COMMENT: ‘Distrust’ in Muslim-Christian Relation (2)

II. Distrust Perceived

GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews/1 March) – In the last issue, we related our personal knowledge and experience to put in proper perspective the perceived Muslim-Christian distrust as propounded by MindaNews columnist Manny Valdehuesa from Cagayan de Oro in his column article WORM’S EYEVIEW: Emerging, Reconciling, (MindaNews, February 19, 2014). There should be clear distinction between reality and perception in Muslim-Christian relation of which there are three levels: institutional, social or class, and inter-personal.

In the last issue, we said in brief: 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.

But that does not dismiss the nagging perception. Hence: What then is this so much talk about Muslim-Christian distrust?  

Interlocking Events

At the outbreak of World War II in the Pacific, good Muslim-Christian relation held out in some parts like the Sinsuat and Matalam controlled areas. But in others, like the Buluan areas, there were killing incidents. Some homesteaders, mostly Ilonggos, fled to the Christian settlements in Allah Valley and Koronadal Valley; they related the killings had been instigated by a powerful homesteader leader, an Islam convert married into a datu clan. Other incidents like these in other areas occurring under different circumstances strengthened the perception that Moros, viewed as a class, could not be trusted.

During the War, too, enmities between Moro- and Christian-led guerrillas and vigilantes had led to massacres and counter-massacres of innocent Moro and Christian civilians. Long after the War had ended, these continued stoking Moro-Christian ill-feelings. Some of my Moro friends, leaders in Moro militant movements, by their bitterness showed how these had been embedded in the Moro psyche.

The influx of Christian settlers, mostly from the Western Visayas particularly Iloilo after the War had ended contributed much to worsen adverse Muslim-Christian relation. While the settlers came on their own resources, they acquired lands under government resettlement projects and Philippine laws. Ordinary Muslims could only watch Christian communities sprouting; Moro militants must have been indignant; but Moro political leaders did not oppose. The renowned Muslim political leader Salipada K. Pendatun advocated the Muslim-Christian Brotherhood.

The settlers did not directly interact or interrelate with the Muslims; only their leaders did with the datus. In this relation, political and economic interests intertwined. Datus accepted Christian leaders as political allies to boost their electoral bases; Christian leaders accepted the proverbial “second fiddle” positions in the datu’s slate – contented as vice mayors — to build their own political bases. As what happened in Kauran, Ampatuan, datus sold lands to Christian leaders and their followers; besides economic gains, this strengthened their political bailiwicks.

But this alliance could not last long. Christian leaders could not accept the “second fiddle” role for long. They could not entrust forever to unprogressive datu leadership the development of their communities. In Christian communities created into municipalities, Moros were politically shut out; in mixed Muslim-Christian municipalities once controlled by datus, Christian leaders challenged datus in the mayoral race which the datus resented. In the 1971 election, a Christian governor ended the Muslim political leadership in the once Empire Province of Cotabato.

To some degree, these interlocking events in the once Empire Province of Cotabato had been replicated in Lanao del Norte and in the Zamboanga Peninsula provinces. They spawned class distrust that undermined the once good relations and was at the root of the Ilaga-Blackshirt or Ilaga-Barrcuda bloody episodes of the late 1960s to early 1970s.

Moro Militancy

The decade of the 1960s was the period of Moro militancy, bringing into the open the grievances of the militant Moro leaders against the “Christian” Manila government for neglecting the Moros and the Christians for “grabbing” Moro lands. The memories of the massacres during the War and the atrocities of the Ilaga-Blackshirt armed confrontations embittered the grievances and embittered more by that “Jabbidah” massacre in 1968.

In Manila, Moro militant student movements intensified and spread to the Moro provinces. In Cotabato and Lanao provinces, there were reports of secret Moro military training camps. Moro national political leaders appealed to Malacanang to improve the lot of the Moros; they rallied their followers to unite to achieve peacefully redress to their grievances. As it turned out later, while they assured Malacanang the Moros would not rise in arms, they were at the same time supporting the prelude to rebellion.

The Muslim Independent Movement of Datu Udtog Matalam in 1968 alarmed both Manila and the Christians. Denials of secession must have only heightened distrust. In Cotabato, Muslims told the Christian farmers they would take back their lands. Christian leaders organized the home defense forces with the help of the Philippine Constabulary – making the Moros distrust the PC and the military. The MIM alarmed the Christians to arm themselves, the fanatics forming the “Ilaga” movement.

Perception and Reality

The Moros no longer trusted Manila; as peoples, Moros and Christians no longer trusted each other — institutional and class distrust. That was during the inter-lapped decade of late 1960s and early 1970s. Forty years after, were the realities then still realities? Stated otherwise, what realities then are just perceptions now shrouding present realities? Understanding that will distinguish perception from reality; it is most significant in healing wounds and clearing the way for the establishment of Bangsamoro.

Circumstances shape perception and realities of Muslim Christian relations. Christians outside of Mindanao and most in Christian-dominated provinces in Mindanao do not directly interact and interrelate with the Moros.  Most in Luzon and the Visayas don’t really care about Moros and the Moro Problem; what they know is from the national media which treat peaceful life in Moroland as non-events but would sensationalize troubles involving the Moros and their grievances. Media stories like these nourish perceptions.        

