beholding the grandeur of their mountains, the poetry of their rivers, the fullness of their fields, the sun which rises on the good and evil, the rains which fall on the just and unjust, the exhilarating undeserved gratuitous gift of it all, have bowed down profoundly in worship of the God who freely creates, and blesses, gives us our homeland, and wishes us well.
Earthly homes are not our heavenly home. But our earthly homes are our life, and the land on which those homes stand, our homeland.
Hopefully, through the conversations of this day, we may come to deeper consensus on a homeland. This was their homeland long before the coming of the Spaniards, holding in one hand the Cross, and in the other the sword. This was their homeland, even as the Spaniard had converted those whom they called indios to Christianity, taught them the language and culture of the conqueror, called them Filipinos after the Spanish prince Felipe, who then became king, and declared the land on which they’d built their homes not their homeland, but the domain – the homeland – of the Spanish crown.
For those however who resisted the Spaniards’ Triune God, and remained loyal to their one all-powerful Allah and their Islamic faith, colorfully nurtured in the customs and traditions of different ethno-linguistic groups, their homeland was theirs, held by them in common, inherited from generations of forebears whose lineages reach to the Prophet, not allocated them by the foreign Conqueror, but theirs from time immemorial, settled, tamed, fought for and defended.
This was Moro homeland, even when the Katipuneros and national Propagandists, enlightened by the enlightenment of Europe, began finally to fight the Spaniard on their home soil for their own homeland based on human equality, human dignity and human freedom, now turning the enlightened thought of their conquerors onto the conquerors, and demanding the recognition the Filipinos deserved.
But this was a fight the Moros did not have to fight, because they had never accepted the rule of the Spaniard and the Spaniard had never conquered them. It was their homeland even when the American in a deceitful betrayal stole it from the Filipinos and stole it from the Moros by buying it from the Spaniard who had no right to sell it at all. That is why the Moros defied the American invader. It was their homeland that they fiercely fought for, long after the Filipinos in Luzon and the Visayas had capitulated. They fought fiercely and valiantly against bombs, canons and superior arms, until finally they were massacred at Bud Dajo and Bud Bagsak in Jolo, as the domesticated Filipinos looked on, pacified by the white skin of their conquerors, mesmerized by the arrogance of their “manifest destiny” of imperialism for their defeated peoples’ own good, and buoyed by the scornful hatred the Americans bore “the savages” of Maguindanao and Sulu who would rather die as martyrs of Allah rather than accept the rule they called satanic. For after all, the Filipinos in American eyes were not savages; they were “true Filipinos” because they were not Moro; they were “little brown brothers” because they were Christian.
Conquered, the Moros still fought for their homeland, as the American conqueror and the Filipino collaborator brought wave upon wave of settlers from the north to further pacify the Moros by “integrating them with the Christians.” But how were they to be integrated with the Christians when the Christians rejected to be Muslims, and the Moros rejected to be Christians? How were they to be integrated with the Christians, when the settlers’ insatiable thirst for land now fed on pieces and portions of their beloved homeland? How were they to be integrated with the Filipinos when the Filipinos did not respect their traditions and customs and religious beliefs, and the Filipinos with the conquerors implemented a foreign land-registration system which eventually deprived them of greater and greater portions of their homeland? How be integrated with them, when in their dealings with Filipinos from the north they were always regarded as second rate, second class, outside, excluded, dealt with only when convenient, instrumentalized, patronized for the interests of the north?
Alienated from the Filipinos who alienated them from their Filipino and Christian homeland, their struggle for a homeland turned into a struggle for independence from the Filipino, whose assimilation with the culture of the conqueror had set them in the mode of the conqueror. A Muslim independence movement morphed into an armed struggle for Muslim independence, even as that wretched Marcos covered up the folly of his adventurism into Sabah by spilling the innocent blood of his Moro soldiers, and covered up the crime of his mass murder by renouncing the claim to Sabah, that was not his to renounce, but belonged to the House of the Sultan of Sulu. Another wound to the Moro homeland from the north! Much blood was spilled. Ilagas spilled the blood of Blackshirts; Barracudas spilled the blood of Ilagas. Filipino soldiers killed the Moros; Moro warriors killed Filipinos. The bereaved cried for revenge; maratabat could not be ignored. Terror worsened the hatred, hatred worsened the prejudice, every bad experience of the ugly Christian or the ugly Muslim was new fuel for the flames of prejudice and hatred.
It could have gone on and on and on. Possibly, the issue of a homeland may have become more and more distant, as war took its toll on all.
This is why I said we are gathered here today to find a deeper consensus on a homeland – a Bangsamoro homeland. Clearly the struggle is legitimate. We are all grateful that the armed struggle has yielded to the struggle of the negotiating panel and the hope of negotiated agreements, protected by the good will of national and Muslim leaders. We know, however, that the issue of the homeland will not be settled simply by top-heavy agreements on how to share wealth or share power or to normalize relations. Even the passage of a Bangsamoro law will be counterproductive unless there is an ever-deeper consensus on the ground for a homeland for Filipino Muslims – a consensus that will not happen unless we all will to achieve this consensus. Towards this homeland long overdue, we must come personally closer to each other to exchange with each other a piece of our hearts. This interpersonal bonding, necessarily, will be the heart of our peace. Only in this manner will we avoid the pitfalls of nitpicking on knotty legalisms and grandstanding on destructive superficialities that at core disrespect the mandate of the Constitution for a genuinely autonomous region – a homeland – for Filipino Muslims. May the will to consensus recognize that Bangsamoro is a work in progress, a struggle in progress, a collective self-consciousness in struggle, that with every breakthrough in personal insight, understanding and even conversion brings new light and new hope.
This work in progress – Bangsamoro – is not only theirs. It is ours. It is ours together. It is an ongoing struggle for our homeland of peace – not just in an afterlife but already today, in the Philippines, in the here and now.
 Cf. Matthew 5:45
dear father joel,
you got the elements of the bangsamoro struggle right. but then the jesuits have always been at the forefront of christian enlightenment. i just hope more filipinos will be also enlightened. by the way, i taught at ADDU several years ago. perhaps the first bangsamoro to do so, and hopefully not the last.