ANGAY-ANGAY LANG: The Minoritization of the Indigenous Communities of Mindanaw and Sulu (13)

13th of 16 parts
Rudy Buhay Rodil

(Done in 1992 at Iligan City, published initially as two versions. First as the abbreviated edition published by The Minority Rights Group, London entitled The Lumad and Moro of Mindanaw, July 1993. The Philippine edition carrying the full draft was printed by AFRIM in Davao City 1994. This was later updated in 2003, summarized in an epilogue. This is the third revision, now with an expanded Epilogue.)

Painful Complications Around the Agus Plants

Saguiaran is the site of Agus II hydroelectric project which had been completed nearly 10 years ago with a power capacity of 180 megawatts. The land expropriated, occupied and fenced in by Napocor which now houses three 60-megawatt generators and the staff residences comprise more than 2,090 hectares and represents some 13 percent of the municipal territory of Saguiaran, Lanao del Sur. The area used to be divided into 149 family lots, all occupied by Meranaw families. There is no need to go into the controversial details of the expropriation proceedings as well as the amount of compensation.

Some of the Saguiaran families resettled themselves at Wao, Lanao del Sur, a municipality adjacent to Bukidnon. But in August 1975, fighting broke out between the MNLF and the government forces. Fifty-nine of the new Meranaw residents, men, women and children were ordered to be dispatched back to Saguiaran, where, assured the military officials, they would be safer.

They were provided with a cargo truck. Only a handful of these made it. Along the way, 42 of them, including a pregnant woman and six children, were massacred by the local militias, members of the CHDF (government-organized Civilian Home Defense Units) who were believed to be Ilaga.

It was not an ambush for the killers drove with them part of the way in a separate vehicle. Some of the valuables looted from them were later seen in military camps in the area. The yellow truck used by the killers which belonged to a logging company, was repainted green after the incident.

Then NAPOCOR President G. Y. Itchon reported afterwards that one NAPOCOR employee and three workers had been kidnapped, six transmission towers near Marawi had been toppled down, and 27 construction employees of NAPOCOR had been killed and seven others wounded.

Secured heavily by a Philippine Army detachment, Agus II looked like a garrison. At the gate stood a sandbagged bunker-checkpoint, euphemistically labeled Civilian Assistance Center, where soldiers stopped and searched passing vehicles, including public transports, plying the Iligan-Marawi route. How do the Meranaw people view NAPOCOR? An incident that happened in late 1978 will serve to illustrate this.

The Guimba Incident

On 3 November 1978, 11 Philippine Constabulary soldiers and six Napocor workers were killed and four others were wounded in an ambush at Guimba, Marawi City. The group was on its way to restore power line that had been bombed earlier by the MNLF. As a result, innocent civilians were allegedly arrested and maltreated. Hadji Salik Kaluwasan, CHDF head in Marawi City, was reportedly killed in the camp of the 25th Infantry Battalion.

The people’s account of the post-ambush incident mentioned a life of peace at Guimba until that day of the ambush. It was Friday and the people were in the mosque for their congregational prayer. The soldiers entered the mosque, rounded up the men who were at the front and more than 20 of them were brought to the camp. Hadji Salik Kaluwasan, the Imam of Guimba, was among them. He was killed at the camp, they said. Soldiers entered and searched the houses. There was plenty of looting. Later, they heard of a plan for either the military or the Napocor to pay them 80,000 pesos in damages.

Seven months afterwards, another NAPOCOR truck filled with workers was ambushed, reportedly by MNLF rebels, at Emmi, Marawi City. Twenty-two workers were killed on the spot. The ambushers took time to cut off the ears of some of those killed. Word spread around later: Their wives would know why their husband’s ears were taken.

These NPC workers had been marked and remembered for their participation in the looting at Guimba earlier. To the MNLF at that time, the Army and the NPC were the same. The first was viewed as an armed and uniformed NPC unit, while the second was seen as an unarmed and un-uniformed AFP (Armed Forces of the Philippines) Unit.

Meranaw Opposition to Agus I

SALLAM’s hardline stance at the start was for scrapping Agus I. Located at the mouth of the lake in Marawi City, Agus I serves as an artificial outlet, an addition to the natural one of Agus River. And because of this, it is highly suspect as the additional cause of the lowering of the lake’s water level.

The water level issue has been raised as early as 1978. Between June and November of that year, it was noted that the water level went down by 1.8 meters. And the first to be affected were those wet rice farmers whose livelihood was directly dependent on the water level. Lower water level means ruined rice paddies.

All the lake towns which constitute the majority in Lanao del Sur have their community mosques situated by the lake. They need the water for their pre-prayer ablutions. The lowering of the water level means they have to wade through mud before and after ablution, a situation absolutely unacceptable to a Muslim.

The intimate relationship between the people and the lake is affirmed by two Catholic church officials in Marawi City. Said Bishop Fernando Capalla and Rev. Father Des Hartford: “disturbing the lake’s stability greatly affects the Meranaws’ culture and religion. You touch the water of Lake Lanao, and you practically touch the lives of thousands of Meranaws living around the lake.”

Besides, the Meranaws around the lake feel that the water is their own. They say that they supply the water for the electricity, yet they get nothing from that electricity. The NPC takes the electricity for the factories in Iligan. Marawi City has no factories. Even electric bills are high.

Rev. Hartford points out that “there is a conflict of value system between the Meranaws and the lowland people. The Meranaws since time immemorial have regarded the lake as the basis of their culture. They do their ablution in the lake, they fish in there, and their farms in the “basak” (rice paddy) area are greatly affected. They are very intent on saving the lake. But the people of the lowland regard the power generated from the lake as a source of income and livelihood. They don’t see the destruction of the lake, as long as their needs are met. Napocor and non-Meranaws see the lake as a resource to be exploited rather than as a treasure to be cherished and maintained.” The priest expressed his fears that old prejudices and wounds might be rekindled.

Since the formation of an independent committee by the Senate Mindanaw Affairs Committee late last year, in the work of which SALLAM participated, the latter has softened its opposition. The Committee was composed of engineers from the University of the Philippines, from the Mindanaw State University in Marawi City, from the NPC, and from SALLAM and it was tasked with investigating the feasibility of operating Agus I.

One of its 17 recommendations was the construction of a dike at the mouth of Agus River in Marawi City to raise the water level to not lower than 699.15 meters above sea level (masl). The water level used to be an average of 701 masl but went down by two meters recently due to the prolonged dry spell. NPC President Pablo Malixi was amenable to the idea but he preferred that the level be 698.15 masl instead in order to draw more water for five other plants downstream. He also stressed that NPC engineers do not consider the dike necessary.

Massive logging operations within the watershed area had also been noted. Governor Liwa Candao of the Autonomous Region for Muslim Mindanaw, within whose jurisdiction Lanao del Sur now falls, has issued Proclamation No. 6 whose intentions are self-explanatory in the title: “Establishing the Lake Lanao Watershed Reservation Area, Delineating Its Boundaries and Providing Measures for Its Protection and Preservation”. The proclamation covered public domain in the 25 out of the 37 towns of Lanao del Sur. Everyone hoped that these latest arrangements would stick for the good of all concerned.

(MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. A peace specialist, Rudy Buhay Rodil is an active Mindanao historian and peace advocate.)

Tomorrow: Part XIV: Chapter 6. Prospects for Problem Resolution and Peace

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