When the December 2014 Sydney hostage-taking happened, Australia responded with #Illridewithyou. An FB friend–whom I have never met–all the way from Queensland offered me her home, fearing a backlash against all Muslims–just in case my family needed to feel safe. There was never a need in the first place, with ordinary Aussies offering to ride with us Muslims. What a thoughtful gesture considering that some of the Muslims in Australia are new migrants, except those Makassan Muslims, who came even before the Europeans arrived and intermarried with the indigenous population.
When the Mamasapano incident happened in the Philippines, a female cousin posted about almost having tripped face down when the Jeepney driver pressed the accelerator even before she could board the vehicle, if not for two quick ladies who grabbed her hand. The driver was remotely apologetic and even showed hatred in his eyes. My cousin happened to be wearing a hijab. I guess that means, some will not even let us ride. I have read posts of fellow Moros who are so hurt upon knowing that people who call for all-out war are their personal friends, who have lived all their lives outside of Mindanao. Do they have an idea how Mindanaons feel at all? Do they want to know what war looks like? Some even post statements like “Alis na kayo mga Moros!” To where?
If Aussies here tell me to get the “f* out of my country” (one actually did, but at a shouting distance while I and my daughters were walking), I will tell him to his face to relax because I will leave in time. This one incident, however becomes insignificant when compared to the hundreds of thousands #illridewithyou tweets and more than ten-thousand strong (and counting) members of a Facebook Group with the eponymous name Non-Muslims Supporting Muslims (NMSM)! If I needed to feel welcome, loved and understood, I only need to look at the page. This is not to mention that even if I am not a citizen, random Aussies made us feel so welcome in the recent Australia Day that it is very tempting to spite the few bigots here and stay for good.
Fellow Filipinos tell us to leave the Philippines? Go to where? For one, we are not Muslim migrants to the Philippines. Long before Filipino consciousness will even take shape, we were already Muslims and living in the archipelago, including Manila. Does Rajah Solaiman ring a bell at all? Second generation Muslims here in Australia insist that Australia is equally their home, so no bigots and racists will send them out. After all, except for the Aboriginal Australians, almost everybody here is a migrant. Even PM Tony Abott is originally from England.
Do not tell us to leave because we paid with more blood for almost half a millennium and are still paying more blood defending our land than you ever did or could ever do. Sorry, but you are more than three hundred years late. If that doesn’t teach you a lesson in history, I do not know what will. So do not shoo us away because nobody has ever made us leave—not the Spaniards, nor the Americans nor the Japanese–nor will we ever leave our lands. We have as much right as the next person to be in the Philippines, never mind that the name of the country itself is a colonial imposition we were forced to swallow even if we were not conquered by Spain. Do you get it? This is our land too. It is not a question whether you want to share it with us or not.
If I can consider myself an Australian to some degree despite my hijab and my brown color and sincerely feel to belong to my host country I have only known for a few years, don’t you think that we Moros cannot accept to be Filipinos when you and I look the same, have the same color, lived side-by-side for centuries and experienced the same typhoons and corrupt government and officials over and over again? Outside of the Philippines, OFWs are equally discriminated and marginalized for being Filipinos regardless of religion. All OFWs sweat the same, earning precious dollars that keep the country afloat. I remember a well-traveled New Yorker I met a few years ago when I was a student in Manhattan. He greeted me Apa Kabar and when he learned that I am a Filipino and not Malaysian, he immediately told me about his children’s Filipino yaya and offered me a job at his friend’s residence. I told him nicely that his government was already paying generously for my upkeep and education in New York and would not allow me to be a yaya or be anything else other than a student or I lose my scholarship. Don’t get me wrong, nothing is wrong with being a “yaya” and he did know and use that word.
The Sydney incident kept me at home. I knew tension was high and I did not want to court fate. But, I enjoyed reading the NMSM page with all the outpouring of support for Muslims in Australia from all over Australia. I can claim that I know the real Australia and that is the Australia I know and love. I only needed to log in to FB and read all the sincere posts of Aussies who take extra-ordinary lengths to try to understand us Muslims. I can never forget my new-found friend and now my sister who has taken to use words such as Alhamdulillah and Allahu Akbar too in our conversation. No, she did not convert nor did I try to convert her.
