Inclusion in the Bangsamoro

There are arguments pushing for the exclusion of the province of Sulu in the future Bangsamoro political entity once the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) is passed into law. They viewed the inclusion of this province as inimical to the interests of the province and its people. More particularly, they argued that why Sulu has to join an entity whose membership lumped together all the poor provinces, and therefore, without saying, it cannot survive. Instead of providing autonomy for Moros, they argued further, that assimilation of the Moros into the main body politic is the better approach.

We respect their views and it is good they are speaking up their minds. In a democracy, there is freedom of speech and one can argue for or against any proposal as long as he or she wants. In fact, if people are allowed to debate on something they will not be short of arguments. This is the reason that in Islam, following the Quranic injunction that the affairs of the community is to be conducted by consultation, there is a limit to debates. If they have chosen a way or have decided, they are advised to cling to it and leave the rest to Allah.

Before the advent of Americans in 1898, Sulu was well-developed. But today, it is one of the poorest provinces if not the poorest in Mindanao or in entire country. Why? Like the other Moro provinces such as Basilan, Maguindanao, and Lanao del Sur, the reason is they are devastated by 45-year war since 1972– a war imposed by “Imperial Manila”.  Is it not that war is the mother of all poverty?

There are other reasons. Two of which is, first, the failure of the national government to provide enough financial support. Caraga region, the smallest administrative region, receives more than what the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) is receiving. The second is the widespread corruption among many local government officials, which the national government failed or is deliberately tolerating for decades. Imagine many local government officials are treating the internal revenue allocations (IRA) as their personal income/money.

Be that as it may, the fact shows that people of the province have long wanted for change of the status quo. Not much for those who are their leaders, because those are selected or elected during elections. It is more on how they select them; meaning, the election process. Are their votes really counted correctly or fairly or whether their votes are the ones counted?

Surely, the MNLF faction under Chairman Yusoph Jikiri and members of the MILF in the province are pushing vigorously for the passage of the BBL and the inclusion of Sulu. There are also political leaders who openly supported the BBL. They are many of them and we can count on them.

Those pro-BBL in the province see the bright side of inclusion. First, Sulu by reason of geography, ethnicity, and historicity is undetachable from this envisioned Bangsamoro entity. Second, if it joins itself with Cebu, for instance, it will be more isolated and choked off by the surrounding provinces. And thirdly, we spent tens of thousands of lives only to abandon what have fought and died for? The MNLF, MILF, and all conscience-guided people will not agree. This is part of their right to self-determination.