The Moro struggle is not just about a conflict between the Philippine government and Moro rebel groups nor a religious conflict between the Muslims and Christians in Mindanao. Rather it is a complex, deep-rooted and multifaceted one spanning several centuries starting from the Spanish and American colonial times up to the present.
No single cause can sufficiently explain the Moro problem. Despite the many literature on the conflict, much is still to be told, learned and understood regarding the causes and consequences of the conflict that the Moros believe to be their holocaust.
Much of what has been written about the conflict in Mindanao focused mainly on its economic cost and partially on its social cost. Most of these accounts failed to expose the wounds and sufferings that are deeply entrenched in the Moro psyche that continuously shape and influence the Moro’s attitude towards the Philippine government and the rest of the majority Christian Filipinos. Since no respite was given for the wounds to heal, they are continuously aggravated by the protracted war and the elusive peaceful resolution of the problem.
In our last stop of relief operations for Marawi City evacuees, while I was observing the queue of evacuees, under a very hot sun, toward the tables where their names would be verified against earlier validations and their names registered etcetera, a Moro leader came up to me. He told me of his concern that for fellow Moro who have not gone through a process of awareness, understanding, and thus opened themselves up to healing and closure, the fact that Christians were the front-liners in the operation (not withstanding that, too, the soldiers and police in the Marawi conflict are Christians) might again revive sentiments against Christians. My spontaneous reply was, “I understand. That was exactly what I was thinking last night.” When I got back to my place after the relief operations at another town, I couldn’t help the tears flow and spent much of the night trying to understand where humanity – us, Filipino Christians – did wrong. But such thinking always end up in me realizing my own limitations, humankind’s limitations to resolve it’s own problems. Humanitarians can only do so much. I finally went to sleep thoroughly humbled yet again.
The Moro leader had approached me asking if I could help them facilitate for a phase two of the relief operations to assist Moro evacuees undergo a culture of peace education, essentially a process of peace building that begins with the self and then with others. As goes the UNESCO Charter, since wars begin in the minds of men, it is in the minds of men that the defences of peace must be constructed.
Moving on, still on our exchange, but with one other a Christian migrant who joined us, I said, “but, you know, I’ve also thought about what if I was on the other side, an evacuee? how do I respond to aid, people helping me?”
“Ah,” said the Moro leader looking amused, “sige daw ano? (okay, what?)”
“Sige (okay),” added the Christian migrant, “ano ang gagawin mo given na ang taas ng pinag-aralan mo (what would someone who’s had a university education like you do in that situation)?”
I laughed and said, “I’d refused to be interviewed. I’d refused to have my photo taken. To hell with them.”
The two men became silent and offered no response or reaction. I believed they fell into thinking. Perhaps the Moro leader was thinking I’m worse than his people? I didn’t offer further explanation. Let them think about what I meant, which is that human dignity is for every human being regardless of religion; it’s about one human being responding to another human being and taking care to do that justly, and to achieve that one must have an understanding of one’s own basic needs and rights transcending one’s prejudices against race, religion, gender, etc. For example: Just because someone is an evacuee doesn’t mean he or she is stupid or uneducated or his or her rights suspended that other people think they could go around the evacuation centers taking shots and making them public and thrusting microphones, recorders, or cameras at, for instance, mothers breast-feeding their babes, demanding or expecting coherent replies (and when they receive incoherent responses they readily label the evacuee-interviewees as schizophrenic. My god, who is the schizophrenic in such a situation)? Would I want that done to me if I were an evacuee? NO! If I’m required or pressured to be interviewed in exchange for food relief then take back your food relief! But media do that to evacuees to their fellow Christians too (think of evacuees from natural disasters in Luzon and Visayas).
Irresponsible callous acts are monitored by the offended party and added in it’s long List of Sins by the Enemy, naturally. Then when the offended party has decided it’s done with listing, it fires back and in the process not only are members of the offending party hurt but also innocent parties. Media and those dealing directly with fragile communities therefore have a great responsibility in sustaining the gains in peace building.
