For Muslims in Tacloban, BBL passage is way home

SHAFAQNA- For hundreds of Muslim families in Tacloban, the passage of the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law, or the Basic Law of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region as the House of Representative has renamed it, means the chance to finally return to the homes they left years ago because of strife.

Most of Tacloban’s Muslims hail from the Lanao provinces and fled Mindanao at the height of the secessionist struggle waged by Moro liberation movements.

Fatima (not her real name), 15, said what she knows of the BBL she learned from the news. Nevertheless, she is certain it is the answer to decades of armed conflict in Mindanao.

Once fighting ends, she believes many Muslim families, like hers, will return to Mindanao. And, with the end of conflict, she added, the animosity and mistrust between Muslims and Christians in the south can finally heal.

She acknowledged that, even after years of living in Tacloban, she and her family still experience discrimination because of their religion, particularly in the Catholic schools where many of Tacloban’s Muslims study.

She remembers one time in school when she was scolded for wearing the “hijab,” a head covering worn by Muslim women to denote modesty, to class and was forced to remove and keep it in her bag.

“Some people think that we (Muslims) are bad people. But we are not. I am still hopeful that one day we will live in a place where we will not feel discriminated,” she said.

But she also voiced another wish: “Our place is beautiful. But in our place there are only few schools that teach Math and English because most of the subjects are religious.”

Aishley Nur, 23, who arrived in Tacloban several months ago and sells ready-to-wear items in a rented space downtown, said she has found peace in her new home.

Yet, she added, her heart remains in Mindanao and she has never stopped praying for an end to the armed conflict and for lasting peace and security.

Because of this, she has been monitoring the progress of the BBL since arriving in Tacloban.

“Why not give it a chance?” she said. “The main purpose of the law is just to attain peace that’s why I am supporting it. The authors of that law are not stupid in creating it if that is not for peace in Mindanao.”

However, unlike other advocates who have warned against changes to the proposed law, Nur said: “If we (find) out that there are provisions of the law that are really against (its) main purpose, then lawmakers can amend it.

As for those who totally oppose the BBL, Nur said, they likely “have never experienced living in a war zone their entire lives.”

At a recent forum in Tacloban organized by the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process, Assistant Secretary Jennifer Oreta said the passage of the BBL would benefit not only Mindanao but the whole country.

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