(Author’s note: Addressed to the Filipinos of Luzon, Visayas, and even Mindanao who do not know and do not care to know because they think they already know. What a pity.)

I am a Moro. I was born that way. I have Moro blood, Moro flesh, and Moro heritage. It is not wrong to be this way. I am different from you. I do not need to be judged or looked down upon. I do not need to be converted to the ways and beliefs of the mainstream majority. I do not need to follow your ways, because I do not want to. What I need and what all of those who are like me need is your understanding and your respect for our differences.

We did not start this conflict in any way. And yet you scorn us and attack us. Perhaps it is because you have read our history from the eyes and the pens of your historians. Our history is older, much older than yours. And if you could only see it through our own eyes, you would understand. But you do not, and perhaps you never will.

Before your nation was born, we already had our own sovereignty in Mindanao. We had lived peacefully with honor, prosperity and dignity and we had lived in peaceful coexistence with others of different cultures and beliefs within this land. This was before the Spaniards came to colonize you. This was before the Spaniards sold you – and us too, though without our knowledge and consent – to the Americans.

When your people finally gained your independence from the Americans, we had already been doubtful that you would treat us and our ways with respect. Because for over three hundred years, the colonizers had not only converted you to their faith and their western ways, they had also used you as shock troops against us. Where before their arrival, we had shared relations of amity and commerce and perhaps some history as well, now after over three hundred years of fighting one another, you with all your hate and enmity against my people, had been given the opportunity to govern us against our will.

And what have you done since that independence? You continued what the colonizers had done to us. You claim us to be part of your citizenry, yet you mock our ways, thinking our ways are backward and wrong and that yours are right. You forced us to follow your laws. You treated us as second class citizens. Even as savages. You claimed your prize for the three hundred years of servitude as shock troops of your colonizers and, through your laws, divested us of our ancestral lands. And when we became fed up and our braver brethren took up arms to make our point, you were contemptuous and assaulted us at every opportunity given to you. You knew that if you could force us to surrender, you could take all the natural riches underneath our ancestral lands for your own, in addition to the lands you have already taken away from us, either by force, deceit, or stealth. Because you have already needlessly wasted and squandered what little resources your lands have had before.

You are up in arms when only one of you is injured or killed by one of us. It is sensationalized on television. Yet you remain silent after millions of us have been displaced, tens of thousands left dying of disease and hunger, and hundreds killed by your army, your police and your vigilantes. We are lucky if we find an article about this on the last page of one of your little known tabloids. You have harmed our old folk, our women, and our children. You have not only marginalized us, you have also disenfranchised us and displaced us, socially, politically, culturally and economically. You have made us poor and weak. All this because we are different.

What we do is no different from what you do. We talk and laugh. We complain about work. We bleed when we are injured. And we wonder about growing old. We talk about our families and we worry about the future. And we cry with each other when things seem hopeless. All of the things you do with each other, that is also what we do. And for that we are called deviants, criminals, secessionists, even terrorists, and then are made to suffer.

What right do you have to make us suffer like this? What right do you have to change us? What makes you think you can dictate how we live our lives?

I and my people desire no rancor against you or anyone. We only aspire to live in peace, dignity, honor, and prosperity within our homeland — The Bangsamoro Homeland — or what little remains of it we can genuinely reclaim from you, anyway. We only seek to regain the things that your people and your governments, past and present, have taken away from us. We only seek to enjoy our right to self-determination and to live our way of life according to our beliefs, not according to yours. That is our rightful due.

You are the stronger “other”. If you wish to talk of peace, look through the lens of justice and of our history. If you wish to talk of peace, do not play double-talk, semantics, or word calisthenics. And if you wish to talk of peace, do not hold a sword behind your back. That simply will not do. We were not born yesterday.

I am a Moro. And I am proud to be a Moro. Deal with it, or leave me alone.

(Tommy Pangcoga is the Training and Project Development Officer and a member of the Western Mindanao Cluster Team of the Consortium of Bangsamoro Civil Society, Inc. CBCS’ main office is in Cotabato City).