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Wednesday, February 4, 2015

The complex Mindanao problem

By Elizabeth Angsioco
Tempers are running very high. We are upset by the tragic death of 44 of the Philippine National Police’s (PNP) Special Action Forces (SAF) in the lair of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). This is the same MILF with whom government is negotiating peace and working for the enactment of the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL).
This top secret operation, known to President Noynoy Aquino, is said to have been led via remote control by suspended PNP Chief Alan Purisima. It was so secret that even the PNP’s immediate superior, Secretary of the Interior and Local Government (SILG) Mar Roxas was kept in the dark.
The President’s address to the nation on Wednesday upset people even more as vital questions were left unanswered. His absence at Thursday’s arrival of the fallen 44, and his decision to instead go to the launch of a car manufacturer’s plant while the SAF officers were being honored, did not sit well with observers. Pictures of him smiling and touring the plant with its executives were posted at the same time the solemn ceremony in Villamor and grieving families were being shown. No amount of justification by Malacañang and its supporters could placate people’s anger.
The fact that Friday’s necrological services for the fallen heroes, supposed to be led by PNoy himself, had to be suspended because the president was very late, made people more irate.
Grief and anger are palpable. And these are justified reactions. However, anger can be channeled to something productive. We should remember that the main problem is the Mindanao problem. Trying to understand its complexities may be a good first step.
I requested a friend from way back for his thoughts on this. I yield my space to the words of Jerry “Jing” Pacturan, born and raised  in Bukidnon, a former CSO leader and former senior government official:
“A Mindanaoan’s View of the Complex Issues Facing the Land of Promise
 When Mindanao is in trouble, Manila is shaken and the whole country is upset. How do we understand Mindanao? How should our compatriots in Luzon and Visayas view Mindanao? And,  how should our political, economic and cultural-religious leaders offer solutions to the problems of Mindanao and the country as a whole?
 The issues and problems are basic – historical injustice, poverty, and religious beliefs taken to the extreme. These are inter-related issues in Mindanao that any peace loving Filipino should understand.
 The political-economy of Mindanao has been intertwined with our colonial legacy and the changing roles of our political and economic elite since the arrival of the Spaniards in the 1500s.
Even before Magellan landed on our shores, Arab Islamic missionaries were already in the south perhaps as early as the 9th century.
Spain was not successful in its military conquest of the islands, neither were the Americans in the 1900s despite their cruel campaign.
The Bud Dajo massacre in 1906 is a testament to the US government’s ruthlessness then.  Fifty years under the Americans, Mindanao was subjugated economically with the entry of their agri-business companies like Del Monte and DOLE.
 Our forebears in the 1800s and our political and economic elite in the 1900s fought for political and economic freedom yet made Mindanao as a backwater of the ancillary social and economic problems in Luzon.
From the time we won our independence from the U.S. to the time of Marcos, our political and economic elites facilitated the massive land consolidation and acquisition in Mindanao by foreign and local agri-business companies.
The HUKBALAHAPs in Central Luzon who surrendered to the government were given lands in Mindanao, easing out the Indigenous People, Muslims and early Christian settlers from Visayas.
Marcos used brutal ex-military men to threaten and pacify communities for palm oil companies to consolidate lands for his cronies in the CARAGA region and sugar plantations in Bukidnon, to mention a few.
 One should not wonder why Luzon Regions 1, 2 and 3, have much lower poverty rates compared to Mindanao, and more particularly, ARMM.  Land tenure and landholding sizes in these regions are more equitable than what you see in Mindanao. The political and economic elite of Mindanao, Christians from Luzon and Visayas, and some local Muslim leaders were instrumental in the perpetuation of the highly inequitable land ownership pattern in the islands.
 Our various land reform programs since former President Diosdado Macapagal were all of good intentions yet crafted by politicians whose interest and lenses were of their own mould.
Marcos’ PD 27, lauded as the law that emancipated tenants from the bondage of the soil, was a land reform program that worked mostly in Luzon and certain parts of Visayas, and many suspect was really meant to cower his political adversaries in Central Luzon and Panay Island.  Pres. Cory Aquino’s CARP law passed by a landlord dominated congress, while it encompassed all agricultural lands, neglected the indigenous and socio-cultural realities in Mindanao and the long historical injustice in this once called Land of Promise.  House minority leader Cong. Ronnie Zamora’s admission during the budget deliberations of the 15th congress of the weakness and lapses of the CARP program using as reference Joe Studwell’s book titled “How Asia Works” is a testament to this neglect.
 All these bred the kind of poverty one sees in Mindanao today.
 The cultural and faith dimension is just a consequence of this long historical injustice and poverty situation of Mindanao communities.  When one fails to find answers to poverty and injustice, it is easy to find meaning in one’s faith and religious beliefs.  Some take these meanings to the extreme.  The fundamentalists who carry arms, regardless of religion or faith, know no poverty or historical injustice tenets but only what they fanatically see and believe based on their religious doctrines.
 As a first step in taking a broader and more strategic view of the problems in Mindanao, we should all participate and put a stake in the BBL that is now a subject of consultations and debate. No matter which side of the fence we find ourselves, we need to ask the basic question – is this the answer to centuries of historical injustice and poverty amongst the Mindanaoans, the local indigenous peoples, Muslim and Christian communities?  And most importantly, do the local communities, mostly affected by poverty and conflict, understand what the law means for them? Were they thoroughly consulted and listened to, their views and aspirations included?
 Given the burning issues of our time, no matter how difficult, we need more than ever to pursue peace. This can only be achieved through sincere dialogue, mutual understanding, compassion, justice and forgiveness.  Islam and Christianity preach the same values, and the same traits are embedded in indigenous peoples’ cultures. 
Finally, local communities should take the center stage of this process. We should not leave things to the leaders alone or else, we will be doomed to repeat the same historical mistakes of five centuries.”

bethangsioco@gmail.com and @bethangsioco on Twitter

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