November 23, 2009 was the day 58 lives were massacred in Maguindanao when an election convoy came under attack by uniformed men allegedly under the payroll of a powerful Ampatuan political clan. Eight years later, carnage once again stained the history of Maguindanao as more than 40 elite policemen of the Special Action Force (SAF) were decimated while serving the arrest of Jemaah Islamiyah leader Zulkifli bin Hir also known as Malaysian bomb maker Marwan.
Emotions are again high. Social and mainstream media are abuzz with relevance and noise but there was none of the same felt or heard from Malacanang from Day 1. After days of silence and sugarcoating, President BS Aquino III finally gave a speech. As it was anemic in substance and sympathy, it was also absent of the usual blaming. He made the effort to appease the grieving nation, as he declared January 30, 2015, a National Day of Mourning for the fallen heroes of the Maguindanao clash but the nation saw no sincerity on the day before that, while the bodies of the slained were welcomed at the Villamor Airbase by the bereaved families as well as many Filipinos who united in tears and grief, the photo and news of the Philippine President at a car plant inauguration went viral online. Words in Caps lock populated Facebook and Twitter in expression of disappointment and disdain.
The elite team of the Philippine National Police, who survived and were made heroes of the Zamboanga siege of 2013, perished due to what government officials dismissed as a “mis-ecounter”. Their blood now imbrue the land in the south of the Philippines, where over 60,000 deaths and over Php 76 billion of taxpayers’ money has been spent fighting the war in Mindanao since 1970 .
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In these times, it is easy to hate and to succumb to our emotions than understand the lessons of history. To this, I want to make the willing understand, chapter 8 of my book aims to serve that purpose.
A question, so simple yet so complicated, was posed:
“Mama, why do I have to kill fellow Filipinos to finish my mission?” asked my first born while he was at play with his “Medal of Honor” Xbox game.
I can only wish that the answer to such a question is simple and the means to end a game mission, far from reality. Unfortunately, it is not.
As shocked as my son was, to realize that one of his “Medal of Honor” missions was to be in Basilan, Zamboanga to kill his “kababayans” in a counterterrorism mission, it afforded an opportunity to enlighten and address a legitimate concern especially that the country was still reeling from the painful aftermath of the 2013 clash in Zamboanga between the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) and the Philippine Military.
To gauge his understanding, I threw him back the question of his mission’s bottom line, and to him, it was simply an effort to win over the bad (terrorists) and uphold the good by stomping the violent forces into submission.
Again, I can only wish that it could be as uncomplicated as my innocent son’s perception. Unfortunately, what many innocents, along with the ignorant and apathetic, do not realize is that the protracted turbulence in the South is the result of our country’s historical baggage:
Terrorism and insurgency have long been unaddressed, for there has only been superficiality yet no POLITICAL WILL to properly address the legal issues of the indigenous and immigrant populations which both lay claim over ancestral domains.
The government has dithered from one side’s incompatible demand against the other, while both are resisting integration, the Abu Sayyaf and self-serving political dynasties vulture on the weakness of the demography and the collateral damage of an unlearned history. Where does that leave the populace and our military front liners?
The writings on the wall had been telling, if the 2013 Zamboanga siege did not make that clear, maybe this 2009 news can:
“Some of the wounded soldiers said what puzzled them was that the Abu Sayyaf seemed to have known in advance the government troops’ movements, including the 8 a.m. arrival of reinforcements from the 67th Marine Raider Company.”
With that, I invoke the words of the late best selling author, Tom Clancy:
“Remember, for every shot you fire, someone, somewhere, is making money.”
“Combat taught a man what to fear – and what to ignore.”
Oh the pain! for Filipinos have learned none from the lessons of our country’s historical baggages as we chose to ignore and forget the rich history of our Muslim people.
Imperial Manila has long neglected the problem of the South since colonial times and have contributed to the abuse of the ancestral lands that our Muslim brothers and sisters hold sacred. The crux of the issue detailed in “Bangsamoro, a Nation under Endless Tyranny” by Salah Jubair:
After the signing of the Bates-Kiram Treaty on August 20, 1899, the US colonial government applied the Land Registration Act (Act 496) in Mindanao. It required the registration in writing of all lands occupied by any person, group or corporation. Some of which are
1. Public Act 718 (April 4, 1903), declaring as null and void all the lands granted by Moro sultans and datus or non-Christian chiefs without state authority. This law effectively dispossessed the Moros of their ancestral landholdings.
2. Public Act 926 (Oct. 7, 1903) declaring all lands registered under Act 496 as public lands, making them available for homestead, sale or lease by individuals or corporations.
3. Mining Act of 1905, declaring all public lands free and open for exploration, occupation and purchase even by US citizens.
4. Cadastral Act of 1907, which facilitated land acquisition by “educated natives”, money bureaucrats and American speculators.”
