[For Pakighinbi, Manila Times, May 18, 2015.]
Taboan Hall in Davao’s famed Matina Town Square proclaims “artistic freedom” and features the city’s best local bands and cultural groups. Spectators normally enjoy the shows from individual tables filled with kilawin, panga, and pitchers of Pale Pilsen lite. But last May 11, as thousands marched to the Congress in support of the passage of the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL), local and foreign peacemakers gathered there for a “boodle para sa BBL.”
The “boodle” is the way the Philippine military bond in solidarity around a meal laid out on banana leaves. No forks, no spoons: kamayan! No chairs, no inhibitions: just laid-out food bringing comrades to deeper friendship through shared food, shared purpose, and shared conversation (pakighinabi). At Taboan Hall, those who “boodled” were Muslims, Lumads, Catholics, Protestants, soldiers, religious and civil-society leaders, artists, poets, students – most of whom longtime, battle-scarred peace advocates in Mindanao. Guests, among them South Africa’s peace negotiator, Joan McGregor, rubbed shoulders to get at the grilled meats, fresh fruits and delicate vegetables with their fingers. “In the Philippines everything is done with food,” the host declared. Here, shared food around one table was solidarity in Mindanao with those marching to Congress that day to manifest support for the passage of a meaningful Bangsamoro Basic Law.
In rejection of “all out war,” whose devastation had personally cost them lives of relatives and friends, their theme was “all out peace.” “I am a citizen who believes in peace,” Mike Leyson, representing Ateneo de Davao University’s Samahanngmga Mag-aaral, declared for all. “Peace that silences the guns, puts food on the table, allows the poorest child to go to school, gives every woman, indigenous person, elderly, individual with disability a voice and a chance to build and realize her/his dreams. … I am a citizen who fully commits himself to a just and peaceful future for Mindanao and the Philippines.”
The idyllic meal, of course, was a metaphor of shared hopes for social justice for Muslim Filipinos, that is a defining principle of the Bangsamoro Basic Law. “The Bangsamoro shall establish a government that ensures that every citizen is provided the basic necessities and equal opportunities. Social justice shall be promoted in all phases of development and facets of life within the Bangsamoro” (Art. 5. Sec. 7). That resonates with the social justice mandate of our Constitution, the governing imperative for a meaningful autonomous region of Muslim Mindanao: “The Congress shall give highest priority to the enactment of measures that protect and enhance the right of all the people to human dignity, reduce social, economic and political inequalities by equitably diffusing wealth and political power for the common good” (Art. 13, Sec. 5). Congress is to give highest priority to passing the legislation that corrects centuries of discrimination against and exclusion of Muslim Filipinos from the historical mainstream ultimately because of their legitimately cherished Islamic faith. Policies which have made Muslim Mindanao a collective pariah within the Philippines have to be corrected. But under the Bangsamoro Basic Law it must also be appreciated that the Bangsamoro community itself is to achieve social justice within its own political entity, dismantling inequalities in social, economic and political power, even as the cultural treasures of rich socio-linguistic pluralities are preserved. Under the Bangsamoro Basic law, the situation where one or two powerful traditional families determine the votes of all should be overcome; the decades of sub-standard culturally alienating education must end.
No one is saying this will be easy, least of all the leaders of the MILF whose cause has been not only for justice and self-determination of the Bangsamoro, but the dismantling of the inequities and injustices of traditional Muslim society. Where policy from the north not only failed to achieve this in the past but exacerbated social injustice within Filipino Muslim society, favoring certain families with political power and privilege in order to push goals favorable to the north, the MILF has melded hopes for a socially just Bangsamoro in the provisions of the BBL. The option for a parliamentary system, for example, is not to preserve political power in the hands of the traditionally powerful, but to diffuse it. It is to give smaller people who succeed in local legislative and executive service a more realistic chance at higher leadership.
Even should the BBL be passed as the OPAPP and the Peace Panel wish, the challenge for the Bangsamoro shall be the same challenge that is given the Filipino People through its Constitution: effect social justice. The face of social injustice is the oversatiated and obese in Manila counting calories to lose weight and the poor struggling to survive the latest drought or the unending forced evacuations. Fourteen of the poorest provinces of the country are in Mindanao; of these six belong to the Bangsamoro area. Poverty incidence is highest in Mindanao at 41% (vs. 33% in the Visayas and only 16% in Luzon), but the highest incidence of close to 60% is in the ARMM. Here, poverty is increasing. The GDP growth rate in the NCR is 6.7% (vs. a national growth rate at 6.3%), but it is only 2.8% in ARMM. Decisions of political, economic, social, cultural relevance to Mindanao and ARMM are made in Manila – as the decisions for the Jabidah Massacre, the non-compliance with the Tripoli Agreements, the creation of the “failed” ARMM, Mamasapano, and now the BBL are made in Manila.
It is now time to entrust Filipino Muslims with self-governance and self-determination through a BBL that establishes a meaningful autonomy towards fulfilling the constitutional challenge to social justice. Where Manila has failed, let the Bangsamoro succeed. As Orlando Cardinal Quevedo of Cotabato has stated recently, all our lawmakers must now be peacemakers. “They can either ignore the painstaking achievement of 17 years of peacemaking by emasculating the BBL in such a way that the aspiration of self-determination becomes once more a hollow dream. Or they can strengthen the BBL, refining its letter and preserving its spirit, such that the issues of constitutionality, national sovereignty, territorial integrity, devolution of power, the nature of a regional autonomous region, the rights of Indigenous Peoples and Christian minorities, as well as peoples of other faiths, and other issues, are resolved.”
Time to come together in a national boodle for social justice – especially in Muslim Mindanao!