By Tommy Pangcoga

The term “right to self-determination” – more popularly known by its acronym, “RSD” – and particularly in the context of Mindanao and the centuries-old struggle of the Bangsamoro people, has been widely misunderstood, especially by the mainstream majority of Philippine society. It is because it is always associated with the armed struggle, waged by the two major Moro Fronts against national government.

The sharp and sometimes violent reactions of Non-Moros (and also some Moros) against the struggle of the Bangsamoro is borne out of their ignorance of the latter’s history as a people, their way of life, their present problems, and their present struggles and aspirations. It is also caused by their fear of how the Bangsamoro will treat them and their properties if the Bangsamoro will be restored of their RSD. These imaginary fears (sometimes real) are partly due to not only by how the Moro were portrayed by the colonizers – which was carried over to the neo-colonial times, as traitors, villains and untrustworthy people – but also because of past bad experiences against the Moro, thus the stereotyping.

However, what many in the mainstream majority do not know of, or maybe even refuse to know of, is that Bangsamoro RSD is not only a simple armed struggle. It is an assertion that is being made by all the Moro groups that constitute the Bangsamoro spectrum. Like a prism, it has several facets to it, almost all (if not all) of which are based on a very long historical antecedent. Without this antecedent, there would not have been an impetus for an armed struggle or an overall assertion in the first place. Three of these stand out the most over the rest.

First, Bangsamoro RSD is anchored on the often-denied fact that the Bangsamoro, as a people and a nation, has existed centuries before the Declaration of Philippine Independence in 1898, much more so by the Grant of Philippine Independence of the United States in 1946. Prior to these dates, the Sultanates of Sulu and Maguindanao, the four Principalities of Lanao, and their respective tributary domains have been recognized in the Far East by the middle-aged Malayan states and even by such giant as the Chinese Empire. The treaties made by the Spanish government, and later the American government, with these sultanates are also proof that they have indeed been regarded as nations long before the Philippine Republic.

Second, Bangsamoro RSD has stemmed from age-old injustices done by Philippine colonizers, and then later by the Filipinos themselves, to the Bangsamoro people. According to Archbishop Orlando Quevedo himself, injustice was meted out on the Bangsamoro’s identity, on their ancestral territory, on their political sovereignty, and their integral development. These injustices have been done upon the Bangsamoro for many decades, not only by the foreign colonizers of the past, but also by the Filipino mainstream majority upon their assumption to power.

Third, Bangsamoro RSD is also hinged on the fact that the Bangsamoro people were forcibly made part of a nation that they did not want to be a part of in the first place, let alone asked if they wanted to be part of it at all, and then later treated as second class people, given the oh so rare privilege of being milked heavily of their ancestral territory’s rich natural resources in the name of nation building and receiving mere scraps and hand-me-downs in return for such humongous “forced tributes”. No wonder the assembled Moro leaders of the 1924 Zamboanga Declaration and the 1939 Dansalan Declaration called for a restoration of a Moro Nation that is separate and distinct from the Philippine archipelago. They had known long ago that the Moro people would never be treated properly should the Filipinos be given the privilege to govern their affairs, despite their categorical differences in way of life. And although claimed by the Filipino mainstream majority as part of the greater Philippine body politic, the Bangsamoro never felt part of this body from the very beginning. The five provinces that constitute the ARMM, with the highest scores in poverty, infant mortality, literacy, lifespan, and all other negative criteria of the Human Development Index, is more than sufficient proof of unresponsiveness or even willful neglect of the Philippine national government and the Filipino mainstream majority to the Bangsamoro people.

Bangsamoro RSD, therefore, came from the pains, hurts, suffering and anguish experienced by the minoritized Bangsamoro people in the hands of the Filipino mainstream majority and the oppressive and suppressive rule of their government.

It is from the tormented massed ranks of the Bangsamoro people that the two Moro Fronts poured forth. And it is in defense of the very survival of Bangsamoro people that the two Moro Fronts have come to banner in the armed struggle against government, and later, have come to represent and negotiate for in the Moro-GRP Peace Process.

But then again, Bangsamoro RSD can be seen like a cake with two halves. One half delves in the realm of restoring the lost political status of the Bangsamoro as a people and a nation, while the other half focuses on the Bangsamoro’s integral development, both in the short and long term.

So, while the Moro Fronts are engrossed in pursuing the peace talks with national government, which is part of the mandate given to them by the Bangsamoro people, with the end in view of attaining a political status that would define the political relationship of the Bangsamoro people with the Philippine state, another major Moro grouping, the Bangsamoro civil society organizations – or the BM CSOs – can find their niche by drafting the Bangsamoro Development Agenda (BMDA). This is on top of their efforts to support the peace talks in many different ways.

Thus, Moro CSOs have converged and banded together to ask key leaders and representatives of groups and sectors that constitute the whole Bangsamoro spectrum to consolidate and develop the “Civil Society Organization – Bangsamoro Development Agenda”, or CSO-BMDA.

The twelve thematic development areas of the BMDA are deemed important areas of development of every society. The BMDA contains both more generic and specific strategies towards identified goals. The efforts at articulating the BMDA is as important as the struggle to achieve a certain level of political status. The latter shall serve to enforce the former.

The articulation of the BMDA will allow the Moro people, especially the non-Moro, to better appreciate the context and justification of the continuing assertion of the Bangsamoro of their right to self-determination.

The CSO-BMDA does not only articulate the aspirations of the Bangsamoro but also provides a readily available advocacy material for the Moro people.

The deep prejudices against the Bangsamoro is making the peace process doubly difficult to convince, especially to the non-Moro, that this is correcting the historical and social injustices against the Moro people and not to subordinate them under the Bangsamoro nor to confiscate their legitimately acquired properties.

It has to be made known and understood by as many groups as possible in a way that is non-harassing and non-threatening. This is the big extra challenge.