For a Lasting Peace in Mindanao (Part I)

by Sixto Domogen
Benguet State University

“Pinoy kapwa Pinoy ang naglalaban doon sa Mindanao…marami ang dugo na dumanak sa lupa ng Mindanao…” This part of the song by Freddie Aguilar speaks about the real situation in Mindanao, which probably started during the Spanish colonization. Today, the situation has become worst because of the fact that conflict and misunderstanding are rampant between and among the constituents of this region.

History would teach us that before the coming of the colonizers in Mindanao, there was a sense of oneness in the region, the communal sense of damayan . However, it is quite disappointing that the colonizers who have brought with them their religion (Christianity), has set the division, conflict, and misunderstanding between and among the natives. Such has continued to be felt until this day, with the people in Mindanao being one of the poorest in the country, based on its standard of living.

The superiority of the Christian religion displaced the “community-oriented” upbringing of the native/original settlers in Mindanao. To put it more bluntly, those colonizers did not only destroy the natural richness of Mindanao, but also the way of life of its inhabitants. Dr. Romulo G. Bautista put it this way, “…unless we go ‘philosophical’, meaning, go beyond the limits of the historical, cultural, political, legal, constitutional and social conflicts, which are ‘super-structures’ of the ‘underpinning conflict’ of the peace process in Mindanao, there is no chance of final resolution of war and realization of lasting peace in Mindanao.”

To unveil some facts of reality and to widen one’s horizon and knowledge about the conflict in Mindanao, it is necessary to know and to be informed of the historical background of the whys and whats of the subject matter. Following the thoughts of Richard Rorty, we calls such, “historically contingent facts of the world, or cultural facts.” Such facts are rooted in the culture and real-life-experiences of the people.

The Spanish have portrayed the Moro people as illiterate, uncivilized and violent. (Alim 2000) The devastating effect, however, took place during the American occupation. The Americans, in order to push further their colonial strategy, implemented the Torrens land title system, which allowed the private ownership of lands, but mostly only to Christian settlers (Parcon, 2008). Because of this, the Bangsamoro people have become landless and mere tenants in their own homeland (Alim, 1995).

The American system persisted even after the independence from American rule in 1946. The newly constituted government at that time, which was greatly influenced by the American colonizers, failed to incorporate the Bangsamoro’s voice in the formulation of the Constitution and other agreements with the outgoing colonizers. This led to the formation of various insurgency groups that fought for the right of the Bangsamoro people to self-determination, which primarily include land-claims and the right to self-government.

Various negotiations and agreements had been attempted by previous government administrations. The first of which was the Tripoli Agreement signed during the Marcos administration in 1976. This agreement was forged with the Moro National Liberation Front. However, no significant aspect of agreement was implemented during the aforementioned administration. After the dictatorial rule was overthrown in 1986, the new government of President Cory Aquino decided to alter some key aspects of the Constitution. Together with the ratification of the new constitution, an Organic Act was also enacted. This Organic Act became the legal basis for the creation of the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM). 

But the autonomy granted did not fully represent the Bangsamoro’s claim to self-government since it the region was still highly dependent and was under the supervision of the national government. The existing autonomous government did not reflect the Muslim tradition. There was no room for the Bangsamoro to govern themselves based on their way of life. Thus, it appeared that the Philippine government was not really committed to protect and support the Bangsamoro’s struggle for self-determination. (op.cit)

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