In my work with PBCI, I have been learning about the Bangsamoro and their fight for self-determination and control over their ancestral domain. I’ve had the privilege of gaining insight into various aspects of this struggle. I have seen the impact of armed resistance, which has played a crucial role in establishing a degree of self-determination within their ancestral domain through the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM). The Bangsamoro’s journey to this point has fostered a deep sympathy for others with similar causes, most notably the Palestinians, whom many Bangsamoro ardently support. This support and connection to parallel struggles have deepened my understanding of the Bangsamoro’s plight and the broader fight for self-determination and control over ancestral lands.

For the Bangsamoro people of the Philippines, the ongoing conflict in Gaza and the persecution and disenfranchisement of Palestinians resonate deeply. The Bangsamoro, indigenous to Mindanao, Sulu, and Basilan, now constitute only 20% of these regions’ population. They have endured persecution for centuries, from Spanish colonization to American, Japanese, and finally the Filipino state.

Ancestral Domain

The ancestral domains of both the Bangsamoro and Palestinians are central to their struggles for identity, sovereignty, and self-determination. These struggles are not only about land and governance but also about reclaiming the historical, cultural, and spiritual connections to their territories. For these communities, land is intertwined with language, traditions, and cultural practices. It serves as a living repository of history and a foundation for transmitting knowledge and traditions across generations. The spiritual connection encompasses places of worship and the land itself, where their ancestors lived and died.

For many around the world, the connection to ancestral land is deeply emotional and spiritual. Being separated from it adds to the trauma of being physically removed from home or fleeing violence. This is particularly true for societies that intertwine their cultural and spiritual realities with their surroundings. This issue extends beyond the Bangsamoro and Palestinians to many indigenous groups worldwide who lack self-determination and sovereignty over their ancestral lands.

Self Determination

Self-determination is a foundational principle for both the Bangsamoro and Palestinians, central to their struggles for autonomy, sovereignty, and cultural preservation. It allows a people to determine their political status and pursue economic, social, and cultural development. The establishment of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) marks a significant step in this process for the Bangsamoro.

Self-determination creates space for marginalized groups to regain dignity and cultural identity. It provides political autonomy, rights protection, and fosters economic independence. It does not guarantee success, but it enables a group with shared cultural backgrounds and history to make decisions addressing their needs. The Bangsamoro now have firsthand knowledge of achieving self-determination, giving them an intimate understanding of the goals and struggles of Palestinian resistance.

Armed Resistance and the Language of Terrorism

Members of Bangsamoro armed groups like the Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces (BIAF), the armed wing of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), in my current understanding, identify with groups like Hamas, seeing armed revolution as a means to self-determination and international attention. A Hamas spokesperson, discussing the 2018-2019 Gaza Border Protests with Al Jazeera, expressed frustration with the global community’s response. These protests, advocating for the end of the Israeli blockade of Gaza and the right of Palestinian refugees to return to their ancestral lands, ended with the deaths of 223 Palestinians, including 46 children, and 9,204 injuries. Eleven Israelis were also injured. For some within Hamas, this was another justification for violence to garner international attention.

The Moro people, like the Palestinians, have faced depictions of their armed struggles as terrorist activities. This characterization does not need to be entirely wrong to be a misrepresentation. One can see actions by Hamas or MILF as terrorist and reprehensible, but it is crucial to understand that systematic attempts to discriminate, dispossess, and disenfranchise will inevitably lead to violent resistance. For both of these peoples, the anger held towards the states they see as oppressors has often been the result of acts by the state that could equally be deemed as terrorism. For the people in Gaza today who have seen the utter destruction of their cities and the deaths of tens of thousands around them, must also feel they’re victims of terrorism.

Discourse shapes power and influence. How conflicts are discussed forms specific narratives. This is clear in the coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Labeling it a conflict between Israelis and Hamas, rather than Palestinians, can minimize the civilian impact. Calling it an Israeli genocide of Palestinians shifts perspectives. While wording does not change the reality for those suffering, it shapes perceptions for distant observers.

The adage “one man’s terrorist is another’s freedom fighter” fits this conversation. The tangible difference lies in who makes the judgment. This is not to say one group’s actions are more brutal, but to recognize that differentiation often depends on perspective. Violence begets violence, and both the Bangsamoro and Palestinians have histories of violent resistance against colonial powers.

Political philosophers argue that such violence is inherent in anti-colonial struggles. Paulo Freire, in page 56 of his book, Pedagogy of the Oppressed, posited that initial violence by oppressors establishes oppression, while the violence of the oppressed reclaims humanity and freedom. In page 51 of his book, The Wretched of the Earth, Frantz Fanon viewed violent resistance as essential for the colonized to reclaim humanity and overthrow colonial order. For Fanon, decolonization is inherently violent, involving a complete societal restructuring and eradication of the colonial mindset.

Through my interactive listening, I’ve been hearing many Bangsamoro being influenced by the horrific images and stories of Gaza’s siege. They understand the consequences of war intimately, having lost family, neighbors, and friends. The destruction seen in Marawi, following a five-month battle between the Philippine Armed Forces and the Maute group and Abu Sayyaf, parallels Gaza’s devastation. This shared experience, as I listen to my Moro friends, fosters a deep affinity for the Palestinian struggle.

The Bangsamoro and Palestinians’ quests for self-determination and control over their ancestral domains reveal striking similarities, rooted in shared histories of colonization, displacement, and resistance. The establishment of BARMM offers hope for a brighter future and belief in similar processes for Palestinians.

A Deeper Understanding of Armed Resistance and Non-Violence

The ongoing genocidal acts of the Israeli armed forces in Gaza has gripped the hearts of many worldwide. For the Bangsamoro of the Philippines, support for the Palestinian struggle stems from their shared fight for self-determination and control over their ancestral domain. These struggles are not unique to the Bangsamoro and Palestinians, as various groups around the world continue to battle for sovereignty over their traditional lands. The Palestinian struggle under the occupation of the State of Israel has intensified over the past eight months. These escalating violence and the genocidal acts of Israel against the civilians in Gaza have strengthened the Bangsamoro’s solidarity with the Palestinian people.

As a member of a community and an organization advocating for peace, it is crucial to acknowledge the violent nature of certain sentiments. Philosophers who support such views have often experienced legitimate violent oppression, something I have not faced. While I believe that peaceful solutions are generally best, I am not in a position to dictate how others should resist if I have not personally endured violent persecution. I do not have to agree with these philosophers to understand why people might subscribe to their beliefs and, more importantly, actively engage in violent resistance.

Growing up as a Mennonite, I was encouraged to challenge even the core tenets of my faith, including the principles of non-violence. This exploration has not changed my belief that advocating for peace is the best option. Instead, it has deepened my understanding of those who feel compelled to resort to violence when they believe they have no other recourse.

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    • Phyllis Montgomery on 19.June.2024. at 13:04

    Impactful and thought-provoking! The importance of discourse and consideration of the perspectives of all sides of conflict cannot be over-emphasized. What you are learning and sharing is such important information for all of us who pursue a life of peace. Thanks for this excellent essay. It spurs us all on to delve into issues more deeply, and to commit to more understanding before we form judgements based on our limited knowledge.

    • Doris on 19.June.2024. at 13:12

    An excellent paper , written with intimate understanding of the situation in both countries.

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