by Said Sadain, Jr.
In the UNESCO initiative to collect and present letters to future generations,
Kofi Annan, Secretary General of the United Nations, wrote about the wars and violence
around the world, specifically addressing the generation of the year 2050 on the need for
a culture of peace:
first and fundamental principle of such a culture must be tolerance. This means welcoming
and celebrating the differences that make our planet such a varied and richly textured
place. However, even as we cherish our diversity, we must recognize the common ground upon
which we stand. A culture of peace must not displace other cultures. But it can express
what all cultures hold in common
between traditions, characterized by mutual respect and openness, is essential to this
Our shared understandings will form the sturdy framework for peaceful
interaction in the future
means much more than the absence of war. Human security can no longer be understood in
purely military terms. Rather, it must encompass economic development, social justice,
environmental protection, democratization, disarmament, and respect for human rights and
the rule of law. "
With so many conflicts, major and minor,
going on around the globe at this very moment, Kofi Annan might as well be addressing his
letter to the current generation.
Annan has laid down here several important
principles which, if fully grasped, can lead to the resolutions of many conflicts. That of
tolerance is obvious, a principle that must in fact be immediately applied if a conflict
is to be restrained from lurching into bigger crises. Tolerance however is at best a
palliative by itself, a paracetamol to bring down the high fever. It does not quite
correct the injustices that spawned these conflicts or the pain and suffering that may
have been inflicted.
The other principle of dialogue provides a
means by which tolerance can be articulated and developed. With it comes deeper
implications that such a dialogue can only be meaningful if done between two respecting
parties, treating each other as equals and willing to correct the inequities so that
justice and the rule of law may reign.
And what are the inequities that need to
Displacement of Culture
It is, as Annan points out, the displacement of
cultures. Rectifying this is not just a social imperative. It too is very much a physical
and scientific imperative. Any solution to a conflict will have to address this issue
realistically if it ever hopes to be rational, honorable and successful. The law of
displacement is that of the road, to be understood and observed by all, without which
entities will keep on colliding into each other with disastrous consequences, without
which a journey cannot be expected to successfully reach its destination.
Which brings me to the conflict that
besets Mindanao, that piece of southern archipelago in an area better known as the
Philippine Islands in South East Asia. Some people would call it a Muslim-Christian
strife; some would arrogate to it the distinction of being a Moro problem (and by
inference, a conflict solely of the making of Moros, Muslim natives of Mindanao); others
would claim it is really a socio-economic struggle, even political, giving rise to the
various activities of Moro liberation fronts and the communist insurgency.
Whatever, it is nevertheless a conflict
that is manifest enough to gain enlistment in most of the listings of world conflicts in the 20th century.
A conflict that is no less in anguish and tragedy for the affected peoples, the living and
the wasted, of Mindanao.
Mindanao today is a region of varied
drifts and bents: peaceful people who laboriously and endearingly grow the earth; defiant
fighters who cannot fit into the present laws of the land; nervous folks who suspiciously
eye the horizon with misgivings; do-gooders who unwittingly smother the land with their
blankety mush; naysayers who would rather torch and stoke the fire than cook a meal;
carpetbaggers who know their way from north to south; headhunters who, devoid of their own
heads, will not think twice to claim other heads; even blind people who would stuff their
noses with musk and deny the stink from their lavatories.
The businessmen of Mindanao, especially
those of the tourist industry, will warmly advertise, in colorful glossy brochures and
swanky Web pages, that Mindanao is a business and tourist haven, pointing to its fertile
land, white and pink beaches, rich seas, industrious people, temperate climate and other
resources. They will smugly claim that the battles and bloodletting in Mindanao that is so
much the staple of news dailies are in fact isolated and confined to a few wretched spots
forsaken in their tenacity and appetite for violence. They will even point out that
Mindanao, which usually conjures up the image of a fierce Moro warrior, is in fact not
Moro or Muslim for most of the part, Muslim Mindanao having been relegated to even more
limited spaces and consigned to oblivion. And yet even as these contorted denials are
being done, the brochures and the Web pages advertise the picturesque Moro vinta and
Muslim lasses in their native costumes to show the face of a graceful Mindanao.
There is nothing wrong in that. There is
even nothing wrong when excitable persons and samaritans write - understandably with the
great pride of gardeners seeing their flowers bud - about how Christianity is blossoming
in many parts of Mindanao (and other far flung areas of Timor and Indonesia). There is,
after all, nothing wrong in pointing out facts.
What is unsettling however are the
half-truths that are masked behind these facts. Herein lies the gist of what people tend
to dismiss as simply a Moro problem: the displacement that has been taking place through
centuries and still continues to this day, physically, socially, economically,
politically, spiritually; and the inadequacy of will and capacity among the peoples and
their leadership to find that common ground to correct this displacement.
When the Spanish invaders forcibly introduced
Christianity to Mindanao in the 16th century, it was into an established system
of Muslim sultanates that had been dealing, diplomatically and economically, with world
powers in China and Arabia. If the ensuing Moro-Spanish wars were fought today, they would
most probably merit threats of sanction from the United Nations, and maybe even the
targeting by Tomahawk missiles of those garrisons and fleets which mercilessly tried to
subjugate a territory simply because there was a king somewhere in his throne to offer the
sacrificial pyre to, and there were spices and other riches to be taken. That Christianity
was introduced by the sword was in fact a conscious effort at dislocating a culture.
