Cultivating peace in Mindanao (Second of Two Parts)

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By Ver F. Pacete

As I See It

Sunday, February 9, 2014


WE ALL want peace in Mindanao. Who shall formulate peace? The Empire in Manila may help. Malaysia may facilitate with a motive. The real players are those who live in Mindanao. Who are they? In the Sulu archipelago, we can safely say that 98 percent of the residents are Muslims. There are Tausugs in the island of Jolo, and the Samals could be found in the group of islands in Tawi-Tawi.

We have other groups scattered across Mindanao. The Maguindanaos are in Pulang River Basin. The Maranaos dwell in the Lanao Lake Region in Central Mindanao. The Yakans roam in Basilan. The Iranuns prevail in Cotabato. Each Muslim group has a distinct dialect, unique culture, and possesses a vision of what society should be. Each tribe has a perception of peace. The government panel should not underestimate each tribe.

The Muslims of Mindanao (more or less) represent only 17 percent of the population in the region. Roman Catholics could be roughly 61 percent. President Ramon Magsaysay made Mindanao a “Land of Promise” by sending Christians there to become farmers and established communities against the will of the Muslims. If the Muslims are a minority in Mindanao, how come that we are so worried with this insurgency problem?

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There are three groups of Muslim insurgents. (Or, shall we say four?) The Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), and the Abu Sayyaf. If we want to add to the litany, probably we can include the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), a breakaway group from the MILF. Those who left broke their hearts when MILF signed a peace deal with the government. Before 1976, (signing of Tripoli Agreement) MNLF under the command of Nur Misuari was giving Mindanao the biggest threat. MILF under the command of Hashim Salamat was formerly second in command to Nur Misuari.

MILF occupied the nucleus of Mindanao with well-organized thousands of fighters popularly supported by villagers who are sympathetic to their cause. MNLF and MILF are positioning to establish a separate Muslim state in Mindanao. (You may disagree with me.) The Abu Sayyaf also claimed that this third party shares the vision of MNLF and MILF, but its activities of kidnappings for ransom and killing of non-Muslims have no connection with the ideology of the MNLF and MILF.

All the Muslim groups in Mindanao are bound together by Islam. As early as A.D. 1400, Islam reached Mindanao and Sulu archipelago through the Muslim traders who made brief stay in these places before going to China. These businessmen intermarried with the daughters of the village chiefs. Much later, Islam became the center of faith. Muslim teachers and missionaries gained followers because of their beautiful stories of faith and rituals. “Sultanates” headed by “sultans” were established along the shorelines. Muslim brotherhood (Unimah) strengthened the relationship.

History is telling us of Muslim-Spaniard Face-off started by Lapu-Lapu versus Magellan and later highlighted by Rajah Sulayman of Manila and Rajah Lakandula of Tondo who defended their territories against the Spaniards up to the last drop of their blood. The Spaniards made their show-off a reality by setting a Moro-Spanish War in our country. This was put to rest only when the Spaniards were defeated by the Americans (in that Moro-Moro at Manila Bay). The Spaniards never ruled Mindanao.

It is an accepted belief that the Muslims hated the Christian Filipinos because during the Spanish-Moro War, the “indios” from Luzon and Visayas were sent to fight the Muslims in Mindanao. That could be the reason (perhaps) why we have this misunderstanding up to the present time. When the Americans took over the Philippines in 1898 (after “buying” us from Spain), the ex-deal included the ancestral domains of the Muslims.

The Americans were aware of the problem in Mindanao that is why they tricked (persuaded) the Sultan of Sulu to sign a treaty, the Kiram-Bates Treaty, named after the two actor-signatories, Sultan Jamalul Kiram II of Sulu and Brig. Gen. John C. Bates (the representative of Uncle Sam). This was followed by an attempt to Americanize Mindanao. (To be continued)

Published in the Sun.Star Bacolod newspaper on February 09, 2014.

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