NASHIZA SPEAKS: Write to Liberate

A Moro woman writing: writing as creating a path to self-determination.

What I am about to tell is a very personal story. It is a map of my own journey complete with the gallery of faces and people I have met and parted ways with; the panorama of landscape and seascapes, places I have strayed and tarried about and lain as a fallen seed basking under a moonlit night and shivering cold after a thunderstorm; there, I noduled, rhizomed, rooted deep and, there, my nascent buds were mercilessly uprooted from. And the relationships I have forged and have broken in the course of time, some I vividly keep in memory, others happily and conveniently forgotten. It is a personal story that I look back to and carry forward with pride and confidence, and one that I would be as enthusiastic to relive and to re-tell to my children and grandchildren when that opportune time comes [and I am sure you would recognize your self in this story, too].

As I speak before you now I am smiling to myself. Oh, I do admit, as I write, there is always mist in the eyes, yet I wish to tell you something mystical behind the smile: how profoundly embedded the self is in writing, in unhurriedly writing about her people and homeland, especially when one is not pressed to do so for the sake of frivolous art or of rigorous science or of leisurely discourse. The fact is, one does not always write for academic or economic reasons. To paraphrase a feminist invitation to write our bodies, I say, yes, let’s write, and when we write, we do not only our bodies write, we also do our lives, and write our very souls, all at once spread-out on the sheet, on the table, on the slate, in virtual space, in one stake, in one stroke and, then let fluorescent, let rupture. And, cliche as this might go: we write with our own blood, sweat and tears. Yet we write not because we want to communicate as in communicating to be heard or to announce ourselves and to be visible. Neither do we always communicate for the need to be recognized nor want of our identities to be confirmed – especially, not in how identities have been so flagrantly capitalized and peddled nowadays: objectified, compartmentalized, totalized, hegemonized, all the while vying to be recognized, placated, fund-raised, integrated with and mainstreamed into, surrendering to the multitude to be tolerated and asserting uniqueness yet willing itself to be pluralized – until one no longer recognizes which identity one carries or belongs to.

Writing is a form of expression, expressing not only for communicating or voicing out a stand or aiming to be listened to, as propagandists would to prospective advocates who would resonate and rebound with a form of solidarity. Writing as expressing is also creating. We write to create to burn a path to freedom: we sketch out fresh narrative as our new way of taking stock of ourselves. We write with intention of writing for our own eyes to see; our voice for our own ears to hear. Nay, but mostly, as we would always discover, when we are in the middle of it all, it is nothing ‘new’, really. The familiarity of landscape, seascape and self-scape that we write, and the ease of how words and descriptions come to our aid to reconstruct almost forgotten memories, makes writing rather like a solemn ritual of reclaiming, or the eagerness of home-coming of a sea-farer arriving in familiar shores, the ‘kota’ [i.e. Hispanic-time walled city or fort] and the ‘parola’ [i.e.lighthouse] notwithstanding. Or, for Suluan Moro-speakers among us, it is that ‘udjuk’ [i.e. marker] or ‘tanduh’ [i.e.a vantage] that an itinerant traveler retraces and retrieves either of a grave or a monument planted there [written there!] by the forebears who came before us. Yet we write not to retrospect, to be nostalgic or to wallow forever lost in the past. We write to re-energize a voice that has always been there; that we have always known and owned in the first place. So this act of creating is actually an invigoration of our ‘pusaka’ – ancestral resources – an incarnation of historical heritage. So that as we continue writing and reading of what we have written, we are perpetually generating energies from the re-enactment and re-interpretation of that past to fuel our journey further unto the shores of the present and the future. And for as long as we do so, we are self-determining. We are free.

