Injustice: the Root of Conflict in Mindanao
By Archbishop Orlando B. Quevedo, OMI
(Note from MindaNews. This paper was delivered by Cotabato Archbishop Orlando B. Quevedo, O.M.I., also president of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines during the 27th General Assembly of the Bishops’ Businessmen’s Conference in Taguig, Metro Manila, on July 8, 2003. This file was dispatched to MindaNews’ subscribers at 17:52:31 on 11 July 2003 and was posted on its website, www.mindanews.com but some of the archived articles such as this piece can no longer be accessed, hence we are re-publishing this piece)
The Roots of Insurgency – the Government’s View
The government’s “National Strategy to Overcome Insurgency” is “restricted information”. Since government officials presented some of the contents in at least two public conferences, I suppose I am free to speak about it.
The Estrada government called the National Strategy to Overcome Insurgency a “Strategy of Total Approach.” A “left hand effort” addresses the “roots of insurgency” and a “right hand effort” aims at militarily dismantling insurgent forces. The present government updated the national strategy and now calls it “The Strategy of Holistic Approach” in order to “deter and resolve insurgency.” By insurgency, the government refers to the CPP/NPA-NDF, the MILF/BIAF, Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG), and other insurgent threats.
The government’s holistic approach has four fundamental components: political, legal, and diplomatic component; socio-economic-psychosocial component; the peace and order and security component; and information. It retains the idea of a “left hand approach” and a “right hand approach.” The national strategy admits that cutting down “the tree of discontent” will not solve the insurgency problem. Its roots must be addressed.
It is not my purpose to critique the strategy. At the moment it suffices for me to say that there is an outstandingly significant alternative approach called the “Human Security” approach. And I am glad that Mr. Paul Oquist of the UNDP will speak on this approach at this conference later this morning.
My present interest is in the government’s analysis of the roots of insurgency. The most recent version of National Strategy identifies four main roots of insurgency, namely:
1. Poverty, which includes low productivity, criminality, marginalization, environmental degradation;
2. Ignorance, which includes poor resource base and low quality education;
3. Disease, which includes malnutrition, poor delivery of health services;
4. Injustice, which includes human rights violations, graft and corruption, land conflicts.
Following the above framework and analysis a government briefing oninjustice as the 4th root cause of insurgency would logically proceed to tackling the issues of human rights violations, graft and corruption, land conflicts.
An Alternative Perspective.
But my own reading and analysis of the insurgency in the South would be substantially different. The main difference is the place of history and culture.
Let me clarify. I am a Christian and a priest. Though born in Ilocos Norte I grew up in Marbel, Koronadal, Cotabato in the late 40s and early 50’s. My parents were public school teachers who migrated from the crowded North to the vast and spacious South. I worked as a priest-educator in Cotabato City for 12 years, as a parish priest in Jolo for almost two years, as Bishop of Kidapawan for 6 years, and as the present Archbishop of Cotabato for the past four years.
Through the years I have gained some understanding of the Moro viewpoint that has significantly influenced, even altered, my Christian viewpoint.
The change came not only from reading books authored by either Christian or Muslim scholars but most importantly from teaching, advising, observing, conversing and being with Muslim students and professionals for many years,
even as I accompanied my fellow Christians in their own journey through on-going history. Surely somewhere in my subconscious I still have my own prejudices about Muslims. But such prejudices I hope do not prevent me from entering the worldview of Moros and striving to see reality as many of them would see it.
The Root of Moro Conflict Injustice.
From such a perspective then may I state my central conviction — that the root cause of insurgency in the South is injustice. This injustice has several sub-roots that are the major factors at the heart of the contemporary Moro movement for freedom. I refer to the movement’s historical, cultural, social, economic, political, and religious dimensions. Nowhere in the national strategy as I have read it and as government spokesmen have explained it to me do I see these fundamental dimensions of the Moro struggle.
To clarify the thesis let me treat just three injustices among the several that I see.
Injustice to the Moro Identity.
