WORM’S EYEVIEW: Every Political Party Should Pay Attention to Mindanao

CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY (MindaNews/18 June)– Any political party worth its salt should have a vision for Mindanao and a stand on the issues that continue to bedevil the island region.

Mindanao constitutes one-third of the republic. Its unique history, diversity, and strategic location should have been reason enough to accord it high priority in development programs throughout the years.

You’d think Mindanao’s tri-peoples (Lumad, Muslim, and Christian—who settled the island in that order) and who give it a splendid cultural tapestry to gawk and marvel at, would have been reason enough to give the island region extra consideration and treatment.

Where do the alleged political parties stand on the issue of a sub-state for the Bangsamoro? Is the issue addressed in their platforms? If they expect to win the confidence of Mindanaons, how do they project their message to them? Do they allot a proportional number of Mindanaon candidates in their election lineup? Unless they do, they are not worth anybody’s thought.

The Bangsamoro initiative is important, a momentous event. It is meant to redress age-old problems that rub Mindanaons the wrong way. It needs the combined wisdom and cooperation of the Filipino people to craft the final solution.

Mindanao’s role in the nation’s economy (bountiful resources, productive agricultural and industrial output) provide ample justification for generous, sympathetic attention to its problems.

But attention, development, and budget has been woefully small, inadequate, and disproportionate to its present and potential role and contribution. It doesn’t help that it gets consideration only in times when there’s killing, kidnapping, warring, or terrorism. These are very wrong reasons for tending to its needs. The barrel of a gun or violence is a lousy determinant for meting out justice or apportioning development efforts.

One would think its unique history and traditions would have been reason enough to accord it high priority. You’d think its tri-peoples (Lumad, Muslim, and Christian—who settled the island in that order)—and who give it a splendid cultural tapestry to gawk and marvel at, would be reason enough to show concern and extra consideration for its welfare.

All the violence, crime, rebellion, and resort to arms in Mindanao have in fact been the effects of failed policy—at national as well as local—and bad, ineffective governance all around.

They are symptoms of a deeper malaise that cavalier intentions of the top leadership, government bureaucrats, academics, and legal luminaries have tried to address but failed.

Even in the task of coping with the challenges of peace and development in their own backyard, Mindanaons are inadequately consulted, even marginalized.

A thorough hearing of their best ideas and thoughts on how to approach or resolve issues and problems ought to be accorded them and given the widest latitude.

Mindanaons are Filipinos. Their patriotism has been amply tested—against colonial intruders, against the World War II invaders, even against the well-meaning Americans.

Throughout the post-war decades, their faith in democracy has been affirmed in periodic elections—though flawed in their execution, and due to circumstances not of their making.

Political parties should take a break from their power games at the top and yield some of their privilege and advantage to Mindanaons.

Mindanao’s representation in the three branches of government, especially at upper echelons, is seriously skewed and disproportionate. It is an imbalance that has been crying out for redress in the name of equity and justice. Fairness demands that one third or so of national offices ought to be allotted for Mindanaons.

Too much concentration of power in Luzon marginalizes Mindanaons. It deprives a large constituency of its due and causes everyone too much trouble and trauma. Lack of attention to Mindanao stultifies the policy of autonomy, of subsidiarity, of consent of the governed and places Mindanaons at a serious disadvantage.

When a large and important constituency is disempowered or under-represented, no one should be surprised if members of said constituency throw a tantrum such as a secessionist struggle or a movement for independence.

It is wrong to take Mindanaons for granted and treat them like junior partners in our democracy.

Let past oversight and imbalance be redressed now. Let us round out the integrity, the wholeness, and the oneness of the Philippine Republic by according what are due to Mindanao!

(Manny is former UNESCO regional director for Asia-Pacific; secretary-general, Southeast Asian Publishers Association; director, Development Academy of the Philippines; member, Permanent Mission to the United Nations; vice chair, Local Government Academy; member, Cory Govt’s Peace Panel; and winner, PPI-UNICEF award for outstanding columnist. You may reach him at [email protected])