Abdul Aziz, not his real name, wakes up at 4:00 in the morning. After praying to Allah, he dashes to eat his breakfast, and, clutching his bag and books, runs to his classroom. He refuses to be late in all of his classes. Abdul is now on 11th grade and only a year away from finishing high school.
He is determined to become either a computer engineer or a businessman someday. He hopes that he can achieve his goals in his school, thousands of miles away from his war-torn hometown in South Cotabato. Abdul is one of many orphans whose parents are killed in armed conflict in Mindanao.
Most of the children’s parents were killed in “rido” – war of clans – or caught in armed encounters between government troops and Moro armed groups. Here, the children are provided with shelter, food, clothes, and free education from pre-school to high school. Here, they have a secluded community far from bombs and guns. But they are also far from their fellow Muslim brothers and sisters who continue to live in the middle of conflict.
The Cost of War
“Lagi pong may mga sundalo sa amin. Nakakatakot pong lumabas ng bahay. Bigla po kasing may mga sumasabog na hindi ko po alam kung saan galing, (There are always soldiers in our community. I was always afraid to go out. There were bomb explosions, and I never know where they were coming from.)” said Abdul.
Government data show that from 1970 to 2001, the country spent P640 billion for war operations. That’s P2.06 billion per year, enough to feed thousands of families and build job-creating industries.
An all-out war in Mindanao in 2000 alone cost P1.3 billion. “The government capitalizes so much on wars but we have gained nothing. Instead, we only cost lives,” said Amirah Lidasan of Suara Bangsamoro, Muslim rights-based group. According to Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC), about 220,000 people have been displaced in Mindanao due to conflict and violence since January 2015. This is nearly twice the number of people who were displaced during 2014.
All internally displaced persons are located on the southern island of Mindanao, the region in the Philippines most affected by conflict-related displacement in the past decade. IDMC estimates that since 2000, over 4 million people have been displaced there due to a combination of armed conflict, crime and violence and clan violence. Abdul and his fellow orphans in the foundation are only some of these internally displaced children due to armed conflict.
For Abdul, returning home is not an option. “Ayoko na pong bumalik doon. Masaya na po ako dito. Mas ligtas po ako dito, (I no longer want to return to Mindanao. I’m happy now. I feel safer here)” said Abdul.
But Ya’ qub, not his real name, has a completely different plan. He wants to return to Basilan after college to search for his 6 siblings whom he has not seen since birth. He also has a dream — to help those he had left. “Gusto kong maging arkitekto para [ma]gawan ko ng bahay ang mga nangangailangan. Gusto kong bumalik sa Basilan para matulungan ang mga kababayan kong nawalan ng tirahan dahil sa giyera. (I want to become an architect to help those in need. I will return to Basilan to help my fellow Muslim brothers and sisters to build their wrecked houses due to armed conflict.)”
The eldest son in the family, Ya’qub was sent to the foundation after his father died due to an armed encounter between the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and the Armed Forces of the Philippines. With no sustainable job to feed the family, Ya’qub’s mother agreed to send him to school with high hopes for a bright future.
Road to Peace
The unequal distribution of wealth and Moro oppression fueled the decades-long armed struggle led by the MILF in Mindanao. In an effort to resolve this, the Philippine Government and the MILF drafted the Basic Bangsamoro Law (BBL). The peace deal aims to give wider scope of powers from the local government to the envisioned Bangsamoro political entity.
BBL has wider geographic coverage. In addition to ARMM, it will cover Cotabato, Isabela, and 6 municipalities of Lanao Del Norte and North Cotabato. The inclusion of other provinces aside from ARMM will be based on a plebiscite.
Under BBL, parliamentary system will be the form of the Bangsamoro political entity’s government. Compared to ARMM, the government claims that Bangsamoro government can form its own political party and elect representatives from different sectors in their entity. It can also form its own auditing, human rights, and election offices.
Different groups, however, claim that BBL cannot solve the armed conflict. The Makabayan bloc, a progressive minority group in Congress, stated that there are no provisions in BBL that seek to address the socio-economic root causes of the armed struggle.
According to the group, BBL implies that the resolution to the socio-economic roots of rebellion might be left to the hands of whoever chairs the Bangsamoro entity. “The BBL glaringly lacks any provision that puts an end to the monopoly control of agricultural lands and mineral resources by foreign corporations and a handful of big compradors and landlords through the free redistribution of land to farmers; nor provisions for the establishment of job-creating industries; nor provisions to lift the Moro, indigenous people, and other inhabitants of the Bangsamoro from poverty.”
Assalamu Alaikum (Peace Be with You)
The ordinary Moros and Lumads and other sectors that support the armed struggle in Mindanao are farmers, fisher folk, youth, women, and other poor people deprived of land, jobs, education, health, and other basic services.
As long as widespread poverty and injustice are undressed then, the Moro armed struggle will only persist. As long as the root causes of the conflict are not addressed, there cannot be peace in Mindanao. More innocent lives will be at stake and more children will become orphans.
Abdul and the rest of the orphans can only hope that armed conflict will end soon not only in Mindanao, but also in the entire country. Amid threats to their security and future, Abdul and his fellow Muslim orphans cry out to the Filipino people to work hand in hand to resolve the armed conflict in Mindanao. In a song, they pray for peace.
“People of the world, Islam is all about peace. Terrorism it doesn’t teach. It’s all about love and family and charity and praying to one god. This is Islam.”
[Entry 88, The SubSelfie Blog]
#TanawMindanao Part 2
Editor’s Note: Our brothers and sisters in Mindanao have always complained of isolation, and of being painted a negative image in the media. #TanawMindanao is a series of content dedicated to mainstream their issues, demystify their stories and show that we are all the same. They just have a harder battle to fight towards peace, and this is the contribution of SubSelfie.com to that effort.
Part 1 — The Siege of Zamboanga’s Youngsters
Part 3 — Lumads of Davao del Sur: Students without a School
Part 4 — Finding Peace in Zamboanga City
About the Author:
Joan Cordero is an advocate for women and children’s rights who is currently taking up her Masters Degree in Islamic Studies at the UP Diliman. She is also working as a researcher for GMA News TV’s State of the Nation with Jessica Soho. This essay was a semi-finalist of the 2015 European Union Peace Journalism Awards. It is being reposted here with the author’s permission.