(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.
I am proud to say that Kidapawan’s many public elementary and high schools’ student publications now have online platforms!
I recently gave a 3-day training to the different publication advisers of the city’s public schools. It was under the auspices of the office of Mayor Joseph Evangelista, who hired me and my friend the journalist Armando Fenequito to give the training. The Mayor’s office covered almost all the expenses for the training, and this is the first time the training has been entirely free for the teachers.
While the local division of DepEd is clearly focused on winning more places in the competitive schools’ Press Conferences, I had other agenda: enjoining the advisers to explore student publication outside journalism. As a literary writer, I wanted them to nurture my hometown’s next generation of fictionists, poets, playwrights, and essayists.
This of course meant I introduced the teachers to Kidapawan’s two other writers, Rita Gadi and Paul Gumanao. It is not every town which can say it has writers, and Kidapawan should be proud that it has three.
I also required the advisers to make online platforms for their publications, whether it be a blog, a Facebook page, or a twitter account. This is unprecedented, as even private schools in very urban Davao don’t have online platforms. Now their publications are much more accessible to those outside of Kidapawan!
Here are the links to some of the schools’ online platforms:
The Pupils’ Journal of Marciano Mancera Integrated School, Singao
Ang Pagsibol of Onica Elementary School
The Flame of Katipunan Elementary School
Malinan Ngayon of Malinan Elementary School
The Horizon of San Isidro Elementary School
The Greenfield of Amazion Elementary School
Ang Kadsambi of Patadon Elementary School
The Bamboo Organ of Kalaisan Elementary School
The Shade of Sumbac Elementary School
The Genesis of Binoligan Integrated School
The Messenger of San Miguel Elementary School, Macebolig
The Striver of Sayaban Elementary School, Ilomavis
The Mulaan Newslette of Mua-an Integrated School
Ang Bagwis of Cayetano A Javier Memorial Elementary School, Ilomavis
The Meohao Scribblers of Meohao Elementary School
Kagoo of Ginatilan Elementary School
The Footprints of Balabag Elementary School
The Highlander of Sumayahon Elementary School, Perez
Ang Sigaw of Singao Integrated School
The Vigor of Isidro Lonzaga Memorial Elementary School, Magsaysay
Su Suara of Bangsamoro Elementary School, Bangsamoro Village
The Urbanite of Upper Singao Elementary School
The Nuang Ilbimumba of Nuangan Integrated School
The Puasindanian of Puas Inda Elementary School, Amas
The Pilot Gazette of Kidapawan Pilot Elementary School
Ginintuang Buwig of Amas Central Elementary School
Od Sobbu no Linow of Lake Agco Integrated School, Ilomavis
The Mateo Journal of Mateo Elementary School
This list is not complete because the high school advisers did not give me the URLs of their publications’ sites, and many of the elementary teachers gave URLs that don’t work.
Here’s to hoping the advisers and their student staff maintain these sites!
Understandably, Mindanao is divided over Martial Law.
In response to outcry from Manila over Duterte’s declaration of it over Mindanao in response to the Marawi crisis, many in Mindanao have taken to social media to insist Martial Law reassures them against the spread of terror. I am one of those who have been very vocal on that score.
Since then there is growing dissent to this view from within Mindanao, most crucially from those directly affected by the Marawi crisis. Civilians are being killed by the indiscriminate firing and the air strikes, it is argued.
This reaction comes in the context of the discourse of Mindanao identity, a contentious and deeply divisive problematique which pits Lumad against Moro against Settler. People in Mindanao claiming to feel safe under Martial Law, viewed through one lens of such a context, are in fact merely bourgeois Settlers serving to silence the Moro subaltern, blind to the plight of the most vulnerable in the island. (this is a very rich topic to discuss and I think it deserves a separate discussion altogether).
True enough, the Settler community has always been guilty of silencing the two other peoples of the island, just as the Moro has been historically guilty of silencing the Lumad.
But I contend that the present situation is not so straightforward.
