The burden of a historical baggage

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 2013perished 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:

The 1898 Treaty of Paris,
The 1906 massacre at Bud Dajo,
The 1970s Christian vigilantes of Ilaga
are but a few that have tried to diminish the will of the Bangsamoro.

Medal of Honor screenshotTerrorism 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.


20 Replies to “The burden of a historical baggage”

  1. Wow, great article: informative and balanced in your approach. It is a refreshing contrast to the rants by the macho arm chair warriors, that I have read in other media outlets. They are all for war, as long as someone else has to fight it.

    1. Thank you foryour kind words. Allow me to repost my previous reply at my wall:

      It’s a lose-lose situation. Damned if we retaliate, damned if we pass the expedited BBL. We have history to prove the repurcussions of both decisions. All we can do is brace ourselves and let God, be God. Maybe that’s the only way to make the Philippines go on her knees in humility.

  2. Another grand masterpiece Ms. Mike Portes.

    However, I find Malaysia’s treatment of children utterly deplorable and disgusting. It’s sad that our government is only willing to do so much for its people. There’s so much more to be done but our government and authority figures are too lazy/greedy to do anything about it.

  3. The Mindanao conflict is about land; much like the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Israeli and Palestinian leaders, sign “peace agreement”…then, they go back fighting each other again.

    We cannot go back to History. Because, we were under America, during that treaty. Much like the American Indians forged treaties, with the White Settlers. Then, they were robbed of their lands. And, treaties were broken. The American Indians , then, were forced to live in Reservations.

    Until, all parties are willing to live with each other. There will be no Peace…I believe that Peace can only be attained through Strength…and Good Leadership. If we have a collaborating and weak President…Peace is not possible.

  4. This article discounts the fact that Mindanao is as much a land of the Lumads and converts to Christianity, as it is of converts to Islam(Moros), and lastly of settlers.

    What of upland tribes and non-Islamicized indigenous people of Mindanao?

    What of the Dulagan, Manobo, B’laan, Banwaon, Teduray, Lambangian, Matidsalug, Subanen, Higaunon, Dibabawon, Mangguwangan, Mansaka, Mandaya, K’lagan, Tagakaolo, T’boli, Mamanuwa, Talaandig, Tagabawa, Ubu, Kuwemanen, Tinenanen, K’lata and Diyangan?

    Where do they fit in? Lumads have already been displaced by this Moro conflict.
    Lumads have lost their ancestral lands both to usurping Moros and to settlers.

    Are their voices negligible because they do not rise up in arms and demand self-rule?

    Why does all of these have to be just about the Moros?

    1. Please re-read my article.
      I think you missed these parahraphs:

      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…

      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 incumbent administration will only result to history repeating itself with its deadly outcome to look out for…

      …What will become of the ancestral lands of the three largest Lumad groups in ARMM- the Lambangian, Tenduray and Dulangan Manobo ?

  5. The Mindanao conflict is about land; much like the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
    I don’t think so. It’s not just about a piece of land because if it was, it would have been solved a long time ago. Remember the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM)?

    It’s about religion. The Muslims don’t want to be a part of a country the name of which is a product of another religion, Catholic.

  6. No, madam. By rebels and terrorist we meant these people who are lifting the safety net for everyone, putting up “territories” where they plot kidnapping for ransom, hide and use their weaponry to bring terror to meet their political and religious goal. We meant Abu Sayyaf, Al-Queda and ISIS and other Moros who would support or partner with these groups for their declared purposes. If the BFF or MILF take arms for the sake of claiming the land that they said is rightfully theirs, I remember during Pres. Cory Aquino’s leadership, amnesty was given to rebels who surrender thing is, yes, promises weren’t met. This Bangsamoro Draft Law then should focus on fair legal ownership and distribution of land amongst these ethnic groups and not bring conflict of interest between Muslims and non-Muslims. It can be managed by one government not necessarily Muslim government since leaders there, like, many of our leaders now have vested interest on lands. No, nobody wants an all out war with those who are fighting for their rights and ideologies except when these ideologies causes harm to innocent people.