At it’s most basic level, human security consists of the freedom from fear, freedom from want, and freedom from humiliation.
Human Security and Armed Conflict, Philippine Human Development Report 2005
Prolonged humiliation does things to your head not to mention it’s ill effects on emotions and the body hence being genuine is a response that is so welcomed, in fact, heals.
There’s a joke that Muslims here like to tell, to which Muslims and Christians alike laugh at. It’s this- Muslim men could have as many as four wives max and still be legit by standards of their religion and law. Beyond that, however, they said they’d have become Christians. I hurt my stomach the first time I was told this. I couldn’t stop laughing.
In a way, this joke summarizes the complicated relationship between Muslims and Christians in the region particularly as you move further south where it’s more visible. If certain Muslims have taken arms to defend their sociopolitical and cultural survival in a country of 80-90% Catholic largely mainstreamed into the globalized economy and with that it’s sociopolitical and cultural ethic and, for some other groups, to defend at whatever cost the dictates of their conscience, there is or was, following the rule in physics, also the corresponding movement from Christians in the region- the Ilaga.
The Ilaga, the most notorious among the Christian vigilante groups, was reported to have been organized by seven local Christian politicians (“Magnificent Seven”) who were bent upon preserving their respective power and expanding them further by infiltrating and dominating areas traditionally controlled by Muslims. It was reported also that the Ilaga was supported by some influential Christian capitalists and logging magnates. The Ilaga group was the most feared to many Muslims primarily because of what its members did to their victims, like carving out ears, slashing nipples, plucking out eyes, and marking bodies with cross.
Yasmin Busran-Lao, Human Development, Economic and Social Costs, and Spillovers of Conflict: The Case of the Province of Lanao del Sur, background paper submitted to the Human Development Network Foundation, Inc. for the Philippine Human Development Report 2005
That dark period in the region’s history is apparently an experience that people here Muslim and Christian alike do not want to forget hence is passed on to younger generations in the form of stories which in turn may explain why there is still such vigilance, in their unconscious, between the two (which only a few have truly transcended the ones who are free to “cross over” invisible yet palpable boundaries such that we hear for instance Muslims protecting their Christian neighbors when armed fellow Muslims raid villages). Such stories were given as part of the orientation I had about the region. I was not yet five days old in the area. I was, what? can you spell that out please, because, for the life of me, I haven’t heard the word until then (I guess the reason is, I was schooled abroad).
Nothing apparently is what it seems. To truly understand the situation in Mindanao, ML or not, one must approach the subject with humility and in the calm or neutral spirit of scientific inquiry ie. if one is a Muslim, to be ready to accept that Muslims or certain Muslims are culpable and if one is a Christian, to be ready to accept that Christians or certain Christians have also had a hand, and, for both, in accepting that, to be open to the fact of our shared humanity which is that there is only one earth, one Philippines. How the planet, the country should be divided up for each and every human being should be done through intelligent and peaceful means (otherwise we have not really transformed from our ape past). Then again the rhetoric of ‘One Philippines’ need to be unpacked.
In one of the community discussions, somebody mentioned about population growth and population control as a related issue. Oh? I said in surprise. But it was obvious although not readily perceived. Filipino Catholics make up 80-90% of the country’s total population, and what is the total population? 100M. This means Catholics, whatever the ethnicity, greatly outnumber Muslims whatever their ethnicity. Such is true in the region. In other words, the droves of non-Muslims in continuous migration to Mindanao in search for land and greener pasture just by their sheer number easily overpower the original settlers hence easily impose their politics and culture on the “new land.” Now, population control. Catholics/Christians, since they make up much of the population, should share the bulk of the responsibility for birth control (the most rational, strategic, and intelligent means to population control (hence adequate space and quality of life for all)). That is equity. But the funny thing is, they are the ones, the Church leaders at least, who cite religious teaching as justification for disallowing Catholics to openly subscribe to a civic responsibility.
