COMMENT: ‘Distrust’ in Muslim-Christian Relation (1)

I. Trust, a Reality

GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews / 27 February) – Manny Valdehuesa, in his WORM’S EYEVIEW: Emerging, Reconciling, (MindaNews, February 19, 2014), expounded one interesting view of the Mindanao or Bangsamoro Problem. He sees the Government-MILF (Moro Islamic Liberation Front) peace negotiation as a shotgun wedding, metaphorically, between Government and MILF veiled by intriguing circumstances.

Aside jestingly, having been married to MNLF (Moro National Liberation Front) under similar circumstances, Government is a daring Romeo liable to bigamy under the Revised Penal Code unless he is a Muslim. However, Government, if a she rather than a he, is a flirtatious Juliet and liable to both the Revised Penal Code and the Shariah since she is still married to MNLF – the status estranged maybe, but no divorce, no annulment.

Enough of the jest, Manny is serious.

Challenging the Parties

To complete his metaphor: The principals are “not entirely friendly parties” – each having to “emerge from behind a tangled thicket of prejudice and work its way through mists of distrust accumulated over long years of conflict”. Unsure if they would sign their contract “with open hearts and minds” with resolve to realize “the vision of peace in a progressive multicultural community, and let bygones be bygones”, he asks, “What if the vision is shadowed by doubt, distrust, even hatred?”

To be sure that the “vision” is not “shadowed” so, he warns against complacency and calls for
“transparency … candor … and clarity” and not to take anything for granted. He warns, too, of forces waiting to sabotage the union. He reminds of failed “attempts at peace-building”, and of “generations of Mindanaons” suffering “the trauma and the stress in their lives may be beyond the pale of ordinary healing” because of “so much killing, hurting, and dissembling”.

He appeals: “Better to bring out suppressed and unresolved issues now and lay them out at the conscious level so they can be addressed rationally. Otherwise they may surface later on in a form or with such virulence that will cancel out any good intentions.”

Manny’s appeal is a challenge to Government and MILF. They may dismiss his concerns as “moot and academic” as they will swear these have all been properly addressed and ironed out. But Manny is voicing the concerns of many Mindanaons who are not convinced of the transparency and forthrightness in the agreements soon to be enacted as the basic law of the Bangsamoro despite their joint all-out information drive and consultations.


As a “shotgun marriage”, the Government-MILF agreements in the view of skeptics lack transparency, candor and clarity. Manny turns to the witnesses to the marriage, Christians and Muslims, reminding them of the distrust among them – the “elephant in the room” of their relationship which is “there but most everyone pretends it isn’t”. He bewails the fact that while distrust is “in a state of denial … who can deny that distrust has fueled hatred and enmity and caused killings and destruction?”

Manny’s point must be this: Lack of transparency, candor and clarity between Government and MILF puts the success of Bangsamoro in doubt and more so with the distrust between Christians and Muslims – so ironic because of the peace and love they profess in their religions. The burden is on Mindanaon society – on us: “Let us exorcise the ghost of hate crimes once and for all!”

By how they have joined efforts, Government and MILF will assure the country and the world that the Moro Problem has been fully addressed. Does that include what Manny sees as the “elephant in the room”, the distrust between Christians and Muslims?

Levels of Relation

Distrust in Muslim-Christian relation has two facets – perception and reality. What is perceived may not be real; what is real may have been blurred by perception.

Muslim-Christian relations may be in three levels: (1) institutional – Muslims or Moros as socio-political entities in relation to Government; (2) social or class – Muslims or Moros as a people and Christians as a people; and, (3) inter-personal – Muslims or Moros and Christians in their individual personalities and capacities. Space would not allow now a full discussion of the three.

Suffice it to say that on the institutional level, Moro leaders are divided. The traditional Moro political leaders blest with government patronage “see no evil” and entrust to Manila the Moro welfare; militant Moro leaders who see injustices to the Moro people view Manila with distrust. On the two other levels, distrust is due to perceived prejudices and biases and to the atrocities and calamities brought about by the political and military conflicts of the last 40 years. But, what is or has been the reality?

