Lidasan: Righting Mindanao's history

MARTIN Luther King Jr. once said that "darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that."

I remember this quote when I was in Iloilo City last October 11, 2014 for a one-day seminar entitled #MindaNOW: Righting Mindanao's History. The quote I mentioned, for me, reflects the atmosphere at that time when I, together with Dr. Heidi Gloria and Fr. Albert Alejo, SJ were discussing the Bangsamoro history with the Ilonggos of the Panay provinces. Most of the participants (high school private and public school teachers) in that seminar workshop have little knowledge about the history of Mindanao and its people.

During the open forum, I had the impression that most of the teachers who attended the activity view Mindanao as "one island and one people". They view Mindanao as prone to conflict due to the Muslims. I kept on emphasizing that Mindanao has six administrative regions.

I also said that it is not correct to say, "magulo sa Mindanao dahil sa mga moros." The moro conflict is mainly situated at Central Mindanao and the Armm. In the northern part of Mindanao, we have a different nature of conflict between the government and the New Peoples’ Army.

Moreover, it is interesting to note about the reactions of the participants about the history of Mindanao, especially the portion regarding land grabbing and the ILAGA movement. They were really affected by the idea that the Ilonggos were also part of the social injustices that happened in Mindanao's history.

It was obvious from the beginning that the seminar/workshop would be a challenging one. But we came prepared. We brought with us data, studies, and facts about Christian - Muslim conflict in Mindanao's history. We would like to share with them stories of peace, reconciliation and rehabilitation in the spirit of dialogue within the context of the Bangsamoro narratives.

However, we realized that one does not easily forget and discard the past for the comforts of the present and hopes for the future of our country.

Discussing history was not that easy.

In reaching out with the Ilonggos for peace and reconciliation, memories of the past, especially the Ilagas vs. Blackshirts, are evoked and in this case, they were neither beautiful nor happy. It seems that there are deeply rooted biases and prejudices that were implanted in our subconscious.

Ilaga vs Blackshirt

We discussed history of the Ilagas taken from the book of Stuart Kaufman, Symbolic Politics and Ethnic War in the Philippines (2001), that says: "Efforts at group defense on the Christian side quickly emerged. A wave of panic swept Christian communities in Cotabato after the formation of the Muslim (later Mindanao) Independence Movement (MIM), and within a month, reports began circulating that Christians were fleeing the area.

Other Christians in Cotabato began forming self-defense groups, a trend which accelerated when rumors spread about young Muslims receiving military training in the Middle East and nearby Muslim countries.

One of the earliest such gangs was composed of Tirurays (a Lumad group) but led by a Christian Ilonggo, Feliciano Luces, nicknamed "Toothpick."

"Commander Toothpick's" first known fight came in March 1970, aimed apparently against an extortionate Moro gang in the town of Upi, Cotabato, earning him a reputation as a sort of local Robin Hood. Soon, however, extremist Christian politicians began manipulating these groups, who came to be known as "Ilaga" (Illongo for rats), for their own purposes.

A group of Christian mayors and mayoral candidates called the “Magic Seven” employed “Commander Toothpick” and other Ilaga gangs to terrorize supporters of their Muslim opponents, earning “Toothpick” “quasi-legendary status as a ferocious and fanatical anti-Muslim”. Such politicians also hyped the “threat” of the Moros in public propaganda.

While there is no direct evidence, even former President of the Philippines Diosdado Macapagal came to believe that the ultimate patron of these groups was President Marcos himself. The fact that Marcos hosted “Toothpick” at the Presidential palace later in the year certainly suggests no disapproval of “Toothpick’s” actions. 95 In fact, the violence, later dubbed the “Blackshirt-Ilaga War,” continued to escalate until the middle of 1971.

Ilaga groups terrorized Muslims in the Cotabato Valley: one Muslim activist compiled a list of a dozen deadly incidents in Cotabato between September 1970 and August 1971.

In their most shocking attack, an Ilaga group massacred sixty-five Muslim men, women and children at a mosque in the village of Manili in June of 1971. In response, traditional Muslim leaders “began their call for a quasi-jihad against the Ilagas who, by this time, were perceived as a threat to the Moros’ survival.”

The Ilaga violence and counter-violence by the Muslim “Blackshirts” came in the context of the 1971 election campaign for Governor of Cotabato, during which chauvinist mobilization of Christians was raised to a province-wide level.”

It is important that we learn our history as a multi layered narratives of different peoples’ perspectives. A member of a Blackshirt or a moro fighter may be a hero in the Muslim communities, the same as a member of an Ilaga is a hero on his own right in the Christian communities.

The challenge now in our education system is how to correct our history. We recognize, as Kaufman says, that there is a "legacy of the long history of Christian-Muslim conflict in the region. Christians widely accepted the “Moro image” of Muslims as violent and uncivilized, while the Muslims saw Christians as invaders and land-grabbers who wanted to eliminate Islam.

And, perception that Christians wanted to eliminate Islam—led also to Muslim fears of group extinction. The combination of Christian stereotypes about Muslims and violence by Muslims created similar fear on the Christian side."

(Kaufman, 2001) We need to teach our students and young generation about the history of Mindanao, through interreligious and intra-dialogue, in order to build the foundations for a lasting peace and development in our country.

The one thing I admired most in the Bangsamoro peace processes within the present administration is the recognition of the Bangsa Moro history.

Righting our history is one noble task that our next generation will surely appreciate and cherish in rebuilding our nation.
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