Pushing Muslim Mindanao to Independence?

For all serious participants in the discussion on peace in Mindanao, I have recommended as a “MUST READ” the article of UP Professor Dr. Abraham Sakili entitled “Historical Truth and Bangsamoro Autonomy.” Prof. Sakili summarizes:

Factors that cause and sustain the Mindanao problem

• “Lack of cultural awareness by the majority of the Muslims’ way of life.

• “Exteriorization of Philippine Muslim history in texts of mainstream Philippine history.

• “Unitary setup of the Philippine system, which has proven to be inadequate in administering peoples of different cultures and histories.

• “Unleveled playing field in Philippine sociopolitical and economic affairs, and the inadequate representations of Muslims in the running of government.

• “Economic problems that have reduced Muslim areas into the “poorest of the poor’ provinces.

• “Land problems caused by unjust government land and resettlement policies; and

• “Persistence of the negative ‘Moro image’ in the national psyche, as shown by attitudinal surveys conducted.”

Professor Sakili concludes that the Mindanao problem warrants extraordinary measures:

“Considering the complexity of the Mindanao problem, solving it according to former Sen. Wigberto Tañada requires ‘extraordinary measures.’ He urged the Philippine government to take the lead in enlightening people about the historic roots of the Mindanao problem and (explain) why the rectification of the historical wrongs inflicted on the Moro people requires extraordinary measures (Today, July 3, 1996. p. 11).

“For his part, Dr. Samuel Tan says: ‘This is not the time to hide the (historical) facts… this is the time to tell the truth to make us free indeed.’

“Now, a new experiment – the BBL [Bangsamoro Basic Law] – will hopefully be affirmed by the Philippine Congress in its wholeness, so that what the Philippine government and its peace partners tirelessly built through a negotiated peace agreement would not be stripped of its potentials for making peace.”

I too hope that the arduous work that has been invested in the peace process not be brought to naught due to the shallow understanding of policy makers of the historical antecedents of the peace process. I pray that those who are politically empowered to cast votes determining the future of Mindanao cast them not lightly but wisely, allowing themselves if necessary to be enlightened by experts who have invested their careers in studying the complex problems of Mindanao. I pray that for selfish political advantage they do not distort truth and demonize those who have been heroic in searching for peace.

“Exteriorization” of Philippine Muslim History

I wish that we educators in the Philippines who are partly responsible for the statesmanship or lack thereof in the national legislature could have done a better job at teaching about the multiple cultures and histories of the Muslim and indigenous peoples of Mindanao. I wish it were possible today through such teaching for all to more easily grasp why there was an “exteriorization” of Philippine Muslim history in the mainstream texts of Philippine history, and possibly also therefore in the mainstream consciousness of Filipinos today. If history is written from the viewpoint of those who hold power, Philippine history written from the viewpoint of the Spaniards who never conquered the Muslims but sold the Muslim territories to the Americans, or from the viewpoint Christians who needed to convert the Muslims because without Christianity they would be damned to perdition, or from the Americans who in their “manifest destiny” stole the spoils of the Philippine revolution and after they had made the docile “Filipinos” their “little brown brothers” needed to civilize the Moslem “savages” and massacred them at Bud Dajo and Bud Bagsak when they refused their civilization, or from the viewpoint of the central government of the Philippines who following the lead of the Americans sent waves and waves of settlers into Mindanao, imposing a land registration system that was foreign to the Mindanaons, through which they were deprived of their lands in favor of settlers from Luzon and the Visayas, has definitely kept Muslim Mindanao exterior to its main narrative. That impacts on how reality is picked up today. Isn’t it sad that while national outrage is justified for the deaths in Mamasapano, the general national outrage was for the 44 SAF who perished and not for 68 Filipinos who all belong to the nation. Doesn’t this just illustrate how Muslim history and concerns are exteriorized from the national historical narrative and national conscioiusness? For the outrage that was Mamasapano there was no parallel outrage for the Jabidah massacre (remember Senator Marcos?), for the Manili massacre, not even for the war of Buliok, when during the Muslim celebration of Al Ad’ha , the Feast of the Holy Sacrifice, the government bombarded the village purportedly in pursuit of members of the Pentagon Kidnap-for-Ransom gang. The real intention “of the treacherous act against the Moro people” though was to decimate the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

