Beyond the religious and social divide …

Beyond the religious and social divide
The emerging Mindanawon identity
Agnes Brazal The influx of Christian migrants in the Mindanao archipelago, especially in the second half of the 20th century, has led to social instability in the region leading to the emergence of politicized ethnic identities – Bangsamoro, Lumads (indigenous peoples) and Christians – with religion as the primary cultural marker. This essay focuses on the religious self-image fostered by these groups and how the emerging Mindanawon self-designation which is premised on a tri-people perspective, presents a creative attempt at a construction of a transcendent ethnic identity that hopes to unite rather than divide. Mindanawon identity is based on geographical location and stresses the concept of a shared territory. It encourages more the exploration of commonalities and the intertwining of lineage, cultural practices and problems among the tri-peoples. While de-emphasizing religion as cultural marker, it regards interreligious dialogue as an important means for the creation of a culture of peace. From a social constructivist perspective, however, the "fate" of this new ethnic identity will ultimately depend on the interplay of the historical forces in this archipelago once called "Land of Promise". Mindanao, together with the Sulu Islands, is located at the southern part of the Philippines. It is the second largest island in the country. Before the Spanish colonizers came in the 16th century, it was home to Islamized Vol. 2 (2004) 3, 7-26

Agnes Brazal tribes, non-Muslim tribal communities (Lumads), and Cebuano speaking indigenous peoples of north and eastern Mindanao. The Cebuano speakers are now ethnically identified with the Christian migrants who started arriving in the 1900s. The arrival of Christian migrants from Luzon and the Visayas has changed dramatically the demographic profile of Mindanao. At the latter part of the 19th century 30% of the population were Muslims, 20% Lumads and 50% Christians.1 By 1990, the census shows that Christians constituted already about 75% of the population.2 The influx of the migrants led to exploitation and marginalization of the Muslims and the indigenous peoples leading to social unrest, the Moro Rebellion in the 1970's and the war in 2000. The conflicts have also led to the creation and promotion of politicized identities. This essay focuses on the religious self-image fostered by the new politico-ethnic identities and how the emerging Mindanawon consciousness and identity represent a creative attempt to transcend the religious and social divide.

Mindanao: Land of unfulfilled promise
Immigration to Mindanao increased in the early 20th century when the population of Mindanao, estimated at 500,000 during the last decade of the Spanish regime increased to 2,2M by 1939. Government resettlement programmes were a major factor in the upsurge of migration. The resettlement programme, particularly under the American colonial administration after 1935 hoped not only to tap the resources in Mindanao but also aimed at "civilizing" both the Muslim and tribal groups of Mindanao. In the 1950's and 1960's the Philippine government continued to encourage migration to Mindanao for the landless tillers of Luzon and Visayas and former Huk rebels. American, Japanese and Filipino corporations also came in to establish their agricultural plantations. In the beginning of the 1960's, around 3,200 migrants were arriving every week in Mindanao. As in other immigration societies, the migrants congregated within the same ethnic grouping. They also had little respect for the government in Manila. The


R.J. May, The Wild West in the South: A recent political history of Mindanao, in: Mark Turner / R.J. May / Lulu Respall-Turner (eds.), Mindanao: Land of unfulfilled promise, New Day Publishers, Quezon City 1992, p. 127. B.R. Rodil, It is time for mutual affirmative action, in: Kalinaw Mindanaw, available from:; Internet, accessed 7 March 2003.


Beyond the religious and social divide … Muslims and indigenous peoples, however, saw the Manila government as favouring the interest of the migrants. Development efforts in Mindanao got concentrated in Christian dominated areas. There were lots of cases where the Muslims and tribal people or even pre-war settlers were dispossessed of their lands by the new migrants. The government's failure to respond adequately to the needs of the Muslims resulted in conflicts with groups usually led by the datus (traditional Muslim leaders) and other members of the Muslim elite. The "Land of Promise" turned into a "Wild West" where those with economic and political means protected themselves by forming private armies or bribing the police and the military with whom they can identify ethnically. The impoverished Muslims and others who were not able to compete with the rest for land and livelihood resorted to banditry. Millenarian movements emerged, as early as the beginnings of the 20th century, in response to the social conflicts brought about by the arrival of immigrants. While some tribal groups avoided conflict by fleeing into the mountains, others fought in fanatical groups inspired by religious mediums. In the late 1960's, the Ilaga began as a community self defence group to protect the Christian migrants, particularly the Ilonggos (Visayan ethnic-linguistic group), who are being targeted for assassination by the Moros because of disputes on land. The group got out of hand and together with the non-Muslim tribal Tirurays, who were being forced to pay tribute to the datus, eventually hunted even innocent Moro civilians. In Cotabato and Lanao del Norte, they fought with Muslim armed groups, namely the Blackshirts and the Barracudas. The latter began attacking settlers in Lanao del Norte in 1971. In a move to retake farmlands of immigrant settlers called "Operation Bawi" ("Operation Reclaim"), the Barracudas stirred up ordinary Maranao (Islamized group) who previously lived peacefully with Christian neighbours to claim their neighbours' farm. Well-known politicians (Christians and Muslims) in their respective provinces supported these groups.3 A strong military response on the part of the government led to their containment and disappearance, and prevented what could have escalated into genocide. Lumad areas have also become socially unstable as they have become a recruiting ground for communist combatants. Intelligence reports suggest


Hilario Gomez Jr., The Moro Rebellion and the search for peace: A study on Christian-Muslim relations in the Philippines, Silsilah Publications, Zamboanga City 2000, pp. 156-173.


