CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY (MindaNews / 21 Aug) – Remember how Mindanao came to be billed as “The Land of Promise”? It was to hype up the interest of the landless and dispossessed in Luzon and other parts to move here and colonize it.
Mindanao was the Promise Land according to the gospel of Manuel L. Quezon, master demagogue, famed for declaring he would prefer a Philippines “run like hell by Filipinos than like heaven by Americans”—a sort of doomsday prophecy that became reality and continues to bedevil our society to this day.
As for Mindanao, alleged Land of Promise, it later turned out that the promise was made to everyone except to Mindanaons, its native peoples, who were not even consulted. It wouldn’t have been so bad if the “promising” leaders later on had taken account of the natives when they parceled out the island’s resources.
But as it turned out, even as settlers from Luzon and Visayas were readily handed land titles and concessions, with support services and financing to boot, the locals got none—at least not until much later, after much effort and frustration, and too little too late.
The worst victims of that policy were the indigenous tribes, the Lumads, who were mostly unlettered and unfamiliar with colonial protocol and thus were marginalized. They were literally pushed to the margins of newly settled areas.
It wasn’t so bad for the Moros because they were, are, fast learners and wise in the ways of the world. In fact their leaders were, are, wiser than generally thought. Many of them became wealthy at the expense of their own people. Others set themselves up as warlords with arsenals that enabled them to play war-games with each other or even challenge the government.
It was the Lumads who were truly marginalized, but no one took the cudgels for them. If the Moros felt short-changed or betrayed, it was mainly because of their leaders’ sense of entitlement: they wanted to recover traditional status, powers, and privileges they had come to expect as their birthright.
The problems in Moroland in fact sprung from their leaders’ refusal to accept that the feudal era was over. They didn’t like the idea that if they were to regain lost status or advantage, it would have to be within the framework of democracy, equal opportunity, and public accountability.
Such democratic concepts were largely alien to tribal society.
But in fact, many Moro leaders took to the democratic system quite ably and with distinction, becoming congressmen, senators, diplomats, and such. Salipada Pendatun, Duma Sinsuat, Raschid Lucman, Mamintal Tamano, Santanina Rasul, Michael Mastura, Alunan Glang, even the irrepressible Didagen Dilangalen, readily come to mind.
They disproved cynics in their tribe who thought that no Moro could hope to be in power in a Christian-dominated democracy. Their greatest triumph, in fact, lay in challenging the conventional attitude that a Moro would not rise or prevail in a system which abhors violence, coercion, and autocracy.
Unfortunately, a sort of atavism took hold and no worthy successors have since emerged to become statesmen and latter-day role models. So the so-called “Land of Promise” transmogrified into a territory of contention and diminishing representation for them at high echelons.
It was an inevitable development under a Central Government that thoughtlessly allowed exploiters and predatory capitalists to cut down Mindanao’s forests, dig out its minerals, and transform its plains into plantations. This reduced Mindanaons essentially to serfdom.
Although the rhetoric in Manila promised equal opportunity, in fact it turned Mindanaons into second class citizens as wealthy newcomers took over the choice areas, partnering with wealthier capitalists in the name of development.
In the process, the natives perforce had to let their livelihood areas and sacred sites yield to agro-industrial complexes. Thus do trapos and oligarchs live in exclusive townships and mansions today while the rest stand outside looking in, peering into lands they used to roam free.
Manila also promised people empowerment and democracy; in fact, its operatives emasculated Mindanaons by manipulating and corrupting the grassroots with patronage and pork—buying the media, paying off voters, manipulating election results, thereby cornering the voters’ loyalty.
It was Manila that sowed corruption and confusion in Mindanao. They taught campaign staff how to cheat. They schemed to make contrived election results appear on Manila’s tally boards.
In other words, it was Manila and “Hello, Garci” calls, not Mindanaons, that bastardized elections and turned democracy into a travesty—victimizing the Mindanaons with scam, trickery, and greed. Why, for instance, does Mindanao have minimal representation in the Senate or the cabinet?
Meanwhile, violence and turmoil goes on and hardly a day passes without a skirmish or two, a raid or an ambush, or a kidnap and ransom demand.
And Manila actually thinks that injustice, violence, and insurgency in Mindanao can be resolved without the active involvement of Mindanaons!
[Manny is former UNESCO regional director for Asia-Pacific; secretary-general, Southeast Asian Publishers Association; director, Development Academy of Philippines; member, Phil. Permanent Mission to the U.N.; vice chair, Local Government Academy; member, Cory Government’s Peace Panel, and PPI-UNICEF awardee for outstanding columnist. firstname.lastname@example.org]