Ateneo de Davao University

Ateneo de Davao

Transcending the "Victimhood" of the Bangsamoro People

NINETEEN years of work in peace building has taught me a lot, and that includes the importance of looking beyond what meets the eye. It is through this lens that we are able to better understand peoples and situations, and it is through this lens that I have seen the need for the Bangsamoro to transcend from the “victim mentality” or victimhood to a “survivor peace advocate” mindset.

I started working as a United Nations (UN) volunteer – community development specialist in the year 1998 – 2003 for the UN Multi Donor Programme (UNMDP). Since then, I worked for peace building in various personal and professional capacities up to now.

In my engagement with different communities in Mindanao, I have seen the somber picture that history has painted in the place and in people. Even today, in spite of efforts for peace and development, traces of pain and hurt continue to be seen. This is entirely understandable yet remaining in this state, does not help the very people affected at all. These hurts and pains are perpetuated by having what is called a “victimhood mentality”.

Joseph Montville, author of “The Healing Function in Political Conflict Resolution,” is a prominent scholar of victimhood and its effect on conflict resolution. He defines victimhood as “…a state of individual and collective ethnic mind that occurs when the traditional structures that provide an individual sense of security and self-worth through membership in a group are shattered by aggressive, violent political outsiders. Victimhood can be characterized by either an extreme or persistent sense of mortal vulnerability”.

This definition captures the experiences of the Bangsamoro people.

Mohager Iqbal, chairperson of the MILF Implementing Panel, using a pen name of Salah Jubair wrote a book entitled, “Bangsamoro, a Nation Under Endless Tyranny”. The book exposed the structural injustices of the Philippine Government towards the Bangsamoro.

Yet, in light of all these, the choice to transcend from a “victimhood mentality” to a “survivor peace advocate,” remains an alternative bearing massive benefits that could not be dismissed.

Working as a UN volunteer, I saw how Muslim-Christian relationship in various villages in Central Mindanao suffered because of the Ilaga vs. Blackshirt. By introducing the need to transcend the “victimhood” mentality, I was able to encourage the MNLF communities to worked hand in hand with their Christian neighbors and local government officials.

Delivery of basic social services became easier because they don’t see each other as enemies. They worked as partners.

In helping our communities recover from war torn areas to peaceful and developed communities, I was reminded of Nelson Mandela’s words: “If you want to make peace with your enemy, you have to work with your enemy. Then he becomes your partner.” Because of this, I focused my work on dialogue, trust and partnership building.

In transcending from a “victimhood mentality” to a survivor peace advocate, I learned that we must stop blaming others and refrain from holding on to feelings of bitterness and anger from past hurts.

These emotions were valid, but we must transcend from them. Yes, it may require an apology, or to correct the historical injustices. But we must remember forgiveness is not about the perpetrator. Forgiveness is all about us. It’s about our response to the pain inflicted on us. It’s about what we do with that pain to transform it into compassion, empathy, and understanding for the other. Transcending from the “victimhood mentality” is finding our inner strength to move beyond the pain in order for us to find inner peace and freedom.

In the transition from one mentality to the other, we must understand their difference. Maxine Schnall, in her book What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Stronger, compares the two mentalities this way:

A victim asks how long it will take to feel good — a survivor decides to feel good even if things are not so great.

A victim grinds to a halt — a survivor keeps putting one foot in front of the other.

A victim wallows in self-pity — a survivor comforts others.

A victim is jealous of someone else’s success — a survivor is inspired by it.

A victim focuses on the pain of loss — a survivor cherishes remembered joy.

A victim seeks retribution — a survivor seeks redemption.

And most of all, a victim argues with life — a survivor embraces it.

For the Bangsamoro people to make peace a reality within our lifetime, we must challenge our perceptions of reality and positively move forward in building our nation.

Because we are a survivor.