Agnes Brazal that two thirds of NPA combatants are Lumads.4 The artificial peace that has been attained by the arrest of the Moro Rebellion in the 1970's and the peace process with the rebel groups is always threatening to explode again into violence. The origin or cause of the conflicts in Mindanao is actually multi-layered and multi-dimensional. There is the economic competition for scarce resources as expressed in the landgrabbing cases and "Operation Reclaim"; the political factor, that is manifested in government neglect of the plight of Muslims and indigenous tribes as well as in the divisions among the Muslims themselves; and the socio-psychological factor such as inter-ethnic chauvinism and fear of extinction or genocide. While the media and some political groups have often described the situation as a "Muslim-Christian" conflict, the peoples involved – both immigrants, Muslims and indigenous tribes – are actually from various ethnolinguistic groups with very little sense of communal identity (we are speaking here of 13 Islamized tribes, around 18 Lumad communities and immigrants from various ethno-linguistic groups in Luzon and Visayas). Such religious labelling also ignores the existence and the plight of the Lumads. The 2nd half of the 20th century, however, has witnessed the construction of new politicized identities by the marginalized groups in Mindanao, an expression of the heightened communal consciousness of these different ethno-linguistic groups in relation to certain political goals. These oppositional identities and their proponents' discourse also foster directly or indirectly certain religious self-understanding and make use of religion as cultural marker in varying degrees of intensity.

Moro and Lumad politico-ethnic identities and shifting religious self-comprehension
Ethnicity has been used in social anthropology to describe social groups with a shared culture. It may be defined on the basis of language, religion or nationality, whichever is seen as symbolizing the shared culture. There exist three main approaches in the study of ethnicity and ethnic conflict, which may provide us with a background for analyzing the emerging ethnic identities in Mindanao: the primordialist, instrumentalist and


Rick Flores, Mindanawon instead of Tri-people, in: MindaNews (10 December 2002), available from:; Internet, accessed 15 February 2003.


Beyond the religious and social divide … social constructivist model.5 The primordialist approach posits ethnicity as a fixed characteristic that is grounded in a sense of kinship or degree of relatedness. This stems from the belief in having originated from a common descent or genetic source. This view is unable to account for the rise of new and transformed identities and regards differences in ethnicity as inherently conflictual. The instrumentalist approach regards ethnicity as simply a vehicle utilized by individuals, groups or elites to obtain some political end or advantage. It is therefore not radically different from a political affiliation. Critics of this view would rightfully claim that ethnicity is not something fully within the choice of an individual and a group. Rather, the formation of a new ethnic identity interacts with the processes of the larger society. The constructionist approach, which represents the scholarly consensus, argues that ethnic groups are neither fixed nor completely flexible. Ethnic groups are "imagined communities" that is, a product of socio-historical phenomena.6 Ethnic identities are not fixed features waiting for us to uncover. Rather identities change as discourse about ethnic relations change. Rational purposive choice of individuals or groups still plays a role here, but not independently of its interaction with the social systems. It is the task of "mythmakers" to foster an image of communion within the new ethnic group. Working from a constructionist perspective, we shall discuss the new politico-ethnic identities being forged in Mindanao, and the shifting religious self-comprehension of the peoples as religion gets entangled in the discourses on ethnicity. Moro/Bangsamoro identity Before the late 1960's, the Islamized tribes in the Philippines were not a unified group. They fought the Spaniards as separate sultanates in a period of three hundred years and, as in the rest of Southeast Asia, the sultanates also fought against each other. The beginnings of the formation of a unified Philippine Muslim identity started when the American colonizers (1899-



David Lake / Donald Rothchild, Ethnic fears and global engagement: The international spread and management of global conflict, available from:; Internet, accessed 20 February 2001. Benedict Anderson, Imagined communities: Reflections on the origin and spread of nationalism (7th edition), Verso, London 1996, p. 7.