Under the Commonwealth, more inequitable laws were passed:
1. Act 4197 (Feb. 12, 1935), which declared land settlement as “the only lasting solution” to the problem of Mindanao and Sulu. It “opened the floodgates to the massive influx of settlers into Mindanao,” who took over the choicest parcels of land, especially along the highways, and began cultivation even before the areas were subdivided.
2. Act 141 (Nov. 7, 1936) which declared all Moro ancestral landholdings as public lands. Each Moro was allowed to apply for no more than four hectares whereas a Christian could own 24 hectares and a corporation, 1024 hectares. That led to foreign firms hogging thousands of hectares as pineapple, banana and other crop plantations.
3. Act 441 (June 1939), creating the National Land Settlement Administration; it gave priority for land settlement to those who had completed military training (in preparation for the Japanese invasion).
Many of the Philippines’ indigenous tribes- the Tausugs and Badjaos of the Bangsamoro as well as the Lumads of Cotabato- have all been displaced because of the battle over ancestral lands in the disputed Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao(ARMM). It is too painful to realize how much blood has been shed by our indigenous people while many name call them as terrorists. While there are some who have compromised their principles, there are more who have become collateral damage and have remained as nothing but collateral damage for almost a century. The ghosts that Imperial Manila created during the Colonial times continue to haunt and calls more to the grave. The Sultan signatory of the 1899 Kiram-Bates Treaty must be stirring in his grave to realize that in his effort to forge peace, the ancestral lands of the Bangsamoro had been taken from his people by an opportunist Malaysian government and by Imperial Manila through laws that are left ignored and laws that legalized land grabbing!
As much as I want peace for the sake of our tribal refugees (bakwits), rushing the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) for the purpose of vanity, masked as a legacy for the BS Aquino administration will only result to history repeating itself with its deadly outcome to look out for. The following facts are parallel to a past : the agreement was initiated by a foreigner, in this case, Malaysia. The only interests upheld are that of the parties involved- a fast-tracked peace legacy for Imperial Manila, Sabah for Malaysia and Power for the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.
What about the claim over Sabah?
What will become of the ancestral lands of the three largest Lumad groups in ARMM- the Lambangian, Tenduray and Dulangan Manobo ?
And let us not discount the absence of the Kirams and the divided stand of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) over the BBL.
I doubt if there will ever be sustainable peace in the region as long as there are willing victims and overeager players in the WAR ECONOMY.
Bullet=Business and as long as that remains true, then it’s just a cycle at the expense of our people. When will true peace be given a chance?
In 2013, I lamented over the Halaws of Sabah, they are the children living in a land that doesn’t know them and a country that doesn’t recognize them as their own.
For the sake of this child and many others like him, the stakeholders should reach a compromise agreement to serve all vested interest.
Unfortunately, much like the casualties of the first Maguindanao massacre and the many other lives wasted in the wars in Mindanao, the much trending #fallenheroes hashtag will be thrown to oblivion like the many Badjaos we see begging in cities of Manila.
The heroes, nothing as statistics, an addition to the number of the KIAs, beheaded and ambushed. The children and the bakwits, expendable ‘collateral damage’ to serve an end.
As the world’s gold reserves diminish and carbon fuel depletes, big players continue to oil the war economy and lives are relegated as nothing but opportunity cost. The Filipino’s ubiquitous short-term memory perfectly serves the purpose at our nation’s detriment as a few bask in the taxpayer’s billions, while millions of our people are defenseless, hungry and uneducated.
Come February, the Philippines will again celebrate the “freedom” born of the Edsa People Power, yet the oldest of issues and the nagging deaths in Maguindanao remind the country that such freedom is nothing but skin deep.
As I wrote in a 2014 article:
“What is the use of independence, if the slaves of today will be tyrants of tomorrow.”(Rizal)
We were not ready for independence then because we know not anything of who we are. Our pride is based on arrogance and not on merit. Our identity based on the dictates of the powerful, not owned and never understood.
Thus, we hunger for POWER WITH OUT MERIT.
We see it in our government, we feel its debility in our system, we breathe it like air and pass it off as normal. Like drugged prostitutes we go by, we exist but we know not anything about living.
We are here but we are not.
Mike is the author of “Minsan may Isang Puta”, an allegory which has been circulating since 2004 and with over 50,000 likes and shares in social media alone. It won a film grant in 2010 to be included in the multi-narrative Indie film “Ganap na Babae” (International title: Garden of Eve). The teaser, reviews and commentaries are here. The movie was honored as Cinemalaya 2010’s opening film and has won international and local recognition.
The royalties from the initial 150 copies of Mike’s first sole-authored book, The Dove Files, went to a Project Malasakit scholar who graduated Cum Laude in April 2013, the rest was also paid forward to baby Mark who underwent a liver transplant in March 2013.
Part of the royalties of the “Minsan may Isang Puta” book at Barnes and Noble Online goes to support the education of a young Yolanda survivor taking up B.S. Accounting at U.P. Tacloban.