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ANGAY-ANGAY LANG: The Minoritization of the Indigenous Communities of Mindanaw and Sulu (6)

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(Done in 1992 at Iligan City, published initially as two versions. First as the abbreviated edition published by The Minority Rights Group, London entitled The Lumad and Moro of Mindanaw, July 1993. The Philippine edition carrying the full draft was printed by AFRIM in Davao City, 1994. This was later updated in 2003, summarized in an epilogue. This is the third revision, now with an expanded epilogue.)

6th of 16 parts

Chapter 2 Part VI First Foreign Intrusion: The Spanish Challenge

The Spanish colonizers represented the first serious challenge to Moro dominance not only in Mindanaw but also in the entire archipelago. Armed clashes between them begun from the very first year of Spanish presence in 1565. The Moros contested their colonial ambition up to 1898. Part of the overall Spanish strategy in Mindanaw was to establish bases there, especially in areas where Moro influence was weakest. Mainly through missionary efforts, Spain succeeded as early as the first half of the 17th century in establishing footholds in the eastern, northern and western parts of Mindanaw.

The total number of Christians, 191,493 in 1892 who were largely converts from the indigenous population, represent the success of the Spanish in putting a large portion of Mindanaw within their jurisdiction. Did this affect the state of indigenous occupancy?

In a very real sense, no. The visible change was in the expansion of Spanish state domain and the contraction of Moro, either Magindanaw or Sulu, sultanate jurisdiction. Needless to say, this formed part of the Spanish basis for claiming the entire archipelago and ceding the same to the United States in 1898.

Resettlement Programs of the Government

The real displacement process started during the American colonial period. Between the years 1903 and 1935, colonial government records estimated between 15,000 and 20,000 Moro dead as a consequence of Moro resistance to the American presence.

Some of the recorded battles in Sulu, particularly the battles of Bud Dajo in 1906 and Bud Bagsak in 1912 were actual massacres, one-sided battles that they were.

Next to the actual destruction of the lives of the people, it can be said that as great a damage, if not more, was done by the resettlement programs.

These wreaked havoc on the Lumad and Moro ancestral domains in such an unprecedented scale that they literally overturned the lives of the indigenous peoples. A broad account will show that the government, colonial or otherwise, must somehow bear the responsibility for this turn of events.

Initiated by the American colonial government as early as l9l3, it was sustained and intensified during the Commonwealth period, and picked up momentum in the post-World War II years. Altogether, there were a number of resettlement programs.

Severe drought in Sulu and Zamboanga and grasshopper infestation in Davao in 1911-1912 adversely affected rice supply in the Moro Province and this gave General John Pershing, who was then Governor of the Moro Province, the excuse to call “for the importation of homesteaders from the overpopulated Philippine areas.”

The year 1913 saw the passage by the Philippine Commission of Act No. 2254 creating agricultural colonies aimed, officially, at enhancing the rice production effort already started in the Cotabato Valley.

The actual campaign for settlers into the first agricultural colony in the Cotabato Valley started in earnest in Cebu where corn has been the staple food. Knowing the Cebuano weakness for corn, their staple food in Cebu, the American colonial government paraded around Cebu a cornstalk, thirteen feet tall, propped up with a bamboo stick, to convince the people of the fertility and productivity of the soil. But in addition to being farmers, the volunteers had also to be skilled in arnis, an indigenous form of martial arts. Fifty persons responded.

Specific sites selected were Pikit, Silik, Ginatilan, Paidu Pulangi and Pagalungan, the very heart of Magindanaw dominion in the upper Cotabato Valley, and Glan at the southernmost coast of the present South Cotabato province.

In its supposed attempt to integrate the various sectors of the population, distinct population groups were purposely mixed in the colonial sites. In Colony No. 2, for example, composed of Manaulanan, Pamalian, Silik, Tapodok and Langayen, Cebuano settlers and Maguindanaw natives lived together. Strangely, the settlers were allotted 16 hectares each while the Maguindanawon were given only eight hectares each.

The government provided initial capital and some farm tools on loan basis. They were also assured of eventually owning homesteads.

There were American soldiers married to Filipinas who did not wish to return to the United States. They were provided for through Act 2280 with the opening the following year of the Momungan Agricultural Colony in what is now Balo-i, Lanao del Norte. There were signs that this project ultimately failed when in 1927 the governor opened the area for sale or lease to anyone under the terms of the Public Land Act.

Unable to further finance the opening of more colonies, the Manila government passed Act 2206 in 1919 which authorized Provincial Boards to manage colonies themselves at their expense. Lamitan in Basilan was thus opened by the Zamboanga province, Tawi-Tawi by Sulu, Marilog by Bukidnon, and Salunayan and Maganoy by Cotabato between 1919 and 1926.