Agnes Brazal 1946), as part of their pacification campaign, encouraged their consolidation in a "Moro Province" under more enlightened (i.e. Westernized) leadership.7 "Moro" was the term used by the Spanish invaders to refer to the various Islamized ethnolinguistic groups in Mindanao. Among Christian Filipinos "Moro" was understood as a pejorative designation, through the folk theatre "moro-moro" which depicts Moros as savage and treacherous pirates being battled and defeated by Christian heroes. In the late 1960's Philippine Muslim nationalists transformed the ethnic slur "Moro" into a politicized collective identity, representing the natives' continued resistance to foreign domination. The term "Bangsamoro" literally means Moro Nation (bangsa) and is a late 20th century invention. Bangsamoro designates a group of people with a territory. Two basic trends characterize the Moros' way of asserting their religious and ethnic identities: the modernist and the fundamentalist models.8 The modernist one is basically committed to reconstructing Islam to adapt to modern needs while the fundamentalist one tries to apply "eternal Islamic truths" to the present situation. Modernist trend The modernist model does not view secession or independence from the Philippine State as integral to preserving the Islamic religious identity. There are still two subcategories of modernists depending on how they see their link to the Philippine Republic. The first type, propounded by intellectuals, most of them lawyers who know Islamic and Philippine civil law, deems it possible to promote reforms within the Philippine existing legal system to allow for respect of the Islamic laws and thus the maintenance of their Muslim identity. This view can be achieved by distinguishing between the "law of the land" and "personal law". They also propose reforms in Islamic thought and institutions, which are oppressive to the masses. For instance they reject the old feudal datu system, the traditional structure of leadership in the pre-colonial era until the 1900s, which has been preserved in some Philippine Muslim communities. Devout Muslims of various ages, who witness to their faith in their lives, also belong to this group. Convinced of the need to "let God be God in this


William LaRousse, Walking together: Seeking peace: The local Church of Mindanao-Sulu journeying, in: Dialogue with the Muslim community (1965-2000), Claretian Publications, Quezon City 2001, p. 180. George Decasa, The Qur`anic concept of Umma and its function in Philippine Muslim society, Editrice Pontificia Università Gregoriana, Rome 1999, pp. 379-392.


Beyond the religious and social divide … modern age", they exhibit openness to work with people of other religious traditions of faith in the one God. The second type of modernist likewise rejects the secessionist alternative and the traditional datu system and instead proposes autonomy to the Bangsamoro within a federal republic. This trend is represented by the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF). For the MNLF, the Bangsamoro territory consists of the 13 provinces of Mindanao as stipulated in the MNLFPhilippine agreement signed in Tripoli in 1976. In this territory, the Muslims can have their own courts guided by Islamic laws. The MNLF also promotes a more inclusive use of the term "Bangsamoro" by expanding Moro to include the non-Muslims – Christians and Lumads – in the Moro homeland. The MNLF vision of the Bangsamoro is one where different religions harmoniously exist, following their respective laws. Fundamentalist trend The fundamentalist trend can also be further categorized into two types: the revivalist and radical fundamentalist. The revivalist fundamentalist advocates a close adherence to Islamic law as well as a revival of the traditional structure of leadership among Muslims in the Philippines, the datu and sultan system of government. The Bangsa Moro Liberation Organization (BMLO), which has been formed by some datus and sultans of Mindanao is representative of this aspiration to recover the glorious past. The BMLO aims at the establishment of a Bangsamoro State (an Islamic government) on the ancestral lands of the Moros, under the leadership of the datus and governed by Islamic law. Realizing this vision may entail armed conflict, parliamentary struggle and diplomatic negotiations. The radical fundamentalist, represented by the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), differs from the revivalist in that it rejects a return to the datu system and the sultanate, which it views as un-Islamic. The MILF envisions an Islamic State patterned after the one established by Muhammad in Medina which is characterized by strict adherence to the Sharia. The MILF is a religious movement. It broke away from the MNLF in 1984. It dropped the term "national" in favour of "Islamic" to symbolize its emphasis on Islam, in contrast to what it perceived as the more secular and Marxistleaning MNLF. Unlike the MNLF which is advocating for autonomy within the framework of the Philippine Republic, the MILF regards as non-negotiable the full independence of the Bangsamoro Muslims because they believe that only within an Islamic State can they realize the Qur`anic teaching of worship of God and right conduct. Salamat Hashim, the MILF 13

Agnes Brazal founder, regards any Westernization of Islam as opposed to the Qur`an and the Sunna and considers the modernist Muslims as "unbelievers" or "ignorant of Islam". In an attempt to push forward secession from the Philippine State, the MILF has propounded myths to support the existence of "totally distinct and entirely separate" peoples in a typical primordialist approach. One of these is Hashim's claim that the Bangsamoro nation pre-dates the Philippines and includes both the Muslims and non-Muslim indigenous peoples. Their ancestral homeland originally consists of the whole of Mindanao and the surrounding islands. This is, however, simply a projection of the term "Bangsamoro" back to pre-colonial Philippines. Bangsamoro, as an ethnicity, neither existed in the pre-colonial, colonial or even post-colonial times but is a late 20th century construction.9 Another myth is the assertion that the Muslims have never been conquered, either by the Spaniards or the Americans, and that the Bangsamoro homeland had been unjustly annexed to the Philippine State when the latter gained its independence. While one can understand this as a symbolic expression for the continued resistance of the Muslims to Spanish and American colonization, this is not accurately based on historical realities. In 1878, Sultan Jama ul-Azam of Sulu signed a peace treaty with the Spanish government bounding his subjects to the Spanish king while maintaining autonomy for Sulu. Datu Utto of Cotabato likewise capitulated to Spain in 1887 and recognized the rule of the king of Spain.10 And together with the Lumads and the Christians, the Muslims were colonized by the Americans. Because Muslims are now the minority in Mindanao, the MILF is demanding the complete independence of provinces and municipalities where the Bangsamoro Muslims constitute the majority, as well as the areas occupied by non-Muslim Bangsamoro tribes. The non-Muslims (Lumads and Christians) in the Bangsamoro territories will be protected by the same rights except that they cannot be the head of state nor take charge of the propagation of Islamic ideology.11 Although less vocal about their political position, the Tabligh movement likewise belongs to the radical fundamentalist trend. The movement