The problem with any subaltern perspective is that it always thinks because its problems are indisputably the most pressing and serious, it is the only perspective worth taking, its concerns the only ones worth considering.
Of course it is horrible that civilians are dying in Marawi, of course we have to find a way to avoid it, of course many Lumad will not even have IDs to present at checkpoints, of course Martial Law is a double edged sword.
But in this complicated, deeply divided land, one man’s bane is another’s boon.
This is a terrorist crisis, the tables might turn anytime, and we who are currently privileged and safe may suddenly be the ones being brutally mistreated, accusing those who are currently suffering of being privileged.
Can you imagine what horrors non-Muslims face (and the possible advantages the Moros have) if an Islamic State was established? And worse, the heat of warfare may breed a communist totalitarian regime like the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, which may well make even being educated a crime.
There are many historical examples of this recurring horror already, of the marginalized suddenly oppressing the originally privileged and using their marginalization as justification for oppression.
How many of the privileged Tutsis in Rwanda did the Hutus slaughter? What atrocities did the working class revolutionaries in China commit to the scholar-bureaucrat class during the Cultural Revolution? How did the Taliban, Al Qaeda and Daesh take advantage of Western interventionism and local resentment to destabilize governments and perpetuate the systematic slaughter of non-Muslims – and of Shiites – in the Middle East?
It is being close-minded to insist people are being selfish just because their security comes at the cost of that of other’s.
‘We’ feel safe in Mindanao because of Martial law, and that plural first person pronoun may not include everyone, but it includes a significant portion of Mindanao’s population, one which is now at risk of being actively and deliberately neglected. The current victims are not the only ones affected by this crisis, everyone is at risk.
And it is no coincidence that I am also against the class struggle being advocated by the communist terrorists – it is rooted in divisiveness and exclusion, responding to silencing and oppression with more silencing and oppression that only perpetuates a vicious cycle of endless conflict.
We who are urban Settlers are not silencing the Moro or the Lumad subaltern here (if we are, we do so unwittingly). As a matter of fact hearing them plea against the horrors they suffer under Martial Law is very welcome, as it helps improve the declaration’s implementation.
But with their response to our positive attitude towards Martial Law, they’re already bordering on wishing to silence us, seething with resentment at what are perceived as intentionally committed injustices.
They versus us.
The dispossessed Moros are playing right into the Extremists’ hands, sowing hatred and division among themselves against non-Muslims. And the privileged but morally self righteous in Manila (and even in Mindanao) are only making it worse by amplifying the message of divisiveness.
The message all this UP-centered opposition to Martial Law is sending to the ordinary Moro is simple: ‘You’re a victim, this Martial Law was declared to oppress you, the non-Muslims like it even if you’re suffering, hate the non-Muslims.’
And all for what? In more practical terms, do you think these suffering sectors will be safer without Marital Law? Do you think the situation will be better if the declaration was revoked? If we are to be silenced for our shortsightedness, what better alternative is there?
Can we not simply work together to address the problem at hand and improve one another’s solutions so that they work for all, instead of bickering about being excluded?
Extremists, communist terrorists, and Imperial Manila are all pitting our three peoples in Mindanao against one another.We must resist this, we must resist the temptation to think only from our own perspective, Lumad, Moro, and Settler alike, and try our best to listen to one another.
Now is the worst time to be divided as peoples living together in this beautiful, beautiful land.
(Featured in the Esquire Website’s Unpopular Opinion section)
As always there is war in my country.
But as always, two different wars are waging in Manila and in Mindanao.
In Mindanao the Maute group – sympathizers of International terrorist group Daesh – are assaulting the Islamic city of Marawi in Lanao. Duterte has declared Martial Law over all of Mindanao. In response the Communist insurgents – another group of terrorists – added to the fire by bombing my city of Kidapawan, injuring 2 policemen.
In Manila, the war is between those who are supportive of the Durian President, and those who are condemning him for being Marcos 2.0. Fears of human rights violations (already there because of Digong’s bloody war on drugs) are being aired, and rallies have been and continue to be organized by university students and others to oppose the declaration of Martial Law.
