Friday, March 28, 2008

Lessons from Mindanao History: As seen from Mindanao by Mindanaoans

Part 1 - The "conquest" of Mindanao

One sad part of Mindanao history was when sometime during the 1920s some "Mindanao leaders" misrepresented Mindanao to the "national leadership" that enabled the imperial Manila government to "conquer" Mindanao. That was one very unfortunate event that would later prove to be one of the major causes, if not the major cause, of this perennial unrest in Mindanao.

Up to this day, the historically well-versed Mindanaoans particularly the Muslims, maintain that as a people, they were never conquered by the Spaniards, Americans and the Japanese, but they have been conquered by the Philippine government. How did that happen?

Through their religion, guns and canons, both the Spaniards and Americans colonized Visayas and Luzon with virtual ease. But not Mindanao. Both suffered heavy casualties in the hands of the “uneducated moros,” whom the Americans classified as “wild tribes,” as chronicled in history books as the Moro Wars.

Mindanao saw decades of war against the colonizers. The Muslims had consistently resisted colonial attempts. The colonizers had to be unconventional and creative in order to overcome resistance. For instance, the Americans had to invent, among others, the Cal. 45 pistol with knocking down power in order to subdue the kris-swinging Maranao warriors who would continue to lunge at their attackers even if they were already bleeding by bullet wounds, and many other examples.

Beginning in 1250s, the Muslims from the Indo Malay region and from the Middle East arrived and settled in the Sulu archipelago. By 1350, Jolo was already a local government, the oldest in the Philippines, and a very vibrant economy largely because of its being a natural “crossroad” of ancient trade winds and sea current. By 1390, the Minsupala region and Sabah became Sulu Province, Jolo being the capital.

Since then and until the time of Rizal or the end of the Spanish colonial rule, Mindanao was and always thought of as “another country.” One glaring proof was the exiling of Rizal in Dapitan. No government would exile its citizen within its own territory.

During the American colonial period from 1900 to 1946, and until now, the Muslim resistance continued. However, setting their eyes on material promise of becoming US citizens and of going to America, in 1920s a group of about 20 lesser known Sultans mostly from Lanao, wrote to the American-led RP gov’t. expressing their desire for Mindanao to be under the United States. That was the misrepresentation!

Certainly they did not represent other Muslim tribes, the Maguindanao, Tausug, Yakan, Iranun and other groups in Mindanao. They were not appointed, elected, told or allowed to represent them. They were just self-made representatives. Presumably taking a cue from that, the “national leaders,” in quotation marks because they too were not elected, and the US-influenced drafters of the 1935 RP constitution, stated that the territory of the Philippines include Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao. Finally, Mindanao was "conquered" and annexed to the Philippines.

Observation: In Mindanao today, there are many misrepresentatives! And sadly, many groups blindly and others unconsciously repeat the same mistakes. Many in Manila are even recipient of undue recognition from Mindanaoans because of the Mindanaoans themselves.

Lesson: Unless Mindanaoans rise up and start thinking we are not third or second class citizens because we are world class, misrepresentations will continue.

Part 2 - Foundation is suspect

During the Japanese invasion, the Manila government sent soldiers from Luzon and Visayas to fight side by side with Mindanaoans in defending Mindanao. Little did they know that such “heroic” act from Christians would “bring” another debacle to Mindanao. Why and how?

After the war, then President Quezon “opened-up” Mindanao for development. Luzon and Visayas were invited. The firsts to answer the “call” were the more daring and adventurous Ilocanos and Ilongos. The Ilocanos followed their relatives that came much earlier as missionary teachers during the American colonial rule. Both were fascinated with the thought of owning vast plain tracks of land that they could cultivate.

The Cebuanos, having perhaps the worst bias against the Muslims whom they always “knew” as pirates and kidnappers since way back to the pre-Spanish era, were more reluctant. To encourage them to come, a sort of agricultural fair was done in Cebu City where corn plants having four ears were displayed, as compared to their one ear per plant. That was so convincing. However, the first wave of Cebuanos to come should know martial arts (doce pares) so as to defend themselves, like they were told.

The hospitality of the locals surprised the migrants arriving from Luzon and the Visayas. Because they didn’t know that it is culturally natural for Muslims and other tribes to reciprocate an act of kindness. Kindness what?

The Lumads & Muslims concluded that because the Christian government "helped" them drive away the Japanese from Mindanao, Christians could actually be good neighbors afterall, or so they thought. So they accommodated them in their ancestral lands. Some exchanged or “bought” huge parcels of land with flashlights and other perishable goods, but most were just allowed to cultivate their lands for free.

Meanwhile, behind the knowledge of the unsuspecting natives, the more educated Christian migrants titled the lands they were tilling. This was a major foundational problem. Mindanao development was founded on pretense and lies.

