A Hope for Mindanao’s Moros

Feb. 18, 2007

Zaynab Ampatuan, 27, hardly looks like one who has experienced being driven from home by bombs and bullets courtesy of the military. But she has and more than twice. Her experiences with the oppression of Muslims in the Philippines led her to become an advocate for the Moro cause.

Zaynab’s Cause. Suara Bangsamoro Party’s party-list nominee Zaynab Ampatuan speaks at a campaign rally in Manila, Feb. 13.(Bulatlat photo)

By Alexander Martin Remollino

MANILA — Petite and slim Zaynab Ampatuan, 27, deputy secretary-general and one of the party-list nominees of the Suara Bangsamoro (Voice of the Moro People) Party for this years elections, hardly looks like one who has experienced being driven from home by bombs and bullets courtesy of the military. But she has and more than twice.

In 2000, then President Joseph Estrada declared all-out war against the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). The all-out war took a heavy toll mostly on civilians in Mindanao. Military offensives in areas claimed by authorities as MILF strongholds have sporadically taken place under the Arroyo regime, even as the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) is engaged in peace negotiations with the group.

Our family was among those (whose homes) were bombed by the military, says the soft-spoken but otherwise affable Ampatuan.

Their family, she says, have had to relocate more than twice as a result of the all-out war declared by the Estrada government which was eventually replicated by the Arroyo administration in 2003. Her parents and eight siblings now stay in a relocation center in Carmen, North Cotabato.

The time of the all-out war declared by the Estrada regime was not the first for their family to have to flee from a place they had come to consider home.

Their family originally lived in Carmen until they were attacked by the Ilagas, a fanatical vigilante group composed of Ilonggos in Mindanao, sometime in the 1970s. Based on stories that have been told to me, my parents house was among those burned down by the Ilagas, she said.

Early on, thus, she developed a high awareness of the oppression suffered by the Moro people in the Philippines.

She admits, though, that she had been reared on the idea that Muslims should not befriend Christians.

Our elders would often tell us that Christians are traitors, she says, because of the many sad experiences of Muslims.

When I started going to school I learned that there was that same kind of prejudice among my Christian classmates, she continues. Their elders would tell them not to befriend Muslims because the latter are murderers.

What is made to appear as a religious conflict between Christians and Muslims in the Philippines dates back to the Spanish occupation (1565-1898).

The Spanish colonizers used a diluted version of Christian doctrine, together with the sword, to coerce the natives into submission. The Moro people being economically, politically, and culturally stronger than many of the other ethnic groups in what came to be known as the Philippine Islands successfully resisted the intrusions of Spanish colonialism. The Spanish colonialists vilified the Moros as heathens (or wicked) before the eyes of their Christianized subjects.

Fortunately, I would later learn that instead of exacerbating our historical and religious differences, (Christians and Muslims) can and should work together toward solving our common problems, Ampatuan says.

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