Of Moro martyrs and muted celebrations
I was a 1-year-old boy in Tawi-Tawi when the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) was established 26 years ago, ending the Moro struggle waged by the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) through the signing of a peace agreement with the Philippine government.
I could no longer remember how people in the island celebrated the news but as I grew older, it became apparent how important the establishment of the region was for the Moro in Mindanao.
My father, a Tausug from Sulu, spoke of the Moro independence as if it were part of the family values he and my mother taught us to live with, making us feel its importance, while making us proud of our color, our language, our food, our faith, and our beginnings.
We were told of the bravery of the Moro fighters who took up arms till the end in the name of independence, of freedom.
However, the world is not perfect. ARMM, as has been repeatedly said, was an experiment that failed. It was a costly failure that resulted in the suffering of the Moro people, the same people who dreamed big when the peace agreement between the MNLF and the Philippine government was signed.
The symbol of freedom was devoured by greed, corruption, and hunger for power. Almost nothing was left of ARMM but the dignity and resolve of a few who, luckily, continued the revolution for change and freedom. Because of this, I believe we deserve a grand parade.
Reasons to celebrate
We can count down a hundred and one reasons why the people of ARMM deserve one lavish party to celebrate the founding anniversary of the region. Things are far better now for us. The region is now more stable compared to years before.
It has, yes, prepared the table for the Bangsamoro. But we are not throwing a party. There will be no grand celebration – and it's just right.
Why? Because we deserve to have far better things as we celebrate the 26th anniversary of the ARMM, things and values that will make us prouder as a nation.
Decency, one of these values, dictates us to mark our commemoration with muted celebration - because, as we celebrate, we cannot turn a blind eye to what is confronting the world: the violence of terrorism.
As sons and daughters of the Moro revolution, as children of Islam, it is more fitting for us to direct our attention to expressing solidarity with the rest of the world that mourns over the countless deaths resulting from indiscriminate attacks against humanity. (READ: Muslim leaders to ISIS: Return to 'religion of mercy')
This is the time when we do not need stars to shine down on us. Instead, we can celebrate the stars within us as we put the spotlight on the uniqueness of our culture, the beauty of our history, and the hopes and aspirations of our people.
We can still celebrate the gains of the reforms instituted by the regional government - the reforms that crushed opportunities of corruption that, as a result, allowed the government to spend for the needs of communities.
We can still celebrate the return of thousands of displaced individuals from the evacuation centers to their communities, and how they start to rebuild and start a new life. We can still celebrate peace.
In fact, peace is the highlight this year.
Work to be done
The regional government feels that we should all continue our engagement in the ongoing peace process and seek a deeper understanding of the Muslim community, instead of letting the national discourse be swayed in favor of prejudice and hate.
This is important because Muslims continue to suffer the effects of bigotry and ignorance not only in the Philippines, but also around the world. (READ: Breaking barriers: More than just Muslims)
Minus the fireworks, we can still celebrate.
Looking back, the admiration I have for the Moro martyrs is converted to pride. They are the reason why we are a free nation, a free people.
These are the reasons why, today, I am a proud Moro and a happy son of Mindanao. – Rappler.com
Amir Mawallil, 27, is the executive director of the ARMM's Bureau of Public Information.