The challenge will always be premised on this question: How to write the Bangsamoro as a Filipino?

But this question is essential to my writing process, to my engagements with my readers and audience of my plays whether in personal conversations or in public spaces, and in those moments of self-reflection and introspection that I paused to locate my writings in the current and unfolding events in these two worlds constantly negotiating and in conflict that I am now living and writing—the Moro and the Filipino imagination of a nation—that is far more greater than myself and my endeavors.

I am, by virtue of accident in birth, a Filipino writer writing about the Bangsamoro. But by choice as a writer and a playwright, I decided to tread the road less taken: to constantly abandon the “Filipino” in my writing, to reclaim my language and to perform the struggle of vulnerable communities that “Filipino writing” relentlessly refuses to reveal.

To write the Bangsamoro is to reveal and perform the narratives of the struggle. But the language and performance of the Bangsamoro struggle is not Filipino. It is an imperative therefore to Filipinos writing about the Bangsamoro to free their language first from the grand narrative of Filipino nationalism narrating the homogenous and monolithic nation of a “Filipino” Philippines. But given the institutional pressure in the country’s literary, cultural, and intellectual productions, and the clamor for that revered validation from canonical writers and intellectuals, going against the hegemonic narration is not an easy decision for some writers and artists.

The Bangsamoro struggle is a narrative of dispossession, survival, the revivalism of the glorious and peaceful past looking forward in the future, of reclaiming the self and the language, the centuries-old resistance against invaders presenting themselves as colonial masters: the Spaniards, Americans, Japanese—and yes, Filipinos. The language of the Bangsamoro struggle is the language of the Moro’s struggle to their right to self-determination. For now, this is perhaps the Bangsamoro narrative.

I grew up learning Mindanao, Moros, and the conflict in Southern Philippines from my Filipino institutions: schools, the media, books that I read, universities, family, even in my writing and theater endeavors, from Filipino scholars, writers, and artists from Manila and Mindanao. These institutions taught me how to write and read as a Filipino. I was reading Mindanao, Moros, and the conflicts in Southern Philippines as a Filipino and in the language produced by the hegemonic Filipino nationalism. I grew up, for example, listening to Asin’s “Cotabato” and “Balita,” songs that violently erase Moros in the narratives of Mindanao and subtly justify the violent military operations during the Marcos regime against non-Filipino settler communities in Mindanao while muting the other voices from the margins: “Kaya nagkakagulo dahil hindi ninyo nirespeto ang prinsipyo ng kapwa-tao” as the concept of “kapwa-tao” is “kapwa-Filipino na pinahihirapan ninyo.” The methodological appropriation of the Bangsamoro narrative to become Filipino is always silent on two things at the service of the hegemonic Filipino nationalist discourse: dispossession and the violence of forced integration. For now, this is perhaps the Filipino narratives of the Bangsamoro—and this without a doubt is Filipino.

I am always navigating between the Bangsamoro narratives and Filipino narratives of the Bangsamoro to locate my writing (and reading) and other writings and expressions from films, literatures, paintings, speeches, historical writings about Mindanao, the conflict, and the Bangsamoro.  These two narratives narrating the Filipinos and the Bangsamoros are in perpetual engagement, one will always remain dominant that would lead to conflict and if in the case where the power distribution is symmetrical between the two and a negotiation is possible, a negotiated space of relative peace is created. The location of writing and reading the Bangsamoro as a Filipino is never static, Filipino nationalism can blind our reading and limit our language in writing.

Stories of survival, resistance, and struggle are always communal. As a Filipino writer writing about the Bangsamoro, it is a necessity to be in the community, to be engaged  in the community’s collective efforts to resist, to counter-narrate, or even to talk-back to the system that oppresses them. To write my first novel I have to talk to several survivors and witnesses of various massacres perpetrated by the Ilagas and Filipino armed forces from Northern Mindanao to Manili, in Carmen, North Cotabato and crossing the sea as far as the Balut Island. In writing my play Mas Mabigat ang Liwanag sa Kalungkutan (Light Falls Heavier in Sorrow) in 2015, I needed to work in communities ravaged by Erap’s “all-out war” and the massacre of civilians and non-combatants inside MILF’s Camp Abubakar. To write and read the Bangsamoro is not an act of contrition but rather of a conscious effort to be engaged, to resist, and to abandon a language that legitimizes the systematic oppression of the Bangsamoro.

The conscious and deliberate act of participating in textual production is always subjected to suspicion. My position therefore as a Filipino writer and a playwright writing about the Bangsamoro is ambivalent, that to write, read, and perform the Bangsamoro my language is also condemned to reveal the power relations and the corresponding power structure that determines the nature and terrain of these relations. That writing is always possible in the position of resistance.

This essay was originally published on 29th April 2018 at the Manila Bulletin.

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