By Robert Muhammed Maulana M. Alonto
MILF Peace Negotiating Panel
(Speech delivered during the Annual International Conference of the Philippine Political Science Association (PPSA) hosted by Xavier University at Cagayan de Oro City, April 12-14)
I belong to a generation that is said to have rapidly grown to maturity in a period marked by an exploding political and social turmoil. To borrow the words of Charles Dickens in his classical novel, “A Tale of Two Cities”, that period was “…the best of times and the worst of times”.
It was the ‘60s and pre-martial law ’70. The music of ‘The Beatles’, the ‘Bee Gees’ and ‘Peter, Paul and Mary’ melded with the sounds of street bullhorns and fiery revolutionary slogans emitted by angry voices from the marching crowd of rowdy youthful student demonstrators in their unwashed blue denims chanting defiance and clenching their raised fists at the Establishment. Sounds that also echoed the bursts of gunfire and teargas explosions fired from the phalanx of state security forces out to disperse protestant mass actions and eradicate any form of dissent.
It was a period of rebellion by young activists against a decrepit dog-eat-dog society; a society devoid of morality and conscience whose long-entrenched socials ills had already metamorphosed into a ‘cancer’ exacerbated by the rapacity of a ruling elite oblivious of the ‘unwashed’ hoi polloi consigned to abject silence and helpless resignation while wallowing in the midst of appalling poverty and a hand-to-mouth monotonous life of unmitigated despair on account of hopelessness. It was a period of the coming confrontation between an infant revolution, on one hand, that was born on the streets and campuses – or so we thought then - but had almost withered away when the going was at its toughest, and a reactionary state, on the other, that was well on its way to installing a dictatorship while a so-called dominant middle class - smugly complacent and comfortable in its position of apathy – remained fixated on the bourgeois illusion to reach that rarified atmosphere of wealth, fame, pomp, grandeur and obscene extravagance exclusive only to the elites ensconced in their ivory towers.
It was in this milieu that our rebellious generation was ‘born’ into; a milieu that inevitably many among us would never see its end because they eventually either fell in one battle or another in the mountains of Mindanao and Sulu or had disappeared in the night never to be seen again. But it was also in this tumultuous milieu whereupon our defiant and rebellious generation earned for itself that nomenclature ‘The First Quarter Storm Generation’.
Belonging to the ‘First Quarter Storm Generation’, as my old friends from the North would invariably aver, confers on this generation that privilege and right to partake of the jubilation accompanying the commemorative celebration of that ‘historic moment’ in 1986 when the Dictatorship, which we all fought against in the streets and, our case, in the jungles of Mindanao in the days of our rebellious youth, finally met its ignominious end. So when by chance in February of this current year (2012) I met these old friends from the North, or what remained of them, sporting the now customary yellow ribbon that has become the symbol of the so-called People Power Revolution in 1986, I was asked why I did not wear one as the occasion of the commemoration of that ‘historic event’ requires, as if it were a coveted badge of honor. “Aren’t you a Moro of the ‘First Quarter Storm Generation’?” so went the friendly but, to me, provocative query.
For old times’ sake, I did not respond to my friends’ incredulous nagging question. Had I told them that I do not belong to what they call the 1986 EDSA People Power Revolution, they would not have understood. They would never have accepted any reason that explains why to a Moro Muslim like me, the commemoration at EDSA does not hold any meaning or import.
But friends are friends whatever the differences may be. I owed them an answer – an answer coming from the recesses of the heart.
And so here it is:
The school of revolution and struggle (jihaad) is the best university that a man can enroll in. Here, there is no graduation, no Ph.D. Learning is constant and ‘infinite’ until one finally joins his Creator. Here, one learns the truism that injustice flourishes like the perennial wild weed because it is watered by the silence and indifference of people. Martin Luther King, Jr. of the American civil rights movement once said: "In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends."
In retrospect, for more than a decade the Marcos dictatorship slaughtered the Bangsamoro people. This was met by silence from the people of the Filipino North. This ‘ethnic cleansing’ went on with intense ferocity and methodical brutality until the Dictatorship turned on the 'silent people' themselves and murdered Ninoy Aquino. Then and only then that that 'silence' morphed into anger that culminated in what they now call and commemorate as the EDSA Revolution. More than a million people, nay millions of people, surged out into the streets of Manila to kick out a despicable dictator in February 1986.
But in 1970, which was the Ilaga depredations in Mindanao, and up till the entire duration of martial law, more than one million Muslim Moros were uprooted from their homes, over 500,000 had to flee to Sabah (Malaysia), and over 200,000 were killed.
Yet, not even a handful, a hundred, a thousand, a hundred thousand, let alone a million, marched in the streets of Manila to decry the mass slaughter that was going on in Mindanao and Sulu. There were no yellow ribbons, black ribbons, red ribbons or any colored ribbon that one could think of under the rainbow that would even convey or symbolize a modicum of sympathy for the carnage being unleashed on us in the Moro South. Neither were there pins or streamers that read: “Hindi ka Nag-iisa”.
