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June 03, 2008

Dear Mr. Alibasa, Dear Abul, Abul:

Please allow me to comment on the position of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) that the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) “is a machinery of corruption and deception” and that it “…is designed to destroy whoever occupies it” to prolong “…the agony and suffering of the Bangsamoro people.”

At the outset, let me clarify my three addresses to you above. It illustrates my uncertainty and confusion in how to relate to you – a representative and a spokesman of the MILF – and to the Moro peoples who believe without any doubt in the legitimacy of their just struggle for dignity and self respect.

I am not even comfortable in addressing you in English as "Dear Mr. Alibasa" or "Dear Abul" or just plain "Abul" because you might misconstrue it as being condescending and showing a lack of respect.

But here I am, trying to communicate to you in a language imposed on us by the fluke of history. And it is so hard to shake off centuries of cultural interaction and domination by superior forces on us, for instance. Or we in these 7,107 islands which millions of us refer to as the homeland, some as Pilipinas, some as Perlas ng Silangan, in my case sometimes, as Bangsa Kasuko-an, in the case of Mr. Satur Respicio whose fraternity brothers belong to the ruling class in Sulu and Tawi as "Bangsa Magayon".

We who continue to suffer the long-drawn consequences of the Battle of Granada in 1492 between a fading regime of the Muslim Moors under Boabdil and the ascendant "Christian" kingdom of Ferdinand and Isabella. So long ago, so far away, and yet here you are ready to sacrifice your lives for something that we had nothing to do about.

Of course, millions of us who were never subjected to the domination of the Spaniards and the Americans do not refer to ourselves as "Filipinos", especially those who trace their roots to the heroic and tragic martyrs of Bud Dajo and Bud Bagsak in Sulu or those inhabiting the shores of Lake Ranao.

But, I repeat that is history. Many Mujaheddins and Jihadists would like to undo the bloody encounters in Europe and other parts of the world, between the Muslims and the Christians. They would like to reverse the defeat of the Great Salaludin and his Warriors in the hands of the mysterious Knights Templar who were decimated by their fellow Catholics or Christians.

In our homeland, some of us are harking back to the days when Islam had already established its foothold in Vigan, Ilocos Sur.

It is with infinite sadness that many of us contemplate the misery of our people in Bangsa Kasuko-an. But you and I are aware that it is not just our Muslim brothers and sisters who are so destitute and impoverished, such as those shown by Howie Severino's colleagues in GMA, the people in that miserable island in Tawi Tawi. The children are not going to school. One very young girl was crying with frustration, embarrassment, anger and self-pity because she could not read nor write. The people who get sick just wait to die in pain and in misery. They do not have medical assistance. And if they can take a motorboat to another island in a six-hour two-way trip, they do not have any money to buy Cortal or Aspirin. They use seawater for cooking for lack of fresh water in the island.

Here in University town of Berkeley, I have seen, with many others, the movies of Datu Mangansakan of young and college-age Muslim youth, still laboring to learn in the elementary school.

Of course, the pagpag-eating and garbage-subsisting humanoids in Payatas and in other shanty areas in Metro Manila are not Muslims. The impoverished and tubercular mothers singing haunting, and heart-rending lullabies of "Tahan na bunso, darating na si Tatay, mayroon dalang pagpag at basura na makakain natin pag mainit na at maalis natin ang u-od..." to her dying child who is barely able to whimper with hunger and bodily pains, while wracked with incessant coughing in their quaint and picturesque and fairy tale houses made of cardboard are not Muslims. After an arduous day of scavenging or even stealing for saleable garbage, those going home to their cavernous homes under the bridges or those macabre beings sleeping in the graveyards are not Muslims.

Most of our lowly domestic helpers who are being brutalized by their "Ma'am" in Muslim countries, and those "flying" from the high rise buildings in Hongkong, or those in Singapore, in Japan, in Europe, and Italy are not Muslims.

Muslims, Christians, Atheists, Agnostics, Animists – we have so much that we are wishing for our people in the homeland. Some of us try to do what we can within the limits of our capabilities. Not out of cultural or material superiority because we are as impoverished as most of us – excluding the Arroyos and the super rich in the homeland – or condescension but out of a very sincere compassion for normal human beings devoid of any religious tint.

Mr. Cayetano Santiago, a non-Muslim from Bulacan and a long time resident of Arizona, provided P35,000. A Christian Tausug, Mr. Alex Kho, added P10,000. A Putri from Cotabato now in Penang, added another P10,000. Alumni of the University of the Philippines from as far as Canada and here in California contributed to the amount. Coordinating the initial efforts was provided by a non-Muslim from Bulacan who had to take off from her work in the NEDA so that she could go to Patikul (perhaps to see also how her “friend” was doing in the Marines in Sulu).

