By Roger Balanza
The shining light in Mindanao’s dark tunnel
Of late, our lawmakers have given assurance that the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) may be approved by Congress by the end of May.
This assurance made during a recent meeting between President Rodrigo Duterte and key leaders of the Senate and the House of Representatives is the biggest news to come for Mindanaoans.
The President is pushing hard the approval of the BBL because he strongly believes that giving Muslims of Mindanao limited autonomy in governing their Bangsamoro is the answer to ending the Moro problem; that BBL means closing the door to more violence in the island.
More importantly, the BBL responds to the “historical injustice” committed against the Moros for centuries for which they demand restitution even to this day.
It is this injustice that makes the Moros vulnerable to overtures by terrorists groups to rebel against the government.
President Duterte has warned of doomsday scenarios of a conflagration of pocket wars in Mindanao if the Moros are not given a measure of autonomy in their Bangsamoro homeland.
President Rodrigo has also warned that foreign terrorist groups are piggybacking on the Moro frustration to stir up local Muslim extremists to replicate the siege of Marawi City, held hostage for five months by terrorists last year.
The Middle East-based Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), considered today as the world’s most violent terror group, fired up local terrorists when it exported its brand of terrorism to Mindanao soil and linked up with the home-grown Maute and Abu Sayyaf terror groups in the siege of Marawi City.
The President’s warnings are more than shock-and-awe statements.
They are dire warnings that the threat of terrorism from local terror groups with ties to foreign extremists, could continue to be a monkey in the back of Mindanao.
Marawi City may have been freed from the grip of the marauders after bloody battles that killed hundreds of soldiers, policemen and civilians, and terrorists, and reduced the Muslim city to rubbles; and the ISIS may have lost its bite with its defeat in Iraq and Syria — and Marawi — but terrorism will continue to rear its ugly head in Mindanao.
The strength of the ISIS ideology feeds on ethnic frustration and violence, the lethal combination it used to gain support to control a wide swathe of Iraq and Syria for years before the terror group was defeated by US-led forces middle of last year.
The frustration of Mindnao Muslims over centuries of “historical injustice’ against the Moro people, the root cause of the decades-old Bangsamoro rebellion, is a wound that has not cured.
The frustration fits the ISIS formula to get support from local terrorists in its mission to make Marawi its caliphate and the Philippines as the epicenter of its terrorism in Southeast Asia, and its grandiose aim of global domination by establishing caliphates worldwide.
The ethnic frustration mixed with the ISIS brand of violence in tandem with local terror groups is a deadly brew that could spell doom for the country.
Reports that the Maute Group is regrouping and that scores of foreign terrorists have secretly entered the country are indications that ISIS is not dead in the water in Mindanao.
President Duterte sees limited autonomy, through the BBL, for the Moro people as a final solution to the Mindanao problem that would respond to the search for peace in Mindanao and address the “historical injustice” committed against the Moro people.
Mindanao Muslims, in general, are not warlike, despite perception of many, and would grab at any opportunity to achieve peace in Mindanao through peaceful means.
This is the reason why most of the Moros support BBL and abhor terrorism as a way to address the historical injustice that they suffered for centuries.
For most of the Moros, terrorism is haram and should not be considered as jihad or a tool for Mindanao Muslims to find justice, because terrorism violates the teachings of Islam.
The sooner that the Philippine government responds to Muslim demand for at least limited autonomy of the Bangsamoro through the BBL, the better that we can resolve the threat of terrorism and find peace in Mindanao.
It is not difficult for the government to respond to this demand, seen as the answer to “historical injustice” that the Mindanao Muslims suffered in the hands of “foreign invaders” and the government itself.
It is comforting that the Philipine Congress is responding to this demand, and is wrapping up action on the BBL, the legal instrument that would create a new Bangsamoro for the Muslim minority.
The assurance bylawmakers of the May approval of the BBL is a breathe of fresh air that has come after decades of searching for peace in Mindanao.
Muslims had suffered injustice for centuries in the hands of the Spanish, American and Japanese invaders, including the government through a policy that relocated Christians from the Visayas and Luzon to Mindanao in the 50s that practically stole Mindanao from the Muslims.
The injustices remain as a painful sore in the hearts and minds of the Muslims, particularly the youth who until today could not forget past attempts to subjugate the Moro people and steal their homeland.
But we cannot turn back the hands of time to prevent the 1906 Bud Dajo massacre in Jolo where American soldiers killed hundreds of Moros, including women and children.
We do not have a time machine to go back to the past and help them fight the Spanish conquistadores who tried to christianize the Moro people.
And how many Moros were killed in defense of their homeland during the Japanese occupation?
Christians from Visayas and Luzon, joined the “conquest” of the Bangsamoro homeland, when they carved parts of Mindanao for their own when they were resettled on the island by government in the 50s.
Mindanao today is a land for Muslims, Christians and lumads living harmoniously, but its peace is shattered by pockets of rebellion and terrorists.
Add to this the young generations of Moros. who are the most susceptible to influence by extremists like the ISIS, who could not forget the past and continue to nurse a festering anger and a cry for vengeance until today.
The perception that by nature the Mindanao Moros are war-like and possessed by the culture of jihad is wrong. The culture of jihad was a self-defense mechanism developed during the four centuries that the Moros defended their Bangsamoro from foreign invaders dating back to the 1600 against the Spaniards up to early 1900 against the Americans.
The Moros of today are a peaceful people and live in harmony with Christians and lumads in Mindanao.
If the Moro problem in Mindanao remains today, it is because their demand for independence and the historical injustice done to the Moro people continue to pulsate in the hearts and minds of the 20th century Moro, especially the idealistic among the young.
Today, however, while young Moros could not forget the Bud Dajo massacre and other violence against the Bangsamoro, their elders are willing to face the future by agreeing to government overtures for peaceful co-existence for as long as the Bangsamoro is given a measure of independence.
Muslim liberation movements which have been fighting for Mindanao independence or self-rule for decades, have in fact abandoned their arms for the negotiating table.
The Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) guided by their wise leaders had struck in 1996 a final peace agreement with government that led to the creation of the Autonomous Region for Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).
We look up with great anticipation to to the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) finally making peace with government under BBL that would replace ARMM.
The twin historical pacts were crafted with senior Muslim leaders who are fed up with the seemingly endless fighting that claimed more than 100,000 lives and displaced millions of people.
The ideology of the ISIS thrives on ethnic frustration and despair.
Of course ISIS is not a generally accepted ideology among Mindanao Muslims. It was embraced by local extremists not because it offered a window for an answer to the Muslims’ long search for justice, but due to the influence of the violent ISIS and its terroristic ideology.
With ISIS gone, the thirst for independence and justice will continue to linger in the heart and mind of our Muslim brothers and sisters and, if the Bangsamoro will not materialize, will find disastrous expression in the pocket wars that President Duterte had warned erupting all over Mindanao.
We should not allow the alien ISIS ideology to steal away with its violence the breath of fresh air that will descend all over Mindanao once the BBL is approved by the government.
Do we now see the bright light after decades of fighting at the end of Mindanao’s tunnel of violence?