NASHIZA SPEAKS: In spirit and in the flesh (Part2)

MILF and the Bangsamoro Development Authority

“ The Moro liberation movements’ leadership capacity and the sincerity of its claims as vanguard forces to bring about social justice and effect substantive changes in the lives of the Bangsamoro masses, i.e. ummah, is always questioned and doubted by every quarter in every forums I have witnessed. Academic and critics always look back at the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) and its attending massive graft and corruption as evidence of failed governance. Sadly, the MILF’s quick-fix of a Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain (MOA-AD), considered by many as penultimate display of political arrogance and disregard by Moro liberation fronts’ for ‘public’ or ‘civilian’ participation, served some kind of a confirmatory test. By public, they mean to say and include those of us who are in the minority ethnic and religious communities even within the Bangsamoro society. ‘Civilians’, too, would be those affluent members of society, the middle class and intelligentias, that are not privileged enough to get into the front-seat of political space and both educational and media resources opened and made available on the wake of the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP)- Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) peace agreements of 1996.

“By ‘civilian’, let me add and invoke then the masses who are stuck and buried deeper into the quagmire of poverty; the displaced and landless uprooted from their homes, farms and dispersed communities, detached from familiar symbols and losing significant meanings that defined their lives. Civilians live and pass away everyday in indignity, having nothing but their extant culture and memories of by-gone tradition to hold on to, civilians, too, are those indigenous communities unprivileged to be ‘Muslims’ and ‘Bangsamoro’, whose rights the liberation movements purport to fight for. With but faith as the only pride left as reasons to live, and they live to survive yet another round of war and dislocation. This is the price they pay for keeping vigil, striving to ‘hold on to the rope’ and patiently waiting the dawn-break after having been inspired by the leaders and commanders in the liberation fronts whom they have put their trusts into and, in turn, kindled their passion and awakened their hopes till they burst into conflagration.

“ Today, the Bangsamoro struggle has reached another juncture [where expected is discontinuity in history], nay, a pause or slackening, where we are supposedly to have reached a post-conflict Mindanao state. And the ‘civilians’ find themselves out in the cold again, seemingly forgotten by their leaders; these silent majority whose songs, dances, traditional arts, culture and ways of devotion to Allah were obliterated by war and conflict.

“The MILF and MNLF have come out into the open to negotiate for peace on behalf of the people in Mindanao, Sulu and Palwan islands in the south of Philippine archipelago. The MILF — as the MNLF had been in1996 — is challenged to make good its promise of restoring justice and rebuilding a society free from the evils of the past. The peace that they must build is not only for the families of the leaders and commanders of mujahideen as the MNLF had managed to do in the short period it had partaken of the bitter fruits of the 1996 Peace agreement before the ARMM and the promises of RA 9054 were hijacked and delivered back to the hands of the traditional Moro political elites and economic oligarchs. Could the MILF do it differently this time? Would the MILF have the political will and moral ascendancy to eradicate the ruling elite in the Moro society that threatens to subvert the ideals of the Bangsamoro Juridical Entity (BJE) and the Islamic nation it wants to establish?

“In many and most forums I have always risen in defense of the Bangsamoro liberation movements. But in this particular occasion, I knew I had to stand among ‘outsiders’ to question and demand for the MILF’s obligation of showing better efforts to perform its moral stewardship to the Bangsamoro people, not only to right the wrong impressions of its lack of transparency and neglect to bring the voice of the people into the MOA-AD processes, but more importantly, it must rise to the occasion and show strong leadership to defend the rights and give justice to Bangsamoro masses in crucial moments such as resisting economic adventurisms and exploits of foreign and local economic vested interests, grabbing lands and aggressively exploiting the riches of Mindanao, in the name of development.