For the stark reality that stared at us during that nightmarish moment under martial law is that we were alone face-to-face with the excessive use of force that the Dictatorship so brutally utilized without compunction and without regard even for the dignity and honor of our Moro Muslim womenfolk. We stood alone in our fight to survive, we were alone when our communities were bombed to kingdom-come, and we were alone when thousands of us died.
In the North, however, it was business as usual. People spent and celebrated their fiestas, Christmases and New Year’s eves oblivious of the bombs that continuously fell on our homes and killed our women and children. In Manila, as in the rest of the country, they sang to the tunes of the hymn of ‘Bagong Lipunan’ praising a dictator who styled himself as the new messiah divined to “make this country great again”, and nodded in silent assent as he made a mockery of human and civil rights and turned freedom into a parody while his ostentatious wife sought to establish a novel synthetic metropolitan culture of the ‘good and beautiful’ against the backdrop of preponderant squatter communities that bared the real ugliness of the face of pervasive squalor and poverty.
A friend once told Angela Davis, that Afro-American political, anti-war, and human rights activist in the United States in the 60s: "If they come for us in the night, they will come for you in the morning."
And, indeed, "they" came for us "in the night" but our cries for help and pleas for sympathy were ignored by the people in the North. That is, until "they" came for them "in the morning"...
And this is what they're celebrating about at EDSA.
As a postscript to EDSA 1986, the Marcos dictatorship may have long been gone but social inequities continue to batter and scar the landscape of an already fractured Filipino society. The predatory, corrupt and scandalous elites are still ensconced in their positions of power and excessive wealth, periodically taking turns in presiding over a failing Philippine State through a manipulable political process they call ‘electoral democracy’. And from their ranks, recycled and ‘rehabilitated’ remnants of the Dictatorship still aspire to become another Marcos while a military establishment that believes it alone could make or unmake a ‘king’ waits at the sideline for the right would-be dictator or tyrant who could offer the right price.
In the South, the Bangsamoro people remain chained to their colonial captivity. And the skies continue to rain bombs on Mindanao and Sulu. After Marcos, three all-out wars devastated the Bangsamoro homeland, and the now familiar story of Moro civilian displacement repeated itself again and has since gone on ad infinitum and ad nauseam. The victims’ cries are met no longer by a deafening silence but by collective approbation from the people of the North who now see the Moro Muslim as a ‘terrorist’. But in their conventional prejudice, little do the Filipinos who gather annually at EDSA, and in this country for that matter, realize that the Moro Muslim, whose aspiration is simply to be free, has become the convenient scapegoat for the monumental failure of their corrupt ruling elites to save their sinking ship of state.
No EDSA, or any other EDSA for that matter, will save this sinking ship of state from going down into the depths of the sea until the Filipinos discover for themselves the true meaning of justice, especially in respect of the oppressed Bangsamoro in the South and the masses of people all over the Philippine State floundering helplessly and aimlessly in an ocean of social and political injustice. Nor would counter-insurgency measures, no matter how they are well dressed up with so-called reforms such as what they’re currently doing to that “failed experiment” they call the ARMM, will put closure to the Moro Question.
The Moro Question is, to put it simply, an issue of the colonization of the Bangsamoro homeland. It is not an issue that has invariably deliberately and mischievously been presented by the ruling regimes of the Philippine State as ‘secession’, for our Moro forefathers never willingly and voluntarily acceded to joining the then nascent political entity in 1935 and 1946, let alone in 1898, now called the Philippine Republic. Our homeland was occupied and converted into a colonial territory of the Philippine State with us, Moros, as the colonial subjects. It is as simple as that. As such, the Moro Question is also a primordial issue of decolonization, of Moro right to self-determination, and, therefore, of Moro liberation.
This, the Filipinos should now know if they are to understand the sovereignty-based conflict in Mindanao and Sulu.
Like a spiritual epiphany, the Filipinos must come to realize by now that the institutionalization and, therefore, the preponderance of justice should not be left alone in the hands of the whimsical ruling elites, who are themselves the source of injustice, but it is a collective mandatory moral obligation of the people that takes precedence over any political or constitutional expediency. Absent that and what EDSA, or the many EDSAs in the pipeline, would merely be churning out is a Joseph Estrada, a Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, or, worse, another Ferdinand Marcos.
This, my friends from the Philippine State, is among the reasons why we cannot join the commemorative celebration of your EDSA People Power Revolution.
This, my friends, should also underscore why we reject and resist full incorporation into the Philippine State by way of integration and assimilation. If Filipino-Bangsamoro relationship is to work, it could only be by way of free association and ‘parity of esteem’; or, if that does not even work, then separation is the ultimate solution.
Give us, Moros, back our freedom, give us back what is left of our occupied Homeland, give us back our Moro nationhood, and perhaps we will celebrate your EDSA and other national holidays with you.
It’s now or never.
Thank you and wa assalaamo ‘alaykom.