No significant government resettlements were organized until 1935. Settlers nevertheless migrated either on their own or through the Inter-island Migration Division of the Bureau of Labor. As a result, aside from already existing settlement areas like that in the Cotabato Valley, or in Lamitan in Basilan and Labangan in Zamboanga del Sur, and Momungan in Lanao, we also see several in Davao, specifically in the towns of Kapalong, Guianga, Tagum, Lupon and Baganga; also, in Cabadbaran, Butuan and Buenavista in Agusan, and Kapatagan Valley in Lanao.

The next big initiative was the Quirino-Recto Colonization Act or Act No. 4197 of 12 February 1935 which aimed at sending settlers into any part of the country but with special reference to Mindanaw, that is, as a solution to the Mindanaw problem, as their peace and order problem with the Moros was called.

But before any implementation could be attempted, the Commonwealth government came into existence and it decided to concentrate on opening inter-provincial roads instead.

The National Land Settlement Administration (NLSA) created by Commonwealth Act No. 441 in 1939 introduced new dimensions into resettlement.

Aside from the usual objectives, there was the item providing military trainees an opportunity to own farms upon completion of their military training. The Japanese menace was strongly felt in the Philippines at this time and this particular offer was an attempt by the government to strengthen national security.

Under the NLSA, three major resettlement areas were opened in the country: Mallig Plains in Isabela, and two in Cotabato, namely, Koronadal Valley made up of Lagao, Tupi, Marbel and Polomolok and Ala (now spelled Allah) Valley consisting of Banga, Norallah and Surallah. By the time the NLSA was abolished in 1950, a total of 8,300 families had been resettled.

The Rice and Corn Production Administration (RCPA) of 1949 was meant to increase rice and corn production but was also involved in resettlement. It was responsible for opening Buluan in Cotabato, and Maramag and Wao at the Bukidnon-Lanao border.

Before the National Resettlement and Rehabilitation Administration (NARRA) came into existence in 1954, the short-lived Land Settlement Development Administration or LASEDECO took over from NLSA and RCPA. It was able to open Tacurong, Isulan, Bagumbayan, part of Buluan, Sultan sa Barongis and Ampatuan, all in Cotabato.

NARRA administered a total of 23 resettlement areas: nine were in Mindanaw; one in Palawan; five in the Visayas; one in Mindoro; and seven in mainland Luzon.

A product of the Land Reform Code, Land Authority took over from NARRA in 1963. For the first time, resettlement became a part of the land reform program. The creation of the Department of Agrarian Reform in 1971 also brought about the existence of the Bureau of Resettlement whose function was to implement the program of resettlement.

Moreover, the Economic Development Corps (EDCOR), a special program of the government to counter the upsurge of the Huk rebellion — a brainchild of Ramon Magsaysay, then Secretary of National Defense under President Elpidio Quirino — must also be mentioned. This program was responsible for opening resettlement areas for surrendered or captured Huks (insurgents) in such areas as Isabela, Quezon, Lanao del Norte, North Cotabato and Maguindanaw. Those in Mindanaw were carved out in the heart of Magindanao and Meranaw ancestral territories.

The formal resettlement programs spawned the spontaneous influx of migrants who came on their own. It is estimated that more people came this way than through organized channels.

To be able to appreciate the process of displacement among the indigenous groups, one can do a comparative study of the population balance in the provinces of Cotabato, Zamboanga, and Bukidnon over several census years.

Population Shifts Resulting From Resettlements

As a result of the heavy influx of settlers from Luzon and the Visayas, the existing balance of population among the indigenous Moro, Lumad and Christian inhabitants underwent serious changes. An examination of the population shifts, based on the censuses of 1918, 1939 and 1970, in the empire province of Cotabato, clearly indicates the process by which the indigenous population gave way to the migrants.

Add to this the cases of Zamboanga and Bukidnon and one will readily see how imbalances in the population led to imbalances in the distribution of political power as well as of cultivable lands and other natural and economic resources. These three give us concrete glimpses into the pattern of events in the entire region. The sole exceptions were those places which did not become resettlement areas.

Cotabato has been the traditional center of the Magindanaw Sultanate. Aside from the Magindanawon, its Moro population also include Iranun and Sangil. It is also the traditional habitat of several Lumad tribes like the Manobo, the Teduray, the Dulangan (Manobo), the Ubo, the T’boli and the Bla-an. It is, at the same time, the focus of very heavy stream of settlers from the north.

As a matter of fact, it was no accident that the American colonial government made it the site of the first agricultural colonies. It had all the markings of a present day counter-insurgency operation which at that time was Moro armed resistance to American rule.

