Tausug: Create a Machine to Make Pandesal

by Neldy Jolo

Cotabato City photo by Alberto Bainto
Cotabato City photo by Alberto Bainto

We dream and aspire for an independent republic, yet we do not even have the means to govern ourselves. First, no formalized mechanism to rule currently exists; second, there is no clear picture of how this can be achieved.

TODAY IS TUESDAY, 23 April 2013, 11:24 am. I have recently seen the comments of our Muslim brothers and sisters on various Facebook walls about Chiz Escudero’s statement saying, “How can Muslims aspire for self-governance when they cannot even make their own pandesal (salt bread)?” Based on the many fiery posts I read, it is evident that majority of the Muslims both in Mindanao and Sulu were slighted by Mr. Escudero’s statement.

I met Chiz Escudero in person when he was still in Congress. That was in 2006, when he was the Minority Leader. He even handed me his Marlboro Lights Gold while we were visiting him in his office. He seemed well-read, very articulate. It makes me wonder how someone of his stature can issue a statement in public so condescending. Before I forget, let me note that many Tausugs do not even eat pandesal, and those who do are not planning to eat it anymore as they think it comes from the colonizers.

They prefer to eat “bangbang sug”, a local bread. It may not have crossed their minds though that the flour used in making pandesal is not from Sulu. No one seems to wonder where flour is coming from. Perhaps, they also are not aware that the flour used to make pandesal is the same flour used to make bangbang sug.

Let me go back to Mr. Escudero’s statement. As with any Tausug, I am hurt too; but I think it’s better to examine Mr. Escudero’s statement more objectively before my emotions take the better of me.

On a closer look, I don’t think the statement was really about pandesals and our inability to make them. It was more on our inability to perform what is essential and basic. For instance, if we are to roam as free birds over the skies, shouldn’t we acquire first the means to fly?

We dream and aspire for an independent republic, yet we do not even have the means to govern ourselves. First, no formalized mechanism to rule currently exists; second, there is no clear picture of how this can be achieved.

There was an attempt to create a Bangsamoro Republik. It had a presidential position, but I am not aware that a Bangsamoro Government was being formally set up to govern the Bangsamoro Republik. There was a president in the executive body; however, there was no vice president. There was neither a legislative body nor a judicial body.

I am not a political analyst but I know for a fact that when there is a country there should be a government. How will the Bangsamoro Republik ever exist without a Bangsamoro Government to manage it?

There were many suggestions on how to pave the way for Mindanao and Sulu to become an independent country. Still many groups prefer to ask the government of the Philippines to deliver for them their government on silver platter. I think that’s what Mr. Escudero really meant by “Muslims…cannot even make pandesal”.

People wanted to eat pandesal, but they do not even know how to make it. That simply means to me “you wanted to have independence, but you cannot even build your own government to manage your affairs”. Mr. Escudero is actually giving people a bright idea, but in contrast many people took it literally and emotionally.

The people in the liberation front focus on the military setup. Supposedly the revolutionary group can also set up a government — not just a military organization. The military’s role is to defend and the government’s role is to manage and govern the affairs of the people and their country. The military currently exists; the government doesn’t.

Now the election for government positions in the Philippines is fast approaching. Mr Escudero is a candidate too, but then the Ulama already issued a “fatwah” not to vote for him. Let us see if he could win the hearts of the Muslim people, as he is now being seen as anti-Muslim with his pandesal thing.

Ahmad Musahari, a medical student in Manila and a Tausug, posts on his Facebook wall his observations about the election campaign in Sulu: “I see a lot of familiar names and faces, endless songs of promises, and more promises. It’s like there is no real ‘Power to Vote’. It is yet another big lie in our society.”

He added, “Yes, it is true we are ‘given’ the power to choose who we wanted to sit on top to lead the people, but our choices have already been prepared (manipulated) for us.” Musahari wonders, “Do we have any choice? We have asked so many times, ‘When would development, justice and progress finally arrive in our place? Now is election time. Will we find the answers, or are we going back to square one again?”

In a democracy, people have the right and power to vote. But in the years I’ve observed the election process in the Philippines, I have not seen democracy is being practiced. Election in the Philippines is a comedic act, a mockery of the democratic process. People’s votes are either sold/bought or enforced upon people by those with power and money.  Everyone knows this for a fact.

So the question is: “Do we have a choice?” Yes, people do have a choice. But the options are only two: to vote or not to vote. If people decide to vote—is there anyone they could choose? It’s the same old faces. It’s as if choices have already been thrust upon their faces. Den Maidin, another Tausug, commented on his Facebook wall that some politicians are making elections as their business. They invest during elections; they get their money back after the elections. Of course, the returns must be so huge.

For the people of Mindanao and Sulu, real chance does not come from the outcome of any of these hopeless elections. The chance is with the change they must achieve for themselves.

They must build a machine that can help them make their own pandesal. They don’t need to ask the Philippines to grant them independence because the Philippines cannot grant it. The Philippines cannot even grant genuine autonomy and the creation of a sub-state, what more of independence.

The people can achieve their independence by exercising their rights to government and self-rule. Plans must be concretized to make this happen. Through this they could create a machine to make not just one pandesal but many more pandesals to feed the people. They can abandon the pandesals made by the Philippines.

Mohammad Aziz, another Tausug said, “We’ve never had a written history made by our own rather by our enemies. It is no surprise then that we are not described as ‘peace-loving people that had to struggle to defend their land, sovereignty and faith’. Instead we are described as murderers and pirates. Working together we can straighten this twisted history. In Shaa Allah we will succeed as a people struggling not just for ourselves but for the sake of the Tausug’s future as a whole.”

We need to keep writing boldly and sharing our thoughts on various media, both online and traditional. The more we write, the better things would be. We should share our thoughts about what is happening, about how vehemently opposed we are with the current situation. Writing is one of our most powerful weapons.  It is through this that we can achieve change.

What the colonizers did to Mindanao and Sulu, they exercised de facto government of their own. They tried to govern the affairs of Mindanao and Sulu by ignoring the existence of the existing leadership in the country. In the past they have succeeded. But not for long, am sure.

As with Mr. Escudero, thank you for your statement. I hope to share pandesal with you soon—and it will be one that comes from Sulu’s kitchen. My treat.

*  *  *

Our chance is the change we must achieve for ourselves.

An article written by Jolo as reaction to Escudero’s statement gone public last year.  Moroism.org is republishing this personal essay as text on Tausug nationalism. 

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