But this time, there is a war between these two wars.
Anti-Martial Law activists are under fire for intervening with Mindanao’s business, Pro-Martial Law Mindanawons are being accused of Regional closemindedness.
I do not begrudge the activists in Manila for rallying, that is their constitutional right and I celebrate their freedom to do so. I do not agree that they have no say in the debate of Martial Law’s appropriateness.
But I am still accusing them of Manila Imperialism.
Here in Mindanao the paramount concern is the threat of terrorism (which was the motivation behind the declaration of Martial Law in the first place). Texts messages and chats are being circulated from city to city of bombings being plotted in Malls and other city centers, images circulate on Facebook of the chaos and violence in Marawi and the ongoing acceptance of refugees in Iligan. Amidst the Budots and the Basketball tournaments, a faint climate of worry hangs in the air over Davao.
And once again, Manila has hijacked National attention by insisting its own experience with Martial Law is more important than fears of terrorism.
Sure, remind us of Manili and the killing of Favali and of Ilaga and of all the horrors of the last Martial Law in Mindanao, I’ll be the first to preach the importance of remembering historical injustices (Favali was buried just ten minutes from my ancestral home in Kidapawan). It is almost arrogant to assume the Mindanawon does not know his/her history, and even if he/she doesn’t, there is nothing but the top-down education system – centered in Imperial Manila – to blame for not teaching local history.
All the injustices and fears of history repeating itself are second priority when public safety is at immediate risk. There are three peoples in Mindanao, each of them with their own harrowing experience of the Marcos years, but the attitude of Mindanawons to Martial Law is far more complex and far more nuanced that just fear of a heavy-handed government. All this talk of rights possibly being violated because of abuses under Martial Law only reveals Manilenos’ imposition of their own experience of military rule on Mindanao.
And we here in Mindanao don’t need Martial Law to have our rights abused, rights have been abused here for centuries. Bud Dajo, the Manhunt for Mangulayon, Malisbong, Manili, the Estrada offensive – Mindanao earth is no stranger to blood being spilled. Remember that military rule was declared in Maguindanao after the Maguindanao Massacre.
Marcos’ Martial Law was a horrible thing for Mindanao, but it was not the first, and it certainly wasn’t the last horror we have seen. Military rule itself did not leave a bad taste in our mouths.
If anything, a Mindanawon President leading Martial Law in Mindanao for many means order, security, and a firm command of the crisis. Whatever abuses may be committed by government forces, they are a preferable evil compared to the much worse threat of a Taliban State or a Khmer Rouge being established here.
Right now we don’t need history lessons, we need solutions. Martial Law is the only solution being presented to us, and instead of giving alternatives those critical of the move are simply indulging in the thrill of being outraged.
We here in Mindanao try our best to understand. It would be best if those in Manila try to understand us too.
I finally got to meet the most successful Filipino writer in the world.
Miguel Syjuco was disarmingly friendly, as he had always been online. Perhaps it was the death threats.
The Man Asia prize winner came to Davao at a very politically charged time: a consistent critic of the Duterte administration, he has been very vocal with his concerns about the many victims of alleged Extrajudicial killings in Metro Manila and other urban areas.
When he confided on social media that friends were warning him about his safety as he entered the baluarte of a politician he publicly criticized, Syjuco received a barrage of death threats, which only seemed to confirm his friends’ concerns. I had assured him there was nothing to fear, and he went to Davao anyway.
I met and hosted him as a Duterte supporter, as one who has been so since I was young (I had urged our then mayor in this blog to run when he was not even making national news yet), and whose family is passionately pro-Duterte.
But above all that, I met him as a genuine fan: I had read Ilustrado some years ago, when the Cebuano writer Januar Yap gave me his copy, and was floored by the skill of its writing. I still believe it is the closest anyone has come to a Great Filipino Novel, and ought to be taught in all schools instead of Rizal.
