MANILA - As the battle for the southern city of Marawi raged on, a Maranao delivered his valedictory speech before his fellow University of the Philippines Diliman graduates on a sunny Sunday morning.
Arman Ali Ghodsinia, whose mother hailed from Marawi City, said Thursday he hoped to tell his batchmates in his speech that they need to dedicate their talents to the Filipino people as they leave the campus halls. He also wanted his address to be a "message of hope to my fellow Maranaos."
He credits his sister, Farah, for writing the speech with him. Farah, a law student at UP, is currently president of The 10th National Youth Parliament, the biggest parliamentary organization for youth in the Philippines.
Arman and Farah were raised by their Maranao mother and Iranian father in the Philippine capital.
Arman attended Ateneo de Manila University for his elementary schooling and then the Philippine Science High School for his secondary education. Farah meanwhile studied in Miriam College before also graduating from UP Diliman in college.
In an interview with ANC's Headstart, Arman and Farah were asked if they believe the Philippines is kind to Muslims. They both answered: "It depends."
"In UP, especially now when there’s so much attention that we’re getting, I’d see that there are many young people who are open-minded and I think that in many other schools, it’s the same way," said Arman.
"In other places, I think [sic] people’s minds need to be opened more and to do this, we need to have to improve the educational systems, raise more awareness like what we are doing now," he added.
For Farah, meanwhile, the young people she has interacted with see her "beyond my veil or they see me beyond just being a Muslim."
However, she recalled that while growing up, there were some hurtful remarks thrown at her by friends, especially after the deadly 9/11 attack in the United States.
After 9/11, she said some people started joking that they were terrorists.
"‘Uy, terorista yan’ or maybe ‘Uy, yung backpack mo may dalang bomba ‘yan ah'," she recalled.
"There were lots of jokes. Some of the jokes were actually playful, they weren’t really harmful, but some of the jokes were really hurtful," she said.
She recalled that she once saw on the back of her notebook a caricature of a man holding the Qur’an, “and what was written on his face was like a pimp.”
“It was very painful to see that, but what I did instead was to get another sheet of paper and cover that notebook. I think I only cried and told that to one of my best friends before."
Despite the experience, she said they built friendships with many Catholics in their school and the environment extended their "sense of sisterhood and brotherhood."
DELAYED DEVELOPMENT IN MINDANAO
In his valedictory speech, Arman said that he also grew up to stories of poverty in his homeland, as he shared that his mother lost a brother to sickness because they had no money for treatment.
"How painful it is to live in a society where people are left behind and forgotten simply because they do not have enough money," he said.
Farah also pointed out in the interview that Philippine history would say that Mindanao and the Bangsamoros have experienced a "long narrative of historical injustices even from centuries ago."
"Centuries ago, many Filipino Muslims fought for their independence and when the Philippines actually managed to have its independence, when we look at the sense of political representation and economic growth, we see that many Filipino Muslims have actually been left behind," she said.
"In this sense, even though we have had government and administrations and politicians who have been sincere in wanting to integrate Muslims as well, we see that in terms of economic growth and political representation, this has not truly materialized," she added.
While she acknowledged that the institution of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) was a breakthrough in bridging the gap, the region has "not fully reached its potential," hence a need for the continuation of peace processes.
She said some of the poorest provinces in the Philippines are found in ARMM and the region still has pockets that are still under conflict. "It’s very painful to see this happen and I think that’s very reflective of the situation of the Philippines in general."
"If we want the Philippines to progress as a whole, then we can’t leave a region behind. If we also want to have national security, then that means the security of our neighbors should also be a security that is stable," she said.