The Continuation of Civil Unrest and Poverty in Mindanao

By Ringuet, Daniel Joseph | Contemporary Southeast Asia, April 2002 | Go to article overview

The Continuation of Civil Unrest and Poverty in Mindanao


Ringuet, Daniel Joseph, Contemporary Southeast Asia


Introduction

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. …

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