Precisely the stuff that would haunt and pain Kofi Annan and most of the thinking world in
the late 20th century.
If the Indios of the northern Philippine
Islands can swallow this displacement and be thankful for it, that is a choice probably
arising from a perception and an acceptance that what they had in the past can be dumped
in favor of something more desirable. Or a forgetfulness that they are not averse to wear
as plumed hats on their heads. That now - after having turned away from what was then a
budding Islamism - is the Indios choice, the Filipinos forgetfulness.
In the meantime, Muslim Mindanao was
ravaged through the centuries such that by the 1980s, it has been reduced, in the legal
eyes of the Philippine courts and constitution, to only the four areas of Lanao del Sur,
Maguindanao, Sulu and Tawi-tawi. And even within these meager territorial concessions, the
Moros are grudgingly kept in a depression that could only breed desperation and the
Muslim Mindanao cannot do any better, nor
offer any better to the rest of Mindanao, so some people claim. What do you expect?
The Moros of Mindanao have been brutalized
over centuries of wars and, even today with all the trimmings of so-called agreements and
governance, are being continually pushed to a situation where no amount of law and order
will convince them that they should not convulse out of their current displacement.
Without the necessary accommodation and cooperation of elements, contraptions and forces
that could relieve the pressure, this convulsion can only be violent.
Who is to blame for this violence?
Is this indeed an ingrained culture that
the Moros, remnants of the valiant sultans and datus of antiquities, can be solely faulted
with? Is it right to accuse the Moros of the worship of the gun? Is the gun culture like
the bush and trees that burgeon wildly to make a forest and become the forest? Is it the
slaughterhouse harvest of an animal farm?
Do the hands that hold the gun have a
better instrument to hold? Do the eyes that mark the target have a better goal to aim at?
Do the feet that stalk the road have a better road to tread?
The Christian North will condescendingly
argue that Muslim Mindanao must be taught the culture of peace that Christians supposedly
so loftily hold precious. The Vatican and the cardinals and nuns and priests persist on a
belief that they can relieve the suffering of these people, in this world and in the
hereafter, by putting up missions and churches in their midst. There are even Web pages on
the Internet beseeching the Lord with incantations and chants to embrace the wretched
people of Mindanao and make them all pining Christians for their own salvation.
Endowed with so much wealth and clout,
getting their way past and around a government that almost always thinks the same way,
these institutions are indeed doing all these with impunity, never stopping to think
whether they are actually contributing to the solution of the conflict or adding to the
aggravation. Herein works, in its most undermining way, the entrapment of displacement
about which Kofi Annan cautions us about.
When the whole of Mindanao - sultanates,
Islam and all - in the early 1900s was annexed to the Philippine North under a
Manila-based central government, without any regard to the wishes of its inhabitants, it
was assumed that the people of Mindanao as well as those of Visayas and Luzon, would be
given their fair share of development for a brighter future. It was not meant that Muslim
Mindanao should have to shed its identity, be culturally integrated and become more like
Northern Philippines for it to deserve equal treatment. And yet, insensitive to the
sensibilities of the Moros, that was exactly how the Manila government called the shots
and played the cards, insisting on the same constitutions, norms and values to apply to
both the northern Indios and the southern Moros as if the hurt, the injustices and all the
history have not been there, thus condoning a process of Christianization and
re-population of a resentful Mindanao.
The Roads of
And while Muslim Mindanao, under the onslaught of
both government neglect and government settlement programs, has been methodically effaced,
governance yielded very limited roads of opportunities and development for the Moros of
Mindanao. Even then, these roads and highways have been spiked with laws and guidelines
that are alien to their own values, religion and culture.
How then can the recalcitrant Moros
appreciate such tokens?
Unlike the Indio, the Moros long
memory and his strong attachment to his faith makes him an unwilling motorist or
pedestrian on these streets. And yet, these are the same roadways and alleyways that the
Moros are made to take in getting from here to somewhere. Is it any wonder then that
road-kill is rampant along these paths?
Would then building more roads, creating
more spaces, help? How many more roads? How large more of a space? Would allowing the
Moros to formulate and enforce their own laws and guidelines on these roads help? How many
more laws? How much more enforcement?
If the Vatican were to build roads,
literally, for Muslim Mindanao rather than its churches, would this help too?
These will certainly address and alleviate
the issue of displacement to some extent, but then after all is said and done, would such
solutions be enough?
This is where we go back to Annans
principles of tolerance and dialogue.
If these principles are to be applied and
are to yield meaningful and lasting results, tolerance and dialogue must be practiced
between parties who are both confident and strong, not between the weak and the strong,
and most certainly not among nervous peoples.
There is no denying that Mindanao, today
and tomorrow, in whatever form of governance, will continue to be populated by people with
varied cultures, religions and leanings. Misgivings and suspicions will continue to trace
their way back, directly or indirectly, to the clashes of culture.
