No Homeland

by Jose Ma. Montelibano

Consistent with the Filipino attachment to drama, we often miss the essential for the glitter, the substance for the translucent, albeit transient. Thus, the Mamasapano controversy preoccupied a nation whose 20 million people wallow in poverty, homelessness and are constantly chased by hunger.

Emotional as it has been, especially for the surviving families of the SAF 44, the incident added another 44 killed in a conflict that has already claimed more than 120,000 Filipino lives. Of that total number, I do not have numbers of soldiers and policemen killed although I read somewhere that then dictator Marcos, in the 70s, when he was suing for peace with the help of Libya, had mentioned 10,000 to 11,000 officers and personnel from the AFP.

All of those lives were not just statistics, they were people with names, faces and families. Many were innocent civilians, not even combatants—Christians, Muslims, lumads.

Few question why there is fighting, and fewer still understand or have a good enough grasp of a historical context. Without that historical context, without what the imminent professor, Emmanuel Q. Yap, called the historical truth, then we are all screaming our heads off or pontificating from ignorance, or worse. Yes, worse is stupidity, thinking one is smart and right when one actually knows next to nothing.

The Internet is full of commentaries, and naturally so. That is what the Internet has done—opened the world of knowledge, opened the world of communications, especially via social media. Unfortunately, the world of communications is overwhelming the world of knowledge. The Internet is making available information to any seeker and has truly upset the world of secrets.

Lao Tzu’s “Art of War” will be seriously challenged because the great advantage of secrecy is substantially neutralized by today’s overload of data. Despite this, however, many are not truly concerned about the truth or facts of anything—they just want to comment, they just want to say something, anything.

It is easy to comment about Mamasapano as a police mission with all the public details. We can all be armchair commandoes, planning to capture terrorists in hostile territory. We can even involve our children and grandchildren who are deeply engrossed in computer games. After all, we are far from where fighting and killing are real.

It is even easier to comment about why it was a mortal sin for a President not to meet the airplane carrying the bodies of SAF 44 when it landed at Villamor Airbase as though it is a presidential duty to do so. Come to think of it, nobody could mention what occasion a President of the republic ever met a planeload of dead policemen or soldiers when thousands had been ferried by air to military air bases in the last 45 years.

Moving on, it was easier to comment when senators launched a queer investigation of a botched mission in the pursuit of terrorists. It was blame time, after all, and no game is more tempting for commentaries than finger pointing. Somehow, blaming someone else must bring some kind of perverse high to those who cannot stand looking at, and admitting, their own shortcomings. It even did not matter that high-profile Senate investigations leak to the enemies of the state almost everything they need to know about security protocol.

Now comes the Bangsamoro Basic Law. After dead PNP SAF bodies, social and political vultures will feast on the BBL whether or not they understand what this is all about. A written document that is intimately related to a historical context will be full of words and terms that are more current if only to comply with legal or Constitutional provisions. Yet that document is supposed to embody a crucial history that precedes current laws and Constitution.

It is not a crime for a people to believe that their native land is theirs. In fact, that is the law today, affirming and guaranteeing native-born humans their rights simply because they were born in the Philippines. But when Spain invaded, conquered and ruled the Philippines, those rights were set aside, disenfranchising all our native-born ancestors. When Spain conceded in favor of the United States, the key rights of the native-born were not returned. Up to today, those rights remain lost, not only in real life, but much worse, in our memory as well.

We have a present day understanding of what ancestral domain means, not a native understanding, unfortunately. The issue of ancestral domain is borrowed from the West that grabbed by force the ancestral domain of natives through colonization. The horrible fact is that Filipinos talk of ancestral domain only in the context of minority indigenous peoples as though we, the mainstream Filipinos, are foreign conquerors as well.

We have even forgotten that our ancestors were the majority natives of 7,000 islands before they were called islands of the Philippines.

And now, we point to Muslims as nonowners of their own ancestral domain, as rebels and secessionists. Why? They have been fighting for centuries over land they have not forgotten as theirs. That is no crime. That is patriotism to the core.

It is we mainstream, and mostly Christian, Filipinos who have forgotten that this is our land, that this is the homeland of our forefathers, that this is our ancestral domain. Because we have forgotten, we have made it a crime for Muslims to remember. Because we have forgotten, the vast majority of mainstream Filipinos ended up being landless and homeless. We should be fighting side by side against a historical amnesia that has left most Filipinos with a homeland they do not remember as their own. What should have been ours by birth can now be ours only if we buy back what was ours in the first place.

Let the Bangsamoro Basic Law lead us to the bigger, forgotten historical truth. Let the BBL become a document that will trigger the mother of all documents—the rectification of a historical wrong for all Filipinos, the return of what was stolen to their rightful heirs.


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