Zamboanga was also the traditional habitat of the Magindanawon where the Sultanate dominated the original Subanen inhabitants, especially in the southern portions. Sama, known as Lutao during the Spanish period, Iranun, Tausug and Subanen converts to Islam known as Kalibugan or Kolibugan composed the other Moro populations. Aside from its indigenous Christian population who were converts during the many years of Spanish missionary effort and the few Chavacanos who were Ternateños brought in from the Moluccas Islands during the 17th century, the bulk of its Christian population came from numerous migrations in the twentieth century.

Bukidnon had been the traditional territory of the Manobo and the Bukidnon (also known as Talaandig and/or Higaunon). Its having been integrated into the special province of Agusan was an affirmation of the dominance of the Lumad population there during the first decade of the twentieth century. Its handful of Bangsamoro population are generally Meranaw to be found in the towns, especially Talakag, bordering Lanao del Sur. The census also registered a heavy inflow of migrants, mostly from the Visayas.

The Case of Cotabato

In 1918, what used to be known as the empire province of Cotabato (now subdivided into Cotabato, South Cotabato, Sarangani, Sultan Kudarat and Maguindanaw) had a total of 171,978 inhabitants distributed in 36 municipalities and municipal districts. The 1939 census registered a total population of 298,935 distributed in 33 towns.

And, finally, the 1970 figures showed a total population of 1,602,117. The fantastic leaps in population increase cannot be explained by natural growth, only by the rapidity of the migration process. How did this affect the balance of population?

In 1918, the Muslims were the majority in 20 towns, the Lumad in 5, and the migrants in none. Not much change was revealed in the 1939 census; the Muslims continued to be the majority in 20 towns, the Lumad increased to nine as a result of political subdivisions, and the migrants had three. The 1970 figures indicated an unbelievable leap. Now, the Muslims had only 10 towns to their name; not a single one was left to the Lumad — although it showed 31 towns with Lumad population of less than ten per cent, and the migrants now dominated in 38 towns.

The history of population shift in Cotabato was reflected throughout Mindanaw, revealing a pattern consistently unfavorable to the indigenous population. Total Islamized population was placed at 39.29 per cent in 1903; this was down to 20.17 percent in 1975. Lumad population was 22.11 percent in 1903; it fell to 6.86 percent in 1975.

More specifically, what particular areas had Muslim majority? Or Lumad majority? By the census of 1980, the Muslims had only five provinces, and 13 towns in other provinces. And the Lumad had only seven towns.

Role of Big Business in the Displacement Process

Mindanaw teemed with natural wealth. Both American military commanders and government administrators saw this very early in their stay in Mindanaw. No less than Leonard Wood (1903-1906), the first governor of the Moro Province and John Pershing, his successor, acknowledged this. Wood, as a matter of fact, was recorded as having remarked that “it is difficult to imagine a richer country or one out of which more can be made than the island of Mindanaw.”

Both officials tried to influence amendments to the existing land laws in order to induce investors into the region. The American dominated Zamboanga Chamber of Commerce tried, not once but twice, “to have Mindanaw and the adjacent islands become a territory of the United States.”

In 1926, a U.S. Congressman introduced a bill seeking the separation of Mindanaw and Sulu from the rest of the Philippines. This was part of a larger effort to transform the region into a huge rubber plantation. The great number of investors in Davao, both individual and corporate planters, the most famous of which being the Japanese corporations which transformed Davao into an abaca province represent the most visible example of large scale efforts during the colonial period to cash in on the region’s natural resources.

During the post-World War era, timber concessions may have delivered the penultimate blow to the already precarious indigenous hold over their ancestral territory. Logging became widespread in the region in the early 1960s. As a result of resettlement, indigenous populations naturally receded from their habitat in the plains upward into the forest areas. Logging caught up with them there, too. In 1979 alone, there were 164 logging concessionaires, mostly corporate, in Mindanaw with a total concession area of 5,029,340 hectares, virtually leaving no room in the forest for the tribal peoples.

It should be pointed out that the region’s total commercial forest was estimated to be 3.92 million hectares! To ensure smooth operations, logging companies were known to have hired indigenous datus as chief forest concession guards.

Pasture lands covered also by 25-year leases come as a poor second to logging with 296 lessees in 1972-73 for a total of 179,011.6 hectares.

How have these affected the indigenous peoples? No less than the Philippine Constabulary Chief Brigadier General Eduardo Garcia reported to the 1971 Senate Committee investigating the deteriorating peace and order conditions in Cotabato that the “grant of forest concessions without previous provisions or measures undertaken to protect the rights of cultural minorities and other inhabitants within the forest concession areas is one of the principal causes of dissatisfaction among the cultural minorities.”

A Magindanawon datu from Cotabato, Congressman Salipada Pendatun, cited the same government failure to “provide precautionary measures in the grant of concessions and pasture leases as contributory to the problem.”

(MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. A peace specialist, Rudy Buhay Rodil is an active Mindanao historian and peace advocate.)

Tomorrow: (Part VII) Contradiction Between Government Development Projects and Indigenous Interests



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