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Toward peace in Mindanao


What does Bangsamoro (literally, Muslim nation) mean to the people of Jolo, Sulu? Researchers Liberty Contessa Catbagan and Puraida Tibli found that the concept had different meanings for different groups.

For Badjaos who are displaced by armed conflict, Bangsamoro is associated with violence and threats to their way of life.  Christians see Bangsamoro in the light of Muslims’ path to self-determination and fear it may lead to conflict.

For Muslims in an overwhelmingly Christian nation, Bangsamoro is the fulfillment of their Islamic way of life.

“[It] is important … to recognize that different groups hold different truths to social issues … There is no judgment of who is right or wrong.  There is no judgment of which understanding is correct or incorrect,” say Catbagan and Tibili. “Instead there is the recognition that one’s own group only sees part of the truth and that other groups hold parts of the truth as well. Such recognition and respect of multiple understandings … can facilitate the negotiation or resolution of contentious issues like Bangsamoro.”


The faculty of Notre Dame of Jolo College (NDJC) and graduate students of Ateneo de Manila University’s (ADMU) Social Psychology Action Research Laboratory, which jointly studied peace and conflict in the south, published the peace magazine “Meaning-Making in Mindanao:  Everyday Violence, Ordinary People, Finding Peace.”  Guided by ADMU peace psychologist Cristina Montiel, the magazine was edited by Fr. Charlie Inzon, OMI (NDJC president), Mira Ofreneo (ADMU professor) and Tesa Casal de Vela (Miriam College professor).

In a survey of various Jolo groups by Marshaley Baquiano, Nur-ain Sahibil and Judith de Guzman, poverty is described as a lack of basic needs. It is also economic, linked to the global crisis, unemployment, high debt in an underdeveloped nation with many people below the poverty line.

Poverty is psychological, associated with oppression, low status and low self-esteem.  It is a character weakness, brought on by indolence, selfishness and lack of faith in God.

Poverty is social, linked to overpopulation and/or bad environments  leading to activities like illegal logging, vice, crime, conflicts.  Poverty is political, the result of a corrupt government unresponsive to the people’s needs, where dynasties and palakasan prevail.

“Policies and programs aimed at addressing poverty must … address not only the economic deprivation … but also the psychological, character-based, social and political aspects of poverty,” say the researchers. “For instance, understanding poverty as a psychological or socio-emotional experience points to the need to address the negative effects of poverty on the human psyche in the hope of fostering a more peaceful disposition among members of a community.

“Linking poverty to a deficient and corrupt political system implies that measures to promote good governance [are] also … important [in] uplifting the conditions of people [to] build peace in the community.”

Violence and peace

How do the people of Sulu and Basilan view violence?  In a survey of residents of Indanan, Jolo and Luuk by Nico Canoy and Raymond de los Reyes, both men and women called for  more transparent and accountable local governance and better relations between civilians and the military.  But men focused on the powerful while women emphasized marginalized groups.

Canoy and De los Reyes stress the  need to address the unequal power relation between those who inflict violence and those vulnerable to violence.  “Women, being among the vulnerable and the marginalized, call for the inclusion and active participation of women in the social, economic and political spheres in the region,” they say.

Janice Jalali and Judith de Guzman note that Christians see human dignity as necessary for peace with unity, understanding, forgiveness, reconciliation.

Muslims equate peace with leaders with integrity and governments that are responsive to their needs.  Peace also means abiding by Islamic teachings and respecting their struggle for freedom.

Badjaos see peace as  livelihood opportunities, freedom from discrimination and absence of conflict.

Other issues

Elmelyn Hayudini and De Guzman asked Cotabato students about the controversial memoradum of agreement on ancestral domain (MOA-AD) and  found that, while Muslims and Christians agree it is an important step toward enduring peace, they differ in their perceptions of lawfulness and land claims.

Muslims have mixed feelings about the legal bases for MOA-AD, while Christians think it will benefit only some groups.

Mary Kathleen Bueza and Sitti Rhaihan Malik, studying how Tausugs, Bisayas and Badjaos of Sulu view each other, find that  all groups generally have positive ideas about the others, with Bisayas seen in the best light.  But negative stereotypes about Tausugs and Badjaos still exist.

Rowella Jane Lopera, Hayalee Joy Vicente and Nursiba Buraya-Adzhari ask the people in Jolo what they think and feel about American soldiers who participated in Balikatan, the joint Philippine-United States military exercises.  The people are divided into pro- and anti- camps.

When Charlie Inzon and Lino Ulanghutan ask Muslim and Christian leaders about their take on the conflict in the region, issues on land, politics, colonization, militarization, lawlessness, dynasties are raised.   “There is no one story…,” they say.  “Recognizing these multiple stories of conflict can open up diverse pathways to peace-building in the Mindanao region.”

Read the Peace magazine at www.ateneo.edu/sites/default/



E-mail the author at blessbook@yahoo.com.

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Tags: Bangsamoro , column , Learning , Mindanao , peace process , queena n. lee-chua

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