My understanding of the Moro struggle from the late 1960’s to the present hinges on this most fundamental issue of Moro identity. It is from this basic issue of Moro identity that the other issues at the heart of the Moro struggle are derived. [Although I assume responsibility for the interpretative synthesis, I acknowledge my indebtedness for the historical data to the excellent book of Salah Jubair, Bangsamoro: A Nation Under Endless Tyranny, 3rd edition, IQ Marin SDN BHD, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, 1999, 364 pp].
Bangsamoro (from bangsa, nation) as a term may be a recent social and political construct, but the reality behind the term goes back to the early 14th century when Islam was introduced to the animist Indo-Malayan inhabitants of Mindanao and Sulu through “the missionary activities of Arab traders and teachers or Sufis who came along the trade routes” [Jubair, p. 6]. Toward the end of the 14th century a Muslim community was already flourishing in Sulu. By the middle of the 15th century a Muslim sultanate was already established in Sulu. Islamic missionary efforts in the 15th and 16th centuries also succeeded in establishing sultanates in the Lanao and
Cotabato areas. In the last years of the 15th century, Islam had reached out to the north, where Muslim rajahs such as Rajah Sulaiman Mahmud, Rajah Matanda, and Rajah Lakandula ruled over what is known as Manila today.
Islamic groups spoke different languages and demonstrated great differences in customs and traditions. What brought the communities together into a distinct and identifiable social group was the common religious bond of Islam that totally governed their social structures, their relationships, their values, their way of life. Such unity in diversity was already a reality long before the term “Filipinos” came to describe the indios colonized by the Spaniards in the second half of the 16th century.
The Muslim communities shared a common political and governmental structure based on the sultanates, with their own defined territories. They also shared a common history of resistance against Spain and later against the Americans. In the 16th to the 18th centuries, the Muslim communities might not have had a sense of distinct political “nationhood” (as understood today), but they certainly considered themselves quite distinct from everyone else by reason of their adherence to Islam. By the 19th century, Muslim leaders and thinkers were convinced that the Moros constituted one nation, a belief that they impressed on the American colonizing government always with passion and often with violence.
One may argue about investing the Moro social and political community with
the name “nation” but one cannot escape the fact that during the first century of Spanish colonization, the Islamic peoples of Mindanao, Visayas, and Luzon, had a socio-cultural and political identity distinct and separate from the Spaniards and the Christian indios. Thus, even without pressing the argument of nationhood, there was by the end of the 16th century among the Islamic communities a developed sense of religious and cultural unity and identity to which one might give at least seminally the name bangsamoro. Such sense of “nation” certainly matured when from the very beginning and for more than 300 years they resisted waves of military campaigns by Spanish military forces and their Christian Indio subordinates and later by American troops,
In contrast, Christian Filipinos asserted their nationhood only when the revolution against Spain was launched in 1896. When this sense of nationhood among Filipinos began to be firmed up under American rule, the leaders and thinkers of the Muslim communities resisted the attempts to put them under Filipino rule.
It is in the light of the above social, political, and cultural history based on their common Islamic belief that I make the following assertion.
The various campaigns, military and otherwise, by Spanish, American, and Filipino governments to subjugate, assimilate and integrate the Bangsamoro into the mainstream body politic, apparently without regard to their historical and cultural make-up, is an injustice to the bangsamoros’ religious, cultural and political identity [see also Jubair, pp. 123-27].
Injustice to Moro Political Sovereignty
Even before the Spaniards arrived in 16th century the Muslim communities in Mindanao already had their own structures of political governance centered on their datus, rajahs, and sultans. They had recognizable territorial boundaries. They were free to govern themselves in their own way, according to their customs, traditions, and the precepts of their religion. They possessed political sovereignty. They waged numerous wars against Spanish forces to defend their homeland and their religion. The death of Rajah Sulaiman, the last Muslim ruler of Manila, at the battle of Bangkusay, off the shore of Tondo in 1571, was an initial chapter of the resistance that the Moro people waged against those that threatened their sovereignty.
