Where do we go from here?
COTABATO CITY—Four months in power and President Duterte is enjoying a 96-percent trust rating in Mindanao, according to the Pulse Asia survey results released last Oct. 11. It came as no surprise, the President being from Mindanao himself. For the first time, a Mindanaoan is occupying the highest seat in the land, and he has named fellow Mindanaoans to key positions in the national government. Despite his controversial rhetoric and his infamous war on drugs, the President is seen as someone capable of putting an end to the conflict in Mindanao, someone who genuinely understands the dynamics and volatility on the island, and, thus, capable of instituting long-term solutions for everyone.
In a report, the Transitional Justice and Reconciliation Commission identifies one way for durable peace to work in Mindanao: institutionalizing a mechanism that would address the issue of land. The indigenous peoples in Mindanao have been displaced from the lands they once owned through many state policies beginning with the introduction of the Torrens land titling system during the colonial period and followed by various migration policies that brought the Christianized indigenous peoples of Luzon and the Visayas to the Lupang Pangako (Promised Land). The implementation of these policies led to the physical, social and political relegation of the indigenous inhabitants of Mindanao to the peripheries.
It cannot be overstated that any ethnic group’s state of being indigenous is tied to its land. For example, the meaning of the term “Maguindanaoan” is “people of the flooded plains,” or those people who live on the swampy, flood-prone land that is the province of Maguindanao. In the same vein, “Tausug” means “people of the currents” or the sea (Sulu’s local name is “Sug”). Hence, the characteristics of a physical space is crucial to the shaping of the ethnic identity of the people living in this space. That’s why these ancestral lands are very important to indigenous communities; their identity is rooted therein.
The government policies that brought the northerners to the south had a two-pronged intent: to homogenize the inhabitants of Mindanao and to develop their rich lands. The government failed in the former, but succeeded in the latter. The majority of the Christianized indigenous peoples of Luzon and the Visayas who migrated to Mindanao successfully developed the lands granted them by the government. And this is one of the reasons behind the strong resentment to the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law among this segment of the population. If the BBL were passed, what would happen to them who now consider themselves Mindanaoans? And it is important to emphasize that these people were “duped” by the state to migrate to Mindanao by giving them titles and promising them land in the process.
But what about the rights of the Bangsamoro (Islamic) and the Lumad (non-Islamic) of Mindanao to their ancestral lands? How should these be addressed vis-à-vis the rights of the people who developed the same lands? These three segments of the population—the Bangsamoro, the Lumad, and the Christian migrants—make up contemporary Mindanao. They are all victims of government policies. And their destinies are interlocked with the lands they occupy.
While the Mindanaoans’ trust in and support of the Duterte administration are solid, many of them are marginalized by state policies that have led to violent conflicts, legitimate grievances, historical injustices, human rights violations, and land dispossession.
What do we do next? How do we move forward? Four months into the new administration and we still hear nothing. We vigilantly observe. And we ask: Where do we go from here?
Jesse Angelo L. Altez is a Mindanao-based academic and development worker engaged in the work of the Transitional Justice and Reconciliation Commission, the research arm formed under the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro.
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