MINDANAO: POVERTY, SOCIAL INJUSTICE AND THE MORO ARMED STRUGGLE

Sunday, August 24, 2008

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.

I wrote this essay in 2003 for a paper in a Social Science subject. I think there are a lot of Filipinos who don't understand the reason why there is and there will always be a conflict in Mindanao. I researched from my university's library archives and found some books which gave rational reasons why. This essay borrowed some facts and ideas from the authors of the books I have read, but unfortunately, could not find their names and books now.

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"

19 comment(s):

Pastilan said...

I think the problem lies in "their" culture. The government should not take all the blame (although they are partly to blame). Have you been to Cotabato? If you travel from Gensan to Cotabato by land you will see how bad the situation is in that area. The smell of corruption hangs heavy in the air. I know that even if the government funnels all the nation's money to that area, that area will still rot in poverty because the people there have a very different world view. I don't want to talk too much because I might hurt some people but sometimes we need to see things the way they are. What I mean is talking to this people will take us nowhere because the are never sincere.

Pastilan said...

sorry i have strong opinions he he he

chubskulit said...

Pastilan is right, it does lie on the culture. I think most of the Mindanao residents are brainwashed that they should fight the government putting away the concern on how to alleviate poverty. Bicol Region had insurgencies before but the people tried very hard to just concentrate on how to improve their way of living.

ROSILIE said...

I must agree with you sis. Our country requires sustaining solutions to the real issues. Bandits or not, react simply because they feel one way or another, some forms of injustice, may it be economically or socially. Our country is quite diverse in terms of culture, thus, the govt must not only consider the needs of the majority but also give equal weight and attention the minorities. This country is only for the elite, which cuts only a minimal % compared to the greater population. No wonder, rebels rather take the actions the hard way to move this govt, if they are ever moved. Kalungkot, but we need miracles.

pchi said...

@pastilan

i agree with you...both parties were never sincere

and corruption has deep roots even in the smallest level of government

i have been to cotabato area and i think maybe they got used to their situation and lose hope

i don't agree that we need to support them with money because that will entice small time politicians to be greedy,i think it's better to give them right education, livelihood and medical services

pchi said...

@pastilan

it's OK I'm open to opinions and perspectives of other people

pchi said...

@chubskulit (ate rose)

that might be right are rose

we never know because we don't know them that well

but I think we can't judge them because we don't know too what they are going through

the input is greatly appreciated

pchi said...

@rosilie

thank you for agreeing with my position ate rosilie

but I think the national government is so hard pressed with a lot of problems the Philippines is experiencing

i think it should be the local government who should exhaust all the means to help alleviate people's plight and not be greedy and take the funding that's supposed to be for the people... minority or not

what if, we were the minorities, how would that feel if we are constantly ignored?

Virginia said...

Yeah:) Mindanao has been blessed!

Some monopoly investors ruin the fertility of the soil. Like for example the banana plantation and pineapple plantation. Also the fertilizer can cause a lot of infertility of the land.

Government system is good but concern person handling the position is not sharp. I myself, I was hurt when the higher educator told me to go back 10:00 o'clock in the morning which means you need to give $$$ if you are going to apply teacher and you are ordinary person no money! you tend to get frustrated.Some workers in the government also doing their part as a servant. Attitude of the job and attitude of the self.

However, problems arises nowadays because of poverty,social injustice and more...

In my own perception, the best thing we can do about it is prayer. Only God can change the face of the earth.People can't change the world, because the world has a lot of complications! The only way of changing the world is to raise a new generation that would takes place the new world.

According to the bible says at revelations: Its happening now the fires, civil war, famine , killing and so forth and so on.

Now, my question is: How much is the rice and commodities nowadays? Basic! WE can't blame anybody but we have to ask ourselves. Where is God in our hearts? What I am living for? How to love our brothers and sisters? How many child do we have? WE need to have vision of what lies ahead of us. Not just cloudy vision but clear as mad!

Thus it hurts!Poor becoming poorer and rich will become richer. But in heaven, nobody is poor and rich. I believe no one would be poor if we are not involve with these kinds of vices and corruption with in ourselves.

Verb is an action word. Therefore, Is there any ways we can change the world? Yes we can change our heart right now. We can acknowledge our fault and failure. Learn to love yourself before loving other.

iceah said...

thinking and analyzing things and not doing something about it doesn't solve a problem. marami tayong complaints about things and marami tayong alam tungkol doon pero may ginagawa ba tayo to help things be right. A call to prayer and peaceful talk plus a sincere heart to make a change is what we all need, LAHAT tayo Government, people involve and us Filipinos.Unity kung baga, pero kung puro tayo sisi, point fingers,ako tama, walang mangyayari talaga. Tama c Rosilie we need a miracle and yes nothing is impossible with God we all need to kneel down and pray dahil on our own we can do nothing. Joint efforts ito c:

pchi said...

@virginia

thank you so much for your opinion virginia

there is so much attitude problem in the Philippines and you have pointed it out well enough

first there's corruption and then there's the work behavior

pero tama ka may mga taong matino din naman, taong may integridad at paninindigan, mga taong may takot sa Diyos

i agree with you, prayer is the only one and mighty weapon we can use to fight this problem

but as it's also said, faith without deed is dead

when we pray, we also need to do our part for "healing our land"

pchi said...

@iceah

thanks for your comments
you are right, there's nothing good achieved when we point fingers and don't do anything about it

i just shared my point of view in defense of the Moros because I think there are a lot of people who want "all out war" and it's not a solution

violence never creates peace and your point is right, we have to make a joint stand and commitment to help our own people and not kill them... so there will be healing... praying is a good starting point because only God can change the hearts of men... no matter how stubborn or hard they maybe...

let us commit to help bring peace among our people, let us bring peace to Mindanao

let's pray for peace and healing of our land

God

Nyl said...

awareness and concern haven't been put into practice because of the powerful and rich's selfish desires to own everything their eyes can see. say" man is the most unsatiable being on earth" and i guess its all true.

Pastilan said...

I guess this problem would end if all the Muslims in Mindanao stop believing that they are not Filipinos and all Christians stop seeing Muslims as Muslims.

pchi said...

@nyl

i somehow agree with you... man seems never to be content

we might start the awareness so that people might start having concern for the not so privileged ones

sometimes, i think it's a blessing that we weren't rich

i think there is such a big accountability and responsibility for that, there's someone who'll put to account how we handled and lived our life anyway

pchi said...

@pastilan, I agree with you

there shouldn't be prejudice, we should think each other as equals

same blood, we share the same land, same air, same atmosphere anyway

Who doesn't want peace? I don't understand the ji-had concept well yet, could anybody explain it to me?

Pastilan said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Pastilan said...

The meaning of jihad will depend upon who explains it. Words are malleable, it is easy to hammer them into the shape that would fit our fancy.

If we read Jihad's definition in Wikipedia we will see that it is easy for some people to abuse its meaning to further their own selfish ends.

pchi said...

@pastilan

I think you said that well

we define something according to our biases

I think i need to widen my horizon more

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