10 11

Thomas McKenna, Muslim rulers and rebels: Everyday politics and armed separatism in the Southern Philippines, University of California Press, Berkeley 1998, pp. 82-83. Rodil, It is time for mutual affirmative action, p. 4. A.M. Lingga, Salamat Hashim's concept of Bangsamoro State and Government, in: Dansalan Quarterly 15 (1995) 3-4, 57, cited by Decasa, The Qur`anic concept of Umma, p. 384.


Beyond the religious and social divide … preaches a return to Islamic roots and is opposed to folk Islam. Because of the latter, some Muslims do not welcome the Tabligh preachers in their mosques. The Tabligh movement also advocates avoidance of contact and collaboration with Christians, whom they consider unclean. At the height of the armed conflicts in the 1970's and the 1980's, Catholic Church workers in Muslim dominated areas like Basilan and Jolo, could travel and mingle freely with the Muslims. Since the Tabligh's arrival greater restrictions have existed in travel and there has been less openness on the part of the Muslims in these areas to relate and dialogue with Christians.12 The radical fundamentalist trend, in its zeal to return to the "Islamic roots", has disapproved of some religious rituals and well-loved cultural customs of folk Muslims.13 For example, the radical fundamentalists contest the traditional death rituals where prayers, the use of incense and ritual ablutions at the grave site were added to the traditional Islamic burial service. These were viewed by the ustadzes (Islamic teachers) as adulterations rather than an inculturation of Islamic practice. More strongly disapproved were the various death commemoration rituals 3, 7, 40, 100 and 365 days after death, which do have therapeutic functions for those left behind by the deceased. This practice is common among Islamic and non-Islamic groups including Christian Filipinos. The ustadzes criticized the long death commemorations because they can become very expensive and people can incur debts as a consequence. The people, on their part, fear that their loved ones will not be at peace without these death commemorations. Besides, there are ways the people can reduce the expenses without decreasing the number of death commemorations. Common Muslims, who sympathize with the MILF, have cautiously but firmly resisted these attempts of the Islamic leaders to dictate their understanding of Islam while still supporting the armed struggle. Community imams mediate between the communities and the ulama. For instance, they stress the need to differentiate the un-Islamic from the anti-Islamic. Traditional rituals are not necessarily anti-Islamic. They preach to the community that they must follow the Qur`anic teachings but not the cultural practices in the Middle East and that the young ustadzes are not able to distinguish between Islamization and Arabization. The need to control the behaviour of women is reflected in some of the reforms advocated by the ustadzes such as the prohibition of emergency marriages (when the woman is pregnant already), the dayunday (a song
12 13

La Rousse, Walking together, p. 148. McKenna, Muslim rulers and rebels, pp. 220-226.


Agnes Brazal duel, where a man and one or two women exchange extemporaneous romantic repartees) and other forms of entertainment.14 Towards the end of the Moro Rebellion in the 1970's and after the cease-fire, it was not uncommon to find corpses of women floating down the river from "liberated" areas. People believe these bodies were those of women punished for illicit sexual relations by the rebel courts. News of these events creates apprehension among the ordinary Muslims. But in general, the MILF courts have not strictly implemented the Sharia law because, in their view, the local Muslims are not genuine Muslims and are therefore not yet bound by the stricter Islamic punishments. A phenomenon that is also worth mentioning in relation to the fundamentalist model of asserting religious and ethnic identity is the "BalikIslam" (Return to Islam) Movement. Because of the efforts of the Tabligh roving missionaries and the Da`wah (call to faith) movement linked to the worldwide Islamic revival,15 over 100,000 Christians have converted to Islam. This large-scale conversion, however, occurred after the Mindanao wars in the 70's and seems to be more of a practical political strategy in the context of insecurities felt by Christians living in predominantly Muslim communities.16 Balik-Islam members possess the potential to play a role in movements that can bridge the gap between Muslims and Christians since they would have friends on both sides. Unfortunately, the new converts are more zealous in converting Christians than the Muslims themselves so that they are even perceived by other Muslims as "opportunistic zealots." Lumad identity and re-appreciation of indigenous religio-cultural world-view17 Like the Islamized tribes, the indigenous peoples of Mindanao did not develop a communal consciousness until the 2nd half of the 20th century. The collective term "Lumad" is a self-designation which emerged only in the last 15 years. In the past, they had been called by various names by out14 15

16 17

Ibid., p. 329. The international Islamic revival began to be felt in Mindanao in the 1980's when, as a result of the peace talks with the MNLF, the government shifted its focus from the Muslim to the communist rebels. This created the atmosphere for the flourishing of the Islamic renewal and the emergence of a strong ulama. Clerics educated in the Middle East were no longer engulfed in the armed conflict. They propagated Islamic populism and advocated for the reform of cultural practices. La Rousse, Walking together, p. 148. B.R. Rodil, Ancestral domain: A central issue in the Lumad struggle for self-determination in Mindanao, in: Turner et al. (eds.), Mindanao, pp. 233-247.