  7. ..Always great articles from this writer, and this one now makes me a fan. Readers should appreciate that there must be familiarity, or in depth research behind this one, and that is why it is so informative.

    The more now I can’t buy into two reasons now being forwarded to support BBL: (a) that we should not allow so much work go to waste, and (b) that we could find ourselves back to the dangerous square one if it is junked. Idk about the hard work behind BBL simply because the principal proponent, PNoy, comes across as averse to any kind of work ethics. He is in his position by some glitch in history. And, BBL itself comes across as just a rehash of what Gloria was pushing that SC has already rendered as unconstitutional. Talking of hard work, I believe it was former US Amb Kristie Kenny who went back and forth between Manila and Mindanao so many times and who pressured Gloria for that peace agreement. If Gloria was pressured to get behind something unconstitutional, just imagine how much easy it is to prod a spoiled brat who hates the very being of Gloria and yet hired the same people that Gloria had in working that junked agreement.

    What is bothersome about BBL is that it is advocating a two nation solution to the Mindanao problem, though that may still be shrouded by technicalities and by putting as many words as possible in a document. It also gives us a hint on how ruthless US can be in order to remain a Pacific power. A split Philippines will allow them to have Mindanao if Luzon is too much of a Leftists, or Luzon if Mindanao is too hot to handle, at any future time or situation. No, I am not trashing the US; geopolitics is always a ruthless game, and US has to do what it has to do to be in the game. It is us that should trash our sentimental mentality. We keep ourselves ignorant of geopolitics, and we can’t even start knowing it by still spouting the ancient Marxist line of US imperialism. China and Russia themselves have areas of cooperations with the US and areas where they strongly agree to differ. On the other hand, we don’t know who we are beyond our parochial interest, so we don’t know our geopolitical interests.

    But if we keep voting people like PNoy, that is definitely not playing geopolitics; indeed, it may be geo-disintegration as what BBL is. (My gosh, PNoy knows that his only qualification is that he ran and won. Recall that he said that we should run for that office first before we criticize him. No, Your Excellency in Stupidity, we can’t run for that office because we know we are unqualified, and so are you. We don’t have the courage of a fool as you do, and now that you have the blood in your hands of 50 heroic SAF operatives in the service of your self inflicted naivetè, please live with it. For rightly so now, you can be called a freakin bastard in all its derogatory meaning as you have proven to be a disgrace to your father and mother.) We have people today in power who don’t care at all whether 50, 100, or a thousand SAF die. #NasaanAngPangulo.

    It is no longer possible that our Congress allows the passage of BBL. If our legislators stll love this country, they should see by now that this is not about a love of peace, but a love of a piece of paper of which actual peace may be incidental, or not. In Luneta, a slogan was inaugurated: “kung walang corrupt, walang mahirap”. Supreme Court rendered their decisions on PDAF and DAP, and the decision busted the slogan; it had nothing to do with corruption, it had nothing to do with mahiraps. It had something to do with love of slogans. Look at “It’s more fun in the Philippines”, it is meant to have a double meaning.

    A few weeks after the slogan was pronounced, Chinese were murdered in Luneta. PNoy didn’t show up for more than 24 hours. When he showed up, he never acknowledged that he was in a nearby Chinese restaurant ready to accept accolade if the hostage rescue operation was succesful. It turned out a failed operation and yet his very late response was counter-intuitive to an inquiring public who are generally intuitive. But, a response having been made, how dare the media still asked him about chain of command, accountability and responsibility, when they should be focusing their blame on the crazy who killed the hostages. In the end, we had to suffer the backlash of Hong Kong, and it is probably why China has no respect for the legal proceeding we asked for in an international court with regards to Spratley — why not, …get focused and blame a crazy …must be in their mind. That is geopolitics for you, PHL style.

