A listening process

My sincerest thanks to Dr. Faina Abaya Ulindang for sending me   a copy of the “Report of the Transitional Justice and Reconciliation Commission (TJRC)” which was mandated to undertake a study and to make recommendations”… with a view of promoting healing and reconciliation among the different communities affected by the conflict in Mindanao and the Sulu Archipelago.”  The TJRC is part of the “Normalization Annex of the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro.”  Dr. Ulindang was one of the rapporteurs of the “listening process” and her findings were included in the final report.

Dr. Ulindang wrote that one of the oldest business establishments in Lanao del Sur, the Matling Corporation, was founded in 1928 on 533 hectares that were part of the ancient domain of the Marana Sultan of Tubok.  During the listening process, the residents of Malabang related the following: Due to land titling imposed by the American colonial government, a Cebuano was able to secure titles for 533 hectares, which were eventually sold to Matling. This company expelled the original inhabitants, destroyed their homes, their Koran schools (madrasah), and a mosque (masjid). Through the years, descendants of the Tubok Sultanate tried to seek redress; in the 1970’s and 1980’s, the vaunted land reform programs of the government gave them hope so they   demanded redistribution of land, to no avail. To avoid land reform, Matling converted agricultural lands into industrial zones and commercial corporations and the little that remained  went to non-Moro corporate employees.

The Tubok case was replicated throughout Mindanao; legal devices were used to title and expropriate lands that were the ancestral homes of native Moros and indigenous peoples.

Our rapporteur cited four waves of land dispossession:

(1) Based on the Spanish Regalian doctrine and the American Torrens titles, Moros and indigenous peoples (lumad) were systematically dispossessed of their lands from 1898 to the Commonwealth. Christian settlers from the north came in droves to work at American-owned plantations.

(2)From 1946 to the 1960’s, there was agrarian unrest in Luzon, especially during the post-WWII period.   In answer to the “land for the landless” battle cry of Huks, rebels were enticed with resettlement in Mindanao.

(3) From the 1970s to the 1980s, dispossession of land was intensified, specially during the Martial Law years when laws pertaining to land ownership were further modified to create corporate agricultural enclaves; settler communities were transformed into barangays, municipalities and new provinces were carved out of old ones; a new Moro elite emerged many of whom accumulated vast tracts of land while in office.

(4) From mid 1980’s to the present, the establishment of the ARMM (Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao), passage of the CARL (Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Law) in 1988, the 1995 Mining Act and the 1997 IPRA (Indigenous Peoples’ Rights Act) made land problems more complicated due to overlapping claims and titling. Continued displacement, land scarcity, cultivation of high-value crops instead of food have resulted into armed conflicts and deadly attrition orrido.

With regard to the deleterious effects of marginalization through land dispossession, Dr. Ulindang wrote: “The large-scale, government-sponsored resettlement programs precipitated changes in the demographic landscape and political culture in Mindanao and, as a consequence, led to the dissolution of traditional forms of leadership and governance structures in Moro and indigenous communities.  In particular, attention was drawn to the phenomenon of ‘gerrymandering’ by political elites and their use of patronage and clientele-based politics to ensure electoral victory. In the course of the re-division and reconfiguration of what were originally areas of Moro suzerainty, the Moro people were politically and economically marginalized…”

Our rapporteur also said: “A more contemporary manifestation of what can be understood as political gerrymandering took place when Moro-majority provinces—the Province of Lanao and the Empire Province of Cotabato—were divided and reconfigured in order to create provinces inhabited by a majority of settlers. The reconfiguration left the Moro population politically in control of lands that are geographically and economically marginal, i.e., the mountainous parts of Lanao and the swampy parts of Cotabato. During the period of Martial Law, this practice continued without the consent of the respective populations through a proper plebiscite…

“…The resettlement programs involving migrants from Luzon and the Visayas have taken on the dimensions of ‘ethnic flooding’ that have resulted in the ‘minorization’ of the native population [of Mindanao]. …Land dispossession has not only resulted in political and economic marginalization, but also in loss of social and cultural identity, land being the source of life of the community and the basis for collective identity.”

No wonder there is a war in Marawi: “…From the perspective of the Bangsamoro and indigenous peoples, land dispossession and the resulting marginalization of their communities is a form of historical injustice of such gravity that justifies secession from the Philippines, according to modern legal norms…”

This is what we get for not listening, for doing things our way without even asking. I hope the current administration reads the TJRC report, I hope it takes the listening process seriously, before it is too late.