“The MILF must not remain deaf, blind and mute, and must register its strongest possible opposition where there are rampant corruptions and unhampered greed among traditional Moro politicians who have been making raucous carnivals out of legitimate political exercises such as in election times, deceiving and exploiting the Moro people’s poverty and ignorance. Its justification is flimsy and unacceptable in merely saying that MILF would have to ‘just wait and see’ as it claims to have no business over a national Philippine electoral process because the MILF exists not for the sole purpose of fighting its political adversary, the national government. If it purports to defend the rights of the Bangsamoro people and is the guardian of right and truth in the Moro homeland then it must take itself to task in fighting oppressions and exploitations in all forms.

“Most of all, MILF must act with strong convictions to denounce the evils of spreading militarist terror and mass intimidation perpetuated by those who claim to be Muslims but are denigrating the name of Islam. MILF’s silence or lack-luster action would be tantamount to unwilling conscription or condonation that legitimizes pseudo-religious saboteurs, militarist-extremists and bigots who use Islam and deliberately distort the Qur’anic teachings in justifying their kidnapping and extortion sprees. It must publicly censure or even mobilize its own justice system to run after criminals and terrorists, if MILF is to be truly the vicegerent of Allah’s justice and compassion in the Bangsamoro soil.

“This inadequacy of MILF leadership became even more apparent, according to critics, especially when the MOA-AD issue exploded and caught everyone by surprise. True, even those of us working among civilian communities on the ground, at first we failed to fathom and took us some time to take a position for or against the MOA-AD. Yet before the dust of the stampede cleared, we had to stand for and rally our support for the MOA-AD and the full consummation of the GRP-MILF peace processes, for the moment, setting aside our tampo [tantrums] over the MILF ‘neglect and inadequacies’. For the shameless arrogance of the Philippine government, the renewed chauvinism of Christian majority and greed for power of elite leaders, both Muslims and Christians, that subsequently resurfaced and rode on all sorts of anti-Moro campaigns in the media, there was no other way to go but to ‘hold unto the rope’ even firmer.

“ In the face of all its deficiencies, the MILF can still consider itself luckier than the MNLF has been. Its bastions of political power and strategic military presence remaining intact, such as this Camp Darapanan, and not yet eroded in its morale, it can still be confident to project itself as a political movement. Yet its claims of Islamic leadership is wanting in material substance and lacking in concrete practice, when it comes to responding to social crisis of Mindanao-wide in magnitude and in championing the cause of the vulnerable and oppressed, Muslims and non-Muslims alike. For most occasion when it is called for, MILF Islamic leadership has been weak and insufficient. Un-manifested in real experience and intangible in the face of actual adversities, it would be almost surreal and merely imagined to speak of its authority and leadership as Muslim vanguards for social change. Without translating to concrete programs for institutional reforms and to being active agency of action for changing an unjust and inequitable social order, its ideological bases sadly ring hollow as mere rhetorical claims of abstract Islamism.

“ Beyond the MOA-AD, and even beyond the peace processes, it is imperative that MILF articulate and popularize its comprehensive strategic program of socio-political and economic reforms and socio-cultural transformation it wants in the long-term. Its guidance is necessary to inform the constituents in their day-to-day peace and rights advocacies. Failing to entrench the foundation of its ideology among the people and civil society, just like the MNLF, if it is not cautious, MILF would gradually metamorphose from revolutionaries to revisionists, in being contented in just getting its programs piece-by-piece, small project-by-small project swallowed into national government development framework and whose sustainability parasitically dependent on international donor communities’ support.

“The MILF is privileged to play within the legal ambits of parliamentary struggle and participate in peace and development initiatives through its open and legal civil society organizations like the BDA, yet still remaining solid as a political movement. This is, in no small measure, thanks to the elder brother that went to the slaughter-house first. To its credit, MNLF, have helped pave the way and built the Bangsamoro peace constituency and legitimized civil society participation in both the mainstream and alternative Moro governance when it decided to go above ground by signing the 1996 Peace agreement. Did not the Maas, Professor Nur Misuari, misty-eyed and lumps-in-throat, say that the 1996 Peace Agreement was like “hot rod rammed into our throats” yet one we had to swallow if only to hold true to the Islamic injunction in being sincere in our oaths for peace and keeping the covenants we made? Did he not, later, frustrated by the lack of sincerity on the part of government, unilaterally denounce the R.A. 9054 and, for that, languished in incarceration? Such heroism must not go to waste, but be an important lesson to the generations to come.