Beyond the religious and social divide … siders (e.g. paganos, infideles, "wild tribes", "uncivilized", "tribal minorities", "indigenous cultural communities", "tribal peoples"). The term "Lumad" is actually an acronym of Lumadnong Alyanso Alang sa Demokrasya – "Indigenous Alliance for Democracy". The name "Lumad" is a politicized identity constructed and propagated by members and support groups of Lumad-Mindanao, a coalition of local and regional all-Lumad groups. This coalition propounds the following goals: 1) to protect the identity and rights of the Lumad people; 2) to protect their ancestral domain; 3) to preserve their cultural heritage. Lumad identity was born in the context of a heightened awareness of the different tribal groups of their common predicament and aspirations. It is an identity which emerged during the period of the Marcos dictatorship in the context of landgrabbing by migrants, intrusions of multinational corporations into their ancestral domain, poverty, militarization, and government neglect. They felt left out even in the government's peace agreement with the MNLF and ceasefire treaty with the MILF. In the Organic Act that formed the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao in 1989, there was a provision granting privileges and rights (e.g. tribal courts) for indigenous peoples in the Moroland, but there was no representative from the indigenous peoples themselves in the Regional Legislative Assembly.18 On MILF's inclusion of Lumads in the Bangsamoro identity, the secretary general of Lumad-Mindanao strongly remarked that they, the Lumads, do not regard themselves as Bangsa Moro and neither do they claim the lands where Muslims constitute the majority, but the rest of Mindanao is theirs by ancestral right. Because of the large presence of immigrant population, the Lumads are today the majority in only nine towns, whereas they used to inhabit what now comprises 17 provinces and 14 cities. Living as independent communities for many years, and at times even in conflict with one another, the Lumad tribes have realized that their survival rests on being united as a unit, that is, as Lumads. They want the government to acknowledge their communal ownership of tribal domains and their right to rule their communities according to tribal laws. They were influential in incorporating provisions close to this ideal in the 1987 Constitution (Article 12, Section 5 and Article 14, Section 17).


Lumads and the peace process – Interview with Ramon Moambing, in: Accord Mindanao, available from:; Internet, accessed 10 March 2003.


Agnes Brazal Roman Catholic and Protestant leaders have helped a lot in the organization of the Lumads. In the first Lumad Mindanao General Assembly in 1983, the majority of those involved in its organization were Church people. As part of the KADUMA-Lumad (meaning "in partnership with the Lumads") they continue to help in the development of the Lumad identity. We thus see here a case of religious communities taking up the cudgel to protect the interest of a marginalized group. One unprecedented conference organized by the Bishops-Ulama Forum in 1997, was a dialogue between the Lumads and Christians, participated in by 57 Lumads (tribal leaders, religious leaders or the latter's representatives) from 11 of the 18 Lumad ethnolinguistic groups and a small group of Christians. This activity was sponsored by the Episcopal Commission in Inter-religious Dialogue. In the Forum the Lumads pointed out the key role played by both Christians and Muslims in the deterioration of their culture and in their current state of poverty. Archbishop Fernando Capalla asked forgiveness for the wrongs the Church had committed against the Lumads, which the latter, in turn, appreciated. The conference concluded with a resolve on the part of the Christians to respect the beliefs of the Lumads and to teach these in the seminaries. Hopefully, this will help prevent activities that would destroy what is humanizing in Lumad culture. The Lumads, on their part, vowed to exert efforts to regenerate their dying culture and to protect their environment and communities. The BUF, in order to strengthen its understanding of the Lumad belief system, has also co-sponsored a project, a series of research training workshops for diocesan personnel (Lumad and non-Lumad) in Mindanao on Lumad world-views and beliefs.

From Tri-People to Mindanawon identity
While marginalized groups may have a valid need to assert their identities, it is necessary to rekindle the socio-political imagination of the region to go beyond the social and religious divide. Some thinkers have pointed out the need to cast away notions of "separate histories, distinct identities" or, at the least, to highlight also the other side of the coin – the intertwining of lineage and cultural practices (e.g. common animistic base of folk Islam and folk Christianity) among the peoples of Mindanao.19 In line with this, a movement of very recent origin but gaining momentum, refers to inhabitants of Mindanao as Mindanawons. The peoples of

Arnold Azurin, Beyond the cult of dissidence in Southern Philippines and wartorn zones in the global village, University of the Philippines, Quezon City 1996, pp. 252-253.


