Later, I was told by the Parish Council president that the Christians in Datu Piang, about 80 families of them, actually speak Maguindanawon not only in public places but even in their own homes. It’s the language that they commonly use whether they are of Cebuano or Ilongo descent.
Datu Piang is one of oldest towns in the empire province of Cotabato. It is located along the Rio Grande River and used to be the seat of the Rajah Buayan Sultanate. Christians in this town started to arrive in the late 1930’s and henceforth mingled and lived with the majority Muslim population.
During mealtime and in between breaks during the seminar, I had the chance to speak to some of the elder participants. As one who is promoting Inter-religious Dialogue in Mindanao, it was very encouraging to hear the beautiful stories of the old folks. I knew that they were all true.
“During the war in the 70’s, Father, we did not leave this town although we were just a small minority here. It was the Muslims who protected us,” said an elderly man.
The Oblates of Notre Dame (OND), a religious congregation of sisters, runs the Notre Dame High School whose students are mainly Muslims. During the fierce firefight between government troops and MILF forces in the boundary between Datu Piang and Midsayap towns last March, thousands of Muslim evacuees sought refuge at Notre Dame of Dulawan. The OND sisters offered to let them stay in the classrooms and instead decided to hold classes under acacia trees.
Going back to my story about the Christians who spoke perfect Maguindanawon, I was even more amused when I met a group of six elementary kids at the parish compound. I did not know who they were. They spoke to each other in Maguindanawon. It was only when they introduced themselves to me, that I realized that three were Christians and the other three were Muslims.
“We don’t fight, Father,” said one of the Muslim kids. I told them how amazed I was that even Christians in Dulawan speak perfect Maguindanawon all the time. Then suddenly they all looked at one of them, a small kid, and said in chorused, “Father, he is a Christian but he only speaks Maguindanawon. He cannot speak Cebuano even though he is a Cebuano.” Then, they all laughed.
I asked them if I could take a photo of them in a group. Their reaction was spontaneous and automatic. They posed with their arms on the shoulders of each other with smiles on their faces.
("Fields of Hope" is Fr. Roberto C. Layson's column for MindaViews, the opinion section
of MindaNews. Father Layson is the parish priest of Pikit, North Cotabato and coordinator of the Oblates of Mary Immaculates' Inter-Religious Dialogue. He is the 2004 Ninoy Aquino Fellow for public service.)