UNDER THE CRESCENT MOON: REBELLION IN MINDANAO, By Marites Danguilan Vitug and Glenda M. Gloria (Ateneo Center for Social Policy and Public Affairs and Institute for Popular Democracy, Quezon City) 

MANILA, February 22, 2005 (STAR) HINDSIGHT By F Sionil Jose - The bitter fighting in Sulu last week – an extension of the long lingering Moro rebellion – has cost the country thousands of lives, billions of pesos. Its termination is not yet in sight. This, in spite of the continued promise of negotiation, US military assistance, and the poignant prayers of Filipinos. How did it all begin? What are the solutions? These two important questions are provided some definitive answers in this insightful book by two of the most distinguished journalists in the country today. Marites Vitug and Glenda Gloria spent time in the strife torn region and have observed first hand the widening chasms in culture, ethnic grouping, and the social structure of the Moros themselves.

Their book is not by any means hot off the press – although written a few years back, like those classic non fictions – the book has not aged in the sense that it still casts a sharp and narrow beam onto what ails Mindanao, the indifference of national leaders to its problems, and of course, the obvious negligence of the Moro leadership itself.

Vitug and Gloria start their scholarly narrative with the 1967 Jabidah massacre, which sparked the rebellion. Marcos had concocted a plan to take over Sabah from the newly created state of Malaysia by training a group of young Moros to infiltrate the huge Sultanate of Sulu territory. The project went awry and the Moro recruits who were isolated in their training site in Corregidor were ordered liquidated to keep the project from spilling out. One of the recruits escaped and revealed the sordid details. Back home in Sulu, the Tausugs were inflamed, the rebellion started.

Earlier in the Fifties, a disgruntled Tausug chieftain, the aging Hadji Kamlon, organized a mini rebellion, too, but was never captured although the government sent battalion combat teams and navy ships to cordon him off. Obviously, the Moro problem from the very start was neither religion-inspired or settled by force. It has since then, however, become militarized.

Vitug and Gloria go into the rebellion with probity. In the best tradition of investigative reporting, they track down the vast network of influences, agencies and states, which supported the rebellion. Libya, Malaysia, Afghanistan, and others. They trace the growth of the irredentism, from the schools, the opportunistic machinations of Moro politicians, and the ties between clans, ethnic groups that extended beyond the MNLF (Moro National Liberation Front), to the MILF (Moro Islamic Liberation Front), and the most radical of the groups, the Abu Sayyaf. We met them as they are, sometimes in their most ungracious persona, the main players in this tragic drama, the priests and the nuns, the politicians, the Moro leaders fighting among themselves, the generals. We participate in the secret meetings, the backstage negotiations, and witness the depredations, the historic raid on Ipil. The details are precise, the quotes memorable.

Nur Misuari had complained that he did not get enough support from government, but Vitug and Gloria document the billions that were released to him, billions which he did not account for but which he spent lavishly for himself and entertainment.

Under the Crescent Moon is a must reading for all who are interested in the Moro problem – it is also an important Baedeker for leaders sincerely desirous of fulfilling Mindanao’s promise. As for the Moros who want change, this book tells them what to do.

Vitug and Gloria show very little of Mindanao before the conflict erupted. How was it in the halcyon days after World War II? What is the future of the Moro conflict?

I familiarized myself with Mindanao since the Fifties when I was with the old Manila Times. I use the term Moro, not Muslim, because the problem is not religious. I visited Davao, Sulu to the far south, to Sitangkai, the Turtle Islands and to Sandakan and Jesselton in Sabah when a visa was not necessary.

In the mid-Fifties, I spent two weeks as a guest of the late Datu Samad Mangelen, Mayor of Buluan in Cotabato. We went crocodile hunting in the vast Liguasan marsh. Buluan was exclusively Moro at the edge of a forest. The towns of Marbel and Tacurong were then being carved out of the jungle and the streets of these towns were muddy, the houses made of rough planks of wood. Some forest trees still stood everywhere.

Ten years afterwards, I returned. Buluan was still the same sleepy Moro town but Tacurong and Marbel were already booming with sturdy houses, their main streets alive with commerce. Is it because Buluan is Moro and Tacurong and Marbel are Christian?

In the Fifties, I also visited Jolo and stayed there for six weeks during the Kamlon campaign. Col. Mamarinta Lao – a Maranao – was the Sulu provincial commander. There being no hotel in Jolo, Governor Fernandez billeted us at the provincial jail. Hadji Kamlon, close to 70, had decided to fight the government with about a hundred men. Battalion combat teams were sent to subdue him, the Air Force patrolled the skies, and the Navy blockaded the waters around Sulu. After spending millions, the government did not catch Kamlon.