Writing as creating is flight to freedom. And it is a kind of ‘fleeing to the side-doors’ because our flight to freedom is not always a headlong confrontation with the oppressor and not necessarily a demand to be recognized, to be listened to and to be included in their agenda. Our flight to freedom is flight from the straight-jacket of dominant themes, too. It is a freedom to use our power to refuse. A power to silence the master narratives that have arrogantly written us out — deleting our very agency and muting our participation in the making of our story, as thou it has always been there. History naturally writing itself even without us? We flee away from attempts to maladize our political questions and legitimate issues; we flee from diagnoses that look us up and declare us a ‘trouble’ or a ‘problem’ and regard us as a form of criminality to be penalized, a social anomaly terrorizing their civilized society that must be expunged out, bombed and banished into smithereens. We flee away from political doctors with ready-made prescriptions, we flee from suspicious solutions that propose to resolve our long-aching issues garbed in grand ‘communication plans’ purporting to carry out our consensus and speaking up for us. Alas, these are resolutions to their ‘problem’ seen from their eyes! Our writing to create our story is to reclaim the self-determination precisely to tell our story, from our vantage, from our ground. That makes this biographic writing political. Because in telling our story we write with power. But before we launch into that first stroke, a word of caution: since we write because we know, and having that potent knowledge at our disposal, it necessitates our careful handling of this power. Creating a path to freedom and creating-and-utilizing knowledge is dialectical. We struggle armed with knowledge to maneouvre and negotiate our terms into the power-play. At the same time we parry with knowledge that is spun up and worked out to subdue and subjugate us. As soon as we have recognized the ‘right’ knowledge, we reclaim and own it as our tool to work to our utmost advantage to seize the stage to put us back into our centeredness. And, lest we forget, writing to be a form of creating must start and stop with a transformed self. Every line, every page we write bears indelible markings of our own personal struggles, our process of transformation in the journey, a journey that – whether we like it or not – we are always co-creating with similar others who are also writing themselves. For that is the price for this freely expressing and claiming freedom; that, having known ours, we also are made aware of other’s freedom that is our responsibility. Writing is contemplative. Writing is power in silence, a potent quietude. In writing, the political is indeed personal, and personal is spiritual. To be political is then to be spiritual. And so, if courage and the spirit don’t desert me, this is how I wish to write and tell you about the story of Mindanao and Sulu and the 42-year old war.

Mucha Q. Arquiza, writing in Yogyakarta.

18 March 2010

NASHIZA SPEAKS: Bangsa babai, Babai sin bangsa

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NASHIZA SPEAKS: Mad scientist

Mad Scientist

Surah Al Qalam (The Pen)

In the name of Allah, Most Gracious, Most Merciful

NUN. By the pen and by the Record which (men) write

Thou art not, by the grace of thy Lord, mad or possessed.

Nay, verily for thee is a reward unfailing.

And thou  (standest) on an exalted standard of character.

Soon will thou see and they will see

Which of you is afflicted with madness.

-from: The meaning of the Glorious Qur’an S. LXVIII: 1-6 (Translated by Abdullah Yusuf Ali)-

Mad is what people usually call one whose standards are different from their own.

Sayantis dupang or mad scientist. This is what my (Sama) people would call s/he who digresses from the norm, like an educated who does not listen to the lure of petro-dollar and the States, instead chooses the road less traveled and work in the slums or the provinces. My folk called me Sayantis dupang when I decided to quit techie-course in Chemistry and majored in street-education. But the sayantis dupang is precisely what the verse above is addressing itself to. The mad scientist and his project of educating the ignorant, was the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) himself. This verse, being one of the early Meccan surahs, was revealed at a time when the Prophet of Islam was most unpopular and detested by the powers-that- be and attacked by the mainstream thinkers – including those from his own Qurayish clan – whose status of power and control drew strength from peoples’ blind obedience and ignorance. Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) talked about the oneness of God, raised the dignity of the oppressed and  taught of equality and social justice. He was branded a madman. Why, the madman dignified the slaves (i.e. he appointed a Bilal ‘one who calls to prayer’ from amongst the black Afrikaan slaves)! He gave equal status to men and women when he endorsed the Ummu’l Kitab – Mother of the Books – of what is believed to be the original manuscript of the Holy Qur’an, to Ummu Salama, one of his widowed wives, a significant gesture and symbol of what is to be the role of Muslim women and mothers, and how they should be known in history — in an ideal society, that is — as educators and formators of the young! Such was unthinkable, even anarchic or ‘terroristic’ (to borrow the more contemporary term), in that era of the empires and slave-hoarders, when female offsprings were buried alive. But the sayantis dupang won’t be contented ‘to practice’ within the comfort zones

Nashiza Speaks: On Anger

From Imam Ghazali’s book “Ihyaa Uloom ad Deen”
Know, O dear readers, that the medecine of a disease is to remove the root cause of that disease. Isa (Jesus Christ) -peace be upon him- was once asked: “What thing is difficult?” He said: “God’s wrath.” Prophet Yahya (John the Baptist) -peace be upon him- then asked: “What thing takes near the wrath of God?” He said:”Anger”. Yahya – peace be upon him- asked him:”What thing grows and increases anger?” Isa -peace be upon him- said:”Pride, prestige, hope for honour and haughtiness”

The causes which cause anger to grow are self-conceit, self-praise, jests and ridicule, argument, treachery, too much greed for too much wealth and name and fame. If these evils are united in a person, his conduct becomes bad and he cannot escape anger.