The Moro-Spanish conflict would drag on for more than 320 years without any decisive result except to constrict to a little extent the territorialboundaries of Moro sovereignty, as Spain erected garrisons in key places in Mindanao as in Cotabato, Zamboanga and Sulu. Particularly in the 17th century, the Sultanate of Maguindanao headed by Sultan Dipatuan Muhammad Qudarat wielded power and influence over a wide swath of Mindanao territory, including Cotabato, Lanao, Davao, Misamis, Bukidnon and Zamboanga (Salah Jubair, p. 44). Even after his defeat by Gov. General
Hurtado de Corcuera in Lamitan [now Baras, Malabang, Lanao del Sur according to Cesar Adib Majul, see Jubair, chapter 3, ftnote 17, p. 272] in 1637, Sultan Qudarat held sovereignty over his territory as did the Sultan of Sulu over his. For the next two centuries, the Spaniards could not gain any victory decisive enough to wrest this sovereignty.
Dynastic dissensions weakened the Sultanates of Sulu and Maguindanao in the 18th and 19th century. The decline of the Sultanates, the political symbol of Moro sovereignty, reached its nadir with the final Spanish assault on Jolo in 1876. Other Sultanates continued to flourish such as in Lanao, Buayan, Talayan, Buluan, and Kabuntalan. Meanwhile, though weakened, the Sulu Sultanate maintained its sovereignty.
Before American troops landed in Mindanao and Sulu, Moro military forces strengthened Moro sovereignty by attacking Spanish garrisons in Cotabato, Zamboanga, Sulu, and Lanao. They also dislodged Katipuneros in Cotabato who tried to fill the political vacuum that the Spanish evacuation from Mindanao created.
In 1899 Brigadier Gen. John C. Bates and Sultan Jamalul Kiran II of Sulu successfully negotiated the Kiram-Bates Treaty. Informal agreements were also made with the other Moro leaders of Mindanao. The treaty gave due recognition to the Moro religion, customs, and traditions. On sovereignty, two versions of the treaty exist. The English version states: “The sovereignty of the United States over the archipelago of Jolo, and its dependencies is declared and acknowledged.” The Moro version says otherwise: “The support, the aid, and the protection of the Sulu Island and archipelago are in the American nation” [see Juabair, p. 61].
However, the Kiram-Bates treaty paved the way for the American occupation of Mindanao and Sulu. In 1903 the Moro Province consisting of the districts of Sulu, Zamboanga, Lanao, Cotabato and Davao was created and was placed under the direct supervision of the Civil Governor of the Philippine Islands and the Philippine Commission. In 1904 Pres. Theodore Roosevelt unilaterally declared the treaty null and void. In 1912, Brig. Gen. John C. Pershing, head of the Moro Province, created the first Christian colony of settlers in Mindanao. He was also responsible for the disarmament of the Moros, but not without a fight as the massacre at Bud Bagsak in 1913 demonstrates.
From 1899 to 1941 there were many Moro military uprisings against the Americans. But through military, political and educational stratagems the American government gradually gained de facto sovereignty over the Moro people. Moreover, the introduction of Christian settlers to Mindanao that began under General Pershing in 1912 eventually made the once dominant Moro population into a minority and marginalized them [In 1913, the estimated population of Mindanao was the following: 324,816 Moros; 193,882 non-Moros. The Moro people constituted a 76% majority. Twenty-six years later, in 1939, the Moro population was only 34% of the total Mindanao population; in 1990, only 19% of the total Mindanao population of 14,269,456; see Jubair, pp. 130-31, using 1990 Census of Population and Housing].
Many Moro leaders vehemently resisted being called Filipinos. They protested against the independence movement of the Filipinos, preferring even to remain under the American flag rather than be independent and yet be under “Christian Filipinos” [see Jubair, pp. 86-94, 108-10].
It is on the basis of the historical record that I come to the following conclusion: for the bangsamoro the gradual loss of their sovereignty to the American government and later to the Philippine government was a fundamental injustice, even though some of their leaders who served in government might have acquiesced [For this acquiescence, see Jubair, pp. 115-16].
Injustice to Moro Integral Development.
With the loss of political sovereignty came the loss of great chunks of Moro ancestral lands. Much of the loss resulted from a long series of legal enactments by the Philippine Commission, the Commonwealth government, and the post-independence government. Moro writers call this “legalized land grabbing.” Land registration, declaration of public land, mining, cadastral surveys, creation of agricultural colonies, procedures for land ownership, land settlements all these legal realities, often without the proper understanding of the Moro people, drastically reduced the areas of ancestral domain and benefited the Christian population [see Jubair, pp. 95-97, 102-04, 119-24]. By 1976 Moros owned less than 17% of the Mindanao land they once owned almost exclusively before the Spaniards came [see Jubair, p. 121, quoting Aijaz Ahmad (1982), p. 7].