Beyond the religious and social divide … Mindanao did not normally use this designation to refer to themselves. The term is based on geographical location, which is a normal way of representing identity for Filipinos. Rather than stressing an oppositional identity, Mindanawon stresses the concept of a shared territory. This allows seeing more the things that bind people together rather than their differences. While it promotes inter-religious dialogue, Mindanawon consciousness also deemphasizes religion as a cultural marker. "Mindanawon" consciousness first originated in what is called the "tripeople" perspective, that is, that Mindanao is home to three distinct groups of peoples – the Lumads, Moros and Christians.20 Historically, the term "tripeople" was aimed at increasing the awareness and appreciation of the Christians and Moros of the Lumad peoples and culture. The Lumads were not only victims of landgrabbing by Christian migrants but have also been enslaved by the Moros. The term "tri-people" was meant to give equal recognition to the three groups that now populate Mindanao, regardless of population size. The Mindanao Tri-people's Socio-Cultural Development Framework (MTSCDF) is the document that contains the collective vision of the tri-peoples, having been a product of consultations of various groups since 1991. Other civil society groups like Church institutions eventually adopted as well the tri-people framework. Today, MinCoDe (Mindanao Coalition of Development NGOs) which has promoted the use of a tri-people framework of peace and development for over 10 years, is refining its strategy by shifting to the term "Mindanawon". "Tri-people", according to some, tends to divide rather than unite by stressing the distinctness of the three groups of peoples. Mindanawon consciousness, however, does not gloss over the differences. Rather it is premised on a tri-people perspective, that is, that Mindanao is a shared territory of the Lumads, Moros and Christians. Those who propagate a Mindanawon identity operate on the following fundamental presuppositions.21 Firstly, as a result of historical and social forces, Mindanao is now inhabited by three distinct groups: the Lumad (5%), the Muslims (20%) and the Christian settlers (75%). Secondly, none of these groups can claim Mindanao as solely theirs, rather, Mindanao should be considered a shared territory. Thirdly, despite the cultural and religious differences of the three groups as well as the inherited prejudices they harbour against each other, they can work together to make Mindanao "a home of peace and harmony." The basis of unity is equal and mutual ac20 21

Flores, Mindanawon, pp. 1-2. Rodil, It is time for mutual affirmative action, p. 2.


Agnes Brazal ceptance of one another as distinct peoples in one nation, sharing the same territory. Articulators of Mindanawon consciousness are highlighting myths of the different groups in Mindanao, which speak of a common origin followed by a process of differentiation of peoples, with some living in the lowland and others on the highland, and then developing to further explain the assimilation of foreign elements. These myths somehow express the people's aspiration for both unity and diversity. In terms of vision, the tri-peoples themselves should fashion this from the present realities, on the level of communities. This important task should not be left to the care of the Philippine government nor to the MNLF/MILF alone. Neither should this ignore the contribution women can make to the peace process. In the formal peace negotiations, two out of five members of the government panel are women, whereas on the MILF side, there is no woman representative at all. But in their respective communities, women are already playing crucial roles in the peace process (e.g. establishment of peace zones in Pikit, Cotabato, the Pilgrimage for Peace in Kauswagan and Lanao and the peace dialogues in Carmen). The inclusion of women's perspectives in the official talks may help direct people's attention to the human face of the conflict and to more practical workable solutions, not because this is essentially the way they think, but because their social location and life experience may have provided them with another lens to view the situation.22 Promoting a culture of peace and dialogue The promotion of the Mindanawon identity grounded on a tri-people framework requires the creation of a culture of peace and dialogue. Instead of seeing ethnicity as naturally a cause of tension and conflict, on the contrary, in the minds of its advocates, ethnicity can function towards creating a peace culture.23 In 1996, representative peace advocates and educators from the Lumad, Muslim and Christian settlers formed themselves into a movement called Kalinaw Mindanaw (Peace Mindanaw) whose vision of a tri-people perspective is expressed in a Peace Credo which they produced, ratified and adopted on this gathering. What follows is an English translation of the Peace Credo:


Mary Ann Arnado, Women's participation in the peace process: Key towards sustainable authentic peace in Mindanao, in: MindaNews (October 6th, 2002); available from:; Internet, accessed 20 February 2003. Rodil, It is time for mutual affirmative action, p. 13.


Beyond the religious and social divide … Peace Mindanaw!!! Lumad, Muslim, Christian They are different, they can be one One God One land One dream Peace Mindanaw!!! This Peace Credo has been translated into 14 local languages and has been sung in ten different tunes. Since the organization of the Kalinaw Mindanaw movement, more than 50 seminars on Culture of Peace have been conducted throughout Mindanao. Educators, NGO workers, students, Church workers, community and religious leaders including bishops and ulama have participated in these Culture of Peace seminars. The seminar has three parts. The first part takes a historical journey that traces the common roots of the tripeoples of Mindanao and identifies the origins of biases and prejudices. The second part focuses on situations of conflicts and peaceful means of resolution. The third part deepens the people's understanding of the culture of peace and how this can be promoted. Trainers' training seminars were also conducted and a module on culture of peace titled Panagtagbo sa Kalinaw (Convergence in Peace) has been produced and used extensively even by government institutions. A local group of Kalinaw Mindanaw in the Mindanao State University-Iligan Institute of Technology focuses on self transformation seminars. This includes processing participants' interpersonal conflicts, skills-training in conflict resolution and the application of these in the conflictive context of Mindanao. In relation to religious identity, the promoters of Mindanawon consciousness view inter-religious dialogue as a necessary foundation for the tri-peoples to live harmoniously with each other. They therefore actively support the growth in inter-religious dialogue that has occurred in Mindanao-Sulu in the past three decades. Context: Growth of inter-religious dialogue in the 1990's The Bishops-Ulama Forum leads the inter-religious dialogue in Mindanao today. At present, this is composed of Catholic and Protestant bishops in Mindanao and the ulama (Muslim religious leaders) from the Ulama League of the Philippines. Membership of spiritual leaders from the Lumad communities is currently being considered as BUF has adopted a tri-people perspective and has expanded its concerns to include the Lumads. 21

