It is said, “Give me Mindanao, and I will feed the world.” Of course, it is an exaggeration. But this phrase emphasizes the fact that Mindanao is so abundant in natural resources – high mountains whose rocks are gemmed with minerals; from atop these mountains fall potent water which then flows and dissect fertile lands; these rivers rush to the vast seas abounding with sea-resources. Unfortunately, as in the case of the Promised Land, Mindanao has become a battleground of peoples with conflicting interests. Here, groups battled over interests – the lumads/ indigenous peoples versus the Muslims during the pre-hispanic period, Muslims versus Christian Filipinos during the Spanish period, Moros and lumads versus Filipino migrants during the American period, and government military forces versus insurgent secessionist groups.
For this briefer, I wish to elaborate three issues of chief importance insofar as the Mindanao plight is concerned. These issues are arranged according to causes and effects, hence connected to each point. First cluster is on domestic violence and prejudice among people. As mentioned above, the story of Mindanao as a battleground of beliefs and interests span four centuries. The past four decades however saw how the plot thickened from bad to worse, with some sporadic improvements. But looking at the bigger picture, two battles have basically dominated the sad and painful narrative of Mindanao: Christian-Muslim conflict and GRP-Moro insurgencies conflict.[i] These battles already caused psycho-emotional trauma, casualties (lives and properties) and loss of livelihood among the denizens of Mindanao. Second cluster would be social injustices which include violation of human rights and very slow administration of justice. The wanton grabbing of lands, disrespect for ancestral domain, and abuse of power by those in authority (even pseudo-military groups) resulted in the increase of political killings that are not administered immediately in courts. Third and last cluster, in which various problems are connected, is the inefficient administration of services which results in and reflected by illiteracy and low quality of education; health problems like malnutrition due to lack of medical supplies; scarcity, if not absence, of livelihood opportunities; poor infrastructure; and inefficient governance. When zoomed out, all these problems clustered into three are very well connected to each other. Caused by domestic violence and social injustices are the stagnation of the economy and the poor morale of the people of Mindanao.
Now, how do we address these problems? Here are some suggestions, a few are based on Cook’s policy recommendations enumerated in his comprehensive article Mindanao: A Gamble Worth Taking. First, eliminate the cause of terrorism and domestic violence by strengthening military presence in a manner that doesn’t look intimidating and oppressive to all members of the communities. But in order to strengthen the military, the government will have to modernize it. Partnering with regional and international organization with anti-terrorism agenda is an ideal action given the obvious problem of lack of funds. Second, strengthen the peace process. Local peace monitoring teams and the small international teams now in place in Mindanao monitoring the ceasefire should be better funded and expanded. Third, provide development aid. Poverty is a significant factor in the resilience of the Moro insurgency and concrete signs of economic improvement are required to ensure sustained Moro support for any peace deal. Much development aid was promised in conjunction with earlier peace deals and the failure to deliver it in a timely manner undermined them. Development aid in support of the peace process should be quick in coming and focused on smaller-scale infrastructure programs that have short gestation periods and deliver visible improvements. Fourth, transform the Moro insurgents and gradually assimilate them into the political and social landscape of Mindanao. A very important and delicate element of the peace process is to secure the transformation of the MILF into an unarmed political movement with a realistic chance of sustaining a Moro Islamic voice in national politics. Successful Islamic parties from Southeast Asia and beyond should be encouraged to send representatives to Mindanao to help the Front develop into a functioning political party.[ii] And lastly, I personally believe that God wants a better life for these pitiful people trapped in distressful conditions on Mindanao island. By interceding to God for the salvation of these people from their decaying state will not only put a halt to their terrible situation in Mindanao, but eternally release them from the bondage of darkness.
There are a number of solutions, like the five mentioned above, but all may be rooted to one major answer: work for peace in Mindanao. Peace talks succeeded by slow implementation of plans are just plain words. We have to genuinely act to realize these dreams for Mindanao. There is hope for Mindanao, there is. J
[i] Christian Filipinos’ exodus to Mindanao began during the Spanish period when the Spaniards sought to Christianize the inhabitants of Mindanao, although it was only during the Commonwealth years when massive migration embarked on as agrarian lands were opened for Luzon and Visayan farmers to toil, and eventually own. Ancestral lands of lumads, which were taken by the Muslims, and later by Filipino migrants made the problem more complex. This is the root of conflict between the three peoples of Mindanao – the IPs or lumads, the Muslims, and the Filipinos. In time, because of false impressions implanted by colonizers and fathers of crooked mindset, prejudice against different peoples on Mindanao began to cripple the populations. And since the Filipinos, often associated as Christians, who have become majority groups, and leaders of towns and provinces for some time, seemed to dominate the political and economic landscape of Mindanao, Muslims equated this to social injustice. Fueled by the thought of apparently irreconcilable religious, socio-cultural, economic and even political differences, but sparked by the harsh treatment of Muslims during the Marcos regime, Moro groups waged war against the government.
[ii] Cook, Malcolm and Collier. Mindanao: A Gamble Worth-taking. 2006