(Published in ten installments in Davao Today, by far my most ambitious work of nonfiction yet)
The Mindanao Settler: few collective identities are as complicated and yet as poorly introspected upon and discussed. Marginalized in the National narrative while paradoxically also guilty of sociocultural oppression in the land of our birth, the Settler’s condition is at once archetypal of the problematique of the Filipino identity and uniquely positioned in the turbulent discourse of Mindanao.
The Narrative of Encroachment: The Mindanao Settler in the Tri-People Arrangement
The very nomenclature of the Mindanao Settler foregrounds underlying tensions. We are defined, in the context of Mindanao’s tri-people paradigm, by otherhood: those from Mindanao who are not Lumad (of the twenty or so indigenous peoples) or Moro (of the thirteen Islamized ethnolinguistic groups). The term ‘Settler’ itself implies foreign arrival – we who have come to settle.
Ideologically, it also connotes peace and order – we who are settled – implying unrest and lawlessness with the alternative Lumad and Moro. For not only are Settlers foreigners in Mindanao, we and our settlements have also always been the agents of encroachment by the colonial Manila State. When Mindanao is called the Land of Promise, the promise is peace and progress and it is made by the State. And the State displays Settlers to reinforce this narrative.
This otherness and agency for dominion goes at the very heart of our identity as Settlers.
A cruder label for the Settler is ‘Christian,’ framing the tri-people paradigm against a religious backdrop. While attempting at positive identity, the term nevertheless proves inaccurate: with the term ‘Christian’ invariably implying ‘Catholic,’ it fails to reveal the complex dynamics of the Spanish-introduced Catholic orthodox with the American-encouraged introduction of the different Protestant faiths. And, particularly in urban Mindanao, there is a growing population of non-Christian Settlers (I, an atheist, included). But the term nevertheless serves to highlight the socio-political role religion has played in defining the Settler identity. The Settler is distinct from the Moro (who, historically speaking, are also Settlers in the word’s purely literal sense) because the settlement that defines us is Bajo de la campana – under the bells of the Christian State.
The Settlers’ presence, it can be argued, serves as the binary other which defines Moro and Lumad identity: with the encroachment of these Christian invaders, not only are Ancestral Domain and the Bangsamoro given a compelling motivation to be asserted, they are foregrounded into positive existence.
The resulting narratives of Tribal and Moro self-determination are all in conflict with the narrative of the Filipino Nation, which has roots in the haphazard colonial bundling of the archipelago’s independent cultures by the Spanish. And in the Mindanao stage, the role of the encroaching Filipino Nation is played by the Settlers.