So these things should be removed by their opposites. Self-praise is to be removed by modesty. Pride is to be removed by one’s own origin and birth, greed is to be removed by remaining satisfied with necessary things, and miserliness by charity.

The prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said: “A strong man is not he who defeats his adversary by wrestling, but a strong man is he who controls himself at the time of anger.”

We are describing below the medecines of anger after one gets angry. The medecine is a mixture of knowledge and action. The medecine based on knowledge is of six kinds:

(1) The first medecine of knowledge is to think over the rewards of appeasing anger, that have come from the verses of the Quran and the sayings of the Prophet (pbuh). Your hope for getting rewards of appeasing anger will restrain you from taking revenge.

(2) The second kind of medecine based on knowledge is to fear the punishment of God and to think that the punishment of God upon me is greater than my punishment upon him. If I take revenge upon this man for anger, God will take revenge upon me on the Judgement Day.

(3) The third kind of medecine of anger based on knowledge is to take precaution about punishment of enemity and revenge on himself. You feel joy in having your enemy in your presence in his sorrows, You yourself are not free from that danger. You will fear that your enemy might take revenge against you in this world and in the next.

(4) Another kind of medecine based on knowledge is to think about the ugly  face of the angry man, which is just like that of the ferocious beast. He who appeases anger looks like a sober and learned man.

(5) The fifth kind of medecine based on knowledgeis to think that the devil will advise by saying: ” You will be weak if you do not get angry!” Do not listen to him!

(6) The sixth reason is to think: ” What reason have I got to get angry? What Allah wishes has occured!”

Medicine based on action

When you get angry, say: I seek refuge in God from the accursed evil (A’oudhou billaahi min as shaytaan ir rajeem). The prophet (pbuh) ordered us to say thus.

When Ayesha (RA) got angry, he dragged her by the nose and said: ” O dear Ayesha, say: O God, you are the Lord of my prophet Muhammad, forgive my sins and remove the anger from my heart and save me from misguidance.”

If anger does not go by this means, you will sit down if you are standing, lie down if you are sitting, and come near to earth, as you have been created of earth. Thus make yourself calm like the earth. The cause of wrath is heat and its opposite is to lie down on the ground and to make the body calm and cool.

The prophet (pbuh) said: Anger is a burning coal. Don’t you see your eyebrows wide and eyes reddish? So when one of you feels angry, let him sit down if standing, and lie down if sitting.

If still anger does not stop, make ablution with cold water or take a bath, as fire cannot be extinguished without water.

The prophet (pbuh) said : ” When one of you gets angry, let him make ablution with water as anger arises out of fire.” In another narration, he said:” Anger comes from the devil and the devil is made of fire.”

Hazrat Ali (RA) said:
The prophet did not get angry for any action of the world. When any true matter charmed him, nobody knew it and nobody got up to take revenge for his anger. HE GOT ANGRY ONLY FOR TRUTH.

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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.

