Santiago Matamalayu

“Santiago Matamalayu” is an oil-on-wood painting, one of the most intriguing because it depicts an indigenized “Santiago Matamoros.” It is part of the HOCUS collection exhibited at the Gallery XXI of the National Museum of Fine Arts. Like the rest of the 26 paintings, this one has an intellectual author, lawyer-historian Saul Hofileña, whose ideas were painted by Guy Custodio.

According to Atty Hofileña, Santiago Matamoros was supposed to be St. James, an apostle of Jesus Christ who fought against the Moors in the Battle of Clavijo, which never took place, but because of the “Reconquista” he was the patron saint of Spain until 1760. In this HOCUS painting the saint is seen killing Moors who look more like Filipino indios as depicted in the Boxer Codex.

Perhaps that was when all our problems with Mindanao began. After defeating the caliphates in southern Spain and driving the Moors out, whom should they meet in these far-flung islands across two oceans? It was “Reconquista” all over again in southern Filipinas. Significantly, the American colonial administration had their brand of re-conquering the “Land of Promise” which may have aggravated the situation.

This weekend, I came across an engaging book, Resettling the Huks in the Land of Promise by Dr. Faina C. Abaya Ulindang, a professor of the History Department of the Mindanao State University in embattled Marawi. She said that, in 1918, when the American colonial government established the Department of Mindanao and Sulu agricultural colonies were set up, in accordance with American colonial land policies that aimed to foment economic development and progress to the entire “Philippine Islands.” Needless to say, there were hefty American interests, particularly in timber, involved in the acquisition of public agricultural land through Philippine Commission Act No. 926 as repealed by Act No. 2874. For P20,000, anyone who had lived in a designated area for 5 years, tilling 24 hectares productively, could acquire a land title. Cotabato and Lanao (before gerrymandering) were up for grabs through homesteading. These agricultural colonies were supposed, “to make the Moro a Filipino,” to make us all “good citizens” living close to the land, engaged in agriculture. According to Dr. Ulindang, the resettlement of Christians from Luzon was a tool for pacification.

After the Second World War, the Huks had to be pacified. They were up in arms after Pres. Manuel Roxas expelled their elected representatives, members of the Democratic Alliance party, from Congress for alleged electoral coercion and fraud. Roxas died shortly and in 1950, Pres. Elpidio Quirino established a Huk Amnesty Program and the Economic Development Corporation (EDCOR) to entice the Huks to surrender. Dr. Ullndang cites the Bell Mission Report (1950), which concluded that lawlessness and disorder caused, by the Huks could be solved “with the aid and encouragement of the US to increase production and improve productive efficiency, to raise the level of wages and farm income and to open new opportunities for work and for acquiring land.” She pointed out that “American interests in agricultural productivity and the increased purchasing power of the Filipinos supported the former’s need for raw materials and markets for their finished products.”

Mr. Edward Landsdale (reputed to be CIA) claimed authorship of EDCOR which aimed “to give surrendered Huks a new chance in life…something more enlightened than prisoner-of-war or criminal prisoner status…on one of the remoter islands.” The idea was to resettle retired soldiers and their families (as “stabilizers”) along with Huk surrenderees with no criminal records and who wanted “to be re-educated in the democratic, peaceful,  and productive way of life.”

Apparently, by 1942, Mindanao was no longer frontier land. Dr. Ulindang ‘s research revealed that: “Agricultural areas no longer existed since the Muslims and Lumads already occupied lands fir for agriculture….” As a result, they were summarily pushed into the forests and mountains, unwittingly disturbing the ecological balance of the Mindanao. Government-sponsored resettlement projects, which increased through the years, provoked attacks on Christian migrants. Dr. Ulindang concluded, “the nature of the peace and order problem in Mindanao was ignored as the government pursued resettlement projects despite the recommendations for reforms by Muslim leaders.”

In other words, short of behaving like Santiago Matamalayu, Presidents Quirino, Magsaysay, and their successors were blindly enforcing the totally unsuitable American-style frontier settlements of “how the West was won,” instead of consulting with Muslim leaders. Let us hope it is not too late to win back our South.