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COMMENTARY: A Mindanawon’s view of the complex issues facing the Land of Promise

CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY (MindaNews / 30 January) — When Mindanao is in trouble, Manila is shaken and the whole country is upset.

How do we understand Mindanao, how should our compatriots in Luzon and Visayas view Mindanao and how should our political, economic and cultural-religious leaders offer solutions to the problems of Mindanao and the country as a whole?

The issues and problems are basic – historical injustice, poverty and religious beliefs taken to the extreme. These are inter-related issues in Mindanao that any peace loving Filipino should understand.

The political-economy of Mindanao has been intertwined with our colonial legacy and the changing roles of our political and economic elite since the arrival of the Spaniard in the 1500s.

Even before Magellan landed on our shores, Arab Islamic missionaries were already in the south perhaps as early as the 9th century.

Spain was not successful in its military conquest of the islands, neither were the Americans in the 1900s despite their cruel campaign.

The Bud Dajo massacre in 1906 is a testament to the US government’s ruthlessness then.  Fifty years under the Americans, Mindanao was subjugated economically with the entry of American agri-business companies like Del Monte and DOLE.

Our forebears in the 1800s and our political and economic elite in the 1900s fought for political and economic freedom yet made Mindanao as a backwater of the ancillary social and economic problems in Luzon.

From the time we won our independence from the United States to the time of Marcos, our political and economic elites facilitated the massive land consolidation and acquisition in Mindanao by foreign and local agri-business companies.

The HUKBALAHAPs in Central Luzon who surrendered to the government were given lands in Mindanao, easing out the Indigenous People, Muslims and early Christian settlers from Visayas.

Marcos used brutal ex-military men to threaten and pacify communities for palm oil companies to consolidate lands for his cronies in the Caraga region and sugar plantations in Bukidnon, to mention a few.

One should not wonder why Luzon Regions 1, 2 and 3, have poverty rates which are a lot lower compared to Mindanao, and more particularly in the ARMM.  Land tenure and landholding sizes in these regions are more equitable than what you see in Mindanao. The political and economic elite of Mindanao, Christians from Luzon and Visayas, and some local Muslim leaders were instrumental in the perpetuation of the highly inequitable land ownership pattern in the islands.

Our various land reform programs since Macapagal were all of good intentions yet crafted by politicians whose interest and lenses were of their own mould.

Marcos PD 27, lauded as the law that emancipated tenants from the bondage of the soil, was a land reform program that worked mostly in Luzon and certain parts of Visayas and many suspect was really meant to cower his political adversaries in Central Luzon and Panay Island.  Pres. Cory Aquino’s CARP law passed by a landlord dominated congress, while it encompassed all agricultural lands, neglected the indigenous and socio-cultural realities in Mindanao and the long historical injustice in this once called Land of Promise.  House minority leader Cong. Ronnie Zamora’s admission during the budget deliberations of the 15th congress of the weakness and lapses of the CARP program using as reference Joe Studwell’s book titled “How Asia Works” is a testament to this neglect.

All this bred the kind of poverty one sees in Mindanao today.

The cultural and faith dimension is just a consequence of this long historical injustice and poverty situation of local Mindanao communities.  When one fails to find answers to poverty and injustice, it is easy to find meaning in one’s faith and religious beliefs.  Some take these meanings to the extreme.  The fundamentalists who carry arms, regardless of religion or faith, know no poverty or historical injustice tenets but only what they fanatically see and believe based on their religious doctrines.

As a first step in taking a broader and more strategic view of the problems in Mindanao, we should all participate and put a stake in the BBL that is now a subject of consultations and debate. No matter which side of the fence we find ourselves, we need to ask the basic question – is this the answer to centuries of historical injustice and poverty amongst the Mindanawons, the local indigenous peoples, Muslim and Christian communities?  And most importantly, are the local communities, mostly affected by poverty and conflict, understand what the law means for them? Were they thoroughly consulted and listened to, their views and aspirations included?

Given these burning issues of our times, we need more than ever to pursue peace no matter how difficult it can be. This can only be achieved through sincere dialogue, mutual understanding, compassion, justice and forgiveness.  Islam and Christianity preach the same values, and the same traits are embedded in indigenous peoples’ cultures.  Finally, local communities should take the center stage of this process, not the leaders alone, or else we will be doomed to repeat the same historical mistakes of five centuries.

(MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Jerry “Jing” Pacturan, born and raised in Bukidnon, is a former CSO leader and former senior government official.)

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