WebClick Tracer

ANGAY-ANGAY LANG: The National Cultural Minorities of Mindanao and Sulu. A preliminary study (7)

mindaviews rodil

Last of seven parts


Focus on Poverty

The life of the National Cultural Minorities in Mindanaw and Sulu, especially in those areas where they are numerical minorities, is generally characterized by poverty along with all of its concomitant disadvantages. This is not to say that they alone are suffering from poverty. It is not their monopoly; they are just as much victims of the general poverty that grips the nation as the broad masses of Filipinos. But let us first elaborate on the meaning of poverty within their context. What are their disadvantages? The definition of poverty must be qualified because poverty means different things to different people.

Again, as stated earlier in this report, we shall examine poverty from the standpoint of the minorities. At their initial stage of encounter with the majority, the “highlanders” had only reached the community level of social organization. Their food, clothing and shelter situation was at the level of bare essentials. Food was derived partly from the kaingin and partly from hunting, trapping, fishing and gathering of forest products. Their clothing was usually all they had upon their backs at a single time. Shelter was always of a temporary nature. Their other possessions were limited to those which they considered traditionally as necessary to help sustain life or to protect it and preserve smooth interpersonal relations in the community. Those goods which they could not produce by themselves were procured through limited trade.  The Islamized groups were more or less in the same situation of existence with one decided advantage. They had already reached a higher level of social organization which enabled them to face bigger problems. To a large degree, both groups had achieved a satisfactory adaptation to their physical environment.

Today, after a long period of encounter with the majority, or where the process still continues, very much the same conditions are in evidence but several modifications have been added or removed. Now the cultural minorities can avail of the advantages of the cash economy, better techniques of agriculture and higher quality goods from the urban centers. There are also better roads, both feeder and logging roads, which facilitate travel overland. For those who have to travel by water they can now have outboard or inboard motors in addition to their paddles and sails. Comparing the two situations and keeping in mind the level of generalities, one could easily infer that they are just as stricken with poverty now as they were before; those few who are enjoying the good life do because they have adapted to present conditions. So, what is the difference?

The difference is as basic as flying is to a bird. In the past, they lived their own lives; they were free; they determined their own destiny; they enjoyed an ecological balance and the sense of security, confidence and contentment that comes with it. The forest, the rivers, the wild life were all there to serve their needs. They could clear any portion of land that suited their requirements. Within this environment they shaped their lives and their culture. Within this context, also, they developed and maintained their self-respect, either as a group in relation to other groups, or as individuals in relation to other individuals within a group. Were they suffering from poverty? No, because poverty is relative. It is the lack of proportion between man’s needs, as he sees them, and his ability within his social context to meet those needs. The needs of these people were simple. They surely suffered occasional privation and want relative to their basic necessities, but this was more the exception than the rule.

Their encounter with the majority, the private and the government sector combined or separately, changed all these, so abruptly that they were forced into another form of existence even before they were prepared for it. Gradually and painfully, it dawned on them that the forests no longer belonged to them. They were forbidden to cut the trees for their clearings yet the loggers did just that and more.  Wild life receded with the forest. To maintain their serenity, their cultural sanity, their way of life, and their sense of security born out of their balanced relation with their traditional environment, they too, receded with the forest. But the majority came after them. This was the story of the highlanders. The Islamized groups have a slightly different experience because of their slightly different physical and cultural environment, but the same basic pattern of stimulus-response occurred. There were demonstrations of resistance, especially from among the Islamized groups but the end-result was clear: now they were no longer in control of their lives. They were not even free because freedom as they knew it  has gone away. They were minorities!

The agony of a member of a minority is not only that he is looked down upon by the majority, he also has to suffer the frustration of seeing the advantages of the new life brought by the majority but not being able to obtain them for he is not as well culturally equipped. He sees his former ancestral lands being transformed into productive farm lands or ranches for majority use. His day to day life alongside the majority, that is, if he had not decided to move to the mountains with his confreres, has made him even smaller in his own estimation. He begins to be ashamed of himself; he is so backward; he has lost his pride in himself, his self-respect. Or to cover up for these forced feelings of inadequacy, he turns to violence. His exposure to the majority way of life, moreover, has increased his needs, but he now has less opportunities with which to meet these needs. No wonder that a Santa Cruz Mission report states that “there is evidence that in many instances they are worse off now than they were thirty years ago.” Now, there is no doubt that the minority is suffering from poverty.

