In Mindanao, the “problem” has been one of conflicting narratives. There is the story of the nation-building project resumed in the early 20th century after the defeat of the First Republic; there is the story of the Moros and their hostility, then ambivalence, then participation, in that project; there is the parting of ways between Moros and Christians in the 1960s; and there is the added complication of foreign powers attempting to influence once side or another throughout this period.
The first time I wrote about this was in 1996, in “Repulsion and Colonization,” which I began with this illuminating quote from the memoirs of Teodoro M. Kalaw:
The Wood-Forbes Mission arrived in Manila in May , and was received with some apprehension…. Many anecdotes were told about this trip… In Mindanao, an officer with the Mission approached a Moro and asked him his opinion of the political situation. The Moro answered him: “No, no, I do not want to say a word. If I say I like independence, the Americans get sore. And if I say I do not like independence, the Filipinos get sore. I say nothing.” Teodoro M. Kalaw in his autobiography, Aide-de-Camp to Freedom
Here is the article itself, which has ended up quoted and referenced by Moro writers, too. To my mind, the 1920s was a confrontation between American proposals to separate Moro areas from the Philippines, and the insistence of Filipinos leaders that the country be kept intact; and that when independence was assured in the 1930s, the Filipino policy became active settlement of Mindanao to prevent Mindanao being colonized by other powers: resulting in a policy of internal colonization that would lead to confrontation in the 1960s and 1970s.
In 1934, the Sultan sa Ramain, speaking as a delegate in the Constitutional Convention, put forward the parameters for Moro participation in the nation-building project of the Commonwealth. It was a partnership that endured for two decades: hence the regular election of Moro leaders as Senators from 1941 to the 1960s. By then, however, just as national politics was being radicalized, new influences would lead to the development of a new approach among Moros, to their own history. Combined with tensions over land, it would result in the abandonment of the partnership proposed a generation earlier by the Sultan sa Ramain.
If the 1920s was about suspicions over American proposals to create a Moro protectorate, and the 1930s about Japanese immigration to Davao, then from 1946 (when Sabah was annexed by the British to form part of Malaya) to the 1960s (when the Philippines joined Indonesia’s policy of Konfrontasi against newly-formed Malaysia) the focus of Filipino suspicion was Britain and its Malayan possessions; this would be carried over in the tense relationship between Malaysia and the Philippines.
This excerpt from a recent book illustrates the British legacy that complicated relations:
Of all oddities, the British had been at work in 1945 even trying to extend their empire. British troops were present in Vietnam and Indonesia, where they were dragged into support for the existing French and Dutch rulers. In order to do so (and in Burma as well) they were driven to use the hundreds of thousands of Japanese prisoners of war to put down risings by the local nationalists. The French and the Dutch somehow understood even less than did the British that the European position was hopelessly lost: the Foreign Office adviser on Mountbatten’s staff told him that the Dutch were ‘mentally sick’ and ‘not in a fit state to resume control in this vast area’; it was not until 1948 that the Dutch abandoned Indonesia. But the British were also fantasizing, though less bizarrely. In the second half of the 1940s they were trying to create a new form of empire, in this case one based on Malaya. Here, they had a certain amount of justification, in that Malayan rubber earned a surplus of £170m for the sterling area – more than a third of its income (the Gold Coast supplied another quarter). Malaya was put together in a novel way, together with Singapore, but this did not solve the three-cornered problem of Indian, Chinese and Malay cohabitation. A civil war soon developed, with a Communist insurgency that was largely Chinese, and Malaya was not stabilized until 1960.
Essentially two expansionist ambitions collided from the 1960s onwards: between the Philippines, and Malaysia, with Philippine influence and power waning even as Malaysia’s waxed over the same period. Yet in recent years, there seems to be a diminishing of the old antagonisms and more of an effort to find common ground: in some cases, a very recent phenomenon (observers of the peace process would do well to look into the decision of Malaysia, for example, to appoint a facilitator more acceptable to both, and not just one, party, since 2010).
