Must we repeat the errors of history? | Inquirer Opinion
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Kris-Crossing Mindanao

Must we repeat the errors of history?

IN 1913, Manila under the American colonial government opened the very heart of what is now being contended as Bangsamoro land. Six agricultural colonies were opened in Cotabato, the first one being Pikit (now part of North Cotabato).

The objective of government to effect a large-scale transfer of settlers from the Visayas and Luzon to Mindanao reflected the myopia that often impairs Manila’s vision of Mindanao. The first objective stated that it wanted to decongest the populated areas of the Visayas and Luzon. But the second objective seemed to have been the real, underlying reason. In the government’s own parlance, by pushing massive migration to Cotabato, it hoped to “amalgamate the Moro and Pagan people” by making them just like the rest of the Christian Filipinos then. And that hence by amalgamation, the “danger of Mindanao separating from the Philippines” shall have been removed, the objective said.

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From 1913 to 1917, the migration program intentionally mixed Moro and non-Moro settlers “in an attempt to show that the two could work and live together peaceably.” It achieved this goal to a certain extent. The coexistence bore fruit by way of cultural intermarriages between Moro and non-Moro. At best, it also proved to some of the extra-Mindanao settlers that not all of their ethnocentric biases against the Moro, then already in place as a result of colonial propaganda, were true.

The migration push did not end with the Americans. Under the Commonwealth government, Manuel Quezon sustained the migrations that yearly averaged more than 400 families. Quezon had already in mind a government program that would be useful to his own political designs. No, it wasn’t the Nobel Peace Prize.

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Assigning his political protégé Manuel Roxas to study the problems that beset the previous resettlement program under the Americans, Quezon wanted a new government agency to handle Mindanao migrations. Upon Roxas’ recommendations, Quezon signed into law the creation of the National Land Settlement Administration (NLSA) in 1939.

Among the NLSA’s four objectives, two are striking for their uncanny resemblance to the objectives of the American-sponsored migrations of 1913. Quezon wanted the “movement of tenant farmers away from provinces where there was agrarian unrest.” The other sounds exactly like the way the predecessor program wanted: “the Filipinization of non-Christian Filipinos and their amalgamation with Christian Filipinos.”

What Quezon did next precisely shows us where Manila, beginning with the American colonial regime, has always failed Mindanao.

Gen. Paulino Santos was appointed head of a delegation that surveyed the target areas of migration. The team saw that the vast Koronadal Valley was “thinly populated.” Exactly how thinly populated it was, the survey did not even bother to count how many exactly were the B’laan indigenous peoples and Moro in the area; and thus, the size of the area that was to be reserved for them was glossed over and never quantified. In fact, the B’laan questioned the status of their land rights, but were merely given oral assurances. There was nothing on paper.

There were other aspects of the program that in fact show us how the political designs of traditional leaders like Quezon entered into the governance picture. Flanking the Koronadal Valley were two mountain ranges. From Manila came the command that the one on the south be named Roxas Range and the one on the northeast be named Quezon Range. It was a clever way of promoting political name recall.

The vaunted Quezon self-indulgence did not end there. Forty-one provinces out of a total of 50 constituted the migrants’ origins. But in the last minute, Tayabas province was inserted surreptitiously. It was not on the original list because the province was deemed an immigration rather than emigration area. To offset the large number of migrants from the Cebuano-speaking provinces of Bohol and Cebu (a combined 426 migrants), large numbers of migrants from the Ilonggo-speaking provinces of Iloilo and Capiz were added (a combined 1,019 migrants).

One clearly understands now the Quezon subterfuge. It was meant to dislodge his vice president, Sergio Osmeña, a Cebuano, from rising politically and instead bolster the political stock of Roxas, Quezon’s protégé from Capiz. These migrants were also future voters. Quezon had his eyes on the next elections. However, man only proposes; it is God who disposes. Quezon died in the United States during the war, and Osmeña became president.

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There are many parallelisms we see in the Quezon posture with the way Manila governs Mindanao today. As it excluded the B’laan and the Moro people from its reservation plans, so too does the Malacañang of today uses exclusion to push for a new autonomous law for Moro Mindanao. The personalities may have changed, but certainly the approach remains as culturally medieval as it was in Quezon’s 1939.

Where Quezon moved for the control of men rather than of land by building his own pool of voters for subsequent electoral exercises, Malacañang may have already ensnared electoral power by appointing a new Commission on Elections commissioner who has blood ties with the leadership of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front. It even has its own pool of dynastic political families running the present-day autonomous region. It is behaving exactly in the same way Quezon and Roxas did in 1939, and the Americans before them, leading to the disenfranchisement today of the greater masses of the Moro and the indigenous peoples at whose hands power must reside under a valid and credible system of self-determination.

For once, cannot Manila’s politicians give Mindanao better than the shabby treatment they have always accorded it as a mere political trophy?

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