Let reality speak:

Item 1: During the Ilaga-Blackshirt armed confrontations, in some mixed communities Moros and Christians evacuated toward opposite directions – example: in Kauran, the Moros headed north to Ampatuan Poblacion; the Christians, south to Esperanza. Later, they returned to resume normal lives as neighbors. Similar episodes happened in other Moro-Christian communities. Many long-time Christian residents of Moro dominated municipalities have not left.

Today, Maranaos and Maguindanaos traders have gone to Christian-dominated towns and cities. In General Santos City, for instance, the Moro population must be a thousand times more than in the 1940s and 1950s. Some have settled in Christian neighborhood. A top MNLF commander from nearby Maasim, Sarangani has bought the swanky house and lot adjacent to our compound on Capareda Street in Lagao.

Item 2: The Moro rebellion has long awakened Philippine Government. Policies have changed. While Moro provinces and people are still at the bottom of the socio-economic ladder, what have been done should not be ignored.  Of course, more are needed.  That’s another reality.

This awakening is manifested in the Government-Moro peace negotiations since 1976. That negotiations have failed is mainly due to the disagreement of the parties on fleshing out the parameter: “Autonomy for the Muslims within the national sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Philippines” – the parameter they agreed through the arbitration of the Organization of Islamic Conference (now: Cooperation) in 1974. The negotiations have also manifested the distrust of Christian Filipinos – that autonomy is the door to independence.

Item 3: The negotiations have also awakened the Moro rebels to the limitation of their options. In the 1976 Tripoli Agreement, the MNLF agreed to scale down the autonomy area from the entire Mindanao-Sulu-Palawan area to thirteen provinces and their included cities in Southern, Central and Western Mindanao, Sulu and Palawan – a 5-to-8 Muslim-province minority. After three plebiscites, only the five Muslim provinces and their included cities form the area of the Muslim Autonomy — the final option.

In the Government-MILF negotiation, the area of Bangsamoro (the autonomous entity) consists of the five provinces and included cities in the ARMM. Contiguous municipalities and barangays with considerable Moro population are included subject to a plebiscite.

This does not necessarily mean the Christians in the originally proposed 13-province Muslim Autonomy do not want the Moros to have autonomy. It simply mean they cannot trust the future of their provinces and people to Moro leadership – a statement of class or socio-political distrust and a reassertion of one of the causes of souring of Moro-Christian relations in late 1960s.

Item 4: In the 17-year Government-MILF negotiation (1997-2014) involving four Presidents, Government understood the Moro Problem more than it had in its 1993-1996 negotiation with MNLF that resulted in the signing of the Jakarta Accord or the 1996 Peace Agreement and at other times back to 1976. In last four-year phase under President Benigno Simeon C. Aquino III, Government also addressed the Christian Filipinos’ distrust of the Moro quest for autonomy.

That Government granted most of the MILF proposals and MILF reconsidered many of its demands resulting in series of agreements to establish the Bangsamoro showed their mutual adherence to the 1974 OIC-proffered parameter and the MILF 1997 talking point, “How to solve the Bangsamoro Problem”. That Government and MILF have now joined hands to push through the establishment of the Bangsamoro manifests their new-found mutual trust.

Item 5:  Civic, religious and business groups have openly supported the Bangsamoro. The GRP-MNLF 1996 Final Peace Agreement did not have this support. This is an expression of trust that given the chance the Bangsamoro will be the solution to the Moro Problem and stabilize peace in the Moro provinces.

Implications and Imperatives

Should the Bangsamoro be established, the Christians there will work with the Moros to make their communities progressive. The Moro-Christian inter-personal relation will pose no problem. That has been and will continue to be.

The perceived distrust between Moros and Christian living apart without direct interaction or interrelation will pose no problem. The distrust will remain a perception. People completely isolated socially and geographically from each other do not influence their respective domestic affairs.

What will spell life or death to Bangsamoro are these imperatives:

First: How the BTC will draft the FAB and the Annexes into the proposed BBL and how the Congress will craft the BBL draft into the Organic Law of the Bangsamoro will determine what Bangsamoro will be. Will Government and MILF Peace Panels be able to jointly shepherd the BBL draft through the Congress and out of any risk of being questioned in the Supreme Court?

Second: Once the BBL is enacted and ratified, will Government and MILF faithfully do their respective parts of the bargain in the establishment and the full development of the Bagsamoro? By “Government” we mean the present Aquino III and the future administrations.

 Third: Upon the establishment of the Bangsamoro, will Moro factions, ethnic groups and their leaders unite and poll their talents and efforts to develop the Bangsamoro. We believe in the pronouncement of MILF that the Bangsamoro is for all the Moros, the Indigenous Peoples and the Christian within its territory and political jurisdiction.

The second and third imperatives will have international implications. Foreign donors must be assured that their fund and technological assistance will help achieve the much-needed uplift of the Moros from their socioeconomic adversities. Foreign investors must be attracted not repelled by domestic conditions.

Talking of distrust as adverse to the establishment and development of the Bangsamoro, the most vital is internal distrust among Moro factional and ethnic leaders – not the perceived distrust of Moros and Christians completely apart, socially and geographically. The first biggest challenge facing MILF is how to unite in trust the Moro leaders and people in Bangsamoro.  [“Comment” is Mr. Patricio P. Diaz’ column for MindaViews, the opinion section of MindaNews. Mr. Diaz is the recipient of a “Lifetime Achievement Award” from the Titus Brandsma for his “commitment to education and public information to Mindanawons as Journalist, Educator and Peace Advocate.” You may e-mail your comments to]