THE REALITIES OF WAR IN MINDANAO
ONCE UPON A TIME, a group of enterprising politicians from Luzon went on to explore the outback of Mindanao and discovered the undulating jungle and almost virgin forests everywhere. They settled and tried to form a small community, using government processes and went on to purchase and register lands left and right. They had been overtaken by their youthful counterparts in their former home province that is why a new territory is like a new shot in the arm. Thereafter, finding a good space, they began to map out site development; carving through from the forested area’s flat land they began a small community covering innocently an administrative facade for their properties. Unlike in Luzon, land in Mindanao could be purchased through legal machination applying homestead patent and other cheap approaches. Of course, residing in the community was a social concern to be projected to invite recognition but the hidden agenda was to mount a massive deforestation program, conduct logging concessions and amidst tribal protestations, virtually denuded vast tracts of land in the area. Result: pocket floods, climate changes, disturbed eco-system and worst, igniting conflict in the area against the nomadic denizens and minorities. That would signal the birth of a bigger confrontation which would later evolve into a war in Mindanao.
Since then, the conflict has generated and multiplied further clashes necessitating the entrance of government forces into the fray. The wealth generated by logging concessionaires further attracted more migration and as loggers and politicians multiplied, it has literally exacerbated the quarrel into the domain promoting social discord among local stakeholders and the new powerful class. This new powerful class were the educated elite from the main island and armed with legalities, they try to subdue the local population whose only claim to the exploited fields was their belief in tradition and their ancestral claims. Unable to convince the armed forces of government, they formed their own. Unable to understand warfare, government wanted a peaceful resolution through political intervention. Unable to abet violence on their ground, the people started defending themselves by attacking those outside of their tribal orientation. One fine day, an observer notes that everybody is shooting everyone already. Aggression has entered the local language.
Claims escalate, conflicts rose, divergence soared. Mindanao has become divided on several fronts. The natives on the one hand, the migrants on the other. Both citizens are both gazing at each other massacre and genocide in between. Mindanao is a promise land so they proclaimed. It has no storm. It is essentially a tropical paradise and strides along the equatorial side of the planet. It is blithely sunny in the morning and rainy in the late afternoon. The accumulated heat is always washed freshly by an evening drizzle. That is the constant weather all year round. It perfectly serves the green surroundings. It is a great vegetation basket where hunger must be non-existent. But ironically, it is also here where one finds the poorest community in the country.
The “war” has hitherto displaced a large number of its population. A swath of the island is now virtually populated by refugees. Vast tracts of land lay idle while half of it is targeted for exploitation. People have armed themselves eventually. Heads of families hugged their firearms more than their brood. Their concern is no longer to feed their families or to protect their neighborhood but to preserve that area where their houses are built.
Life in this part of the country, much like violent strife communities, is no longer sacred and precious. Destruction is a common sight. Unnecessary fatalities dot every town. Bombs used in mining, explosives used in exploration of forests, are now applied everywhere. An upsurge of hostility is the order of the day in most remote rural areas. Cruelty lurks in every urban setting. Every Pedro, Juan and Kaloy is a suspect. Every Abdul, Mohamad and Haji is presumed behind dissent. Everyone is a disputably an enemy of everybody. War is therefore implied without anyone trying to emphasize it.
Mindanao is a rich island. Its mountains have gold, several minerals, and a surfeit of rich deposits. Its rivers are crystal clear, the mineral water adjudged the best in the world; Its coastal areas teeming with marine life; Its flat lands ideal for large scale vegetation. The people are honest to a fault; and their hospitality is never suspect. This is blissful to the local population, a magnet however to criminal syndicates.
Mindanao is therefore seen as, to use a worn out cliché, the proverbial goose that lays the golden egg. It is desired and yearned, wished and craved. Peace left the place as soon as this reality has been expressed. Undeserved greed invaded the island. And as long as covetousness is there, war will never cease.