OPINION: Moros and the narrative of displacement

Amir Mawallil

Posted at Jul 28 2017 02:41 AM | Updated as of Jul 28 2017 01:16 PM

The Moros are a displaced people. Even President Rodrigo Duterte said it, when asked about peace in Mindanao: 

“We cannot return all the lands or all the things that were absorbed by the migrants. We cannot go back in time. We cannot return to Mindanaoans what was taken from them.” 

These were Duterte’s words as quoted in an interview with the Philippines Graphic magazine during his campaign for the presidency in 2015.

What Duterte offered as a solution is federalism. This is an acknowledgement by a man who is now President of the Republic that Mindanao’s Muslims had been displaced all throughout the history of the Philippines, as a colony and as a republic. It is also acknowledgement that this displacement continued past the Spanish and American colonization periods, and past the occupation of the country by the Japanese during World War II.

Peace has been elusive for Moros, mostly because of their displacement. There can be no peace when one has no place to call home.

Martial Law and more

Moros were displaced during the Martial Law regime of strongman Ferdinand E. Marcos, too. The Muslims you now see plying the buy and sell trade in the Greenhills shopping district, those Muslims you see living in communities near the Golden Mosque in Quiapo and Maharlika, their families were "bakwits" displaced during the dark years of the 1970s, when Marcosian Martial Law was at its zenith before Batas Militar was “lifted” in 1981.

The ouster of Marcos in 1986 did not stop the displacement of Moros from Mindanao, either. The conflict in Mindanao waged between Philippine government forces and the secessionist MNLF and MILF continued throughout the terms of office of Corazon Aquino and Fidel Ramos, even with peace talks going on. Ceasefires were brief and the fighting resumed in Mindanao once these truces were over. Who in their right minds would remain in areas where conflict disrupts daily life and threatens their very lives?

The all-out war declared by President Joseph Estrada in 2001 and the aborted Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain (MOA AD) under Estrada’s successor, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, resulted in even more displacement of Moros from Mindanao—close to 800,000 Moros from Central Mindanao.

Now, there is the ongoing battle for Marawi against the ISIS-connected Maute Group, which has passed its second month and displaced approximately 400,000 people from the once-thriving city that is now a war zone covered in rubble and spent ordnance, bathed in smoke from bombs and guns.

Is it any wonder that the Moro narrative in the Philippine archipelago carries a central theme of displacement and marginalization as much as it speaks of honor, resilience and courage?

Need for resilience

Moros have had to be resilient, learning to make homes and earn their bread wherever the winds take them. Perhaps it is that history of displacement that is part and parcel of the Moro narrative in the Philippines that has made Moros resilient. Survival, after all, belongs to the fittest and most capable at adapting to new circumstances.

The Moro's right to self-determination has been recognized by the government post-EDSA. This is why the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao exists. This is why the Arroyo administration created the abrogated MOA AD.

But it must be said, too that it is the failure of the Philippine government across the decades and across every administration to take the final step to enable Moros to live in true autonomy in their homeland.

This failure has given rise to the Moro National Liberation Front (MILF) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) that fought for the Moro cause. Peace talks are underway yet again, four and a half decades after the MNLF and, later, the MILF, battled for an independent Bangsamoro. This displacement is what makes peace so elusive in Mindanao.

Until peace is a reality for Moros and Mindanaons, the people of the Bangsamoro and the people in Mindanao will need to remain resilient, strong, and hopeful—even when resilience, strength and hope are not easy to bring to bear.

Not Bangsamoro

But the Maute Group? They are not fighting for the Bangsamoro. They pledged allegiance to the international terrorist group ISIS, which seeks to create a caliphate of Islam, but betrays the tenets of the very religion they say they fight for by engaging in inhumane acts of murder, brutality and terrorism that are not in consonance with the teachings of Islam.

It is now because of these terrorists that the city of Marawi is being reduced to rubble, its people sent into yet another Moro diaspora. They hinder, rather than help, the Moro cause.

Moros want peace—there is no doubt of that. Yet what peace is given to people who are continually displaced and denied their right to live safely in the knowledge of their place in this country they find themselves a part of?

For there to be peace, there must be no uncertainty about where the Moros of the Philippines belong. There must be no doubt that they have a place among the people who make up their country as equals.

Moros are a people whose needs include peace. They are a people whose needs include a safe place to call home—just as every human does.

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