The Continuation of Civil Unrest and Poverty in Mindanao
Ringuet, Daniel Joseph, Contemporary Southeast Asia
Ever since Spain colonized the Philippines in the sixteenth century, Manila has struggled to bring the Muslim population of Mindanao into the predominantly Catholic nation's fold. More than 400 years on, Muslim separatists in Mindanao, the southernmost region of the country, remain a thorn in Manila's side. (1) Conflict with Muslim separatists has raged on and off since the early 1970s, leaving more than 120,000 dead by government estimates, and stunting economic growth in one of the country's most impoverished regions. (2)
In late May 2001, Abu Sayyaf guerillas rounded up 20 hostages -- 17 Filipinos and 3 Americans -- and transported them to their hideout on Basilan, an island in the far south of the archipelago. Upon arrival, they seized 10 more hostages, mostly fishermen. Then the bloodbath began. By the end of the week, the Philippine military had attacked the guerillas and killed up to 14 fighters, including supreme Abu Sayyaf leader Khadaffy Janjalani. The Abu Sayyaf responded by storming a church and a hospital, taking another 200 hostages and killing parish priest Roy Nacorda. Reports were somewhat sketchy but the toll after 36 hours of fighting was up to 29 dead, including 13 soldiers and 5 civilians, and an unknown number wounded.
Well before the Abu Sayyaf came onto the scene and began its terrorist activities, the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF)-led revolution was the maturation of a series of Moro protests against the discriminatory treatment that they experienced within the Republic. The most infamous was the Jabidah massacre where a number of young Moro recruits undergoing secret military training in Corregidor were killed for alleged mutiny. This is not the place to recall the details of the story, but the upsurge of Moro protests, spiced with reports of secret military training, became one of two excuses for President Ferdinand Marcos' declaration of martial rule. For its part, martial law provided the impetus for the eruption of the Muslim armed struggle for national liberation from the clutches of alleged Philippine colonialism.
The purpose of this article is to discuss whether or not Philippine governments have caused the rise of civil unrest in Mindanao. In order to do this, the article will provide an overview of the extent of conflicts throughout the post-independence period that have been perhaps the single major cause of poverty on the island. Mindanao's poor are, of course, bearing the brunt of government policies to deal with the secessionists. For example, Heeney has argued that an estimated "700,000 people have been displaced by the fighting, and government projects and foreign aid are on hold". (3)
The article will first explain the origins of the armed struggle, concentrating on the impact of U.S. colonialism in relation to Mindanao. Secondly, the focus will shift to the internal conflicts and the post-independence period as the separatist movements began their quest for autonomy. Thirdly, probably the most significant political decision of the Philippines, martial law, will be explored. The different factions that emerged from the early 1960s will also be described. The article will then turn to the ensuing development of the Philippine peace movement, before finally looking at the poverty situation on Mindanao, which is largely a result of the continuous conflicts and neglect caused by the Philippine government's inadequate policies.
Origins and Factors of the Filipino Muslim Armed Struggle
The tenacity of the Filipino Muslim armed struggle is an intriguing fact in Philippine history. The Filipino Muslims tested the energies of the Spanish government for over 300 years and challenged the military power of the United States for almost half a century. More importantly, however, they have seriously tested the Filipino capacity to rule and to unite, something that had stood the test of time, except perhaps in 1986 with the fall of the Marcos regime. The determined efforts of the Spanish government and the Christian Filipinos to stop Muslim raids north of Mindanao made the Muslims "conscious of their own weaknesses" (4) and the need for new strategies. (5)
With the arrival of the United States in 1898, the history of the Philippines began to be reshaped, particularly in the southern islands, as the Muslims (Moros) tried to reassert their ownership or rights to Mindanao. Tan argues that there were four factors responsible for the many uprisings, incidents, and movements in the Philippines during the first four decades of the twentieth century:
American colonialism, a system of control which reduced traditional leaders to virtual impotence; religious beliefs, which refer to prevailing Muslim conviction that Muslim welfare and destiny were in the bands of God; government policies, that consisted of theories of action used in relation to the Muslim problem; and local rivalries, which refers to persisting feuds in Muslim societies involving families, clans or datuships. (6)
As the situation deteriorated, the Moros found they could not match the Americans in battles on the seas off northern Mindanao, as they realized that gunboats were much more effective. Clashes between the Americans and the Muslims became more severe on land as the U.S. military went about establishing colonial rule throughout the Philippines.
Anti-American, Christian, Government, and Internal Rivalries
The anti-American nature of Muslim violence was basically anti-militaristic. The American military was in the process of simply enforcing the colonial system and the Muslims did not suffer from any economic impositions or exactions. (7) The Moros anti-American reaction was, therefore, not the result of colonial exploitation but primarily the product of Muslim ethnic pride, which was combined with an enthusiastic sense of freedom and individualism. American militarism in Mindanao, therefore, developed a type of elitism that challenged or even threatened the Muslim warrior's code of honour. In contrast, the Muslim warrior tradition was "mainly rooted in the building of the warrior qualities of courage and individualism". (8) The frustrations of an unyielding U.S. military, combined with the added impetus of a Christian takeover led, according to Tan, to the "anti-Christian character of Muslim movements [which] was essentially related to Muslim anti-colonialism. Anti-Christianism, therefore, became a necessary e lement in the Muslim struggle against American militarism." (9)
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Publication information: Article title: The Continuation of Civil Unrest and Poverty in Mindanao. Contributors: Ringuet, Daniel Joseph - Author. Journal title: Contemporary Southeast Asia. Volume: 24. Issue: 1 Publication date: April 2002. Page number: 33+. © 1999 Institute of Southeast Asian Studies (ISEAS). COPYRIGHT 2002 Gale Group.
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