Mindanao has been blessed with an abundant natural resource of soil system that is incredibly one of the most productive in the world. All year round, Mindanao’s position outside the typhoon belt and its fertile lands make it an ideal place for agriculture. Copra, for instance is the number one agricultural product for which Mindanao takes profit. Its seas are also rich in fishes, gems like pearls, and its beaches and other natural sites are attractive enough to capture and make money out of local and international tourists. The lands of this second largest island in the country also boost prosperous supply of mineral resources like rubber, gold, silver and copper. Add to that, the rich heritage of cultural diversity.
But why does Mindanao, despite its vast natural resources suffer the ill fate of poverty? In fact, 15 provinces in Mindanao top the lists of poorest provinces in the Philippines and simultaneously, reported the lowest literacy rate, which is 75 percent, and lowest life expectancy of 57 years.1
Indeed, one of the most prevalent problems in Mindanao is poverty; which I believe is social, economic and political in nature. Poverty is manifested; as there is also an increase of squatters in public lands, so much hunger in rural and even urban areas, illiteracy, widespread of diseases; or simply the shortage of basic needs of human beings: food, shelter, medicine, clothes, etc. Poverty is the main reason why sprouts of other problems develop. And poverty boils down to one social problem – injustice.
The poverty-stricken situation of most localities in Mindanao is unjust. For, what Aristotle means with justice is the observance of the golden mean or simply implies that everything be in moderation to uphold justice. A few people live in mansions and enjoy the luxuries of living extravagantly say in Insular Village, while most of the vast majority of people suffer in shanties and are barely able to afford three square meals a day for the whole family. Moreover, no matter how hard the poor try to improve their lot, generally their position gets worse and worse, in comparison to the relatively few who become richer in wealth without even extending much effort. Few landlords own big and productive farms while the vast majority finds it impossible to acquire a lot barely enough to build their home.
This makes me believe in a Marxist perspective of social classes; namely the working class or also known a proletariat and, the bourgeoisie. The capitalist society aggravates the unjust circumstance of Mindanao people because large masses of workingmen toil in labor for subsistence and for their very acute needs in contrast with the few business investors who accumulated excessive riches. The working people are the base wherewith the superstructure of capitalists stands. This again is unjust since; these people on the bottom of the social structure sell their labor because they do not own the production for wages at the starvation level, not enough even to supply the necessities of life. What worsens the situation is the fact that in order to find employment, they maybe forced to work even with the dangers to their health, moral integrity and religious faith, like prostitution. More specifically, the social problem involves the exploitation of the multitude of workingmen with the oppressive practices of their employers by acquiring the concentration of wealth that should have been equally divided according to each one’s labor in a just society. [EDIT - I am not a communist. This was a point I need to raise for my paper]
Poverty is also the underlying issue of the secessionist movements and underground communism (both uses the tools of armed struggle and political violence) confronting Mindanao for decades now. Although the island clearly has potential for substantial and accelerated economic growth, however the quality of life of the people of Mindanao has historically been well below national levels. Some of the worst-off areas, in central and western Mindanao, have 19 percent of the region’s population, and is largely Muslim dominated. The lands of Mindanao have been ill managed by the government (after the Americans, through a series of unjust and inhuman legislations, declared the whole island public property, and, as such, all land-holdings of the Moros were confiscated and subsequently expropriated by the Christian settlers from Luzon).
The government simply grabbed the lands of the Moros and gave the same to its “own people” – the Christian Filipino settlers from the north despite the Lumads and Moros’ resistance to the self-proclaimed sovereign power of the American imposed state. I think the Moros for example, want to assert that they are deprived of their rights of life, liberty and property because the Christian population is overruling their number throughout the years and settling in the lands they used to own. In the first place, they did not submit to the colonizing powers of both Spain and America. What grieves them the more, is that the existing governments also poses a threat to Moros ethic identity by not assuring to safeguard the sovereignty of the “Muslims” as citizens of the country instead take part in the ethnocentric neglect of the contributions of the Moros in the society at large.
