War won? Cancer gone?

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Greg B. Macabenta

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War won? Cancer gone?

We should all be grateful that the war in Marawi is over. We owe the AFP and the PNP a debt of gratitude for this. The price paid was heavy, in terms of casualties. The question is, how long will this peace hold? This war has been won, but it is doubtful that the cancer that caused it is gone.

The Marawi conflict may be likened to a tumor that has afflicted one part of the body. But other parts of the body are also being ravaged by cancerous growth.

Battling cancer is usually done by means of chemotherapy. But while it succeeds in killing cancerous cells it also causes such deadly ailments as leukemia. Likewise, while the war in Marawi has been put under control with the killing of over 900 insurgents, the effects of that war will continue to smolder and will once again burst into flame.

The reason is because the cause of the disease has not yet been addressed.

The conflict in Mindanao may be traced centuries back to the advent of Christianity that superseded the earlier entry of Islam in the archipelago. The bloody campaigns of the Spanish and the American colonists only managed to keep the Moros under some kind of control, but their ties to Imperial Manila were always tenuous and never as strong as their cultural links to the Malay people.


The Christian settlement of Mindanao and the resultant loss of ancestral lands and displacement of the Moros may be likened to the European settlers’ takeover of native American tribal lands in the course of the building of America.

What US historians refer to as The Indian Wars have also been replicated in the many uprisings mounted by various armed Muslim groups, not just for autonomy but for secession from the Philippine Republic.

In this regard, the Jabidah massacre is considered a milestone in the long-running struggle. During the administration of President Ferdinand Marcos, he initiated the training of Muslim commandos who were to be dispatched to Sabah to reclaim it for the Philippines from Malaysia. But things went wrong and 60 Muslim commandos were killed by the Philippine military.

The massacre sparked the open conflict between the central government and Muslim armed groups, under the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) of Nur Misuari.

Different administrations have attempted to reach an accord with the Muslim insurgents but after some promising initiatives, talks have invariably broken down and the armed conflicts have been resumed.

The United States has had to come to grips with the cruelty and injustice dealt the native Americans, and, though far from perfect, the federal government has endeavored to make amends by granting privileges to the displaced tribes. Thus, America has an unusual system that acknowledges the sovereignty of the tribes — within United States territory — while exercising administrative control over them.

There have been attempts by the Philippine government to do likewise, one of them being the establishment of the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM). This has been far from successful for a number of reasons, among them, the internal conflicts among the Muslim leaders and accusations of incompetence and corruption hurled at those who have held high office in the ARMM.

During the administration of President Benigno S. C. Aquino III, an accord would have been reached with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) by which a Bangsamoro Basic Law would create an autonomous region to replace ARMM, but with more claims to near-sovereignty than the ARMM. This was eventually struck down due to constitutional infirmities.

The situation has become more complicated, ever since the uprising that followed the Jabidah massacre. The MNLF has since had a breakaway faction, the MILF and the smaller but deadlier Abu Sayyaf Group.

The Philippine government already has its hands full dealing with these, which count armed fighters in the thousands. But an even deadlier ingredient has been added to the cauldron with the emergence of al Qaeda and, subsequently, the establishment of ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria).

Sad to say, the situation can only grow worse, as more international players join in the “Moro wars” in our country.

The non-Christian people of Mindanao — variously referred to as Muslims, Moros and Bangsamoro and Lumads — have always felt like second or even third class citizens in a predominantly Christian country. They are regarded as cultural minorities.

Princess Emraida Kiram, who traces her lineage directly to the Sultan of Sulu, once pointed out with unveiled (and justified) sarcasm that the description is ironic.

“When you (meaning the rest of the country) want to show off your best Philippine dance, what do you perform? The ‘Singkil’. And when you want to show off Philippine indigenous art, what do you display? The Sari Manok. And yet you call us cultural minorities!”

Just as America has had to face up to its “Indian Problem,” so must the Filipino people learn to open our arms to our Muslim or Moro or Bangsamoro or Lumad brethren and treat them as fellow citizens of our Republic — but they too must stop regarding themselves as a breed apart from the rest of the Christian population.

Several years ago, a column that I wrote endorsing then president Fidel V. Ramos’s rapprochement with the Muslim insurgents generated a lot of hate mail from people still believing that “the only good Moro is a dead Moro.”

In response, I recounted that one of the first fatalities in the burning of Jolo was my brother-in-law, Tano Fernandez. He had refused to leave Jolo at the start of the rampage because he had grown up from childhood with many of the Muslim fighters. They killed him anyway.

But peace can only be achieved if both sides of the conflict will be willing to concede that neither one can have all of its demands — that a compromise has to be arrived at in order to achieve a workable, if imperfect, accord. Unless we are willing to forgive past sins and acknowledge that there are enough faults to spread around, but there are even more benefits to be shared from a lasting peace, the flames of war will continue to burn in Mindanao.

Indeed, the war in Marawi has been won. But the cancer still has to be cured.


Greg B. Macabenta is an advertising and communications man shuttling between San Francisco and Manila and providing unique insights on issues from both perspectives.