Half a million signatures for Bangsamoro law

Angela Casauay
Half a million signatures for Bangsamoro law
Meet a youth leader from Marawi City who spearheaded an effort to gather signatures in support of the proposed Bangsamoro basic law

MARAWI CITY, Philippines – In a house overlooking the majestic Lake Lanao, a group of youth leaders gather a day before Ramadan to talk about the current state of the peace process.

They had just finished collecting 500,000 signatures from different parts of Mindanao over the course of 3 months in support of the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL), the proposed law seeking to create a new autonomous region in Southern Philippines. 

Marjanie Macasalong, chairperson of the Marawi City-based Coalition of Moro Youth Movement, said about 100 youth volunteers – all unpaid – worked together to gather signatures from various places – from madrasahs to sari-sari stores and universities.

“The idea came about when those people in Manila kept on saying that the BBL has no support from the masses. So the youth volunteers decided that we should show to the people in Manila that this (BBL) is really supported by the masses,” Macasalong said. 

Macasalong, 29, is in the process of finishing his doctorate degree in Kuala Lumpur but was convinced to return to help campaign for the passage of the bill. The BBL will implement the peace deal between the government and rebel group Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). 

The youth leader, who has written a number of academic papers on the liberation movement in Mindanao, represents the second generation of community leaders in Mindanao – born years after Martial Law was lifted and more than a decade after the Moro rebellion began.  

He is the son of the late MILF vice chairman Aleem Abdul Aziz Mimbantas and the son-in-law of former National Commission on Muslim Filipinos chair Hamid Barra. 

“The new generations are the ones who will be leading the society so we have to be concerned with this peace effort so the young generation, they can feel that they are part of the process. Therefore, they can contribute, their voices are heard,” he said. 

With the help of their partner local organizations, the coalition was able to get support from areas inside the proposed Bangsamoro region, such as Lanao del Sur and Maguindanao, and the island provinces of Basilan, Tawi-Tawi and Sulu. Some residents from areas outside the proposed core area, such as Lanao del Norte, Zamboanga City, Cotabato City, and Sultan Kudarat, also signed the petition. 

Sign-up efforts were documented through photos. Their call: for Congress to pass a Bangsamoro law that is consistent with what the 15-member Bangsamoro Transition Commission drafted and submitted to Congress and reflects the peace deal signed between the government and the MILF. 

Despite uncertainties in Congress on the passage and the final content of the proposed law, Macasalong said support remains solid from people on the ground, who remain optimistic about the chances of the law. (READ: #AnimatED: Law should trump violence)

“Many people have approached us, somehow jokingly (saying), ‘Can we sign many times in order to show that we are supporting the BBL?’ But we (declined) those individuals because we told them that you can sign only once because this is a petition and we don’t want repeated names to appear here,” he said. 

A Social Weather Stations survey conducted in February and March – after the tragic Mamasapano clash that killed 67 Filipinos – showed that close to half of those surveyed nationwide (48%) disapprove of the Bangsamoro law. However, support remains strong in core areas. 

Challenging biases

GRASSROOTS. A 3-month signature campaign led by youth volunteers collected about 500,000 signatures pledging support for the Bangsamoro basic law. Photo from the Coalition of Moro Youth Movement

The deadly clash delayed the passage of the proposed law in Congress and worse, reignited long-standing biases against Muslims. (Q&A: Cardinal on biases vs Muslims: ‘Failure of the Church’)

Addressing everyday biases should also be part of the conversation, Macasalong said.

“When I was doing my registration in Cagayan de Oro, those apartments did not allow me to stay there because they knew that I’m Muslim. One time, I asked my cousin, who is very fluent in Bisaya. He talked to them. They said, ‘Yes, we have a vacant (room).’  When my cousin asked me to come in, the owner said, ‘Oh, you’re Muslim? So sorry it’s full.’ It’s a very clear indication that they don’t want Muslims to stay there,” he said. 

“If I may relate this to the BBL, in fact, many analysts have said this, in order to solve the problem, we have to adapt the horizontal and vertical approaches. It’s not just political issues that should be addressed but (also) people to people (approaches). In Manila, there are instances where if you are wearing the hijab then the taxi will not stop. If we address things like that, it would be easier to solve the problem,” he added.  

Macasalong and the coalition are set to fly to Manila and visit Muslim communities in Metro Manila, including Quiapo and Taguig, to gather more signatures for the BBL. 

The signatures would be submitted to the Senate and the House of Representatives before President Benigno Aquino III’s final State of the Nation Address in July. (READ: 4 scenarios of Bangsamoro bill is not passed) – Rappler.com

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