Iqbal: Before we became Muslims and Christians, we are all brothers and sisters

Before Islam and Christianity, or any religion originating from the West ever set its precepts in the Philippine shores, Filipinos are all indigenous people, according to Moro Islamic Liberation Front’s (MILF) chief peace negotiator Mohagher Iqbal. “We are all brothers and sisters, before being divided by different beliefs,” Iqbal said during the recently held inter-religious dialogue on the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL).

Iqbal, who is concurrently the Bangsamoro Transition Commission Chairman, said the BBL is the result of a long-running peace negotiation between the MILF and the Philippine government.

Asked to comment on the watered-down version of the BBL, Iqbal said that it (watered-down version) is no different from having no BBL at all. “Personally, I have stopped thinking what would happen should the present version of the BBL prevailed,” he added.

The Senate version, Senate Bill 5811, removed several significant provisions in the original draft, such as,the preamble which explains the Bangsamoro’s long struggle for self-determination. It also removed the “opt in” provision which allows contiguous areas to be included in the Bangsamoro, provided that ten percent of the registered voters chose it. The bill also removed several geographical areas covered by the Bangsamoro entity in the submitted draft.

On the other hand, the Senate bill introduced new phrases, such as,“those who profess the faith of Islam” when referring to the Bangsamoro people.

Iqbal explained that between 1970 to 1997, they are mainly into armed struggle, although their quest for self-determination has started earlier through succession of foreign conquest, first with the Spaniards, and finally with the Americans.

In the early ‘70s, the Muslim armed struggle in Mindanao reached the height of bloodshed and violence because of then president Ferdinand Marcos’ military adventurism which resulted to the militarization of Mindanao. In 1997, according to Iqbal, peace talks with the government marked a new chapter in the MILF’s revolutionary life when it ventured into political struggle through a ceasefire agreement.

“Although the failure to pass the BBL will affect the decommissioning process, the MILF will continue to walk the path of peace,” Iqbal said.