Social Causes and Costs

Davao Today

In November last year’s Mindanao Human Rights Summit, I joined a thematic workshop on Violations Against the Moro People and Islamophobia — a term which defined, albeit criticized, for the prejudice against, hatred or irrational fear of the Muslims.

I was zealous with my suggestion to discuss the then newly signed Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro between the Government of the Philippines and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.  This policy framework was signed in Malacanang last October with much fanfare, received by a relatively impressive number among the middle class.  Yes, it was received with much enthusiasm as though it is the best offer for the resolution of the historic problems of unpeace in Mindanao.

Though there was not enough time to spend on the agreement during the workshop discussion, participants were quick to narrate on the extrajudicial and frustrated killings among the Moro people.  Further review of the documentation revealed various forms of violations during the Ramadan in 2012, particularly in the Maguindanao province.

There was forced evacuation in the villages of Datu Unsay, Shariff Aguak and Datu Saudi; destruction and divestment of properties in the villages of Iganagampong, Datu Unsay; forced evacuation in Datu Unsay, Shariff Aguak and Datu Saudi which affected 3,000 families; encampment of mosques in the villages of Bagan, Guindulungan, Maitumaig, Datu Unsay; and encampment of health center in the villages of Iganagampong and Datu Unsay.

These offensives during Ramadan brought us to the more fundamental question on the peace process: Just who exactly is talking peace based on the legitimacy of the Moro people’s struggle?

This reminds us of the kind of peace we want to achieve in the country.  It is imperative for peace activists to examine the practice of cultural competence then, where work with Muslim Filipinos utilizes one of the basic ethical values: start where the people are.  This is a scientific dimension in helping.  It embraces spirituality as it recognizes contextualization of interventions as critical to achieving the goals of helping the marginalized, oppressed and exploited sectors.

I believe advancing the work with the Moro people is tied to the promotion of a scientific, and mass-oriented culture.  In this regard, spirituality-conscious peace advocacy is faith-based and work towards inter-faith solidarity, considering the existence of three peoples in Southern Philippines: the Moro (Muslim), Lumads (indigenous peoples) and lowland setters (Christians).

Peace activists are bound to respect and accept the culture of the three peoples with one agenda: the emancipation of the oppressed and exploited including women and children.  These are the same aspirations enshrined in both Islamic and Christian doctrines.

Spirituality is thus expressed beyond adherence to religion and I support the challenge from the words of Chandra Muzaffar, President of International Movement for a Just World, as she shared his piece on Sowing Seeds of Peace in the Era of Empire: Christians in Solidarity with Muslims:

The rituals and symbols which distinguish a specific religious identity will have to be subordinated to those eternal values and principles of life which unite all women and men of faith regardless of their formal religious affiliation.  In a nutshell, a profound faith based consciousness of our common humanity which has a transcendent love for God as its pivotal center, is only possible if we are prepared for a fundamental paradigm shift in our understanding of, and approach towards, religion.”

I am troubled with manuscripts that endorse misinterpretations of Islam.  As a social worker and educator, I need a more comprehensive approach, rather than those spurred by the narrow September 11 stimulus.  It can be recalled that after the attacks in the United States in 2001, Islamophobia-related incidents increased with Muslims being tagged as terrorists.

Problems of social development work amongst Muslim Filipino families arise not from the ‘terrorist’ stigma but from a more deeply-rooted tension arising from economic, political, social contradictions that had spanned centuries since Spanish colonization period.

The “challenge” exists way back before the September 11 attack.  It intensified after the Jabidah Massacre (which happened during the Marcos dictatorship) and has gone unabated until the present militarization of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao and the non-Muslims.

Rereading history of the Filipino people further affirms that the Spaniards were vanquished in the Visayas and Mindanao in early colonization attempts because locals who had fighting capacity equal to the colonizers, repulsed the invaders.  They were prepared, organized and advanced.

A portion of speech by Philippine Supreme Court Chief Justice Reynato S. Puno at the University of Asia and the Pacific on 19 March 2009,Christian-Muslim Solidarity in Aid of Development Through Social Justice noted:

In Islam, social justice is a central value.  It is uncompromising because injustice disrupts social harmony and, for that very reason, is unethical.  The Qur’an uses “two terms for justice, ‘adl which means a just balance in human conduct between the two extremes of immoderate indulgence and callous neglect – and gist which means the just exercise of power.” 

The Moro National Liberation Front formulated the ideology of Kaadilan – from the root word ‘Adl – as equivalent to the concept of social justice.   Kaadilan “is an antithesis to all forms of human, social, political and other injustices that our people and humanity have been subjected for so long.  This term Kaadilan may sum up what we call our political, economic, social and cultural ideology.” 

Muslim Filipino academic and former Ambassador Sukarno Tanggol postulates that social justice together with self-determination “constitutes the core of the Moro grievance.”

Marohomsalic points out that there is an “ideological union of Muslim and Christian” on social justice.  He says that “in fact, there are basic and fundamental ideological social teachings shared by both Islam and Christianity, which can be the basis of lasting communitarian relations and political unity.”

A negation on the heavy socio- political implications of peace and development work in Moro lands would be a derailment on the peace process — the war being waged for the Moro people’s self-determination and autonomy, the basis on which their struggle started in the first place.

Thus, there is a very reason for us to be critical on the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro, if only to gain a greater height in upholding the interest of the Moro people and the entire Filipino people as we await a more critical review of the unifying outline towards a just and lasting peace.

Prof. Mae Fe Ancheta-Templa is a women and children rights activist, social worker, peace advocate and chair of the Social Work Program of the Assumption College of Davao, Southern Philippines.  Her fields of interest in research include gender, women, children, Moro and indigenous peoples, psychosocial help, community organization, indigenous social work and social administration.  She was a research fellow at the University of Cape Town, South Africa.

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