Thursday, August 07, 2008

Release the MOA

First, some news. HB No. 4256, which seeks to reapportion Iloilo City into two legislative districts, has finally been approved on third and final reading at the House of Representatives. The ball is now in the Senate court (read more here and here). Antique Congressman Exequiel Javier has filed HB No. 4766 creating a Presidential Commission on Panay Rehabilitation which will oversee the disbursement of a P10-billion fund for the reconstruction of areas severely hit by Typhoon Frank. Over in Capiz, journalists are being killed (read here) and local residents are fighting over diwal (here) and their favorite son, Senator Mar Roxas, now has a blog (see here) and a Facebook account (here). Opening ceremonies of the Olympics are scheduled today, August 8, 2008, at precisely 8:08 pm. But while the whole world is focused on the games, our nation's attention is distracted by the current controversy involving the MILF and the proposed Bangsamoro Juridical Entity. News reports say Christians in North Cotabato (which are mostly ethnic Ilonggos) are starting to arm themselves and girding for war following GRP negotiator Esperon's alleged pronouncement that the Philippine Army will not defend them if their communities are attacked by the MILF.

I visited the provinces of North and South Cotabato and Sultan Kudarat in the mid-1990s. I went there fully expecting the area to be populated by Muslims but to my surprise, majority of the locals were Ilonggo-speaking. I distinctly remember going to the Muslim-sounding municipality of Surallah (in South Cotabato) and I was surprised to find out that their mayor was an Ilonggo. I was told that most elected officials in the province were Ilonggo. Touring around the public market of Midsayap in North Cotabato or Tacurong in Sultan Kudarat, one would almost think he was in Passi, Iloilo because the ambient noise is mostly Ilonggo. An Ilonggo would feel rightly at home there.

That 3-day visit made a lasting impression and I learned several lessons such as - don't believe everything you read in the papers. Up until that trip, I always thought that Cotabato was a land of perpetual strife and warfare where people lived in constant fear. But the images I saw was far from what I had been reading in the newspapers. Midsayap was a bustling town and General Santos City (Dadiangas to old timers) was then booming with its tuna, pineapple and canning industry. Sure there was widespread poverty, but that much can be said for most provinces in the country. I also recall that there was a beautiful (and rather ingenious) golf course in Polomolok, South Cotabato inside the Dole-Philippines compound. The provincial road cutting across the two provinces was new and well-paved and I could say better than most provincial roads in the country while the General Santos airport looked very modern, all funded I was told by USAID.

People from Panay started migrating to Mindanao as early as the Commonwealth era and today they dominate business and politics in that island. I've met many Ilonggo settlers who have "made" it in Mindanao. I personally know one who owned a hotel in General Santos, another owned the entire telephone system servicing the area and several others who ran the rural banks in their area. The “man of the hour,” Vice Governor Manny Piñol (another ethnic Ilonggo) did not rise to his position because his father was a prominent politician but rather a “self-made politician” who is now just starting to carve his own dynasty in North Cotabato (a brother is now a congressman and another a mayor). All their success stories have a common vein: 1.) they would not have prospered if they stayed in Panay and 2.) they all worked hard for their wealth. They are fiercely proud of their Ilonggo heritage and most of them still make it a point to visit relatives in Panay so as to maintain their links to the “motherland” (and probably to also show off their wealth too). Unlike in the more established provinces in the Philippines, the provincial elite in Mindanao did not inherit their wealth (save maybe for a few families who have been there since the Commonwealth era) but had to literally carve the land out of the wilderness. This might partly explain why the Christians in Mindanao, personified by Vice Governor Piñol, reacted so emotionally to the idea of the Bangsamoro Juridicial Entity. They worked hard for what they have now and they are afraid (mistakenly perhaps?) that this BJE might weaken their hold on power or diminish their wealth.

While the concept of separation of Church and state has long been established in our country, this concept is alien to Islam. I have not read the official copy of the MOA but news reports say that the GRP-MILF agreement seeks to establish a Moslem state within Philippine territory. This could truly prove problematic and as some Constitutionalists argue might necessitate amending the Constitution. Its implementation might become even more complicated because the areas contemplated to be under the BJE are not contiguous and are scattered among several provinces. I really don’t see Filipinos, even Muslim Filipinos, allowing a Caliphate to be established in Mindanao. To defuse the tension, I think Secretary Esperon et. al. should just release the MOA so that the public will know what it is really all about.

1 comment:

BrianB said...

I actually want to buy an armalite and go there right now. I feel that way for some reason. The Muslims don't own that part of Mindanao; the non-Muslim natives do and the Ilonggos, I've heard, paid for the land they now occupy. I have a relative who had to adopt indigenous princes (not sure what ethnicity they were) for the land. I don't know if what she did was unethical (she had to give up the land to CARP eventually) but the point is, the Ilonggos went by the book.