NASHIZA SPEAKS: In spirit and in the flesh

Revisiting Darapanan

On June 10, 2009 at 2:00PM I was at the heart of MILF camp in Darapanan, Parang, Maguindanao in southern Philippines. Face to face with Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) luminaries, Dr. Mohager Iqbal, Datu Michael Mastura, Datu Jun Mantawil, a top-rank MILF secretary, a young technical assistant, and a couple of elderly mujahideen whose names I missed to catch, it was the second time [the first time being in 1986] and would probably be the last that I’d get the opportunity to be that breathing distance to the MILF leaders. Alhamdulillah! All praises be to God! The sleepy village of Darapanan has not changed much in the last 23 years, except for the civilian houses that have became more sparse now and the nipa palm thatches and woven bamboo sawali  of the old ‘activity center’ having given way to the concrete walls and galvanized iron roof. The muddy fields and parade grounds were now replaced by patches of cemented driveway and manicured lawn leading to the complex, housing the offices and quarters of the MILF and the Bangsamoro Development Agency (BDA). An airconditioning unit in the meeting room, turned off for that afternoon, was an indication that electrification has already reached the community. Indeed, development has crept into this once bombs oft-targeted village, now boasting of Japanese-style flush toilet facilities and generously flowing tap from the faucets. The sprawling cultivated lands surrounding the camp also bespoke of some lull in war and military activities. The growing crops and fruiting trees were signs that there had been no major evacuations so far, at least in this area.

I first came to Darapanan in 1986, tugging among journalist-friends in now defunct Media Mindanao News Service (MMNS), a greenhorn writer freshly dropped-out from the State University engineering school. I was to be teetered for the next three years as volunteer stringer with alternative people’s press based in Lanao, the Moro Kurrier, then ran on a shoe-string resource by the Moro People’s Resource Center. Lovingly pasted in my album now is a faded picture taken that fateful day, of myself in a purple loose wrap-around pants, kantiyu, and a white banggala minulu. I had inherited the virginal cotton eyelette banggala traditional fitted blouse from a professor friend, her wedding dress, I was told. I had always been ‘proudly Mora’, as my colleague, Jack, would nudge and tease me then, with my kumbung traditionally worn, the head-scarf wound twice around my face then running down the back of my head to gather my long hair knotted in a bun, and then crossed over on top of my head, the shawl’s loose ends trailed down to cover the neck and nape the way the Maguindanon women at the Super in downtown Cotabato would have donned. In that photo, 23 years younger, I was holding a microphone powered by a car-battery and speaking before the gagandilan of MILF, the mighty tandem of Hadji Murad Ebrahim and Ustadz Ghazzali Jaapar. Though I don’t remember now the questions I had asked, if it were stupid and silly then, I knew, I wouldn’t have been half as embarrassed now as I stood there this second time, painfully self-conscious, debating if I were perceived to be a friend or a foe by my hosts.

I had to quickly change from what I had previously worn to the morning forum that day at Notre Dame University where I earlier sat around with some twenty or so academicians from Mindanao and Manila, belonging to a network of universities for Peace and Development in Mindanao who were there to discuss options for ‘Reframing the GRP-MILF Peacetalks’. The forum was organized by University of the Philippines (UP) Law center. Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) spokesperson Atty. Randolf Parcasio and University of the Philippines (UP) Islamic School Dean Prof. Mashur Jundam shared their insights on principles and practices in Bangsamoro governance and I was batting for civil society participation and constituency-responsive governance, invoking lessons from the old practices of people in Sulu islands, of pagpanglima and pag-botang matto’a (‘Council of Elders’ among the Sama and pag-tau-maas, among Tausug); of multistakeholders’ participation through the process of pagbissala or miswarat (i.e. process of people’s consultation, from Arabic, shura) and of institutionalizing the concept of raayat as conscienticized and organized masses into civil society. This, I concluded, were our indigenous ways of building the pamarinta a’dil or just and equitable governance.