But it was Ms. Susie Abenojar Barbieri, originally from Pangasinan, married to a Frenchman, who became a "beggar" among the expatriate community in Seoul where she was teaching English in the international community. Tirelessly, day and day out, she would smilingly solicit from almost everyone to contribute to a fund so that the high school youth in the war torn Patikul National High School in Sulu can have school chairs. The information we got was that the Muslim youth in the high school were still coming to school despite the lack of chairs. The girls were writing on their notebooks on their lap because if there were dilapidated chairs, there were no arm rests. The boys would lean on the walls of the rooms for the entire class hours.

So this group with one Muslim Putri in Penang, whom I refer to as the gentle, lovely, and beautiful face of Islam, Putri Ayesah Abubakar, contributed to a fund named "Silya Para sa Patikul". Ms. Barbieri pledged 600 chairs to the high school, including school desks, and even a toilet.

Labor was provided by the Parents Teachers Association, the kids themselves, the community, and the Marines in Patikul.

To raise funds, his mestiso French son and his friends were baking cakes and selling them to their classmates.

From among the Tausugs, the Buranons, the Maranaos, and the Maguindanaos, all over the world, and there are many of them in America, it was only Mr. Alex Kho and Putri Ayesah Abubakar who contributed to this "Silya Para sa Patikul Project." A great portion of the amount was contributed by the people in Korea, especially from Ms. Barbieri's French community.

Of course, during the turnover ceremony three months ago, she was invited to go to Patikul. I was not sure that she should go. You know how it is over there. We even requested five honorable members of the Senate if Ms. Abenojar would be safe in Patikul. Their staff pretended that they did not received the emails.

In any case, Sultan Ibno Turabin of Basilan and his friend, I don't know if he is a Christian, an Atheist, or a Buddhist, Mr. Bobby Tanchoco, boarded a boat paying third class fare from Zamboanga to Jolo, and accompanied Ms. Barbieri to Jolo, then to Patikul. All was well. With Sultan Ibno Turabin accompanying her to Patikul, there was no doubt that should anything happen to her, a rido to end all ridos in Patikul was written in the stars.

But because of the centuries old killings between the believers of two systems of belief which started in a far away land, an institution for gaining knowledge and skills so that the young Muslims can face the challenges of this society and the world, a public, government high school has no chairs, no desks, perhaps no books, no laboratory equipment, no toilet. The teachers are probably not receiving their salaries on time.

And yet the tragic, sad, hilarious, funny, contemptible irony of it all is that the weapons of the MNLF, the MILF, the Abu Sayyaf, the government soldiers are very expensive and would cost a lot of money. And yet there are no chairs for the youth.

Senator Aquilino Pimentel whom I wish can become President of Bangsa Kasuko-an because he is at least from Mindanao, is proposing a "Federal System" for the 7,107 islands constituting our archipelago.

Frankly, I wish that Bangsa Moro shall become an independent sovereign state. If I have to apply for a visa to go to Simunul or Bongao which I have visited before with fond memories, then let it be so.

But again the tragedy is that even the leaders of the Moros exploit their own people.

I have read Maritess Danguilan Vitug's "Under a Crescent Moon: Rebellion in Mindanao". Of course, this does not make me an expert on the very complex situation concerning the relationship between the Muslims and the non-Muslims in the homeland. But in this book, there is a very extensive discussion on UP Professor Nur Misuari and the MNLF.

I wonder. Was it due to the inherent nature of the ARMM as a well-camouflaged instrument of oppressing the Muslims that resulted in the organizational and administrative ineffectiveness of the ARRM? Or if we look inward, we might find some answers.

I am wondering also why the two Fronts – the MNLF and the MILF – cannot join forces and present a United Front to their real and imagined oppressors.

Perhaps another Front can join them, the National Democratic Front.

If an agreement can be forged, not for the interest of the idealistic but possibly misguided and napapagiwanan ng kasaysayan leaders of the three Fronts, a lasting peace in the 7,107 islands in the homeland is still possible in our lifetime.

Then instead of using the money to buy high powered and expensive weapons to end life, we can use the money so that our people can have a better and longer life.

So that the youth in the Patikul National High School and other government high schools can have chairs.

Salaam Mr. Alibasa.

Cesar Torres

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