Conflict in Muslim Mindanao » Manila Bulletin News



Fr. Emeterio Barcelon, SJ

By Fr. Emeterio Barcelon, Sj


Patricio Abinales from his eyrie in the University of Hawaii makes important contributions that may help in the peace process. He said the orthodox views that there has been constant war in Mindanao, that it originates from religious thinking, and that there has been the constant presence of a sovereign state in these areas. He debunks this orthodox view and believes that as long as these wrong views are held, little progress can be made in the peace process.

He thinks that the problem starts from the chiefs of the elite clans trying to preserve their hegemony in the Muslim area, which has now shrunk to less than a fourth in area of the island of Mindanao. The faith of the Filipino Muslim has been a simple faith brought by the merchants and traders about seven centuries ago to these islands. But in the Marcos era, preachers of various persuasions were invited to come, without realizing that the Sunni have hatred for the Shia and vice versa. This conflict may now play a role because different preachers were invited to go to the Maranaos and the opposite went to the Maguindanaos and the Tausug.

Abinales writes in the new book of the Australian Paul Hutchcroft, “Mindanao, the Long Journey to Peace and Prosperity:” “A major reason behind the historical inability to come up with a cohesive and lasting peace plan for Mindanao has to do with an orthodox explanation that is shared by the most disparate of social and political forces — . . . that assumes a history of unceasing conflict. . . . It puts a high premium on minority-majority tensions, religion as inspirational force for armed change and the omni presence of a capable state . . . . On the contrary Muslim Mindanao has a far more complex history and that is what the orthodoxy has unfortunately papered over.”

“Conflict, in particular, has been the exception rather than the rule, and where it did happen, this was for the most part caused by factors other than religion…. This orthodoxy has not only widely exaggerated the omni presence and capacity of the Philippine state but also understated the power of the local Muslim elite — and, as such, underestimated their role in both the war and quest for peace In theumma (nation).”

“This orthodox perspective of Muslim Mindanao deserves to be challenged before it becomes an enduring and nearly unalterable part of the island’s worldview—and the world’s view of the island.”

With the conflict in Marawi, the consequence of this view is that it behoves the Maranao elite to do their task of integrating their people as a community over and above their personal interests. As one of them, Abdullah Dimaporo, has already been asking. How could this have happened if the Maranaos had not kept a blind eye for many preparations the Maute group had been doing all along? Another practice more difficult to eradicate is that of the “rido,” a practice also used in the other parts of the islands but now hardly evident except in some tribes of the mountain provinces. This tramples on the human rights of individuals who suffer for actions they did not do, just because they belong to the tribe or clan.

Another need is the education of the elite of the clans to look for the good of the community above their own personal needs. This is not something inborn. We all have to learn to sacrifice personal good for the good of the community. In primitive tribes this is still a big factor. But it can be done with a little patience and goodwill. The Maute rebellion and the destruction of Marawi could have been prevented had the citizens been more aware of their responsibility to protect the common good. Education in democratic responsibilities is unfortunately lacking.

I would like to reiterate Abinales’ contention that conflict in Mindanao has been the exception rather the rule and that the conflict is not of a religious inspiration and that there is a lack of presence of the sovereign state in these areas. To him the main source of conflict is the effort of the tribal Muslim elites to preserve or aggrandize their hegemony at the expense of the common good. The poverty of the common Muslim citizen is way above the poverty in the other parts of the country. Why?



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