Mindanao’s past and imperative of its federal future

by Adrian M. Tamayo


LAST December, I had the chance to be with the Bangsamoro Civil Society Organizations to discuss Federalism alongside the Bangsamoro aims and the many story of struggles of Mindanao. The Bangsamoros already understood nationhood alongside Lumads who coexist peacefully within the Sultanate territories since the 1450 AD. During these times, prosperity and growth also happen in Southeast Asia under influence of the Sri Vijaya Empire which is a concentrate of the Buddhism faith. Peace coexists in the islands of Mindanao and in Southeast Asia. Fast forward, Mindanao becomes the hotbed for insurgency, hunger and poverty, chaos and disorder. Mindanao holds the longest war known to mankind second only to that in the Middle East.

In order to give apt credence to the past, I see the need to share some forms of justice that commonly surface in Mindanao struggle discourses.

First is the pursuit of the transitional justice which takes strong anchorage on accountability and redress for victims. It is securing dignity of the victims and how values were destroyed by authorities. In doing so, the instruments of the State henceforth need to ensure ordinary citizens will be protected and that abuses will never happen again.

The other, but far difficult is the restorative justice. This is allowing the offenders and the victims mediate to arrive at recompense that satisf1ies both groups but remains acceptable to the society community’s customs and traditions. In restorative justice, much larger roles are assumed by the victims while the offenders are take meaningful accountability for their actions towards allowing them the chance to rectify the wrongs they committed, and redeem themselves in the society. These two concepts related to customs and traditions, less of the mainstream retributive justice.

Mindanao problem can be described as an imposition of a socio-politico order that is foreign and totally incongruent. To prove, as early as 1912, the American General John Pershing initiated the resettlement to Mindanao Island to put off balance the population of the inhabitants who were unsympathetic of the colonizers. He brought in warriors from other islands who later on helped him fend off brewing dissatisfactions in the community.

Then during Commonwealth, the Philippine Commission Act 2254, the first edict which caused economic imbalance happened; settlers were allowed to own 16 hectares while the local inhabitants were limited to own 8 hectares. The agricultural colonies were then established which paved the way to plantations that we now know. Then the ferocious Hukbalahaps were resettled in Mindanao in the 50’s through the civilian resettlement project of Ramon Magsaysay. To disband the Hukbalahap is to take them away from their leader Luis Taruc, so the guerillas were transferred to Mindanao.

With more settlers from Central Luzon and the Visayas, the mining and logging activities increased. The activities led to massive land dispossession and desecration of the lands. To the inhabitants, land ownership is totally foreign. The concept of land registration is totally unknown to the inhabitants who deem property ownership as private communal; not one person owns estate properties but the community owns it. Forest, lands and water bodies were traditionally defined by territories.

However, upon introduction of the land registration, the source of food and place of rituals were made as property of the State and that the use of these resources requires the consent of the government which is a totally strange body to them given the existing cultural governance. At its very roots, land registration followed the Torrens system and the Regalian doctrine both totally alien to the locals.

The imposed policy of resource and capital use resulted in dire lack of opportunities to the people of Mindanao. Further, the eventual policies favor the settlers and the capitalists who are totally strange to the Mindanao. The disparity of political relationship of the national government escalated Mindanao problems. Thus, the land dispossession, chromic poverty, continued neglect that caused massive underdevelopment in the various provinces, the social injustice, the continuing destruction of forests and waters in Mindanao are all external to Mindanao.

Those who are imposing on growth, distribution of resources, justice dispensation are largely not from Mindanao. The logic of land grants, economic benefits and disposalof resources can caused the institutions to freeze, the welfare left unaddressed, and the conditions existing in Mindanao taken with credulity by political leaders outside of Mindanao.

As proven, Mindanao was great as a nation. Mindanao can be great again if it frees itself from shackles of control of the unitary government. Mindanao can be great again through federal setup. Federalizing the country will allow mechanisms of transitional justice and restorative justice to work better. Yet, the current national political dynamics won’t allow federalizing the country. Though a super majority is present in the House of Representatives, Senate cannot muster three-fourths to vote for change of the Constitution. There is no other immediate future for Mindanao but Federal. The Senate problem can be solved; it surely can be solved either within their hallowed halls, or other means available to the people as the true sovereign.