Observation: To these days, Mindanao has never been innocent to pretense and lies.

Lesson: Unless we advocate and intentionally pursue fairness and truth, we won’t be able to leave behind a better Mindanao to the next generation.

Part 3 - Implications of Merdeka & Jabidah

Jibin Arula heard a series of gunshots and saw his colleagues fall. Afraid for his own life, he ran towards a mountain and rolled off the edge on to the sea. He recalled clinging to a plank of wood and stayed afloat. By morning, fishers from nearby Cavite rescued him. He was the only survivor of the infamous Jabidah massacre at Corregidor on the night of March 18, 1968, that fueled independence movement and gave birth to a re-emerging sense of Moro national identity among Muslims of Mindanao and Sulu. He is still alive, living somewhere in Jolo.

Their trainors led them out of their barracks in batches of twelve. They were taken to nearby airstrip where they were gunned down. They were supposedly part of a secret government scheme to split Islamic ranks, provoke a war between Sulu and Sabah, and then invade and reclaim Sabah. When they discovered their true mission, it struck them that it would mean not only fighting their brother Muslims in Sabah, but also possibly killing their own Tausug and Sama relatives living there. Already feeling disgruntled over the non-payment of the promised P50 monthly allowance, they demanded to be returned home. Fearing leakage of the plan, the army opted to silence them forever.

Operation Merdeka (Bahasa for freedom) was the codename for the destabilization plan. Nearly 200 Tausug and Sama Muslims aged 18 to 30 from Sulu and Tawi-Tawi were recruited. Their first training was in the island-town of Simunul in Tawi-Tawi. Simunul was where the first Arab missionary Makhdum built the first mosque in the Philippines in the 14th century. The recruits felt giddy about the promise of not only a monthly allowance, but also over the prospect of eventually becoming a member of an elite unit in the Philippine Armed Forces. That meant, among other benefits, guns, which they culturally regard as very precious possessions. From August to December 1967, the young recruits underwent training in Simunul. The name of their commando unit: Jabidah.

On December 30 that year, nearly 100 recruits, representing the better part of the group, boarded a Philippine Navy vessel for the second phase of training in the island of Corregidor at the Manila bay where they were supposed to receive additional and advanced skills and tactics. Instead, they died. Only one survived to tell their tale.

The Jabidah massacre is a story of Marcos’ attempt to use and misuse the people of Mindanao, and of a cover up of a deception and impure motives through murder. This story is as old as David’s, when he murdered Uriah by assigning him at the frontline of war to cover up his adulterous relationship with Bathsheba, Uriah’s wife.

Observations: Deception and cover up are still very familiar in RP today. And Mindanao being used, misused, abused and overused has been an unfortunate saga of Mindanao’s disadvantageous affair with Manila.

For instance, AFP and PNP colonels need at least a Mindanao assignment to become generals. The perennial war in Mindanao has been thought of as government’s perpetual reason to receive steady foreign aid classified as security funds to finance the fight against the enemies of democracy, namely, rebellion and terrorism.

At ten million or so, the Mindanao vote, if there is such a vote, has been sought, bought, cheated and manipulated to give national candidates an edge of winning. Talk about the hello Garci brouhaha. Talk about the senator from Maguindanao episode.

With all the risk of the negative side effects to health and environment, the BT corn and other genetically engineered species have been tested in Mindanao.

Scalawag policemen, army and judges have been thrown like thrash to Mindanao.

And during the last decade or so, a thought has developed among corporate planners in Manila that any approach or strategy that works in Mindanao must work throughout the country and the world.

Lesson: Mindanaoans should cut off imperial tendencies by non-Mindanaoans through information, positive projection of Mindanao and pursuit of truth and justice.

(With readings from: The Minoritization of the Indigenous Communities of Mindanao and the Sulu Archipelago, B.R. Rodil, 1994; The Bangsamoro Struggle: Religious Conflict or War of National Identity? Edilwasif T. Baddiri, Feb. 2005; Seeds of Terror, Maria Ressa, 2003; Tentacles of Terror: Al Qaeda’s Southeast Asian Network, Z.Abuza, 2002; Under the Crescent Moon, Maritess Vitug, 2000; The Growth of Islam in the Philippines, Yusop Ansari, 2000; History of Islam in RP, Ibra Montawil, 1999; Struggle for Autonomy in Mindanao, Chito R. Gavino, 1998; Understanding Mindanao Conflict, Patricio Diaz; The evolution of Philippine Muslim Insurgency, Abu Ali, 1998; Int'l review of Peace Initiatives, 2005; The Bangsamoro Struggle, Salamat Hasim; The MILF,; Interview with Salamat Hasim,, March 31, 2000)

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