Peace and conflict stories from the margins
Datu Piang, Maguindanao. Founded in 1936, as the town of Dulawan, Datu Piang is a second-class municipality and one of the oldest towns in Maguindanao province. Several decades ago, I did a full-length immersion into the culture of the Magindanawn, or people of the flooded plains, as the name means in their language in the Poblacion of Datu Piang.
The town’s original name, Dulawan was actually “Dalawan” (literally, something beyond compare). According to an elderly key informant I had the privilege of knowing during fieldwork, it was named such because of its favorable location, fertilized by the annual floods from the two rivers that traverse it during the monsoon season. In those days, before climate change totally wreaked havoc in the world’s seasonal patterns, the yearly flood was considered a blessing of sorts, as it fertilized the soil that allowed the town’s farmers to grow a variety of agricultural crops.
One version of the origin story was attributed to some individuals who rose to prominence, not only in the province, but also in the whole of Mindanao. This made the place “outstanding,” or as the Magindanawn called it then, “Da Lawanin” or “peerless.” One of them was Datu Piang, or Piang Tan, (1846-1933), a Magindanawn of Chinese descent, having been born to a Chinese father (from Amoy, China) and a Magindanawn mother (Tiko). His Magindanawn nickname was Amai Mingka. He rose to prominence after he collaborated with the Americans and became quite influential and wealthy, and later founded the “Royal House of Piang.” He was also referred to as the Grand Old Man of Cotabato.
On June 12, 1954, the town of Dulawan was renamed to Datu Piang through Republic Act No. 1035.
The town has experienced various episodes of violence, largely through vertical conflict between rebel groups and the military. My sisters-in-law, now all deceased, used to tell me harrowing stories of having to dodge bullets being exchanged between the rebels and soldiers. Martial law was the worst, they said, in terms of the frequency of evacuation and in losing their livestock and agricultural crops every time a violent skirmish happened.
One key landmark in Datu Piang poblacion is Notre Dame of Dulawan (NDD), founded by the Maryknoll Sisters in 1954. One of its legendary administrators was Sr. Patricia Marie Callan, MM, an Irish-American nun who devoted practically her whole lifetime teaching Magindanawn students there. To many Magindanawn, most of whom have become prominent government officials, Sister Patricia served as a role model on how to be tolerant and nonjudgmental, and to be welcoming of people of different faiths. This became the hallmark of NDD—a school that operationalized inter-faith dialogue, even at a time when it was not popular yet.
June 14, 1976, was an unforgettable day for many NDD students then. Two grenades were lobbed at two rooms of the school, killing seven students and injuring 34 others.
The firefight in the evening of Dec. 3 brought back painful memories of the town’s past violent episodes. But this time, it was not the Moro National Liberation Front forces fighting against Philippine soldiers. It was a group of armed men, among them teenage boys (according to one news report), brandishing long firearms and setting fire to a police patrol car parked near the NDD. The attackers belonged to one faction of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF).
Contrary to earlier social media posts, the NDD was not attacked, and St. Teresita Parish Church in the Poblacion was not burned. No one died or got injured during the firefight between the BIFF (Karialan faction) and local security forces. Some people posted on social media scary scenarios before they verified the details of the unfolding violence in the town.
Whatever the motive of last Thursday’s attack was, it challenges Datu Piang’s reputation of being a center of
Muslim-Christian dialogue, the way of life for many of its constituents for more than half a century now.
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