Are Moros to be blamed?
General Santos City—Six weeks have passed since the crisis in Marawi erupted. Stories of desperation have been told as civilians escaped the besieged city and the dreadful situation in the war zone became more apparent. On the positive side, the crisis has momentarily blurred cultural and religious differences: Inspiring stories have been told of Muslim women and men standing up to the terrorists and risking their lives to protect their Christian friends and neighbors. Dark times can be an opportunity for the goodness in humanity to shine through.
Yet the past six weeks have also shown us how quickly Philippine society can demonstrate thoughtless prejudice against Moros. One notable oversimplification came from National Artist F. Sionil Jose, who has taken Moros to task for their alleged “indolence,” which supposedly made their communities poor and, as a result, susceptible to radicalism. He contrasted the Moro communities with the migrant settlers who, he said, worked hard to survive upon their arrival in Mindanao.
To respond to Jose’s remarks, a quick review of the implementation of the settlement policies of the American government and the postwar Philippine government in Mindanao is necessary. It would explain that one of the reasons the Moro communities did not, in Jose’s word, “develop,” was that the national government wanted them to be left behind so that they could be easily absorbed and assimilated in the way of life of the newly established settlement centers. In that way, the process of sociocultural integration could be speeded up and the population could become more manageable (read: controllable).
In other words, while the settlement centers were supported, funded and capacitated by the national government, the Moro communities were left to fend for themselves. This is the reason Koronadal and Tacurong progressed, while Buluan remained the same.
We have also seen how the collusion of officials of the national and local governments robbed the Moro grassroots of the opportunity to develop and kept them incapacitated so that they could be easily manipulated to serve political interests. In a 2010 investigative report, Carolyn Arguillas of MindaNews exposed how then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo coddled the powerful Ampatuan family of Maguindanao. Such friendship gained for her a questionable bloc-voting base in the province, which helped her in the 2004 elections and her party mates in the 2007 elections.
At this time, it’s easy to point fingers at and lay blame on the vulnerable. But if we examine the onslaught on Marawi, we can say for certain that far from being complicit in terroristic acts, our Moro brethren are the victims of this terrorism as it has destroyed their very homes and communities.
And this may yet again put the new Bangsamoro draft law at the mercy of a Christian-dominated Congress that could easily discount the proposed legislation as a mere attempt at secessionism by Muslim Mindanao. Fortunately, President Duterte is more inclined to support the rights of the Moro people, knowing that their unfulfilled right to self-governance is one of the many historical injustices that they wish to be rectified.
Marginalization, real or imagined, is the fuel of radicalism. And whether we admit it or not, the Moro people have long suffered from inadvertent neglect by the Manila-based central government. The Marawi terrorists were able to use this perceived marginalization as a weapon to rally the frustrated Moro youth behind their twisted interpretation of Islam.
The situation is much more complicated than it appears. A long-term solution to this crisis requires inclusive policies with strengthened mechanisms for oversight. The show of military might is a band-aid solution. The answer lies in grounded policymaking and effective governance.
Jesse Angelo L. Altez (jesseangelo.altez @msugensan.edu.ph) is an academic and development worker based in Mindanao. React: @AngeloAltez
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