In the Philippines the hashtag is Fallen44, referring to the Special Armed Forces (SAF) who met their doom in Mamasapano. They are called heroes of the country, and rightly so. They died in uniform—never mind the allusions to treason, the five-million bounty for the that one they are supposed to be searching for and the possible lack of coordination or clearance from whom they are supposed to get clearance from. Let us even ignore the 18 (?) Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) combatants who died in the assault/mis-encounter/massacre/operation/defense-of-territory/-whatever-name-you-want-to-call-it, but what about the civilians who died?
Caught between Scylla and Charibdis, are they less heroes? Okay, granting for the sake of argument, although I am far from having the authority nor the gall to grant anything, that the lives of ALL the people in Mamasapano combatants and civilians alike happened to be mere collateral damage, why do you call for all-out-war for all of us? So you have no tears for the Moro civilians who died, never mind that two of the SAF who died are fellow Moros too, and you are not even satisfied that you demand more blood from us who are still living just because we happened to be Moros? I am truly uncomfortable in seeming to be drawing the line between Moros and non-Moros, but, believe me, a few days after the incident, that is what it seems like. It is not pre-imagined, it is as clear as the sky, few days after the fog lifted. A line has been drawn and from the posts of my Moro FB friends, we find ourselves suddenly outside of that line. If our consciousness is that of being a Moro first, it is because everything, every day and everyone remind us that we are Moros first and to some—just Moros and never Filipinos. In this particular incident, Moros died as government forces, combatants and as civilians. Unbelievable it may seem to you, but there is no other group of people more interested in peace than us who have lived all our lives with the specter of war on our heads. As my friend, I sincerely wish that nobody and certainly especially not our friends ever feel what we have gone through. War is sweet to those who have not tasted it or who imagine its glory and not its gory details.
Was I afraid when that Aussie kid shouted at us to get the f* off his country? Not really. I know that that kid did not have an iota of an idea what it is really like to live dangerously every single day. Why, I have never slept more peacefully in my few decades as I had here in Melbourne. I have heard more than enough live ammunitions that will be enough in his lifetime and I have seen far more horrors than he will ever be capable of processing. To our personal friends who call out for more blood and all-out-war, take it from us, you have no idea what you are wishing for. Cliché’ as it sounds, but do be careful with what you wish for. We are calling for restraint and peace as war veterans and we do not wish it upon anybody, especially you, our dear friends who we have shared more than a few cups of coffee not long time ago.
The Mamasapano incident made me stay away from Facebook for a while instead. It was so upsetting to be reading comments of personal friends who seem to be trigger-happy for people who may not have even touched a single firearm, let alone fire it or genuinely feel the need for weapons to defend themselves. Do they even think that when they call for all-out-war, they actually mean including their friends like us? What was our crime?
If my online friend here in Australia can sincerely offer her home to someone like me she has never met, how can our friends in the Philippines who have known us for a long time pray for our death and that of our children? I did not really go through the official narrative from Malacanang and the government agencies and officials involved (or who did not get involved) in the Mamasapano incident, including the side of the MILF. All of them have their own script they must adhere to in this unfortunate drama. What is really more painful that rends our hearts is the reaction and the backlash from people we know, from ordinary Filipinos like us. The pain is more poignant to me living in Melbourne and having witnessed and experienced the ocean of difference between the reaction of my fellow Filipinos and the Aussies Down Under. How sad it is that while I do not seek to be an Australian citizen, I feel more welcome here than in the country that I am a citizen of—the land my forefathers tilled with their blood. Yet, let me tell you my dear friends, for all your real and imagined posturing about all-out-war in Mindanao that you will not figure in—in any capacity, whether as part of the government forces, certainly not as MILF combatant nor as civilians unlike us, I am telling you that war is not an option. There is no other option but peace. We choose peace, not really out of wisdom, although that would be awesome nor out of cowardice or we never learn history and we will be condemned to repeat history again as we Filipinos are wont to do—it is called experience. All-out-war? Cui bono? Think again.