OPINION: Peace, 2018

Amir Mawallil

Posted at Dec 31 2017 08:00 AM

As 2017 closes and 2018 opens, there is time to pause for reflection on the year now ending. 2017 was more than usually tough for the Moro people. 

We survived the five-month siege of Marawi, not intact, but determined more than ever to build good lives for ourselves, our community and this nation of which we are an intrinsic part. 

So many people in the country’s only Muslim city lost their lives. Those who survived lost their homes and members of their families and saw their communities razed by the house to house battles between the security forces and the terrorists these soldiers and police officers hunted.

Liberation, in this context, felt like a pyrrhic victory when we beheld the ruins of what once was a vibrant and beautiful city. Our hearts were carved from us, even as we promised ourselves and those whom we loved that we would rebuild. Resilience, after all, is one of our strengths—one we share with the rest of the Filipino nation.

Then our strength and resilience were tested again as tropical cyclone "Vinta" smashed into our hopes and our efforts to rebuild what war tore apart just two months after the end of the Marawi Siege. The total death toll across the areas the storm overran was pegged at 200, dozens of whom were people in the Lanao area that is still picking up the pieces from losses they sustained in the battle of Marawi.

Resilience? There is no doubt we have it, for we who live still hope and with that hope held firmly in hand, we look toward 2018 with faith that the Bangsamoro Basic Law due for passage by March 2018 will become a reality and, as President Rodrigo Roa Duterte has promised, will give us a Bangsamoro country “in the context of the Republic of the Philippines.”

 As we rebuild from the ravages of battle and storm, we keep that fire in our hearts lit that we will have the homeland we have worked so long to have, for we Moros have definitely earned it. 

 Five decades ago, Moros from Sulu were recruited for a secret mission called Oplan Merdeka by then President Ferdinand Marcos. This operation plan was meant to enable Filipinos to claim North Borneo—also called Sabah—which is historically part of the territory of the Sultanate of Sulu.

 Marcos’ predecessor, Diosdado Macapagal, first raised the Philippines’ legal claim to North Borneo through legal and diplomatic means. Then Marcos became president and he sought to reclaim the territory outside diplomacy.

 The young Moro recruits were to be trained covertly in Corregidor and had been promised salaries, benefits, decent housing and the dignified treatment given to regular Filipino soldiers, but they were to be considered paramilitary personnel trained to destabilize North Borneo to open the territory to the entry of regular soldiers after the planned siege. 

Funds for the promised salaries, benefits, and decent housing were siphoned into the pockets of these young Moros’ superiors who were cronies of the Marcos family. After this came to their attention, the young Moros wrote a letter asking that they be permitted to return to their hometown.

It became a matter of national security, preventing the leakageof Operation Merdeka to the public and averting possible war with the Malaysian government. The efforts to stem the leak turned bloody. 

 On March 18, 1968, those young Moro recruits were killed on the historic island of Corregidor in an act of betrayal on an island so imbued with courage and gallantry. One survivor, Jibin Arula, jumped off a cliff and swam the waters of Cavite until local fishermen found and rescued him. He lived to tell the story of the Jabidah Massacre. This is the point in the Moro narrative that the fuse for secession was lit by betrayal. 

 Arula’s exposĂ© prompted Moro leaders in Mindanao to establish the Mindanao Independence Movement in May 1968. MIM was the predecessor of the Moro National Liberation Front and other organized fronts that came after. Moro leaders and intellectuals have since decided to revisit our past, the centuries of our struggle against colonizers. They sought to visualize a free Bangsamoro nation where we could chart our own destiny as a people.

2018 marks the 50th anniversary of the Jabidah Massacre. We have been fighting for our homeland for at least that long and we still long for the peace we need to make the drive for our place in this nation a reality.

The story of the Jabidah Massacre both part of our history and the repository of the dreams and aspirations of the Moro people as a community and as a nation. It has been a milestone in the history of the Bangsamoro for the last 50 years, and will continue to be a part of our narrative in the years to come.

 This is the part of our narrative where our struggle for self-determination is rooted, the story from which we draw both strength and lessons. It is as much the impetus for us to seek peace as it is part of what fuels our fire to fight for our dreams. This is where the long road to the Bangsamoro Basic Law still pending with Congress began.

 Difficult, but not impossible: We of the Bangsamoro greet the New Year with hope and prayer. We rebuild in the faith that we will have a homeland this year, a place where we can finally live in peace with the rest of the Filipino nation, where our dreams and our hopes will see fruition at long last. 

 We pray for the silencing of the guns of battle and the arrival of the peace that is our highest aspiration as Muslims.

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