AS A MATTER OF FACT - Sara Soliven De Guzman (The Philippine Star) - February 18, 2019 - 12:00am

The people of Mindanao have spoken. The Bangsamoro Organic Law (BOL) has been ratified. Now it is a wait and see for us if the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) will work.

News last week reported that MILF commander in northwestern Mindanao Commander Bravo, whose real name is Abdullah Macapaar was quite frustrated with the results of the plebiscite in Lanao Del Norte. During the plebiscite, six towns voted for the law but Lanao del Norte prevented its inclusion in the BARMM. The people of Lanao del Norte are politically divided but Bravo said he will still support the rebel group’s efforts to achieve autonomy. According to MILF chair Murad Ebrahim, Bravo would “toe the line.” Whatever that means, we certainly hope that it will not be the start of another moro-moro (fight).

Anyway, the next phase in the establishment of the BARMM is the creation of the Bangsamoro Transition Authority (BTA) that will serve as the interim government in the Bangsamoro region until its first elections in 2022.

According to Ebrahim, who is expected to head the BTA as interim chief minister, the MILF has already submitted to President Duterte a list of 41 BTA nominees and will now wait for the president to appoint the rest of the 80-member body. He is also hoping for the 41 nominees to have the oath-taking this month to ensure that the MILF will have a sitting majority. By the way, among the nominees was Macapaar, who had vehemently denied the allegations of the Dimaporo clan in Lanao Del Norte that he was behind the bombings in three towns of the province on the eve of the February 6 plebiscite.

The fighting conditions in Mindanao should eventually stabilize with this move. The BARMM is expected to work as a solution not only amongst the moros but also in their relationship with the Christians. History should remind us how all these began. Wasn’t it the Spaniards who, in bringing Christianity to the country, offended the Muslims?

There is a story to tell about all these. How did it all begin? Why was a region separated due to a widening rift in culture, ethnic groupings and social structure?

Way back in 1929, my grandfather, Assemblyman Benito Soliven was sent in a fact-finding mission to Mindanao. He saw Moro tribes in Zamboanga and Basilan, the Japanese abaca farmers in Davao, American logging concessionaires and sawmill owners in Lanao and the cattle ranches and pineapple planters in Bukidnon.

After the trip, he delivered speeches on the future of Mindanao. In an article for the Philippine Financial Review in June 1929, he wrote that the big island should be populated by Filipino settlers as soon as possible. The place was falling into the hands of foreigners, chiefly by the Japanese and the Americans. In Davao alone, he said, of 121 agricultural corporations, 75 were Japanese, 22 Americans, 7 Chinese, and 1 German. Not a single one was Filipino.

Why was this so? Lack of roads, poor peace and order and no incentives for people to own land discouraged farmers from moving there. No wonder Mindanao could not be considered a “Promised Land.” Because of this, poor Filipinos seeking opportunities were heading for Hawaii where they faced racism and could not be protected by their government.

As a result of this trip, my grandfather sponsored a law that bestowed upon the University of the Philippines a land grant of thousands of hectares in Basilan in order that it may build an endowment fund and be insulated from political interference. Sadly, the university never managed to develop this huge tract of land and the dream of financial autonomy would totally disappear by the time the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) rebels forcibly occupied the property in the 1970s.

We lack an understanding of history including how the Americans clamped the islands and made it one without respecting the local folk. My friend Ayesha Merdeka who works in the Mindanao State University said, “We have a unique history as a nation. We have two peoples having very distinct historical experience, one who fought colonialism by any form and another who were subjugated then fought their colonizers for 333 years then the Americans put us together and said you are the Philippines. The Moros refuse to accept being Filipinos because they were never conquered and the Filipinos did not want to be Moros because these are the villains and monsters in all the moro-moros in fiestas and sermons in those 333 years. Yet, if only we see how unique that position is, of being able to embrace the history of the conquered with that of the unconquered and vice versa then we have a chance of becoming one nation under one flag.”

She continued by reminding me that, “The 1935 Dansalan Declaration had 140 datus of Lanao asserting the 1924 Zamboanga Declaration the distinction between the Philippine Nation and “Moroland” and these datus appealed to US Congress and the US President that the granting of independence ought to be separate and distinct as well even suggesting that independence for Moroland should be given when they are ready in a referendum.”

Of course that’s not what happened. The Bangsamoro Cause is not out for the destruction of the Philippine nation but rather it is freeing themselves from the last shackles of colonialism in our archipelago that lies mostly in the hearts and minds of all inhabitants of the Philippines. The BOL is based on FAB and CAB in which documents the Philippine government recognizes the Bangsamoro as the First Nation of the Philippines.

On that, separation is laid aside by the MILF and what BOL gives us all is to try to genuinely create a one Philippine nation finally. It is far from perfect and is a far cry from the negotiated points but it’s a start. BOL is still a beacon of peace and unity.

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