PEACETALK: Mindanao historians weigh in on the Marawi crisis; see no end to it unless reforms are in place

ILIGAN CITY (MindaNews / 09 July) — How did the Marawi crisis start? When will it end?

Instead of listening to those who purport to be experts on Mindanao, but do not live in Mindanao, I met up with homegrown Mindanao historians and authors of books and other aspects of significance on Mindanao: Rohane Derogongan, Marwah Camama, Jamail Kamlian and Rudy Rodil to enlighten this writer on what really is going on around us.

This writer later understood why local historians have been silent about the crisis in Marawi because it has the underpinnings of the problems of Mindanao: the dispossession and lack of compensation over the loss of ancestral lands, the inequalities among Mindanawons, the biases and cultural insensitivities perpetuated in textbooks and the clamor for self-determination through the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL).

History professor and author of books on Mindanao Rodil said that local historians “feel the conflict” and “they have a deeper and longer tolerance to situations such as the Marawi Crisis out of fear, and out of possible rido (clan wars).”

“Those outsiders or those who don’t live in Mindanao, and who write about us, lack the sensitivity to feel the problem. They have no idea of the psyche of the community, how we feel, and what we believe in,” Rodil said.

True enough, despite almost 40 years, and on a daily basis, living on this island alongside the Moro, Lumad and descendants of migrants (called these days as Christian settlers), this writer cannot get enough reasons what brought on the crisis in Marawi, and to predict its end, simply because many more in the know, believe this conflict has no end unless other problems like poverty and education are addressed.

No equality in Mindanao

Kamlian who hails from Parang, Sulu and who has authored books on the Bangsamoro and other studies on the Mindanao conflict still believes there is no ‘equality’ among Mindanawons.

He cites the poverty levels of the provinces that compose the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) in contrast to the rich, natural resources of other Mindanao provinces, cut up into different regions for political reasons.

If Rodil pushes for this equality among Mindanawons, Kamlian counters that there will only be equality if there are socio-economic reforms and, most important, self-government for the Moro and the Lumad.

The colonizers, and later, the Philippine government Kamlian said, ignored the fact that those declared public land settled in by migrants were the ancestral lands, hence, the marginalization of the Moro and Lumad.

Re-educating the Filipino

Kamlian said that despite the offering of History 3 (the History of the Moro, Lumad and Christian Filipinos) in the Mindanao State University (MSU) System for over 30 years now, and its having produced thousands of graduates, their failure to contribute to the wellbeing of the marginalized prevails.  Kamlian claims the rebel groups like the Moro National Liberatio Front (MNLF) have historical basis for their ideology.

This Rodil affirms. But when asked about the splinter groups like the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF),  Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), the Abu Sayaff and now the Maute, Rodil, quoting an MNLF member, said this is because of several factors such as the distribution of goods and the traditional scheme of things like the pecking order among its ranks which is to be solved amongst themselves.

He added that the Maute is a common name like its counterpart de la Cruz for the Christians. Things as they stand must be understood through the proper teaching of history because even the planned issuance of ID cards for Muslims in Luzon and other parts of the country reveal the deep-seated enmity between Christians and Muslims perpetuated by Spanish colonizers.

This need for a re-education among Filipinos to Kamlian, should begin with the mind and heart starting with changes in our national symbols like the national flag and the rewriting of textbooks to include the struggles of the Moro and Lumad in our history.

Immortalizing our own heroes

Rodil likewise pointed out that in the naming of towns, plazas and streets, the names of colonizers are given prominence, not our own people.

In Zamboanga City, we have Plaza Pershing and Lakewood; in Davao City, there is Sta. Ana named after the ship of Spanish Governor Claveria who had asked Uyanguren to develop Davao and, San Pedro was the patron saint of the Spanish expedition.

Is there a prominent street named after the Bagobo hero Datu Bago? He said there is one, but it is located in a dark part of Bankerohan, the Davao market.

In addition, in 1596 the Spanish conquistador, Captain Estevan Rodriguez de Figueroa, was killed during clashes led by the Arumanen Manobo Datu Ubal and yet, no one remembers the Datu, Rodil said.

Ancestral lands versus Public lands

On the other hand, there have been numerous negotiations from Presidents Marcos to Aquino, but Kamlian rued the fact that, unlike other countries, compensation for the lost ancestral lands have yet to be thoroughly addressed.

The compensation should not go to individuals, he said, but in the form of a return of what’s left or what is unoccupied of the ancestral lands and not used by settlers, to provide socio-economic reforms and the seriousness in educating the youth about the histories of the different groups in Mindanao.

Mindanao State University-Iligan Institute of Technology (MSU-IIT) Chair of the Department of History, Rohane Derogongan who wrote a PhD dissertation on the growth of the masjid (mosque), its implications to peace and development in the case of Iligan and Marawi cities, declined to make a stand on the ongoing crisis in Marawi.

She believes only the passage of time and history can the Marawi conflict’s complexities and resolutions be known and understood. She, nonetheless, theorized about how this conflict in Marawi began.

From Rohane’s viewpoint, the threat of extremism had surfaced as early as 2013 that manifested in the bombing by extremists in Cagayan de Oro City. This threat came to a head when at 2 in the afternoon during a johore, a religious gathering of Tablighs in Marawi City on May 23rd, some elements of the military brought an arrest warrant for the Abu Sayyaf ‘s Isnilon Hapilon, a Yakan who speaks Yakan and Tausug. There were also foreigners who had attended the johore in Marawi at the time.

Social cancers

Describing society’s ills as ‘the cancer’, the crisis has existed for years because of many factors and by Western influences such as ‘westernized wedding practices’ for example.

Corruption, drugs, prostitution, and materialism also seemed to have gripped the present generation of Maranaos who have forgotten the tenets of Islam.

Some groups, according to Rohane have taken advantage of these ills and put forward the ideology that Islam is the ‘savior for everything against society’s problems’ and coupled with ‘old’ narratives that the descendants have been dispossessed of their ancestral lands, that the Moro was not conquered by Spaniards, etc., passed on from one generation to the next.

She also distinguished between those with a noble cause of the Dawla Islamiya and the opportunistic groups that have bonded with the extremists such as those involved in narco-politics and disgruntled politicians to fight for “a cause” purportedly to fulfill the tenets of Islam against society’s ills.

By now, everyone is saddened by the ongoing urban warfare in Marawi. Considerations for the welfare of people over selfish ends have been forgotten in the heat of the moment. To some who believe that the exchange of fire between government forces out to arrest Hapilon and the armed men who came out from houses around the area where Hapilon was, looked coordinated, by whom, and for what reason, nobody yet has come out with a definite answer.

In contrast to what is happening in Marawi where a city has been obliterated, Rohane referred to the prophet Muhammad’s time where armed conflicts were fought in the mountains or areas away from people so they would not suffer the consequences.

Hierarchies of Ethnic groups

Another fact that must be seriously taken into consideration is the fragile hold that binds all ethnic groups of Mindanao, Rohane emphasized.

Belief in one’s superiority or inferiority and the antagonisms that come with these have remained through the centuries. Most Mindanawons are aware of this and this is why the MSU System’s History of the Moro, Lumad and Christian Filipinos is a way of helping counter biases between groups. But, Kamlian insists, that the teachers of History 3 should evaluate their teaching strategies by not glossing over facts that may lead to the continuous marginalization of the Moro and Lumad.

Even among the ethnic groups themselves, hierarchies exist, the Tausug being deemed the fiercest of warriors. “They are the best fighters”, Rodil said followed by the Maguindanao and the Maranao. Sama di Laut is deemed the lowest in the hierarchy and is looked down upon along with the ‘Bisaya’, a generic term for ‘slave’ that includes the Christians and the American colonizers.

President Rodrigo Duterte is the highest official who has openly talked about these simmering rivalries between the ethnic groups and, no doubt, this is initially based on his Maranao grandmother’s old narrative as well.

No to extremism; A return to normalcy                                                     

For the present, Rodil believes that there is a need “to return to normalcy” and for all Mindanawons “to look on each other on equal terms”.

“Let’s correct what needs to be corrected in order to end the cycle of this problem. Let’s listen and address what the young wants. They are full of passion,” he added.

Like Kamlian, Derogongan, Camama and Rodil, they do not believe in extremism but Rodil traced history’s extremist movements such as when Christians had to stay and worship in catacombs, the crucifixion of Christ, the advent of Protestantism, the Crusades, and in the Philippines, the arrival of the colonialists, the massacres in Sulu and in Maguindanao, the infamous Jabidah massacre as well as the clashes that resulted in the tragic end of the SAF 44 in Mamasapano, Maguindanao.

The Marawi crisis, according to Rodil “has brought to light what some groups like the MNLF, the MILF have attempted to assert what they have thought is right.”

Finally, the Mindanao historians agree that the common dream of a Bangsamoro homeland should keep the peace between the ethnic groups.

But more important, over and above the military solution, Mindanao historians like Rohane, Camama, Rodil and Kamlian call for education and the continuous dialogue between all groups in Mindanao.

At this juncture in our present lives, nobody can turn back the hour when Mindanao was virgin territory. It is too late to blame the past political leaders in Manila including Mindanao’s own who had decided that Mindanao ought to be populated and developed with the help of people from Luzon and the Visayas.

Hence, more questions we may still reflect on: would Mindanao be what it is today without the help of the settlers? Hasn’t the government done anything to alleviate the lives of Mindanawons? Aren’t the leaders and politicians of the Moro, especially, come from their own ranks?

To this, Kamlian has observed that elections also follow traditional politics and only prominent families with the means get elected.

Rodil even cites the fact that in his involvements of peace seminars and workshops for the military and other groups that have given way to peace zones around Mindanao like in Pikit, Sultan Kudarat and in Zamboanga, is only part of the solution because the military believes they do not have the solution to end conflicts in Mindanao.

Keys to solve Mindanao’s problems

The approach to these problems has to be multifaceted and many of those interviewed by this writer who refused to be named said education and continuous dialogue between groups, to be participated in by Mindanawons themselves should be the key to solving the problems that have revisited Mindanao again and again.

Therefore, our Mindanao historians call for an understanding and acceptance of Mindanao’s present realities, the re-education of the Filipino about Mindanao’s histories, changes in attitudes and changes to our national symbols starting with the number of stars on the national flag, the national food as the lechon, the return of what is left of ancestral lands, and the compensation in terms of socio-economic packages for the marginalized groups must happen for the attainment of a lasting peace in Mindanao.

(MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. PeaceTalk is open to anyone who wishes to share his/her thoughts on peace in Mindanao. Christine Godinez-Ortega is a former faculty of the Department of English and Director of the Office of Publication & Information of MSU-IIT. She was Head of the National Commission for Culture and Arts National Literary Arts Committee and Secretary to the NCCA SubCommission on the Arts. She is a published poet, fictionist, essayist and edited literary anthologies, and the official journal and newsletter of the MSU-IIT. She has studied the epics of Mindanao and has read her academic papers abroad. She was a correspondent of the Philippine Daily Inquirer’s Mindanao Bureau. At present, she is President of the Mindanao Creative Writers Group, the Director of the Iligan National Writers Workshop and is a lecturer in the MSU-IIT and NCCA Culture and Arts Graduate Program. She took her undergraduate, graduate and post-graduate degrees from Silliman University and at the De La Salle University in Manila)