I AM a full-blooded Mindanaoan. I was born and grew up in Dipolog City. I went to college in Zamboanga City where I also learned the ropes in broadcast journalism in the early ‘80s. In 1987, I tried my luck here in Cebu and pursued my profession. That is why my heart bleeds every time I hear reports about the never-ending trouble in that region, especially now that Marawi City is under siege by the Maute group, displacing thousands of residents.
But let me state here that not the entire island of Mindanao is in trouble. My hometown in the province of Zamboanga del Norte and the other provinces in the Zamboanga peninsula, northern and southern Mindanao are peaceful. The problematic areas are few and these are the provinces mostly dominated by our Muslims brothers, where various armed groups exist. These areas are Basilan and Sulu provinces in western Mindanao that are dominated by the Yakans and Tausugs, respectively, and the provinces of Lanao del Sur and Maguindanao, including the cities of Cotabato and Marawi and parts of North and South Cotabato and Sultan Kudarat, which are dominated by Maguindanaoans and Maranaos.
Aside from armed Muslim groups like the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) and the Abu Sayyaf that are based in Sulu and Basilan and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighter (BIFF) based in Central Mindanao, there are also several armed groups like the Lumads, political warlords and the militia. Now, here is the Maute group reportedly affiliated with the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).
According to the study of the Asian Foundation, the conflict in Mindanao is complex, multi-layered and defies simple explanation.
The region includes at least six major non-state armed groups with dozens of militia units. The protracted nature of conflict and instability have led to the emergence of other types of conflict, particularly between local elites competing for power.
Remember the powerful Ampatuan political clan? During their “heyday,” the family practically controlled almost all the political positions in Maguindanao.
The origins of the Mindanao conflict can be traced back to the 16th century when the native Moro population resisted invading Spanish forces. That was 400 years ago.
The conflict is concentrated in the Muslim-dominated regions and has an estimated population of 5.5 million, a third of whom have been affected by violence.
Previous administrations up to the present initiated peace talks with the MNLF and MILF, looking for possible solutions to achieve a lasting peace in the region. Until now, no formal agreement has been reached.
Deposed president Joseph Estrada used military force to flush out the MILF. He succeeded in taking over Camp Abubakar, one of the biggest MILF camps. Because of the ongoing peace negotiation, it gives the MILF the chance to strengthen its forces. The conflict continuous with the emergence of another terror group. Last week, the Maute group attempted to take over Marawi City, forcing President Rodrigo Duterte to declare martial law in Mindanao.
The people in the National Capital Region, especially militant organizations that have no roots and have not even even set foot in Mindanao, are demanding an end to martial law and to pull out the military from the region.
If that is their demand, who will protect innocent civilians against the abuses and atrocities of these terror groups? Which do you prefer, terrorism or martial law?
To martial law critics, instead of criticizing the government’s military action to resolve the conflict, why don’t you offer a logical solution to achieve lasting peace in the “Island of Promise?”