Without any checks, population would theoretically grow at an exponential rate, rapidly exceeding its ability to produce resources to support itself (Thomas Malthus).
I remember another joke about the root cause of this world’s problems, which is that, if it’s not economic, it must be sex. This brings us back to the joke about the wife taking.
I don’t know why, in the dailies and broadcast media, people feel the need to explain their positions post-declaration. Martial law is martial law. It’s the most unfortunate thing to happen to a nation and country in the 21st century. For 21st century citizens to find themselves in such a state means only one thing- they have become degenerates, moving backward to the point in civilization where they need to be martialed forward. You know, like Brad Pitt’s hapless character in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.
Didn’t the President repeatedly warned, “don’t force my hand”? As it is, his hand has been forced, apparently, not by a freak accident of gravity but by…terrorists? Perhaps. But more significantly by the Filipino people. If we the people faithfully fulfilled our part in governance – you know, government of the people, by the people, and for the people – we shouldn’t be in this situation in the first place. We did this to ourselves, the nation. The finger we’re pointing at others should be directed at ourselves, each and every Filipino, the haves and have-not alike.
In my other blog, in a post showing early morning beachgoers doing the rounds on a banana boat I wrote that “resilience” cannot all be laughter and smiles but that real resilience is about sacrificing now in order to enjoy freedoms afterward, maybe not in our lifetime but at least in our children’s and their children’s. Such is the level of maturity that Filipinos in the exercise of their responsibilities as citizens need or should want to attain.
The “siege” in Marawi City is the story of Mindanao, in a capsule. If Mindanao is like the abandoned buildings in the City, it is like that sorry-looking storied building riddled with bullets, the ground a playground of forces that seem to have the supernatural ability to switch places sending the poor residents scampering confused into rat holes. While all that is going on, the rest of us, onlookers from afar, are on banana boats doing our own thing, pa-comment comment (on social media, readily accessible as apps on our touchscreens) kapag may time.
Catholics, who comprise the majority of the population, have all sorts of devotions, novenas, etc. but in what ways are we positively changed by such? Has our knee-jerk recourse to prayer in fact just an avoidance of what we know we could or should do, right here, right now (versus “waiting” for God to send his angels to act)? Did Catholics or Christians in Mindanao have to wait for third-parties ie. NGOs to facilitate understanding and peace with Muslims? What is keeping someone, for instance, from baking a freaking pie, stepping outside your goddamned door and walk across your stupid lawn to knock on your neighbor Muslim’s house, and in utmost sincerity, offer the pie? (I cite this example of pie-giving because I have done it, when I was in grade school abroad. I baked some sconces (inspired by Enid Blyton’s The Magic Faraway Tree) and went and gave some to our Muslim neighbors. They were delighted with the bread. That began exchanges of that sort on occasions between our families. It only takes a step, a gesture from either side, you know, like how lovers become; though boldness is needed to be able to make that step or gesture. And what’s the worst that could happen? Pie on your face? Well at least it isn’t acid. And at least it’s not you throwing out the pie.) Fear that a thousand cannons will be let loose on you? Let us honestly examine ourselves. Maybe it’s not fear at all. Maybe it’s pride masking as fear. If then, woe to us Filipinos especially Catholics. We have imprisoned ourselves in our misplaced pride and snobbish prejudice all these regrettable years!
Further, ML in Mindanao revealed the general state of community among Filipinos, and that is, wala na talagang paki sa kapwa Pilipino o sa kapwa Pilipino na tiga ibang rehiyon (there’s now a lack of solidarity and empathy for fellow Filipinos or Filipinos in the other regions) such that in the first few days after the declaration there was no collective action from the two islands, not even from Congress, to, you know, dedicate a moment of silent in support of people in Mindanao especially Marawi City residents. Wala man lang from broadcast media that thought of pausing their tele-seryes and katuwaan on lunch time variety shows to broadcast a word of support to people in Mindanao. Nada.