I became aware also at the time of our claim to North Borneo. The territory, which belonged to the Sultan of Sulu, was leased to the British North Borneo Company. I met in Jolo Princess Tarhata Kiram. As that doughty Tausug noblewoman said, "In the end, these differences are resolved peacefully in bed." The thousands of mixed marriages do help. I was also a guest of her cousin, Sultan Ismail Jamalul Kiram at his home in Maimbung in Jolo. In the coming years, we missed an opportunity to repossess North Borneo, an opportunity which President Marcos sought to rectify with colossal and tragic aftermath.

We always say that Mindanao will be our rice bowl. This promise will remain unfulfilled if Mindanao is considered a backwater in Manila.

Let me go back to Buluan in Cotabato. Why did it not prosper while Tacurong and Marbel did? Is it because Buluan is Moro and Tacurong and Marbel are Christian? On the surface that is what it seems. But it is much, much more than this. Tacurong and Marbel prospered because they were settled by immigrants. Cut off from old sources of traditional support systems, they were determined to work harder, just as immigrants do everywhere. This is also what is happening now to the Moros who have left Mindanao and have settled in other parts of the country.

As Hadji Kamlon had shown, the solution of the Moro rebellion is not military. The solution basically, is in economic development that reaches everyone – the poorest Moro, including the Badjaos, and the setting up of a federal form of government.

But the Moros must also look honestly at themselves, at their archaic datu system, their culture and do away with the weaknesses of such culture. They cannot say they haven’t had a chance – in the regions which they dominate, they are the congressmen, the governors, the town mayors. But most of their leaders are as corrupt as the rest of our elites.

The destruction of the World Trade Center on 9/11 has added a new dimension to our problems in Mindanao.

It is what terrorism will do to the United States, the possible recession and its economic impact on us, the loss of our export market, the return of our overseas workers. These should worry us. We have to develop our agriculture and produce more food. This will then mean more agrarian reform and the focus of more attention to Mindanao’s agricultural potential.

And to achieve this, the stability of the island will be a primary goal – meaning we must now lick the Moro problem.

I have suggested federalism not just for Mindanao but the entire country. In principle, it is already in place with the division of the country into distinct regions. I suggest further the transfer of Manila or the capital to Mindanao itself, to Bukidnon with its ideal climate. Let Manila be, like New York, continue to be the commercial and cultural capital of the country, and Bukidnon, like Washington, the capital. It will be expensive, but the transfer could be programmed for the next 10 years. Such a move will not only decongest Manila but will surely assure the allocation of more funds, more attention to Mindanao. Look at Brasilia in Brazil.

Distance will no longer be a problem; such a move will also develop further our interisland shipping. Remember, the cost of shipping today from Manila to Davao is more expensive than the cost from Manila to Oakland. And finally, Mindanao will really bring us closer to Indonesia and Malaysia.

We now come to the discontent that has spawned domestic violence. Some 10 years ago, after the fall of communism in Europe, the eminent American writer, Samuel Huntington, postulated that the next conflict will be between civilizations. The bombing of the World Trade Center as ordained by the Arabian millionaire Osama Bin Laden fits into his thesis.

But Samuel Huntington made his prediction from a very comfortable position and if he looked at history with more compassion and lucidity, he will find that wars in the past were almost always based on perceptions that a clan, a people, a nation were oppressed, so that conflicts were between the tyrant and the tyrannized. Not between tradition versus modernity, not between the old and the new, it is between those who seek freedom and those who hold others in subjection.

Religion is not the cause of intransigence in the Muslim world, or the rage against the United States. But when President Bush or our Christians exalt and exhort their faith, they push the Arabs and the Moros towards fundamentalism and, in the end, towards jihad. There are those who see the United States as the ultimate symbol of excessive consumerism and decadent capitalism. It will do us well to; consider the fanaticism of those who bombed the symbols of American power for when we understand the depth of their hatred then will we also know the answers and perhaps the wisdom to confront such fanaticism.

The quest for social justice and a moral order is not limited to those who are poor. It is a quest for all who abhor injustice and the corruption in society – these they perceive is mankind’s greatest enemy today. For them, the enemy is untrammeled consumerism wherein the market dictates all options. This kind of thinking has fueled the anti-Americanism, which abounds not only in the Muslim world, but in all poor countries who see their exploitation as part of America’s global reach.

Even if the United States will not make war on the Taliban, because the Taliban is tyrannical, like all oppressors everywhere, they will eventually be destroyed. For as Jean Paul Sartre said, "Man is doomed to be free."

The capture of Bin Laden or the destruction of the Abu Sayyaf and the winding down of our domestic rebellions, including the NPA and the MILF, will give no definitive end to such a struggle. It will merely take on different forms and our best hope is that should such struggles end, and will be replaced by new ones, we pray that they need not be violent, that they can be resolved in the context of freedom.

This is not an impossibility for us. We now have a masa that is alert, we have leaders waiting in the wings. And above all, as our history has abundantly shown, we are a heroic people.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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