Miguel came over for four main reasons: to see Davao for himself (he had not been here since the 90s); to lay the groundwork for a possible project with Ateneo de Davao; to give a workshop to my old club in Ateneo, SALEM; and to chat with my ninong, DCPO director Alexander Tagum.
In between excursions we would chat about politics, the Philippine literary scene, and some humorously bad jokes. He’d share personal struggles, his family’s not always successful foray into politics, and having to overcome the mob of pro-Duterte netizens who gang up on him.
In the lobby of the Marco Polo while he, I, and Nal had a drink on his first night, I joked that I hope he stayed safe, who else would win the Nobel for the Filipino people. He laughed it off with a National Artist’s name, though I was dead serious about him getting it. The only flaw Miguel Syjuco has as a writer is that he hasn’t written enough yet.
He has been saying he enjoyed Davao, though I feel he didn’t see as much as he should have. I’m hoping he finds time to return and see the Philippine Eagles.
Did we disagree while he was here? Surprisingly not much. What we learned early on online was that nobody is ever really entirely pro or anti anything. He wasn’t entirely critical of everything Duterte, as I was not entirely supportive of everything the President does.
We both agreed that the current climate of polarization, of painting everything black and white, is not productive for both sides and is unleashing a mob of hateful fanatics. Where the Duterte administration can improve with feedback, it turns a blind eye because all negative feedback is viewed with violent suspicion. Where it does good, the critics refuse to see because they only see the EJKs and a man who speaks nothing but murder.
And we both saw that while we stood on opposite sides of a political divide, we are linked together by a renewed passion for our country and its people.
On his last night while we lounged in the Marco’s lobby, a gunshot pierced the busy Davao evening. It turned out a guest who was surrendering his pistol to the guard accidentally fired a blank.
I asked, jokingly, if he thinks RJ Nieto had meant that as a warning.
(My old club in Ateneo de Davao is doing well!)
Fifteen writing fellows have been selected for this year’s 23rd Iligan National Writers Workshop to be held at the MSU-IIT on May 30 to June 3, 2016. They are:
Poetry (English): Thomas David Fillarca Chavez, UP Diliman; (Filipino): Rogene Apellido Gonzales, UP Diliman; Fiction (English): Dominic Paul Chow Sy, UP Diliman; Erwin Escarola Cabucos, (Filipino): Arbeen Regalado Acuna, UP Diliman; Drama (Tagalog): Josephine Villena Roque, De La Salle University.
Fiction (English): Charles Dominic Pelaez Sanchez, University of San Carlos; Poetry (Kinaray-a): Elsed Silfavan Togonon, University of San Agustin; Drama (Waray): Amado Arjay Babida Babon, Leyte Normal University (Boy Abunda Writing fellow).
Mindanao: Poetry (English): Saquina Karla Cagoco Guiam (Manuel E. Buenafe writing fellow), Mindanao State University-General Santos; (Sebuano): Krishna Mie Ceniza Zabate, Ateneo de Davao University; Al Bangcolongan Gra-as (Ricardo Jorge Caluen writing fellow), Lyceum of Iligan Foundation; Fiction (Filipino): Eric John Betita Villena, Xavier University; (Filipino): Jack Aguid Alvarez; (Hiligaynon): Nal Andrea Cabao-an Jalando-on, Koronadal National Comprehensive High School.
The panelists this year are: Pranesh Prasad, John Iremil Teodoro, Victor N. Sugbo, Erlinda K. Alburo, Shirley O. Lua, Steven P.C. Fernandez, German V. Gervacio, the Project Director Christine Godinez Ortega and the Keynote speaker, Isidoro M. Cruz.
Highlights of the Iligan workshop are the Jimmy Balacuit Literary Awards and the launching of the Proceedings of the 22nd Iligan National Writers Workshop (2015) entitled The Mythopoetic and Creative Writing published by the MSU-Iligan Institute of Technology-Office of Publication & Information (MSU-IIT OPI). The workshop is funded by the MSU-IIT and the National Commission for Culture and Arts (NCCA).