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An MILF leap of faith: A ballot is worth more than a thousand bullets

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How re-assuring it is to see Bangsamoro mujaheedins and members of their family, as captured in published news photos, registering as voters in Camp Darapanan, Sultan Kudarat, last Saturday, March 7. As registered voters, they will vote for the pioneer set of officials who would lead the new Bangsamoro government by next year, if the now-beleaguered peace process will not miscarry.

The photos convey a pro-peace message more powerful than any of the statements made by any of the peace deal’s negotiators or advocates in response to mostly emotional criticisms against the Bangsamoro Basic Law draft that is overwhelmed by tsunamic controversies spawned by the epic Mamasapano fiasco. What better, more convincing way to show to the world that the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) fighters have indeed truly chosen peaceful democratic ways to achieve their cause and dreams that once upon made them  take up arms against the Philippine government. As a mark of civilized and noble choice over violent alternatives for social change, the allure of the power of the ballot may even persuade other Moro renegades to go for it themselves.  One ballot is worth more than a thousand bullets.

Any number of  those MILF constituents may have voted in elections before but for politicians who campaigned on meaningless platforms pre-packaged by their mainstream political parties. But the Bangsamoro elections next year is envisioned, at least by the MILF, to be a different political game. The MILF’s Bangsamoro Justice Party shall be expected to run on a platform that embodies the visions contained in the proposed BBL and other Bangsamoro formulations that have fueled their revolutionary movement, their people’s war.

What is also significant in those pictures is the fact that many of the registrants are women. Their action is evidence that their MILF men hew to comparatively moderate, if not conservative, socio-religious ideals that are not enjoyed by women in not a few radical Muslim societies elsewhere. So how can men who nobly respect the rights of their women be terrorists or fundamentalists –as some who should know better like to label them -  at the same time? The chemistry does not square.

Moro women have borne the brunt and sufferings of the Mindanao war, more than their husbands’, fathers’ and sons’ have. The long, long litany of their grief and grievances are well-known and articulated. So many of them having been physically or socially uprooted by the fightings, which turned them and their children into virtually stateless persons, they consequently agonize over their lost identity and its implications for the future of their families and communities. During a recent TV talk show interview, Basilan congresswoman Sitti Hataman revealed than when she once asked a woman from Al-Barka municipality what she wanted most, her answer was: “Saan ho kami makakakuha ng ID or ng certificate o kahit na anong sulat na magsasabing mabubuting tao kami?” A voter’s ID will fulfill her query.

Rep. Hataman said it will “take a lot of acceptance” by both Moros and Christian Filipinos to clear the paths of peace. “Especially with this (Mamasapano)  incident parang mas nararamdaman namin na ang hirap kaming tanggapin ng the rest of the Filipino nation. Doon na lang ho sa usapin ng BBL, yung effort man lang na kilalanin kami, effort man lang na alamin saan ba kami nanggagaling? Mahalaga ho iyon,” she explained.

The democratic space that the Bangsamoro political processes will avail to Muslim women like Rep. Hataman and the Al-Barka lady has incalculable potentials to propel the building of real and durable peace in Mindanao. Where others, including international institutions have failed until now, their joint political agenda and action can overcome or bridge the traditional tribal divisions and rivalries among Muslim societies in Mindanao.  The divisions have been correctly faulted, too, for the seeming endlessness of armed conflicts in the region, including those waged by private armed groups.  The social discrimination is not only between Filipino Muslims and Christians but between ethnic and Moro tribes, too. It is the same story unraveling in so many societies around the world today and in the past, and those who attained inter-racial emancipation have henceforth grown faster and stronger.

It is the same gender motif that have driven the work of women government peace architects like Presidential Adviser Teresita “Ging” Deles and chief negotiator Prof. Miriam Coronel-Ferrer. Their feminist traits, values and grace enabled them to overcome many negotiation difficulties and challenges, which more hard-lined and hardened males would have considered impossible to break. Their fiercest critics who bully them for championing the BBL are the ones, unlike the Moro women of Sultan Kudarat, not ready for peace.  *************




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