Agnes Brazal The Bishops-Ulama Forum was formed in 1996 to fill the missing element in the peace efforts, that is, the lack of attention given to the spiritual and cultural bases for peace or the faith dimension. The Forum meets quarterly to deepen understanding among Christian and Muslim leaders and to advance the Mindanao peace process. It had held about 13 annual conference dialogues to date. In 1997, the Diocesan Clergy of Mindanao and Sulu had a historic gathering centred on fostering the culture of peace in Mindanao in its tri-people context. The gathering was composed of 305 Catholic priests and 11 Muslim religious leaders. Such a meeting of Christian and Muslim leaders in one room was the first time in the country, in Asia, and maybe in the world.24 The localization of the peace and development process initiated by the BUF has taken the form of Imam-Priests' Conferences. In 1998, the first inter-religious dialogue of priests, pastors and imams was held in the Archdiocese of Davao. This was followed by a second dialogue conference in Tagum in 1999 participated in by 35 imams and 50 priests. These efforts led to more local level dialogues in Mindanao and Sulu. These local level dialogues provided a forum for the priests and imams to get to know each other personally, address local issues and bring the dialogue to the grassroots level. For example, through the Ustadz, Priests, Imams Forum (UPIF) in the Diocese of Kidapawan, a co-ordinated relief distribution was organized for the Muslim evacuees during the 2000 war. The group also issued an appeal for peace in the name of the UPIF. The BUF realizes the importance of schools as venue to promote a culture of dialogue and peace. In 1998, the BUF organized a conference for superintendents and administrators of Muslim and Christian schools. Participants included 21 Christians, six ulama and one ustadz. The participants later conducted their own seminars to explore how to integrate peace modules in the curriculum. There are citizens' initiatives as well that have been affirmed by the BUF such as the creation of peace zones in contexts of heightened armed conflict. Guns, even of military and policemen, are strictly prohibited in these areas. The zones also have a group of leaders that is tasked with trying to resolve peacefully any conflict that might arise. Respect for religious practice of the different groups is maintained. For example, liquor is sold and pigs are raised only in certain specified areas. The Church, together with NGOs, local officials and the government's peace commission, provide support to these peace zones.

Rodil, It is time for mutual affirmative action, p. 12.


Beyond the religious and social divide … William LaRousse's book, "Walking together, seeking peace", has shown the gradual reception of the Catholic Church in Mindanao-Sulu from 1965-2000 of inter-religious dialogue as an integral part of its identity and mission. Prior to the 1980s, the term "dialogue" was associated more with formal gatherings and government negotiations, which the episcopacy felt was beyond its role. The 1990's witnessed a growth in the local Church's reception of interreligious dialogue.25 This was stimulated by the 1990 Pastoral Letter of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) which acknowledged the struggle for self-determination by both the MNLF and MILF, and which advocated for a peaceful resolution to the issue, thereby acknowledging itself as a partner in the peace process. Another external stimuli could have been CBCP's formation of the Episcopal Commission on Interreligious Dialogue to promote inter-religious dialogue and support diocesan efforts already being undertaken. The most important stimulus, however, was the government's creation of a National Unification Commission (NUC) in 1992 which started a chain of activities for dialogue between Muslims and Christians, in which the Mindanao-Sulu Church was a key participant. Another significant event was the ZAMBASULI (Zamboanga, Basilan, Sulu Islands) Peace Consultation of 1994, which led to the establishment of desks for inter-religious dialogue in the different dioceses. The growing receptivity to inter-religious dialogue in the MindanaoSulu Church is a significant development considering studies, which reveal the greater hesitancy on the part of Christians to relate with Muslims than vice versa.26 This, however, continues to be challenged by the intermittent eruption of armed conflicts, which oftentimes leave behind a legacy of bitterness and resentment making the people less open to inter-religious dialogue. From the perspective of the network of peace advocates promoting Mindanawon consciousness, inter-religious dialogue among the tri-peoples is an integral component in the promotion of a culture of peace. Their goals

25 26

LaRousse, Walking together, p. 412. See the study by Rosalita Tolibas-Nuñez among Muslims and Christians in General Santos City and of Hilario Gomez in Lanao del Sur and Lanao del Norte which shows that there is more hope of changing Muslim attitude towards national unity than there is of changing views of Christians whose perception of Muslims is largely negative. Tolibas-Nuñez, Roots of conflict, pp. 79-81; Hilario Gomez, A Christian approach to Filipino Muslims, in: Church and Community 10, No. 4 (July-August 1970), pp. 13-22, cited by Tolibas-Nuñez, Roots of conflict, p. 38.


