THEORY AND PRACTICE: Peace and Justice in the Bangsamoro

Marawi City – There is a hidden narrative from voiceless human lives in the margins of Philippine society. The stories we hear about Muslim Mindanao are usually Manila-centric. Manila only sees Mindanao from its biased point of view. Social scientists and political commentators have pointed out that the situation in the Philippine South has been largely unstable due to a history of violent armed conflict. The truth of the matter is that colonial history is the root cause of the divide between the minority Muslim Filipinos and the Christian majority.

But what can be learned from the past peace agreement between the government and the Moro National Liberation Front, which was signed in 1996? Former Senator Santanina Rasul believes that its failure meant that “the real measure of peace, and the reason why people are begging for peace, is not the termination of the conflict.” Rather, she says that the reason “people want peace is because they want food on their tables, they want jobs, they want justice, they want shelter and health care, and they want a decent life.”

In my conversations with Dr. Godiva Eviota-Rivera during the Ethics for Nature Conference at the Mindanao State University in Marawi, an initiative led by the school’s young and dynamic philosophy faculty, she mentions the importance of the solidarity among Maranaos and Christians in Marawi City. The same solidarity is crucial in sustaining peace in the Bangsamoro. To buttress this point, the studies of Azuna Yoshizawa point to the value of everyday interaction among Muslims and Christians in Iligan City as a testament to their peaceful co-existence.

The deep-seated structural injustice, which implicates both colonial history and feudal politics in the region, needs a radical transformation by means of interfaith dialogue and authentic democratic participation. The rectification of the historical injustices against Muslim Filipinos is the most important element in the whole peace process.

According to Atty. Hamid Barra, the minister for Human Settlements and Development in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM), Islam is a religion of peace. Muslim Filipinos, he says, desire holistic peace. An important dimension of this desire is anchored in how people respect and value each other as human beings.

The autonomy to govern given to the Bangsamoro through the Bangsamoro Organic Law is not just about self-determination. It is also meant to heal the wounds caused by our colonial past. Without this moral healing, the whole region will not be able to move forward. Peace is a collective effort. The recent peace agreement can be considered as the greatest accomplishment of both Muslim and Christian leaders, a process that was facilitated through the political will of former President Rodrigo Duterte. But above all else, it is what the Bangsamoro people want.

As the BARMM seeks to develop a progressive and inclusive society, political leaders and technocrats cannot limit themselves to a state-centric technical interpretation of past problems. A host of development issues must be addressed – equitable distribution of resources, human security, equal opportunity, and political reform. To truly empower the people in the Bangsamoro, critical questions pertaining to justice and equality must be resolved. Without this democratic resolution, the Bangsamoro will find it hard to pursue the good of its people.

Peace cannot be narrowed down to the question of conflict. Rather, it is about people wanting to live normal and decent lives. Marawi City has witnessed its share of violent extremism in 2017. Maranaos, in solidarity with Christians, have survived the crisis. But to maintain peace, rebuilding efforts must be sustained. The promotion of democratic values cannot be attained without public trust which can only be won by the government through concrete projects and programs.

The interpretation of the events in the Bangsamoro, past and present, must carry the reality and struggle for social justice. Undeniably, the concept of solidarity cannot be blind to the moral violence committed against the poor, especially the poor in minority cultures. This violence is nothing but the very objectification of the powerless, where humans are reduced to mere instruments by hegemonic and elitist structures that alienate and dehumanize people. Lasting peace can only be realized if there is justice for all.

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