“ One of the concrete results of the MILF and Philippine government peace process has been the creation of the Bangsamoro Development Agency (BDA). Now BDA has proven itself to be a major player in peace and development efforts as part of Bangsamoro civil society, albeit it being a creation of quasi-government and a revolutionary (i.e. MILF) mechanism to implement the salient agreements of the GRP-MILF on Humanitarian Relief and Rehabilitation. I believe the BDA is a good vehicle for MILF to show to the ‘public’ and civilians that sincerity asked of the MILF.  If the BDA could indeed be its appropriate patikim (appetizer) of Bangsamoro development and how governance would be like in the BJE, as what the humble Executive Director, Dr. Juanday, candidly declared among friendly academic and CSO audience in its recent road-show for ‘Bridging and Communicating the BDA’ in Zamboanga City. Or, that the rehabilitation and reconstruction projects be the kind of changes and ‘dividends of peace’ we would have reaped and enjoyed for ten years had the MOA-AD been consummated and given chance, according to the kindly BDA Chairman, Dr Abbas Candao in sharing his MOA-AD post mortem among Muslim Bridging Leaders fellow cohorts; then, I would be first to compliment and eagerly broach that the BDA should make good this promise to be at the forefront of such reconstruction and rehabilitation not only of the Conflict Affected Areas (CAA) of its own [MILF] definition, but to include the entire wartorn Mindanao, and that it should not waive-out Sulu and Tawitawi as part of its CAA coverage so that the doubtful, the cynics and doomsday soot-sayers would be proven wrong that MILF would do another MNLF of giving peace and justice only to Maguindanon Moros, or even worse, exclusive to MILF commanders and their families.

“ In the meantime that it draws its mandate from the first in the three-point agreement of the GRP-MILF talks, of course, BDA would be bound by the frameworks and parameters of where donors would wish to put in their money. That is, just to do humanitarian works and minor “rehabilitation” and “reconstruction” apparently meant as building token physical structures like getting a little bit of samples of wartorn communities’ having access to potable water, sanitation and minor road improvements; where, again looking back at RA 9054 and MNLF’s hands being held up, and only made to draw out lots blindly from the donors’ basket of goodies, the MNLF was not as lucky. Instead of infra projects, like training centers, water tanks, toilets and school-rooms – micro and few that they might be but are nonetheless concrete boosters for the MILF track-record that BDA now proves and publicly announces in the media as the hand of “Bangsamoro development” — unluckily, for the MNLF, the donor baskets in 1996 contained only animal-dispersals projects for hungry evacuees squatting in ‘core shelter’ highway makeshifts; seeds and farm-tools where neither farms nor farmers exist; post-harvest facilities where farms had been declared a ‘no-man’s land’; bakery-for-cassava-eating-islanders; bleaching-soap-making-for-sunbaked-peasant-women and those sort of unsustainable and piece-meal development stuff, which were meant more as ‘appeasement’ to the commanders and their wives rather than for sustaining peace for entire communities. Again, the MILF has to thank the MNLF, for this hindsight of a community-driven, more responsive development framework that BDA obviously learned lessons from and is now reaping success stories.

“After the failed signing of MOA-AD in August of 2008 and the almost collapse of peacetalks, BDA is now experiencing a shaky legal mandate. Subhanallah! Seen in another light, this could in fact be a blessing! What could be more proper time of respite to pause, reflect and re-examine BDA’s role in helping achieve the Bangsamoro dreams and aspiration than now? Once its continuance is rationalized and assured, BDA should gather all strategic stakeholders among the peoples of Mindanao and collectively design and plan its program continuity. Let that occasion be a big Mindanao event, if and when resources so allow, be a consultative process conducted by region or even down to the smallest geographic units possible and participated in by the tiers and strands of stakeholders from the various sectors among all peoples of Mindanao, in much the same manner that National Government had spent time and resources in making itself felt and trickle down in all sectors and local geographic units when it designed the poverty-reduction and sustainability program (PRSP) under the National Anti-poverty Commission (NAPC). Let that occasion be a celebration of peoples’ voice, an exemplar to show to the critics, cynics and skeptics that the BDA and the MILF is sincere about consulting the people and in making its programs constituency-responsive.

