I jokingly told my friend that I’m scared because right after I finish my studies here in Vietnam and go back to my country I will end up not going back to the Philippines but to something like Bangsa Moro. My family is based in South Cotabato, one of the southernmost provinces of the archipelago in the island of Mindanao.
For the past few weeks, the island has been once again the topic of media coverages after the trashed Memorandum of Agreement that was deemed unconstitutional by the Supreme Court of the Philippines. This is not without complications such as the mediation (meddling) of the Malaysian government, terroristic actions that led to the death and injury of more or less a hundred individuals from the military, the rebel group, and civilians.
I was born in the central Philippines but I see myself more of a son of Mindanao. I spent my childhood there, had my elementary and high school education at Polomolok, lived my life like any probinsiyano until I left for college when I was sixteen. Although after that I seldom go back home, if not for Christmas vacations, I still feel the umbilical cord attached to an entity I consider my mother–Mindanao.
I know that it is an exaggeration to think that soon I’ll just see Mindanao seceding from the rest of the Philippines, but with the kind of government the Philippines has now, impossible is nothing, if I may borrow from Adidas’s marketing tag line. This government has done a lot of blunders before that it has lost whatever trust of the people left. And added to this blunder is the Mindanao fiasco. How could it have entered an agreement with the rebel group, thinking that in case the MOA is deemed unconstitutional, then they could easily back out from the agreement, as if it is dealing with brat kids, without thinking of the repercussions of the action?
I see Mindanao (or at least some portions of it) as an ideal place where plurality exists far better than in the more “peaceful” Luzon and Visayas. There is no need for assimilation, or if there is it is too subtle, because there is co-existence without having to give up whatever cultural identity each of the involved party has. I agree that there were times when this was challenged and was proven otherwise, but for the Mindanao that I know, in the deeper south, where religion does play a little role if none at all, this ideal is thriving.
Has the government looked into the core of the problem, or to be fair I’ll also be asking the same question to the rebels. The Muslim minority was given the autonomy they were asking for, but what happened? It never took them a long time to fall in the same pitfall that this government has long wallowed in–corruption, lack of political will, bad governance.
According to the U.S. Agency for International Development 2005-2009 Philippines Strategy document, the country faces a daunting range of development challenges. Some 43 percent of Filipinos live on less than 2 USD in a day as reported by the U.N. Development Programme’s 2007/2008 Human Development Report. That figure is even higher in Mindanao, where significant numbers of children are stunted, says the World Food Programme.
In areas affected by conflict, the effects of poverty are compounded by displacement. These people who are caught between cross fire are doubly, if not triply marginalized. Poverty and violence confronting their lives everyday with almost no hope of escaping from the complexities of human existence.
Conditions in evacuation centres are poor. Local government units charged with dealing with displaced people lack resources and are dependent on non-governmental organisations and external aid. Because war and displacement on Mindanao are cyclical, efforts to rehabilitate affected people tend to be unsuccessful. Quite apart from the suffering of displaced people, the broader population in Mindanao remains economically marginalised and lacks adequate access to basic social services.
The kind of Mindanao I grew up in may not be the same Mindanao I see in nightly news here in Vietnam. The language of the newscaster is as alien as the Mindanao being shown to me. But it does not mean that I do not understand what is happening. The solution may be variegated but one thing is certain, the government and its people must act now.
I still expect to go back to a Philippines that is in tact. With Mindanao still counted as one of its 7,107 island.