Until the 1940s

The datus welcomed and protected the colonos in 1913. Some descendants of colonos in Pikit and Midsayap, North Cotabato who had become my friends fondly recalled in the 1960s and 1970s how their fathers and they had lived with the Moros. The Muslim-Christian communities of Pikit and the Christian enclave of Tunggol in Pagalungan are witness to this relationship – Muslim-Christian trust. This had prevailed in many other parts of the then undivided Empire Province of Cotabato.

Other colonies were opened after 1913 like Glan in the southern tip of the Empire Province, now the province of Sarangani. Homesteaders settled in coastal settlements like Lebak, Kiamba and Kling. When we came as NLSA (National Land Settlement Administration) settlers in 1940, we found out there were Christians settled in Dadiangas, Makar, Buayan and nearby and far flung areas like Malapatan and Lun. They must have co-existed with trust with the Moros and Bilaans.

In the densely Moro populated Buluan areas, there were Christian settlers. Ilocano and Ilonggo homesteaders formed the nucleus of the present Muslim-Christian municipality of Lambayong in Sultan Kudarat province. They must have settled there with the blessings of the Buluan datus and lived with the Moros in trust. This was true in other areas in the heart of Moro Land.

Until the 1960s

In late 1940s until late 1960s, before the paving of the Cotabato City-Makar Road via Dalican, there were regular bus trips between Dadiangas and Cotabato (before and after it had become a city) that took about 14 to 16 hours – sometimes spending the night on the road when the bus broke down. Until about 1954, the route was the old road Dadiangas-Cotabato via Sapakan through the middle of Cotabato Valley. Christian passengers had no fear of the Moros. During nightlong breakdowns, Moro vendors sold cooked food.

Until mid-1950s, there was the Mindanao Motor Line with regular Cotabato-Marawi-Iligan trips, vice versa. At that same time, Notre Dame of Cotabato high school students went on excursions to the Lobregat plantation in Balabagan, Lanao del Sur – beyond Matanog. Even after the MML had stopped operation, small buses plied the Cotabato-Marawi route.

Christian commuters trusted the Moros would do them no harm even when they were benighted on the road. Moros brought them food. That was Muslim-Christian trust on the inter-personal level.

In Schools, Offices, Etc.

I had lived in Cotabato City for 44 years. I interacted and interrelated with Moros and witnessed Moro-Christian interaction and interrelation in schools, offices and community and civic affairs. From 1977 to 1996 when I decided to return to General Santos City, I had Moros for immediate neighbors. I witnessed Muslim-Christian trust.

In Notre Dame University, like in other schools with Muslim-Christian population, students were close friends, joined the same clubs and fraternities. The majority Christian student population elected Muslims as presidents of the Student Government. In 1995, our youngest daughter was invited by her Muslim friend to attend her graduation party in Shariff Aguak, an hour or more drive from the city. My daughter went and was back in the afternoon escorted as promised.

In the offices, Muslim and Christian officials and employees respected each other and their Muslim or Christian superiors. In clubs, Muslims were elected presidents. Unbelievable but true, Muslims were admitted to the YMCA. In Krislamville, a Bishop’s Housing Project in Cotabato City, the majority Catholic residents elected a Muslim as their association president who, in turn, spearheaded the building of the Catholic chapel.

When Muslims and Christians live as close neighbors or associate in offices, schools and civic clubs, they respect and trust each other. This is the reality in the inter-personal level.

Why then is there so much talk about Muslim-Christian distrust?

(Tomorrow: Distrust Perceived)

(“Comment” is Mr. Patricio P. Diaz’ column for MindaViews, the opinion section of MindaNews. The Titus Brandsma Media Awards recently honored Mr. Diaz with a “Lifetime Achievement Award” for his “commitment to education and public information to Mindanawons as Journalist, Educator and Peace Advocate.” You can reach him at [email protected])