    A week after PNoy told the local Church that being kalbo is not a mortal sin, in front of Pope Francis who came for Mercy and Compassion, as well as accountability and responsibiity, 50 SAF operatives were massacred in Mamasapano. Again, PNoy didn’t show up for more than 24 hours. When he showed up, not only did he not apologize for a very, very late response, he did not refute he was in nearby Zamboanga on standby ready to accept accolade in the eventuality of a successful arrest operation of an international terrorist. Not only did he not explain why it was a totally disastrous operation, he started lecturing an angry public about mis-encounter, actionable intelligence, chain of command, and other gobblydegook. Fine, if we learned something from the untimely lecture, but again it was repulsive to any normal intution. And yet, because of BBL we cared to listen for all we just waited for is that he condemn the killers of our 50 SAF heroes, or demand in the strongest possible term that MILF show some sincerity. He didn’t do that. And yet, he demands public support for BBL? I want him to do that one on one, face to face, with every grieving widow and with all the orphans of the 50 dead operatives. If he gets a nod from these families then let us push for BBL. If not, then it is time for him to jump into the Manila Bay, and I will be the first to declare him a hero if he does.

    BBL is not related to a simple Luneta hostage crisis, it’s about armed groups that have more than enough held the entire country hostage. If PNoy thinks he can dazzle everyone with his staccato Tagalog that is more meant to be romantically confused than precise which English is, he has succeeded in showing that his shortcomings of presidential proportions are just about home nòw to roost. You can’t out-dazzle MILF, MNLF, BIFF, Abu Sayaf, Islamahiya, or ISIS –Taquiyya is genetically encoded in their genes, and we have to be forewarned that lying to infidels is a virtue to them. Can we not see that when they negotiate peace, they also make us aware that there is a “break-away” group that will not agree to any outcome of negotiation? It is a pattern, it is taqiyya at work, and we ignore it. And PNoy, wittingly or unwittingly, demonstrates that BBL is a product of disparate negotiators. One party is an expert in brinkmanship; the other, in circus ringmanship. One party knows how to negotiate peace by holding a loaded M-16 under the table and 45 cal above the table while talking; the other, by holding his penis under the table so he does not pee in his pants and showing PDAF and DAP above the table while talking. One party has a vision of half of Mindanao already indepependent from Philippines as a starting point; the other a vision of a piece of paper that may or may not result in actual peace. One party is about a cause; the other, about a king-size vanity.

    Am I part of a group they claim is out to sabotage the BBL? I am not, repeat, I am not. BBL has sabotaged itself from the starting line; just watch, though I hope I am proven wrong. We don’t need BBL, as of now, we need LBB – Let’s Be Brave — by being discerning.

  8. I would like to speak in terms of praise due to the many brave officers and soldiers who have fought in the cause of the war.

  9. “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!”

    “we should always go back to h[i]story, we might not be able to rectify what has been done but we can learn lessons from it.”

    I’m starting to read Nur Misuari’s Authorized Biography and I think I’m beginning to understand what you mean by these. Things should’ve not gone this bad if fairness is practiced from the beginning. At present, both sides (The Bangsamoro and Philippine government) have to make up for their unjust/violent actions, sincerely working on reconciliation process and making sure justice is served.

  10. Im a Tagalog born and raised in Manila, now married to a Lumad convert to Christianity(Manobo/Blaan). Been to Mindanao once and I am already planning to retire and live there!
    It pains me to see the existing problem in Mindanao as it has potential and natural resources to develop itsel along with its inhabitants!
    What we need is strong leadership! If Mayor Duterte decides to run for President I’lll be hands down voting for him! He now pushes the agenda of a federalized government for the Philippines to address the different issues of different ethnic groups for self rule!!! To finally abolish Imperial Manila (US puppet)!!!

  11. Yes, war is considered as business. As long as those big sharks make profit out of those struggles in Mindanao, it’s existence will be surely intact.

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