Agnes Brazal thus augur well with the acceptance of inter-religious dialogue as part of the identity and mission of the Mindanao-Sulu Church. Federalism: political expression of Mindanawon identity While the promotion of a culture of peace and dialogue is the socio-cultural expression of the Mindanawon identity, federalism is the latter's political expression.27 This Philippine Federal Republic may take the form of five or six States. One of these can be the Islamic State composed of the predominantly Muslim provinces (Sulu, Tawi-tawi, Lanao del Sur, Maguindanao and Basilan) and municipalities. The Federal Republic should also see to it that the right of the indigenous peoples to their ancestral lands and to develop their cultures according to the 1987 Constitution and the Organic Act for the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (Republic Act No. 6734) are indeed protected. This alternative which is gaining more adherents, would require the MILF to move a step backwards and make as non-negotiable only the establishment of an Islamic State. There may also be a need for the Sharia to be reformed by the Muslim communities themselves, to remove provisions discriminatory of women and non-Muslims, in accordance with the spirit of the earlier Mecca stage of its formation. This option for federalism does not exclude a support for other peaceful means of attaining long-lasting peace in Mindanao such as a UN supervised referendum. This has been proposed by the Mindanao People's Peace Movement (composed of representatives from the Lumads, Bangsamoro and Mindanao Settlers and their Descendants) in a recently held meeting in December 2002.

The influx of migrants in Mindanao, especially in the second half of the 20th century, has led to social instability in the region creating an atmosphere rife for the emergence of politicized ethnic identities. Mindanao is now an arena of struggle for competing politico-ethnic discourses. What religious self-image has been fostered by the emerging politicoethnic identities? The Moro/Bangsamoro identity has fostered two diverse approaches to the assertion of religious and ethnic identity: the modernist and the fundamentalist. The modernist is more open to adapting Islam to changing contexts, and in particular to exploring ways in which this can be

Rey Magno Teves, Impasse creaker: An Islamic State within a Federal Philippines?, in: Intersect (September 1999), pp. 10-13.


Beyond the religious and social divide … done within the Philippine State. Those propounding a fundamentalist approach try to recover a particular historical way of living out Islam and advocate a strict adherence to the Islamic law. While the modernist is more open to inter-religious dialogue, some radical fundamentalists prohibit mingling with people of other faiths whom they consider as unclean. The latter are also opposed to folk Islam and other local customs. There are indications of resistance from the ordinary Muslims of what they view as the Arabization of Islam by the radical fundamentalist groups. While the MILF leaders expect that, in time, the Philippine Muslims will become more genuinely Islamized, the relatively older community imams hope that the younger ustadzes will eventually learn how to distinguish between Arabization and being true to the spirit of Islam in a way that is open to the local culture. The Lumads, on their part, as a result of their increased political consciousness and organization, are challenged to re-discover and re-appreciate their religious world-view and culture from which they have been alienated. Christians have actively helped and supported them in their organization and retrieval of their traditions. While the development of a collective consciousness beyond their ethno-linguistic groups is a necessary development to assure the protection of the political and cultural rights of Muslims and Lumads, there is a need for the peoples of Mindanao to go beyond the religious and social divide to prevent further bloodshed in the islands. After more than a decade of promoting a tri-people consciousness, a network of peace advocates has shifted to propagating a Mindanawon identity, a self-designation based not on a religious marker but on the peoples' link to the land where they dwell. Mindanawon consciousness presents a creative attempt at collective imagining and construction of a new transcendent identity. The term "Mindanawon" allows the imagination to explore not only the differences but also the commonalities among the tri-peoples. Overcoming the label "MuslimChristian conflict" can alert the people to other dimensions of their problem such as the intrusion and exploitation of multinational corporations of the resources of Mindanao, graft and corruption on the part of the government leaders (whether Christians, Muslims or Lumads), and the class divisions within the ethnic groups themselves. Mindanawon consciousness also avoids the politicizing of religion as cultural marker, for the conflict in Mindanao cannot be reduced to religious differences alone. But inter-religious dialogue remains to be an important means for the creation of a culture of peace, and thus it is significant for the Mindanawon proponents as well, that 25

Agnes Brazal inter-religious dialogue has grown in strides in the past decade and the Mindanao-Sulu Church, to which most migrants and their descendants belong, has acknowledged inter-religious dialogue as central to its self-understanding and mission. In relation to this, an important theme that can be the subject for future dialogue towards developing a Mindanawon identity would be the tri-peoples' theologies of the land. The development of a new ethnic identity, however, does not simply depend on what individuals or a group of intellectuals propound (instrumentalist perspective) but also on the interplay of historical forces (social constructionist). While the Mindanawon alternative is attractive, the interaction of this discourse with the different social forces and systems will shape what will eventually happen to the island once called "Land of Promise".
Agnes Brazal Maryhill School of Theology 14th St. Corner Gilmore Avenue New Manila, 1112 Quezon City/Philippines



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