“And even as the BDA continuity program is about to be mulled and still in the drawing board, let me advance this suggestion that BDA, for this time around, should put its feet firmly and send a message strong in a clear policy statement to the National Economic Development Authority (NEDA) and partner bilateral donor communities, most especially to the World Bank, that genuine peace and justice for the Bangsamoro and the people in Mindanao can not be achieved through piece-meal solutions, in token developments nor projects of appeasement. While awaiting the trip to peace through the long and winding road of formal peace negotiations to resume, BDA can start-up as advance party by inviting the international donors, in the meantime, to invest in re-building the Bangsamoro dignity and re-claiming their identity. If donors are willing to invest on a water or sanitation project worth from 300,000-500,000 pesos a-piece, then why not invest this amount in helping one indigenous community or a subsistent landless farmers’ village gain back their lands or a coastal and fishing community to refurbish their productivity in an environmental resource management project? Through the Indigenous People’s Rights Act (IPRA), BDA can assist by providing the much needed collateral or counterpart asked of peoples’ organizations (IP-PO) or tribal council of leaders (TCOL) to process and get their Certificate of Ancestral Land Titles (CADT) from the National Commission on Indigenous People (NCIP), and BDA could immediate follow-up with capacity-building projects for drawing and implementing the Ancestral Domain Sustainable Development Plan (ADSDPP) even before the titles are awarded. This should be done to the littlest of Bangsamoro Muslim and tribal highland and indigenous riverine communities in both the ARMM region and the rest of the CAAs.

“Knowing that land usurpation and disenfranchisement has been the root cause of the more than 40 years war, MILF through its influence on the BDA should invest on a long term program for resolving the land tenure problem in Mindanao, starting with simple projects such as buying lands from absentee landlords. As part of its social transformation program, MILF and BDA could even encourage its top commanders, executive chiefs and allies who are land-lords and owning vast tracks of lands to demonstrate by examples and be first to volunteer in implementing the Islamic way of land reform by offering their lands to the landless displaced communities as waqaf.  In partnerships with civil society, BDA could start-off institutionalizing the baital-ma’l or people’s treasury and systematizing zakat-collection and redistributing wealth in support of alternative livelihood and income generating projects of the poor and under-privileged. This economic rehabilitation and reconstruction program could also facilitate Muslim businessmen and wealthy entrepreneurs to deposit percents of their incomes and donate parts of their farm harvests to rebuild devastated communities and provide livelihood to displaced families.

“What BDA would have built in terms of number of water tanks, toilets and training facilities amounting to millions but that would have been smothered into smithereens anyway by a single bomb in an event of a Philippine military operation, could be translated, multiplied and sustained into a number of empowered communities of subsistent peasants and fisher-folk and homeless and displaced indigenous communities owning their lands and having control over their resources and regaining their sources of livelihood, rising up from poverty and reclaiming their dignity. These are the rehabilitation and reconstruction we would wish to see in the conflict affected communities”

So there, having the chance, or almost, at hearing and touching distance with the MILF chiefs in flesh, I would have said things that Nashiza did. I would have wanted to suggest what the MILF and BDA should hear. Astagfirullah! Yet, the physical and psychological agony of tongue-tied bewilderment under the hikmat of the forefathers of Bangsamoro revolution, there, revisiting Darapanan with me that afternoon, their presences, in spirit, strong and reverberating energies that were just much too over-powering for me. For now, I rest my case, meanwhile contented with this ’argument-under-the-stairs’ as a post-script. Wassalamu alaikum warahmatullah wa barakat.

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About Mucha Q. Arquiza
Supports the preservation and promotion of indigenous knowledge systems

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