If they must survive, that is happily and at the same time maintaining or regaining their self-respect, they have to avail of the majority-recognized opportunities, as many have done, such as education, and for the highlanders especially the Christian religion. In other words, they must measure up to the level of the majority. Education here is considered as basic, because, for many of the minorities our field workers talked to, it is considered the most effective tool for the protection or recovery of inalienable rights.  Christian religion of any denomination, as we have observed also in the field, has served as an effective equalizer. At least it seems to have conveyed a more convincing message than the more vague concepts of democracy in bringing home the idea, if not the practice, of equality among people.

We have focused our attention on poverty, in the broadest sense of the term, because our findings so far demonstrate that this is the most pronounced and all-encompassing end-result of his experience with the majority. He is not only suffering from the poverty of the body, but, worst perhaps, he is also suffering from the poverty of the spirit: that feeling when one is looked down upon and feels ill-equipped to fight back (though the Islamized groups have yet to be convinced not to fight back), the feeling of being ashamed of oneself and his identity, the feeling of insecurity. If the minority member had been vulnerable before, his type of poverty has made him even more vulnerable.

His salvation within the greater society in which he finds himself ultimately depends on himself. Nevertheless, since his destiny is inevitable tied in with that of the majority he also needs external assistance in the initial stages of his development. There will not be lacking those of the majority who will take common cause with him. Both, however, must be made aware of the constraints that stand in the way. Following are the constraints which were listed by the Task Force of Cultural Communities, Regional Development Council (Region XI), in a Live-in Seminar held at Kidapawan, North Cotabato  29 November to 1 December 1974:

“1. Discriminatory attitudes against the Cultural Minorities along with mutual prejudice and misunderstanding in many areas. This is a built-in obstacle manifested in various forms.

“2. Landgrabbers (organized or unorganized), loggers, pasture leases, large plantation owners and unscrupulous middlemen. These forces, with the use of their wealth and influence plus the backing of the law, place direct or indirect obstacles to programs for cultural communities, particularly those that threaten all or part of their vested interests.

“3. Self-serving key officials and leaders. Their principal function is to serve the public interest, but they have become renegades to their sworn duties. Their acts of commission (for self-interest) and omission at the expense of public interest make one thing clear: that for as long as they are in office, they cannot be relied on to be of service in the planning and implementation of programs for cultural communities.”

Actually, these are not the only constraints. But for our purposes, they would suffice. A close scrutiny of these constraints would reveal that, with the slight exception of No. 7, they are so deeply ingrained in the majority culture that only a thorough overhaul of the socio-cultural framework could create a lasting solution to the majority-minority problem.


Following are the preliminary recommendations of this study:

  1. The government should undertake a more thorough-going research on the cultural minorities of Mindanaw and Sulu than has been possible with the limited time and manpower resourcesof this Project.

Explanation – A scientific approach to the minority-majority problem would, first of all, be to determine the nature of the problem, its dimensions, its causes and effects; care must be taken to distinguish between root causes and corollary causes. Then, and only then, can the proper solutions be identified. We feel this recommendation should fill the gap (in knowledge) that has plagued governmental and private efforts to assist minorities in the past. It has been observed that many sincere programs, projects and protective laws have failed for the simple reason that they did not fit into the situation. (See Appendix D for suggested guide to action-oriented research).

  1. Once the research work has been completed, the government should undertake a broad-based information drive among the majority and the minority.

Explanation – Proper recognition by the majority of the humanity (and the rights attached thereto) of the minority still leaves much to be desired. This is aggravated, not necessarily caused by, both their ignorance of and lack of respect for the latter’s distinct cultural characteristics and their conviction that their way is the way.

An information drive proceeding from the more strategic sector to the less strategic should be contribute to the gradual elimination of the gap between majority and minority. We suggest that the drive in the more strategic sector (composed of those involved in policy-making, planning and implementation, education, mass media and police work) should be in the form of a live-in seminar, and private sectors who engaged in research among the cultural minorities. Their experience and contact with the concrete minority situation is invaluable (and there is no substitute) in providing the necessary tone preliminary to cultural attitudinal reorientation. A live-in seminar is the most conducive short-cut to the achievement of the goals we have in view.