What would it take for us to learn the lesson of our history? True people power is commitment to the daily grind of stepping outside private interests (even outside security of our gates) onto engaging without discrimination with fellow citizens and those who are governing. People power is less about yak-ity-yak-yak in the streets and more about rolling up our sleeves, sweating it out under sun and rain season after season, and actually making good government happen. Only then shall we know and deserve peace, freedom, development, all the good things that are the inevitable fruits of a people’s good and hard work.
The priority of media now is to report on the real situation of evacuees or IDPs in order to provide accurate data to people and organizations who want to help. I don’t think that their detailed reporting on the fighting – even so far as going alongside the troops as they fire their guns at snipers (thereby disclosing their position to the enemy!) – does not add value in any way except well how manly our armed forces are with their newly-acquired gears. What I’m saying is, let the armed forces do their war thing because we very well could imagine their thing even without media coverage, and not be too focused on that. The information the rest of the country need right now is the situation of displaced persons as well as estimates of trapped population or those who remain in Marawi City- what’s happening to them, their needs, and the like.
For one, the ‘no ID no entry’ rule. I understand why this rule must be enforced but then on the other hand let us also exercise common sense and good judgment as we apply the rule (at checkpoints, etc.). In other words, let us not turn away people fleeing the City without IDs on them just because this is the rule. Many who were turned away are the very people who are truly poor (eg. the old, women, children, young people the ones without vehicles who had to walk miles) and are outside of the social insurance and health systems (hence their having no government IDs at all). Turning them away because we don’t want to “break the rule” does nothing positive for security and only doubly marginalizes the already poor. Hence it is very critical that those in charge of checkpoints are persons with good judgment, intelligence, and common sense.
Second, management of evacuation centers and camps. We’re not new to this. In fact, by this time after so many natural and man-made disasters we’ve been through we should already be experts at it. By this time, sanitary, medical, sleeping, even praying or quiet-time facilities etc. should have been in place, because order on the outside brings order in the inside (ie. the human psyche) which in turn helps displaced people to heal from their trauma and loss. But how come centers look disorganized? Evacuation centers should not be like pig sties. Let’s remember the humanitarian imperative to uphold human dignity in times of disasters- it’s not just the food “relief” that humanitarians need to secure for the affected but also relief in it’s holistic meaning ie. restoration and protection of dignity.
Another, air dropping of food relief for people who remain in the City. A Director I was speaking to a few days earlier said he was very worried about the situation of people who are still in the City, whether by choice or trapped (as when a Director-friend of his went to the City on the second day of the conflict because her relatives are there and she wanted to bring them out herself). I told him, laughing, that the armed forces, it’s humanitarian arm (is it the Office of the Civil Defense?), otherwise, why not Bam Aquino’s recently-established GoNegosyo in ARMM (as it’s first outreach mission)?, should have also dropped food alongside the bombs (or, food-loaded caravans if GoNegosyo?); coordinated with ground personnel for a secure drop and holding area.
Such things, lessons derived from the one before (or, conflicts around the world) would make this martial law different. For me, and as I said, I don’t care if the armed forces pursue the bad ones to the edge of the earth, that’s their job after all, only that the effects of such a pursuit on the human population and community should also be taken cared of with as much care, commitment, and dedication. After all, the resources that are used to pursue the bad guys are the people’s resources (taxes).
Is there such a thing as benign martial law? I hope there is. Because I’m right here. What freakin luck! I’ve a lot of thought about this declared state in the region, foremost is that let all the armed forces, good and bad, fight each other till kingdom come for all I care, after all until now the people do not know who’s the good ones from the bad and is this again manifestation of interests ie. whenever we have leaders who have the will to facilitate change they are sabotaged. In any case, please can martial law be done in such a way that people can still go on movie dates like it’s any other ordinary day ie. without having to always look over one’s shoulders?