COMMENTARY: Another view of the Mindanao divide

MELBOURNE, Australia (MindaNews/26 February) — The term adivasis is the generic appellation used in India for the various ethnic groups duly recognized to be its aboriginal population. This designation is similar to the Visayan word lumad which means native or indigenous.

Curiously, lumads in Mindanao are differentiated from Moros even though ethnic tribes within these two groups are all recognized as original inhabitants of this great big island. This dichotomy thus departs from the Indian concept of adivasis wherein ethnic lineage is the lone basis of indigeneity. In determining the aboriginal peoples of Mindanao, religion has somehow been factored in.

This unusual polarization of indigenous identity has underpinned the conventional view that divides Filipinos in Mindanao between Christians and Muslims. However, the competing claims of Mindanawon identity have also given rise to the tri-people imagination of the island’s census which remarkably echoes the colonial categories that divided the indios of the colony between Christian, Moro and Non-Christian (with lumads representing the last category).

One notable consequence of this archaic classification of the Mindanao population is the relegation of the non-Muslim native Mindanawons to the background of public discourse. Indeed, lumads in Mindanao desperately struggle to have their voices heard amidst the noise and notoriety generated by the Bangsamoro Basic Law campaign. It is painfully obvious that state attention and resources are being heavily invested for the creation of a segregated Bangsamoro area within Mindanao and has expectedly caused some considerable distress to lumad groups in the region.

There is no longer any dispute that this big island was, and continues to be, inhabited by at least 31 different aboriginal ethnic communities some of which have Islam as their chosen faith. No one contradicts either that droves of other ethnic groups immigrated to this region from Luzon and Visayas at the onset of the American colonial period.

By following the adivasis concept, the more historically and empirically accurate demographic divide in Mindanao would therefore be between indigenous and immigrant. The former comprise those who trace their lineage to any of those 31+ ethnic groups and the latter from those émigrés from the north such as the Bisayas, Ilonggos, Ilokanos, Kapangpangans, et al.

This different approach is particularly buttressed by the secular regime in the country wherein the state is not an arena where the various religions compete for control. It is a neutral ground where any religion can lay claim to its own space. Any problems concerning the right to practice one’s faith automatically become a constitutional issue with the courts as the only available recourse.

The shift in outlook proposed here would thus paint Mindanao as an island amalgamation of different ethnic groups and not a divided region of two established religious faiths. Indeed, this alternative picture of Mindanao could potentially facilitate a collective view of it, both as a territory and as a community of Filipinos, and eventually replace the current effort to partition the great island into two (or three).

Such a holistic imagination of the real Mindanao could even foster the bayanihan spirit among all Mindanawons. This may sound cliché but inculcating this kind of community mindset can overcome the prevailing “us against them” paradigm plaguing the region now. It is indeed time for all Filipinos in Mindanao to realize that their battle is not against the “other” side but against a common enemy—poverty and all the other problems it brings along.

In development parlance, Mindanao when viewed as such becomes a huge integrated market that demands a coordinated and comprehensive approach. Correspondingly, the splitting-Mindanao-into-two structure promoted by the Bangsamoro campaign may not be a suitable economic framework for the region. Indeed, obvious demands of inclusivity and fairness for any economic regime in Mindanao constrain us to challenge this anachronistic view of its population. Adopting a different view of the Mindanao divide(s) could potentially lead to more appropriate and less dissonant peace and development initiatives. (MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Atty. Michael Henry Ll. Yusingco is a practicing lawyer. He is the author of the book, Rethinking the Bangsamoro Perspective. He researches on current issues in state-building, decentralization and constitutionalism)