The earth-toned lace Suluan sablay-inspired blouse I wore was with biased sleeves flaring wide to the wrist. It used to cover upto an inch above my knee then, but now, 15 years and three children later, I had out-grown the beloved dress. Paired with a tube-like cloth that indigenous women wear wrapped around their waist called holos,  palikat, or kantiyu, to uncritical eyes, it had always passed for a real sablay, our traditional loose blouse, to the satisfaction of colleagues in Manila who would always add, on second thoughts, a note in their invitations to ‘please bring your native attire’, short of saying ‘come in your autochtonous costumes’.  And so I had to sink, spirit and flesh, into a loose and long cheap cotton piece fetched from a poor-man’s pasar in a trip to Indonesia. Its sleeves that reached to my wrist gave me confidence as much as I needed, being aware of the dress-code and wanting to show my courtesy to the gagandilan, the courageous gentlemen, at least by coming properly dressed for the occasion. I knew, for most middle class Muslim Moro women today, a Pakistani shawwal khammis or an Arabian abaya or a loose gleaming one-piece dress that educated and sleek women in Malaysia wore, with the turong, tarha or hijab (i.e. variations of head-scarf), would have been considered the perfect choice of ‘Islamic female attire’, although not many of them would have guessed that even Coptic Christians in the Middle East in Saudi or the Arab emirates would also go about wearing the abaya in the malls and offices, and that young Arab women who fully covered their faces and bodies in those gauzy black gowns actually wore signature dresses with frills and sometimes from their stilleto-hilled open-toed shoes and step-ins peeped their lacquer-tipped and manicured red toes. I wouldn’t know for sure of the Pakistani ladies in shawwal khammis, as I have not been to that part of South Asia, although I’ve met, in some international events, two or three distinguished Muslim women of Indian and of Indo-Malayu descents, steeped in both secular and Islamic scholarship, fluent in both tajwid and tafsir of the Qur’an and confident in their knowledge of Islamic fiqh (jurisprudence) who hadn’t lessened in their scholarship and religiosity traipsing in traditional Indian sharee.  Had I the choice, though, the street-smart Malaysian long silk dresses with matching flower-embroidered mini-telekung would have been my best bet for the occasion. But by decree of poverty, unfortunately, I and the rest of my class had no such privilege to choose among the shawwal khammis, abaya or silky Malaysian gown and so, for us, the Indonesian ukay-ukay hand-down pieces would suffice. And besides, the martabbat of the Mora, proud of her culture and ‘folks-kind-of-Islam’, still rankled and hurt.

The roundtable lasted for about three hours and in all those period, sipping lukewarm coffee – that, by the way, reminded me of a cheerful attendant in a kadday  in Jolo [Sulu] crossing who would have politely asked what to serve ‘kahawa sug atawa kahawa Nescafe?’, ‘native brew or nescafe?’ seeming to anticipate that even our palate would have gone astray in all these wars and dislocations – paired with the Maguindanun version of our own ja, baulu, apam and patulakan , propelled by kindly elderly MILF comrades who I surmised must have been one of the proud young combatants in full battle regalia, robust then in their early or mid-twenties, who had marched in the muddy parade grounds the first time I came to Darapanan in the eighties. I did not properly savor the taste of the indigenous muffins and pastries though, which was rather unfortunate, as I was deeply and desperately praying to Allah to increase my wisdom, loosen my tongue and touch my heart to speak what ought to be the message I should deliver or question to ask had any ordinary Muslim or indigenous person in Mindanao had that rare chance I had.

And Allah Subhanahu wa Taala spoke to my heart. The message was a simple plea that I usually would not have trouble articulating in other forums and in many times I have issued in my writing. Yet my tongue was knotted and my breathing labored that instance. Only Allah knows. And so I went back to my hotel that night, a little euphoric but hurt and disappointed with my self for having wasted that opportunity. Yet, putting my fate in the thought that Allah knows best, I kept reminding myself that there are indeed things that seemed appealing to us but are better denied us for the time being, by Divine wisdom.

As it had been an academic event, of course, this kind of things should ordinarily have ended and faded as soon as the forum closed. But curiously the emptiness and restlessness lingered on and it was the same tortuous psychic battle I would always be going through each time I am confronted by situations that bring me back to scanning the past forty years of my life that I have become aware of my identity and of why people struggle to be freed, and having committed myself, spent twenty seven years defending rights, helping educate my people and organizing my community to make this dream of a ‘free homeland, race and faith’, a reality. All wasted time? And, then, this short three hours that I thought would have made a difference had I uttered the ‘message’ but instead let pass away. A wasted chance? …the palakaya and the tundan — the bigger boat and the smaller one being towed; this dialectic of the Bangsamoro struggle and my own personal quest for answers in that I shall call ‘my journey into my faith’ are synchronous, sometimes converging, at times seeming off-tangent, and each time coming back into a full circle, starting all over from this point zero again, or lingering on even higher plains. Resigned, I cried into the night until the early morning, feeble attempts at washing away bitterness and remorse, I knew. Then the adhan of subuh crackled in the distance, jamming the monotony of the soft pitter-patter of monsoon rain and the metallic humming of the unconditioned air-conditioner of that hotel. Why did Allah begrudge me that little moment? Only He knows, of course. And it was for some good reason, as He would let me find out later, else I would not have been able to speak-out as eloquently as I do now.