Under current economic and political order in Mindanao, the social insecurity and injustice has been too much for the Moros to bear. The prevailing social structure clearly does not attend to their need that is why they are pushing an independent state at the process of predisposition of violence. The armed struggle is only a means to show that the government and its leaders failed to address its proper function towards the hopeless condition of Mindanao. Unemployment besieges the greater part of Jolo for instance, thus also increases the likelihood of illiteracy and poor lives because they solely depend on seaweed and fishes for nourishment. And for some Moros, like the fundamentalist MILF and MNLF believe that separation of Mindanao from the State is the only way to solve this crisis. In the process, they resort to the ideological patterns of violence to resist and oppose the existing government in a desire to outburst their sentiments of wanting to separate into an independent state.
However, in efforts to control the various pursuits of separatist movements, religious extremist movements and underground communists, the Republic of the Philippines through its leaders especially the ousted Estrada and Macapagal-Arroyo uphold Machiavellian means to solve the problem. They tried to shape mutually acceptable solutions but after failed peace talks and negotiations; resorted to waging war against them – this ought to be an effort to solve the problem, that is regardless of the lives lost as long as the “ends justifies the means.” As the insurgencies and conflicts roused, Manila has used 60 percent of the armed forces or about 70,000 soldiers in Mindanao to fight not only the MILF, but also the Abu Sayyaf, the Communist New Peoples’ Army, and numerous groups of bandits. 2
But the military approach did not resolve the problem and cannot bring about a just, genuine and lasting peace there; simply because the real roots of the problem needs a comprehensive understanding of the main components of the emergence of the struggle namely issue, relation and power. The roots of Mindanao conflicts had been long complicated and deep that it cannot be solved without first healing the wounds of social injustices and addressing the bigger issues of poverty, ethnic/racial discrimination, and social inequalities as a whole. In approaching a problem, says Mao Tse Tung, a Marxist should see the whole as well as the parts. And even if the all-out-war imposed on Moros by Estrada and Macapagal succeeded, it wouldn’t be justified just yet, because it only aggravated what should have been the greater concerns to be addressed by the government; the fighting caused many houses and other buildings to be destroyed or burned; many families were forced to abandon their homes and live in evacuation centers (that the government did not even supply with enough food); and what could be more worse than knowing that many nursing mothers had let their infants die of malnutrition and sicknesses but could not even bury their dead because they do not have enough money?
Aren’t these supposed to be human rights violation of life, liberty and property that should be guarded by the state according to John Locke? Moreover, the offensive attacks of the military did not help in the trade and tourism of Mindanao either; developing agencies and foreign aids postponed their projects because of the rocketing hostilities of war; most especially disrupted the planting in key agricultural areas, affecting the source of income of many.
What Mindanao needs, I think is the sincere efforts of the government through its leaders to a kind of service that Saint Thomas Aquinas proposed. There must be political changes; it must develop officials who can really govern the nation and bring it to prosperity. This requires them to be logically wise just like the philosopher-king of Plato so that they can make sound and efficient economic policies. The government needs to implement aggressive, broad-ranging activities in Mindanao that aims to improve business climate and make economic growth more equitable, reintegrate former combatants into the economy, and strengthen local government units.
There must be an aggressive effort for a true development in Mindanao, socially, economically and politically. Lastly, the government should be sincere in its efforts to push through a just society that as Jean-Jacques Rousseau accounts makes laws for the greater good and welfare of the citizenry. The government should firstly alleviate poverty, eradicating the deep problem that is social injustice and then the armed struggle will be won without blood.
It does not mean to say that I am in favor for the Moro and their cause, it's just that I am giving you a bit of their side. There is so much misunderstanding in the world because we rarely cared enough to hear the other party's perspective.
I also shared some bits of my opinions on how we can resolve this conflict. The rule applies: "You have to understand the problem first before you can solve it"