The “Mindanao Problem” has often been reduced to being a zero-sum game: total retention to prevent total loss, raising the stakes for both sides of the conflict when neither side is capable of fully achieving its objectives, not least because it would be debatable if other countries in the region, and beyond, are prepared for the wholesale rearrangement of borders, etc. The question of partition is one, however, debated, to my mind, without reference to India, which surely poses many cautionary lessons for all sides involved.
Even as things evolve, some things remain the same. All sides in the conflict have changed in terms of the national narratives they believe in; and yet, old narratives still intrude into these approaches, not least concerning the old colonial powers.
But things aren’t about old, historic grievances, in the sense of a linear story. For example, there are developments in the broader Muslim world that in turn have led to an evolution, even a radical departure, in the historical foundations of the Moro narrative and even the ultimate aspirations put forward by Moro leaders. The MNLF of the 1970s was closer, in a sense, to the Filipinos of the 1920s in putting forward independence with modern institutions (fairly secular, based on ethnic identity) as the end-goal; the MILF of the 1980s onwards perhaps adheres closer to aspiring for Islamic government. In turn, Christians, themselves debating the question of secular vs. religious-influenced government, were confronted with a crisis of confidence in their institutions.
As if the clash of national narratives, the intrusion of regional and global spheres of influence, the push and pull of religion as the motive force for politics, weren’t complicated enough, all these came to a head a few years ago, due to the crisis of legitimacy facing the previous administration.
A kind of seething bedrock for all these controversies, is the pervasive mistrust of the public (regardless of ethnic or religious affiliation) for officialdom; made even more corrosive by lingering animosities based on cultural antipathies:
Add to this poisonous brew, the crisis of legitimacy of the past dispensation, and its lurching from one scheme to another, to break the logjam with its enemies and secure a lasting victory for itself:
And add to this, the dilemma faced by our institutions, when a deal was proposed: but in a rush, with an inflexible deadline, under circumstances that opened up political options for the then-administration but by so doing, opened up possibilities which lacked a national consensus.
In other words, a surprise was sprung on the public, with an agreement having been reached at the top, without a consensus to back it up. One so explosive, because of this, it had to be stopped:
And once again, highlighting the problematic nature of the whole thing –a policy decision at the top without the safety net of a public consensus to permit it– was the adoption of a historical narrative by various parties not necessarily shared by others; or which, in turn, was evolving in a manner which left those grappling with it unable to fully grasp the full implications of that evolving narrative.
The result was that the challenges, and not the promise, of peace, took center stage; worse, good-will, a necessary element for negotiations to lead to a resolution, evaporated, and the whole peace process took a backward step. Yet the debacle led, to my mind, to more prudence on all sides: with the common lesson being the need to engage the broader public –itself a challenge to the contending narratives.
I put forward what I believed to be some of these lessons in this entry:
Just as, in an earlier entry, I put forward my observations on the challenges confronting those trying to secure ta peace agreement. There was a generational aspect: advocates had at times, gotten tired, or cynical, or were running out of ideas. Leaders on both sides suffered from a crisis of confidence and legitimacy. The solution staring everyone in the face –a variation, in one form or another, on Commonwealth Status for the Moros– remained difficult to accept.
In the face of increasingly intractable –because the evolution of identities on both sides were difficult to keep up with, on the part of the leaders aspiring to speak for either side– was complicated, in turn, by mistrust of those putting themselves forward as honest brokers from the outside. One story that remains to be written, is how the brokers themselves changed their attitudes.
Another story yet to be fully written, is the confrontation between exclusivist attitudes and aspirations for a pluralistic society; of local versus national community orientations, and not just between Muslim and Christian but among the various components –geographic, linguistic, ethnic– of the larger whole.
And there is the story, too, of how the enemies of good governance recognize no religious or ethnic barriers; how a kind of mutualism exists between national and regional leaders uninterested in progress or reform.
