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PEACETALK: Let this generation be those who simply say ‘WE’ instead of ‘US’ or ‘THEM’

(Acceptance speech of Bangsamoro Member of Parliament Zia Alonto Adiong as the 2019 TOYM Awardee for Government Service, on 13 December 2019 at the Centennial Hall of the Manila Hotel. Adiong is one of 10 TOYM awardees for 2019, and the lone Mindanawon)

I stand here in front of you today with centuries of history pushing me forward. It is the same history that I hope to carry into the future with the same spirit of strength and courage that I have inherited from generations of Bangsamoro people who took part in our collective struggle.

But what is this collective struggle that has shaped my identity, and has brought me to this stage today.

Zia Alonto Adiong, Bangsamoro Member of Parliament, TOYM Awardee 2019 for Government Service. Photo from his FB page

I belong to the Meranao people, one of the thirteen Muslim ethnolinguistic tribes collectively known as the Bangsamoro. My roots are in Marawi City Lanao del Sur, a place once far removed from the Filipino imagination until it became the site of a siege that lasted five months in 2017.

The siege turned our homes into ruins, and has displaced our people for more than two years now. But even before the siege began, our people have been often displaced outside of Marawi City and of Mindanao by virtue of our identity and our faith.

Countless stereotypes against us are deeply rooted in the larger consciousness of Filipino society, which is why our history is anchored on our people’s struggle for recognition and respect.

Standing here in front of you means a lot to me not only as an individual, but as a Meranao and a Muslim. It reminds us that our displacement need not be forever — it need not even happen at all. That we are at home as long as we are seen and heard, we are recognized as equals, and we are welcomed wherever we may be.

But we shouldn’t have to win awards and gain approval, if only to be seen and heard. We shouldn’t have to be “model minorities” to be treated as equals. We shouldn’t have to endure the pain of alienation and exclusion whenever we find ourselves far from our homes.

The spaces we share are not yours nor mine, but ours — together. And in these spaces, our stories are told but not all of them are heard.

The stories of our people continue to be told by those who raise their voices despite a fear that demands silence. We continue to raise our voices because we know of histories that are now buried with our ancestors whose lives have been marked by the silence of the grave. We raise our voices because know that these stories and histories must survive as we survive, and these stories are not ours alone to tell but a part of the continuing narrative of the Filipino people as one nation under one flag.

As I was serving the Provincial Crisis Management Committee being its spokesperson during the Marawi siege providing daily updates to the media and informing the whole country of the condition on the ground while working closely with our troops to ensure that relief assistance and rescue operation are well managed, I happened to witness the re-emerging of our country’s sense of oneness. I have learned that religion doesn’t divide us. I have discovered that geographical location and language variation do not separate us. Rather, it is the feeling of that drives people apart and makes a country such as ours far removed from what it truly aspires for – Unity in Diversity.

Let this generation be those who simply say “WE” instead of US” or “THEM”. Let this generation be those who listen before it passes judgments. Let this generation know that the struggle and aspiration of the Bangsamoro people resemble the everyday prayers of every ordinary Filipino – a decent living and a better prospects in life. And Let this generation become the refection of our government’s ideals towards a progressive, more tolerant and welcoming Philippines.

I congratulate my fellow honorees and I am deeply grateful to JCI Bataan for pushing my nomination and to the Selection Committee and to the Board of Judges for placing me in the company of these inspiring young men and a woman. It’s truly an honor and a rare privilege to stand amongst you today, Fellow Awardees. Your works have inspired the country and made positive difference in the lives of our people and would surely continue to inspire countless more.

I humbly accept this recognition on behalf of my family and the thousands of families who despite having to face uncertain future caused by years of conflict could still manage to make ends meet and still choose to wear smiles on their faces. All Praise is due to ALLAH the lord of all the worlds, the God of no equal. Thank you very much indeed.”

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