Whatever the details on procedures are, the object of the information drive must be clear to all: cultural and attitudinal reorientation for both majority and minority, with emphasis on the former. This is basic to the process of integration.

  1. All programs for national cultural minorities must be localized.

Explanation – The paternalistic approach of the government towards the national cultural minorities has developed in the latter the attitude of dependency: waiting for the government to bring solutions to their problems. But if these solutions do not come, the result is alienation in and disillusionment  with the government. This, we believe, is contrary to the principle of self-reliance and the natural human need to make basic choices. In addition, instead of hastening their development towards political maturity, it is actually prolonging their political infancy and this, in turn, prolongs integration. It is true that they need some guidance, especially in the initial stages, but this must be minimized. In contrast, their contribution to the solution of their own problems through participation must be maximized. Certain adjustments must be made in areas where there is mixed majority-minority population; here cooperative effort must be encouraged.

Location as used here simply means this: since the local people are the ones most familiar with their problems and needs, therefore, they are in the best position to solve these problems and provide for their needs. Our concern here is the giving of opportunity as a matter of right to the local people to plan and implement within their particular situation. For the minority, this ensures a natural transition towards modernization; for both, cooperative effort builds a more solid base for integration.


The uneven development of people in the Mindanaw-Sulu region is one of the basic characteristic features of the area. Among both the majority and the minority there are different levels of development. It seems that one of the unstated aims of regional planning is to bring about a levelling off in this unevenness.

The general aim of regional planning is the achievement of regional development, with the provisions for adjustment as required by local conditions. In this light, regional planners cannot but give due recognition to the proper development of the natural cultural minorities, comprising more than thirty ethnic groups of 25.50 per cent of the total population of Mindanaw and Sulu, as of 1970.

An analysis of the population distribution alone of these people points to the need for adjustments which in a sense is a departure from the regional approach. Add to this the distinct cultural characteristics of each, then it becomes more meaningful to localize developmental planning and implementation. It is felt that this is the more natural step to take towards the levelling off of the existing unevenness. How long it takes should not matter. What is important is that a continuous program of study, leading to mutual understanding and joint majority-minority program of development, shall be carried out on a continuing basis for as long as these cultural differences are seen to constitute obstacles to social and economic progress. #

Basic Sources of Data:

A. Isidro and M. Saber, Muslim Philippines (Marawi City: University Research Center, MSU) 1968.

Cesar Adib Majul, Muslims in the Philippines (Quezon City: University of the Philippines Press) 1973.

Dionisio L. Yumo, Leadership, Power and Politics Among the Southern Agusan Manobos(Cagayan de Oro City: Xavier University, 1971). Master’s Thesis.

  1. Arsenio Manuel, Manuvu Social Organization (Quezon City: Community development Research Council, University of the Philippines, 1973).

Gaudiosa M. Ochotorena, Ag Tubig Nog Keboklagan: A Subanun Epic (University of Santo Tomas, April 1972). PhD Dissertation.

Grace L. Wood, “The Tiruray”, Philippine Sociological Review, Volume V, April, 1957, pp. 12-39.

Michael O. Mastura, “The Moro Problem An Approach Through Constitutional Reform”, Manila: Constitutional Convention, July 1971

Mosque and Moro (Manila: Philippine Federation of Christian Churches, 1964)

Najeeb H. Saleeby, The Moro Problem (Manila: 1913)

Peter G. Gowing, “The White Man and the Moro: A Comparison of Spanish and American Policies Towards Muslim Filipinos”, Solidarity

Stuart A. Schlegel, Tiruray Justice, Traditional Tiruray Law and Morality (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1970)Sta. Cruz Mission Reports, 1973, Prelature of Marbel, South Cotabato

Theodore Garang Schuck, “The Moro Problem”, Philippine Free Press, November 12, 1932.

Field interviews and observations

Field respondents in Lapuyan, Zamboanga del Sur were:

Timuay Labi Mahalambas Huminis

Timuay Libon Atitang Imbing Huminis

Dr. Vicente Imbing

1970 Census of Population and Housing.

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


Your perspective matters! Leave a comment below and let us know what you think. We welcome diverse viewpoints and encourage respectful discussions. Don't hesitate to share your ideas or engage with others.

Search MindaNews

Share this MindaNews story
Send us Feedback