Insha'Allah: Muslim orphans hope for peace
MANILA, Philippines – Abdul Aziz (not his real name) wakes up at 4am. After praying to Allah, he hurriedly eats his breakfast. Clutching his bag and books, he runs to his classroom. He doesn't want to be late in all of his classes.
Abdul is now on 11th grade, a year away from finishing high school. Armed with his determination to become a computer engineer and a businessman someday, he perseveres on studying in a territory thousands of miles away from his war-torn hometown in South Cotabato, Mindanao.
Abdul is one of the 57 Muslim orphans at a private institution* in a city south of Metro Manila helping 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.
“Dito, pakiramdam ko po ligtas ako. Doon po sa amin, malayo ang school at madalas rin pong ma-suspend, (I feel safe here. In my former hometown, education is inaccessible because schools are far, and classes are always suspended,)” said Abdul.
The children are provided with shelter, food, clothes, and free education from pre-school to high school. The foundation offered a secluded community far from bombs and guns, but also far from their fellow Muslim brothers and sisters.
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,” said Abdul.
(Soldiers always went to our community. I was afraid to go out. There were bomb explosions anytime of the day,)
Official reports 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 cost P1.3 billion alone. (READ: Son of a Rebel)
“The government capitalizes so much on wars but we have gained nothing. Instead, it only cost lives,” said Amirah Lidasan of the 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.
IDMC estimates that since 2000, over 4 million people have been displaced at the southern island of Mindanao due to a combination of armed conflict, crime and violence, and clan violence.
Abdul, together with his fellow orphans in the foundation, is just one of the internally displaced children due to armed conflict.
For Abdul, who is one of the war's victims, 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.
Another Muslim orphan in the foundation plans otherwise. Ya’ qub, not his real name, wants to return to Basilan after college to search for his 6 siblings whom he has not seen since birth.
He dreams of becoming an architect to help his fellow Muslim brothers and sisters.
“Gusto kong maging arkitekto para magawan 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 who lost their homes because of the conflict.)
The eldest son in the family, Ya'qub was sent to the foundation after his father died due to an 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 the foundation with high hopes for a bright future.
Road to peace
The unequal distribution of wealth and Moro oppression fuelled the decades-long armed struggle lead by the MILF in Mindanao.
In an effort to resolve decades of armed struggle, 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. (READ: DOCUMENT: Bangsamoro basic primer)
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, GPH claims that the 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 not addressed, the Moro armed struggle will only persist. More innocent lives will be at stake and more children will become orphans.
“Para sa mga naulila dahil sa armed conflict, huwag kayong mawalan ng pag-asa. Hindi nangangahulugan na kapag nawalan ng magulang, hindi na magpapatuloy sa pag-aaral at sa buhay,” said Maryam Al Namit, social worker at the foundation.
(To those who are orphaned because of war, do not lose hope. Losing your parents does not mean you have to lose your right to education, and your right to have a peaceful life.)
Abdul and the rest of the orphans only hope that armed conflict will end soon not only in Mindanao, but also in the whole country.
Amid threats to their security and future, Abdul and his fellow Muslim orphans urge their fellow Filipinos 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." – Rappler.com
*Editor's note: The institution declined to have its name mentioned for this article.
"In sha'Allah" is an Arabic term which figuratively means waiting for a bright future.
Joan Cordero is a graduate of UP Diliman. She advocates for the rights of women and children.
For more stories and conversations on the Bangsamoro Basic Law and the Mindanao peace process, visit #ProjectMindanao.
#ProjectMindanao is a platform for meaningful conversations and informed action that we hope would lead to a better understanding of the conflict in Mindanao and why we need not only to promote peace but sustain it.