In the wake of the setback to peace, from the get-go peace in Mindanao was a plank in the President’s platform: with a clear commitment to avoiding the causes for mistrust and hostility in the past:
Peace & Order 14. From a disjointed, short-sighted Mindanao policy that merely reacts to events and incidents to one that seeks a broadlysupported just peace and will redress decades of neglect of the Moro and other peoples of Mindanao.
This was reiterated in the President’s inaugural address:
My government will be sincere in dealing with all the peoples of Mindanao. We are committed to a peaceful and just settlement of conflicts, inclusive of the interests of all – may they be Lumads, Bangsamoro or Christian.
It was articulated in his first State of the Nation Address:
Tungkol sa situwasyon sa Mindanao: Hindi po nagbabago ang ating pananaw. Mararating lamang ang kapayapaan at katahimikan kung mag-uusap ang lahat ng apektado: Moro, Lumad, at Kristiyano. Inatasan na natin si Dean Marvic Leonen na mangasiwa sa ginagawa nating pakikipag-usap sa MILF. Iiwasan natin ang mga pagkakamaling nangyari sa nakaraang administrasyon, kung saan binulaga na lang ang mga mamamayan ng Mindanao. Hindi tayo puwedeng magbulag-bulagan sa mga dudang may kulay ng pulitika ang proseso, at hindi ang kapakanan ng taumbayan ang tanging interes. Kinikilala natin ang mga hakbang na ginagawa ng MILF sa pamamagitan ng pagdidisplina sa kanilang hanay. Inaasahan natin na muling magsisimula ang negosasyon pagkatapos ng Ramadan.
In his second State of the Nation Address, the President focused on good governance as a foundation for peace:
Tumungo naman po tayo sa ARMM. Ang dating sistema: Nagbabatuhan lang ng huwad na utang ng loob ang mga baluktot na kandidato. Kapag pambansang halalan, malaya ang nakaupo sa ARMM na imane-obra ang makinarya sa kaniyang rehiyon para matiyak na bokya, o sero, ang boto ng hindi kaalyado. Kapag naman eleksyon sa ARMM at maniningil na ng utang si Mayor o Governor, ang administrasyon naman ang magpapatakbo ng makinarya para manalo ang kanilang kandidato. Ayon nga po sa naungkat ng COA, sa opisina ng regional governor ng ARMM, mula Enero 2008 hanggang Setyembre 2009, walumpung—uulitin ko po: walumpung porsyento ng mga disbursement ang napunta sa mga cash advance na wala namang maayos na paliwanag. Kung hindi nawala ang pondong ito, nakatapos na sana ang isang batang sa ngayon tumawid sa ghost bridge, para pumasok sa ghost school, kung saan tuturuan siya ng ghost teacher. Kaawa-awang bata: walang humpay na paghihirap, at walang pag-asa ng pag-asenso. Gusto nating maranasan ng ARMM ang benepisyo ng tamang pamamahala. Kaya ang atin pong minungkahing solusyon: synchronization. Dahil dito, kailangan nilang tumutok sa kani-kanilang mga kampanya; magiging mas patas ang labanan, at lalabnaw ang command votes. Salamat po sa Kongreso at naipasa na ang batas na magsasabay sa halalan ng ARMM sa halalang pambansa. May nagtatanong po, bakit postponement ang kailangan? Sa kagustuhang, siyempre, makabalik sa puwesto, nakahanda ang ilan na ulitin ang nakagawian para manalo. Isipin na lang po ninyo kung pumayag tayo sa kagustuhan ng mga kontra, at itinuloy natin ang eleksyon. Wala po silang ibang gagawin sa loob ng dalawang taon kundi paghandaan ang susunod na halalan at isiksik ang kalokohan nila sa mas maigsing panahon. Habang nananatili sa puwesto ang mga utak wang-wang na opisyal, naiiwan namang nakalubog sa kumunoy ng kawalang-pagasa ang taumbayan.