Government led by Pres. Aquino must take the lead in enlightening the people

With former Sen. Tañada and Professor Sakili, I wish the Philippine government led by President Aquino himself would “take the lead in enlightening people about the historical roots of the Mindanao Problem” and in defending the peace process as a justified and necessary response to this problem. Whether as commander-in-chief or as chief executive, his role is to pro-actively lead the nation against the antics of those who would derail the peace process and malign its advocates for peace, to draw crucial distinctions between ideologies of the MILF and the BIFF; to discern where there are genuine movements to peace and consolidate them, to courageously lead, encourage and motivate those who have raised arms against the nation to return to the national fold; to staunchly defend reconciliation with the Philippine nation as worthwhile and honorable, and to rally statesmen in Congress beyond political parties to secure the peace for the nation, which includes the Moro and indigenous peoples of Mindanao.

Before the proposed BBL was submitted to Congress for passage into law, President Aquino’s legal team took over a month in revising it in to make sure that it was constitutionally defensible. Its revisions needed then to be understood and accepted by the MILF. As some legislators today see unconstitutionality in the draft, the President and his team should be more strident in defending it not only for the sake of the legislators but for the enlightenment of the people.

Either / Or

Give Muslim Mindanao peace. Or recognize it is being pushed to independence through its persistent exteriorization. The burden of making peace is on the nation. In crippling the peace process through the President’s current lack of determined leadership, the logic of war is enhanced. Where a BBL envisions through a strengthened Bangsamoro citizenry an autonomous political entity that could deal with the forces of extremism, today we confront anew the spectre of continuing war through the AFP’s “all out offensive” against the BIFF. Killing BIFF combatants does not stop the rebellion. It only necessitates more killing, and discredits on-the-ground local forces committed to peace. War only brings more war. It inflicts suffering on innocents, beyond the imagination of Manila. Today, in Maguindanao there are now over 95,000 refugees.

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About Joel Tabora, S.J.

Jesuit. Educator
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4 Responses to Pushing Muslim Mindanao to Independence?

  1. Tony says:

    unfortunately, Joel, you elide the fact that there is much to discuss and debate about what constitutes “Philippine Muslim history” or “Bangsamoro history”. The “exteriorization” of that history from general Philippine history, though to be blamed mostly on the the majority’s view of that history, is nevertheless to be partly explained as well by their insistence that they are (almost totally) different from the rest of the country. a wider southeast Asian perspective would help to balance things out a bit. and moro history must also demonstrate its ability to take into account historical narratives that challenge their own. unfortunately, this is not easy to do; political correctness would seem to dictate that one swallow their version of history hook, line and sinker. so, unless a platform is provided where historians AS HISTORIANS are able to exchange ideas without fear of somehow displeasing or wounding sensibilities that are in some sense more ideological in nature rather than scholarly in provenance, then the current lack of serious historical exchange between and among historians and scholars given this problem of “exteriorization” will I am afraid continue. it is therefore the task of UNIVERSITIES like Ateneo de Davao to create this platform and to provide opportunities for honest exchange, not for more of the same (mutual) excommunications in the field of history…

    • The Ateneo de Davao University would be happy to create this platform and to provide opportunity for honest exchange. I invite you as a church historian to come and present your views on Muslim history in the Philippines; we could use your coming as an opportunity to invite other distinguished historians or actual participants in the making of history in Mindanao today.

  2. carlcid says:

    Will amending BBL result in a push for Mindanao independence? I think that is a huge exaggeration, and even a veiled threat against critics of the BBL. A man of the cloth like Fr. Tabora should not be endorsing or indulging in this kind of deceitful reasoning. As a Christian living in Mindanao, I, too would want a much greater degree of autonomy and the funding to develop our region. Why should a band of armed belligerents be given priority?

    • Allow me simply to reply that I am not against amending the draft BBL. My university has published works which suggest important amendments. Through the amendments I would like to support a meaningful autonomy for Muslim Mindanao as mandated by the Philippine Constitution – which is an essential element of peace in Mindanao. Unless this type of autonomy is supported, the effect is support for those groups who do not want autonomy but independence. I do not think this is an exaggeration.

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