The loss of land was compounded by government neglect of the Moro right to integral development during the Commonwealth and post-independence governments. In all dimensions of human development, political, economic,
educational, and cultural, the Moro population continues to lag far behind its Christian Filipino counterparts. The latest national census bears this out in terms of educational improvement, political participation, and economic development. This is truly a tragic plight.
Indeed the bangsamoro is at the lowest tier of Philippine development when one uses the framework that the Estrada government used to portray the root causes of insurgency. These root causes are maldistribution of wealth and poverty (double standard of justice, low quality education, low productivity, malnutrition, low purchasing power, criminality, and disease; maldistribution of the fruits of the land (land conflicts, marginalization, socio-eco mainstream, environmental degradation, poor resource base; plutocracy or government of, by, and for the few (poor delivery of services, patronage politics, government inefficiency, human rights violations, rigged elections, graft and corruption, cronyism).
The central government in Manila can be justly faulted for this underdevelopment. But one cannot escape the impression that through the years many Moro leaders who served in the government have also failed their own people [For confirmation of this impression, see Jubair, pp. 257-59].
Today’s Prospects for Peace
Given the injustices that I have described, where do we go from here? Will the fighting ever stop? Will the evacuees ever return home? Will integral development of the bangsamoro ever seriously start?
The root answer to those questions is simple. Justice to the Moro identity and sovereignty must be seriously respected. But this task is far from simple. Prejudices and biases have to be overcome. Muslim and Christian religious leaders have a major role in this. Both the Koran and the Bible teach respect, understanding, reconciliation, and love.
On May 5, 2003 the Permanent Council of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of
the Philippines issued on an open letter of appeal to President Macapagal-Arroyo and Chairman Salamat Hashim to declare a ceasefire and to resume peace negotiations. The Bishops’ immediate concern was the worsening humanitarian crisis afflicting more than 300,000 evacuees, mostly Moros, in various evacuation camps in Central and Southern Mindanao.
Supported by other peace advocates, notably Tabang Mindanaw, the Bishops’ letter started a flurry of communications between the Bishops, the MILF leadership, and key government officials mandated by the President to explore the avenues of peace. As of today despite the provocative rhetoric that various officials spout in the media, the prospects for peace in Mindanao are real. New negotiations have reopened at least informally.
Unless terrorism manages to sabotage the peace process, I believe that soon the two parties will resume discussions on substantive peace agenda.
I am particularly encouraged by one of the concluding reflections of Salah Jubair:
The Moros are not asking for the whole of Mindanao, because circumstances have superseded some facts of history. They just want a parcel of it, especially where they predominate. This will enable generations after them to live in peace and piety, as Islam enjoins all believers. The indigenous peoples, whom the Visayans call Lumads may opt to join their blood-brothers, the Moros, and they are welcome. After all, the two peoples are inseparable in the history of Mindanao and Sulu. Is this too much a price for peace, development and prosperity for all? [p. 263].
It is the what and the how of this just and fundamental Moro aspiration for freedom within the context of circumstances that “have superseded some facts of history” that must be at the heart of all political negotiations for a lasting peace.
[Note: After I completed writing this talk, I noticed that Salah Jubair has a note near the front of his book: “No part of this book may be reproduced or utilized in any form or by any means without permission from the author.” It is too late for me to contact the author. I hope he understands. But once again let me note that I assume full responsibility for the interpretation that I give to the historical data].
(NOTE FROM MINDANEWS: MindaNews was able to reach Salah Jubair and he said he does not mind Archbishop Quevedo’s quoting parts of his book).
*** 23 Feb 2014: Salah Jubair is the pseudonym of Mohagher Iqbal, MILF peace panel chair and head of the front’s information committee. It was only on November 28, 2007, at the launch of Jubair’s second book, “The Long Road to Peace: Inside the GRP-MILF Peace Process” when it was revealed publicly that Iqbal was Jubair.