The Christians cannot plan or even wish to
banish over 5 million Muslims from Mindanao, as if these are just temporary swarms of
flies that pester the kitchen, without creating a greater conflict than there is now.
Likewise, hoping that in due time this mass of humanity (yes, humans) will grow lesser and
become more dissipated and weaker will only prolong the agony for everybody, and deprive
more generations of the peace and progress that they all deserve, now and yesterday.
Moros, on the other hand, cannot demand to
turn back time and history, and restore Mindanao, by threats of war, to a mainly Muslim
Such posturing by either party can only
debilitate and jeopardize everyones hopes for a brighter future. Recent events in
Bosnia, Kosovo, East Timor and Chechnya, are all too vivid and horrifying reminders of the
evils of disquieted ethnic intolerance.
To move away from such blight, and move
away with some degree of permanence, there can thus only be tolerance and dialogue and a
conscious effort to mitigate, correct and avoid problems of dislocation, physically or
otherwise. To a great extent, the Moros themselves, in spite of their meager resources,
hold the key to the success of such a formula.
The Steady and
Tolerance should not be difficult to understand and
practice, especially by Muslims, since this is actually one of Islams well-known
teachings, expressed by the Quran so precisely as to associate the absence of
coercion with that of the Right Path:
no compulsion in religion. Verily, the Right Path has become distinct from the wrong path.
Whoever disbelieves in false deities and believes in God, then he has grasped the most
trustworthy handhold that will never break. And God is All-Hearer, All-Knower."
In another verse, the Quran states:
mankind! We created you from a single soul, male and female, and made you into peoples and
tribes, so that you may come to know one another. Truly, the most honored of you in God's
sight is the greatest of you in piety. God is All-Knowing, All-Aware."
If the Moros of Mindanao are up to the
challenge, they should take heed of these verses with all seriousness, not only because of
the tolerance and dialogue that the Quran preaches, but more so because of its
exhortation to a right path and to being honored in Gods sight with a show of great
If there is one certain force that can
move Muslim Mindanao out of its morass, it is the force of a truly understood and
practiced Islam, a religion that will remain to be an advocate of peace, among other
things, notwithstanding the reviling and the protestations of its detractors.
Some Filipino Christians who, at best,
prefer to be indifferent or, at worst, tend to scorn most things Muslim, must realize that
if they are to contribute to the solution of the Mindanao conflict, they should be willing
to help Moros become better Muslims rather than expect the Moros to become more Christian
like them, especially so if they claim to be leaders among their own communities. And
especially so if their communities are in direct contact with the Muslim communities. It
is best for everybody to realize that Islam is not a pagan culture which will disappear in
due time. Muslims all over the world regard it as an evolution of Gods teachings
from that of Adam through Abraham, Moses, Jesus and finally to Muhammad, may peace and
blessings of God be upon them all, and will not submit for any wrong or right reasons, by
any wrong or right ways, that they should backtrack down the evolution ladder. That Islam
should be practiced by the Moros of Mindanao, who are perceived as backwards and uncouth
in their ways, does not lessen the prominence of Islam in its ongoing impact to
peoples lives near and far from its accredited origin in the Middle East.
Islam, more than the roads that governance
can build, is the steadier and healing path by which the Moros should live by, not so much
to counter what they perceive as the encroachment of western corruption into their
religion, but more importantly, to dispel their own nervousness about being corrupted at
all. The Moros may even find out that, notwithstanding the influences of a permissive
westernized society, their very native culture and traditions harbor distortions to the
Islam that the Quran announces, necessitating for them internal changes to return to
the basic understanding of Islam.
If the Moros know any better, they should
realize that their imams and ulamas, their leaders, elders and intellectuals, must do a
better job at embracing, strengthening and preaching the religion for what it truly is.
They must also do a better job at unifying their ranks, managing their systems and
utilizing their resources, rather than indulging themselves in misplaced prides,
self-serving politics and arrogant bickering, luxuries that they can ill afford in view of
their limited structures and means.
Moros should not deceive themselves into
thinking that they can resist the winds of change, simply because this is demanded of them
by a pervasive non-Islamic system, and hope to go back to the ways of the old when the
land was pure and isolated.
Rather, they should take lessons from the
experiences of thriving and peaceful Muslim communities in places like Britain, Canada or
the USA and find out how Islam is coping up constructively with a fast-modernizing world
and understand why Islam is now the fastest growing religion in those areas.
Only when Islam is seen and treated as a
religion and conduct of life meant for all places and for all times, and not as something
akin to a pagan culture that disappears with the territory or is remembered only on glossy
pages of coffeebooks, can Moros start to deal with the rest of Philippine society
meaningfully, and only then as well can the rest of Philippine society be able to respond
When such realization is translated, by
all parties to the conflict, into a determination and constancy to strengthen their
confidence and abilities to deal with the issues at hand, only then will Muslim Mindanao
be able to contribute to the overall progress and stability of a truly unified country,
and be able to proudly proclaim that yes, beyond tolerance, beyond dialogues, beyond the
pains and sins of displacements, the culture of peace flourishes too in Mindanao.§