In his third State of the Nation Address, the President returned to the need to establish good governance as a foundation for lasting peace:
Kung kapayapaan na lang din po ang usapan, dumako naman tayo sa lugar na matagal naging mukha ng mga mithiing ‘di makamtan-kamtan. Bago po magsimula ang mga reporma natin sa ARMM, at alam naman po n’yo, may mga ghost students doon, na naglalakad sa isang ghost road, tungo sa isang ghost school, para magpaturo sa isang ghost teacher. Ang mga aparisyon pong gumulantang kay OIC Governor Mujiv Hataman: [applause] Apat na eskuwelahan na natagpuang may ghost students; iniimbestigahan na rin ang mga teacher na hindi lumilitaw ang pangalan sa talaan ng Professional Regulation Commission, gayundin ang mga tauhan ng gobyernong hindi nakalista sa plantilya. Limampu’t limang ghost entry ang tinanggal sa payroll. Ang dating paulit-ulit na pagsasaboy ng graba sa kalsada para lang pagkakitaan ng pera, bawal na. Wala nang cash advance sa mga ahensya, para maiwasan ang pagsasamantala. Ang mga multo sa voters list, mapapatahimik na ang kaluluwa. [Applause] Kaya nga po kay OIC Gov. Mujiv Hataman, ang masasabi natin: talaga namang isa ka nang certified ghost buster.
He pointed out that good governance in turn would provide government the means to assist Moros in building a better life:
Ang pumalit po, at pinapalit na: pabahay, tulay, at learning center para sa mga Badjao sa Basilan. Mga community-based hatchery, lambat, materyales para maglinang ng seaweeds, at punlang napakinabangan ng 2,588 na mangingisda. Certified seeds, punla ng gabi, cassava, goma, at mga punong namumunga para sa 145,121 na magsasaka. Simula pa lang po iyan; nakalaan na ang 183 million pesos para sa mga municipal fishing port projects sa ARMM; 310.4 million pesos para sa mga istasyon ng bumbero; 515 million pesos para sa malinis na inuming tubig; 551.9 million pesos para sa mga kagamitang pangkalusugan; 691.9 million pesos para sa daycare centers; at 2.85 billion pesos para sa mga kalsada at tulay na babagtas sa rehiyon. Ilan lang po iyan sa patutunguhan ng kabuuang 8.59 billion pesos na ipinagkaloob ng pambansang gobyerno para isakatuparan ang mga reporma sa ARMM. [Applause] Lilinawin ko rin po, hindi pa kasama rito ang taunang suportang natatanggap nila, na ngayong 2012 ay umabot sa 11.7 billion pesos. [Applause]
And he reiterated his commitment to peace, and the goodwill on both sides this commitment requires:
Miski po ang mga dating gustong tumiwalag, nakikita na ang epekto ng reporma. Kinikilala natin bilang pahiwatig ng kanilang tiwala ang nakaraang pitong buwan, kung kailan walang nangyaring sagupaan sa pagitan ng militar at ng MILF. Sa peace process naman po, hayag at lantaran ang usapan. Nagpapamalas ang magkabilang panig ng tiwala sa isa’t isa. Maaaring minsan, magiging masalimuot ang proseso; signos lang po ito na malapit na nating makamit ang nag-iisa nating mithiin: Kapayapaan.
The President’s announcement, of a proposed Framework for peace, was the culmination of a major concentration of his administration. In his speech, he outlined the parameters of the proposed Framework:
In the end, I am optimistic that contesting approaches to history will give way to the opening of a new chapter. One in which peace actually has a chance to dig deep roots, replacing old animosities with a new opportunity for partnership.
The old partnership that foundered in the 1960s, then, has to be replaced with something new. Yet what has endured, in a brittle manner to be sure, is the overarching project of nation-building. But that too, must evolve, as it is evolving, into a more complex project that replaces aspirations of uniformity with a shared commitment to diversity.
These are additional readings and links that further flesh out many of the points above: