COMMENTARY: I never learned Mindanaoan history from a Philippine History class

“In the South they are convinced that they are capable of having bloodied their land with history.” — Joan Didion, South and West: From A Notebook (2017)

CAGAYAN DE ORO (MindaNews / 25 September) – Not too long ago, in my time as a high school and college student, there was never a subject, a book chapter, or even a day’s lesson dedicated solely to Mindanaoan history. And looking at the new courses brought about by the Enhanced Basic Education Act of 2013 (“K-12”), I’m sure History’s curricular landscape remains the same, or worse. (Was the subject even scrapped from the college curricula?)

So just like the generations who came before me, I learned, or the more fitting verb is memorized, world history, Asian history, Philippine history, and the life (details more at home in showbiz talk), works, and writings of Rizal as mandated by law. To be fair, I did truly learn world history from volumes of Britannica and Grolier’s Encyclopedia and compact discs of Microsoft Encarta which were status symbols for helicopter parents in the late 90s and later on, have somehow appreciated Asian history, but with a fictional slant, through Korean period dramas and cable channel Arirang TV.

Of course, when historians Gregorio F. Zaide and Teodoro Agoncillo and their textbooks discuss “Philippine” history and all their events, dates, names, all rote learning galore, they mean the establishment of the Katipunan, the Fall of Bataan, the arrival of MacArthur in Leyte, martial law in Manila, and so on, as if history never happens in the south. The narrative remains the same for the heroes: it starts with Lapu-lapu of Cebu and ends with Ninoy Aquino of Tarlac.

This is the linear formula of “national” history.

Mindanao, as if an afterthought, will only be mentioned twice, like a bitter taste in the tongue: first, as the third island group, the second largest, in the country, and second, as the unexplored terrain down south, terra incognita, where barbarians and savages roam the lands and seas.

Case in point: In a bus tour with fellow delegates at a government-sponsored event in Bohol in the pre-quarantine days, a tour guide, who also teaches Tourism courses at a university in the island province, would say, “The raiders and pirates feared by the early Boholanos come from Mindanao,” followed by an Islamophobic remark. Even in the Visayas, this is the prevailing story. So I gave her a death glare and sent an email of complaint to the offices on provincial tourism and of the provincial governor. The next day, an annoying bald man who is a better fit to a carnival replaced her. I was given the seat with the best view and discount coupons to some pasalubong centers. My hotel room was also filled with more toothpaste bottles, soap bars, and more toothpaste bottles.

The Zaide and Agoncillo textbooks, at least as of their 2010 editions, did not mention that Mindanao’s original inhabitants—the Moro (the Islamized natives) and the Lumad (the non-Islamized natives)—were displaced from the coastal areas to the mountainous hinterlands by the Spaniards, the Americans, and the Christianized settlers from Visayas (Cebuano and Ilonggo) and Luzon (Ilocano) who were promised by the colonizers with a land to till. These settlers then formed state-funded paramilitary groups to counter the resistance of Moro—named so by the Spaniards after the “Mohammedan Moors” from northern Africa who, for some time, occupied southern Spain—who were defending their ancestral lands with more success. Mindanao as the “land of promise” is a rhetoric of colonial invasion and land-grabbing.

So begins a long and violent (erasure in) history.

Almost a decade after my last history class, I came across “A Mountain of Difference: The Lumad in Early Colonial Mindanao” (Cornell University-Southeast Asia Program Publications, 2013) written by Cagayan de Oro-born anthropologist Oona Paredes, a professor of Southeast Asian Studies at the National University of Singapore, whom I met once in a national convention for anthropologists held at Capitol University. (As of 2019, Paredes is with the Department of Asian Languages and Cultures of the University of California, Los Angeles.)

Using techniques of narrative history in retelling historical accounts, interlaced with vignettes and ethnography, based on interviews conducted in and oral ethnohistory on Mindanao, archival researches in the United States and Spain, among others, Paredes cites the histories of the south of “las dychas islas” (literally, the aforementioned islands) later named Filipinas after Spain’s King Phillip II, and the rivalry between the Recoletos (Order of Augustinian Recollects) and the Jesuits (Society of Jesus).

The historical figures from northern Mindanao she mentions, which deserve their space in history textbooks, include Datu Salangsang who led the Kagayanon Lumad conversion to Christianity upon the entry of the Recoletos in 1622. Thus, breaking ties with Sultan Kudarat (“Corralat” in Spanish) of the Maguindanao sultanate, the Kagayanon’s former allies. Backed up with archival research from the Recoletos private archives in Marcilla and the Escuela de Estudios Hispanoamericanos in Sevilla, both in Spain, Paredes provides a counternarrative against the more dominant historical version championed by Jesuit historian Francis Madigan, SJ’s “The Early History of Cagayan de Oro” (1963) published in the journal Philippine Studies.

In the nearby Tagoloán River lived another historical figure Apu Pabulusen, the chieftain of the Lumad settlement before 1744. Pabulusen, whose descendants were spread throughout the Misamis Province all the way to Sinakungan (present-day Agusan del Sur) was believed to be the biological, not mythical, ancestor of the Higaunon, Bukidnon, and Manobo people. Further east, a Karaga Lumad woman in the name of María Campan gained her a special attention not because of her crimes (her participation to the unsuccessful 1631 Karaga revolt was only minimal), but because she was a woman. This showed a stark contrast of worldview in terms of gender between the colonizers who were scandalized and those of the Lumad.

Paredes, a widely-published scholar with a specialization in Higaunon ethnohistory and editorial board member of Kinaadman: A Journal of the Southern Philippines, the flagship publication of Xavier University Press, also credits whom she calls the “often iconoclastic” scholars of Mindanao Studies who came before her, i.e. Rudy Buhay Rodil, Edvilla Talaroc, Bro. Karl Gaspar CSsR, Linda Montilla-Burton, Macario Tiu, Fr. Albert Alejo SJ, among others. She wrote the book I exactly needed when I was still learning local history, while most history professors, born and raised here, took Zaide and Agoncillo without questioning the dominant “national” narrative that affords only cursory attention to Mindanao. (To be fair, one of my favorite teachers, Sir Pete, was from the history department.)

In the essay “Imagining Regions,” Resil B. Mojares, one of the only two living national artists for literature that makes sense (the other one being Bienvenido Lumbera), reflects on “our pallid constructs of the nation-state.” Mojares adds, “What harkens to the regional is then perceived to be… for believers in ‘official’ nationalism… divisive and subversive.” To the sycophantic follower bereft of multiculturalism and multilingualism, anything outside the ultranationalist Tagalog-as-Filipino creed, is deemed rebellious. But if the (non-violent) rebellion of working outside the system, of questioning, of refusal, of unbecoming, is what it takes to be given attention, then, rebel we will: a kind of rebellion that does get recorded on any Philippine history textbook.

That, or we write our own. (J Sam Pantoja Young has been involved with international nonprofits concerned with the Bangsamoro peace process and Lumad sovereignty in Mindanao. She divides her time between the suburbs of Cagayan de Oro and the beaches of Baler.)