OPINION: The Young Moros

Amir Mawallil

Posted at Sep 17 2016 05:14 AM

Like other young Moros of my generation, I grew up in a community where our parents or grandparents were mostly either dead or dying. Those who survived spent their youth in the armed struggle fighting for our right to self-determination, or spent their lives in dire poverty because of limited access to resources due to conflicts deemed to be endless unless freedom is returned to the bangsa (nation).

For generations, Moros fought to defend themselves and their families. They fought as they were pushed to the mountains, as they evaded death in the hands of the former dictator, as scores of men were killed by state forces and the para-military groups prevalent during the Martial Law years. 

These generations of Moros were displaced from their ancestral lands, discriminated against across and by several state institutions, and were marginalized in their own communities. Few enrolled in schools to get their degrees back then, as these were thought to be tools to proselytize people into a foreign culture and religion and where Moros were expected to abandon their own culture and religion. 

Because of this, our ancestors and elders were mostly either farmers without lands, fisherfolks with nothing to lose but their claim on the shoreline, freedom fighters who died without seeing the dawn, migrants who worked dangerous and demeaning jobs abroad, or decided to abandon ship and promised never to return.

These are stories of our people that live on, and stories that we share as young Moros. As bearers of our nation’s narratives, we also carry the burden of responsibility: to either abandon the cause or stay the course, to either forget or continue these stories with our own until we reach our destination -- a nation that thrives in peace and prosperity, with people living in dignity. 

Whether we accept the challenge or not, the future of Bangsamoro is in our hands now.

Throughout my years of working in government, there were several instances when I encountered and heard criticisms about how young Moros lack enthusiasm in nation-building, or even in participating in building our communities. "Millennial" Moros are often thought to lack understanding of our culture that predates the Filipino nation and the country itself, that they lack the necessary knowledge about our history and the struggle of this nation.

All these amount to the criticism that young Moros are too focused on their selves and on their privileges as a generation pampered by technology and by the internet. To quote the great Irish writer Oscar Wilde to describe the disdainful naiveté of the young Moros, older generations would say "the youth is wasted on the young." Some claim that the struggle fought by older generations is so remote to the youth, and the fear that the Bangsamoro is now in the hands of those who cannot interpret our past is now slowly being realized, with the future in the hands of those incapable of charting our own destiny as a nation.

But it is important to remember that the old who look upon the young with disappointment and regret were also once young themselves, and youth was hardly wasted on them.

For the young Moros of the sixties, the decade was a period of rediscovery. Young Moro intellectuals here and abroad began to unearth the long history of our nation since the 14th century, a history that can be described as the longest history of resistance against colonialism. This discovery laid the foundation for our struggle to the right to self-determination.

In the seventies, together with their fellow patriotic young Filipinos, Moro youth took part in the resistance against the dictatorship. We should look back with gratitude and respect to the Moros who resisted the Marcos dictatorship for the seventies was also the darkest period in the recent history of the Bangsamoro people, with state-sponsored massacres of innocent Moros done throughout Mindanao and Sulu.

The eighties was a period of adjustment as democracy returned to the country. However, the relentless young Moros of the sixties and seventies who were now older, continued the struggle for self-determination.

The nineties was a period of hope for lasting peace as Moros were now given, albeit limited, the right to govern themselves through an autonomous government. Moro freedom fighters laid down their arms and were eventually integrated to the Filipino body politic until the first decade of the new millennium. The young Moros of the sixties and the seventies continued to be the single and legitimate voice of the struggle and, in turn, silenced the new generation of Moros and limited the latter's participation in nation building.

The effects were felt on the first decade of the new millennium: growth was stalled in the region, poverty continued, participatory democracy was jeopardized at the expense of traditional politics, peace and order were still at the mercy of the warlords and terrorists. The young Moros then felt frustrated by the struggle, with some of them eventually deciding to pursue other causes.

For the young Moros of different generations, the elders' fear of the future has always been more of a challenge. What were seen as gaps between the old and the young were opportunities to realign the various narratives of our struggle as a people. Time and again, the process revealed the divergences and convergences of the nebulous narratives and aspirations of the Bangsamoro struggles.

We have to recognize that the younger Moros, especially of my generation, have better access to education and, consequently, to the knowledge and skills necessary to continue building a nation. 

Younger Moros have an almost limitless access to information through the internet. Many of them were either educated abroad or eager participants in socio-economic projects in their own communities. And then there are those who are much like our ancestors -- young Moros who are passionate enough and have remarkable patience as they choose to continue the struggle, armed or otherwise. 

This generation of Moros has more options than the last. This means more opportunities that are potentially untapped and unexplored, and are just waiting for the right leadership or institutional support to utilize these for nation-building. 

What is necessary then for our current leaders is to work with these young Moros in the here and now, whether they are involved in the radical and conservative movements propelled by young Moros of past generations. An example of a sustained effort to engage the Moro youth is the Bangsamoro Young Leaders Program, a program that invests in empowering the youth from the provinces of the ARMM and encourages them to think of ways to improve their communities based on the knowledge that has been passed on to them from generations of Moros that came before them.

These generations have shown us that opening spaces for young Moros to participate in nation building, tapping their skills and knowledge and helping them to develop their full potential, is the way to go. To silence their voices and limit their participation is a sure way to destroy our future and this nation.

We have to empower the new generation, for history shows us that the struggle will always rest on the shoulders of a young Moro’s imagination of a real and attainable bangsa.

Amir Mawallil is a member of the Young Moro Professionals Network, the country's biggest organization of Muslim professionals. 

Disclaimer: The views in this blog are those of the blogger and do not necessarily reflect the views of ABS-CBN Corp.