Duterte's historical revisionism: A settler hijacks Mindanao
Let me get this straight: Rodrigo Duterte is a settler from Mindanao.
He is the president of the country narrating "Mindanao" to the Nation. The country listens in awe and submission. He is, as supporters and his band of propagandists claim, the first president from the island and therefore the first Filipino leader who can truly understand the "Mindanao problem" better than any previous presidents who either came from the island of Luzon, in the Visayas, or from "Imperial Manila." He alone possesses this privilege that he is born, raised, and built his political career – a dynasty, in fact – with his family in Davao City.
So when Duterte placed the entire island under martial law last May, everybody agreed that it was the best solution to the looming terrorist takeover of Marawi City. How can you contradict the decision of someone who knows Mindanao like the back of his hand? Supporters were quick to defend the decision and, days later, came the destructive airstrikes, looting, civilian deaths, displacements, and, to my horror, even rape jokes as an instrument of warfare.
Filipinos from Luzon, Manila, and from other islands in the Visayas who experienced first-hand violence during Martial Law under Ferdinand Marcos, Duterte’s model president, gagged on statements coming from Duterte supporters buffered with “I am from Mindanao…” It is a statement so powerful, it can silence any Filipinos outside Mindanao who do not possess the privilege to speak in behalf of Marawi City, of Mindanao. In a country separated by islands, people are territorial. And we all know, as an unwritten rule, that if you are not from this island, from this territory, you know nothing. It is a convenient counter-argument that reeks of essentialism so it’s better for others to shut up.
But let me tell you this or, perhaps the more appropriate, remind you of this: Duterte and his narrative of Mindanao to the Nation is just one of the 3 narratives from this island, which has long been the battleground for various resistance groups – from freedom fighters with legitimate causes, private armies, violent folk messianic groups, and now terrorists. Mindanao's narratives – between Moro, settlers, and indigenous groups who are neither Moro nor Filipino settlers – have been won by people who wanted to bring lasting peace to region. Duterte and his supporters are dangerously amending this victory by homogenizing Mindanao’s narratives and assigning a representative voice that will speak to the Nation: that of the settler’s.
Settlers from the Visayan islands and Luzon started migrating to Mindanao during the Spanish colonial period. The peasant migration was heightened during the American period, specifically when Moro and indigenous people’s ancestral lands were legally grabbed to cater to the needs of wealthy landowners and their expanding haciendas. Filipino and foreign landowners and capitalists closer to the colonial masters established several settler communities on the island.
Settler migration continued post-US occupation as several lands were offered as "lupang pangako" (promised land) for communist leaders who surrendered to the government. Lands in Mindanao were used as bargaining chip to curtail the spread of communism in the archipelago during the early stage of the Cold War.
Since the Spanish colonial period, Moros and the indigenous people were displaced from their lands. Various settler communities were established while the country was struggling to create its Grand Narrative as a Nation. More than the lands, Moro and indigenous people’s histories, cultures, and the narratives of their aspirations as people were displaced, appropriated, silenced, muted to give way to the single grand narration of this Nation: that we are a homogenous nation.
The Moro's armed resistance to colonial domination, a centuries-old struggle that predates even the Philippines and the United States, reached our time in the late 1960s when Moros started to reclaim and negotiate not just their ancestral lands but also their histories and cultures, and assert their muted voices in the narration of Mindanao within and outside of the Nation.
The victory of peace advocates, freedom fighters, and well-intentioned leaders in the past provided several pockets of spaces for indigenous people and Moros to narrate their own versions of Mindanao. Since then Mindanao’s argument against escalating and real conflict is the tri-people’s narrative of this lives, histories, cultures, and aspirations as Mindanaoans. The Duterte regime is displacing this hard-fought framework, mainstreaming and imposing a singular voice to narrate Mindanao to the Nation: that of the settler’s.
‘I am from Mindanao’ buffer statement
This is a historical revisionism of settler’s migration and of the eventual displacements of Moros and indigenous in the histories of Mindanao. By invoking "I am from Mindanao" to silence dissent from Filipinos from Luzon and the Visayas, the President engages in the endless reconstruction and deconstruction of Mindanao’s histories.
"I am from Mindanao" is a paradox. It is an unspoken admittance of a fear that phantoms from Luzon and the Visayas will invoke an invitation of a return, of eventual abandonment; a fear that will highlight the Moros and indigenous peoples groups' narration of their legitimate claim to this space and time called "Mindanao." It is an articulation of the settler's fear and insecurity, as this narrative is perpetually doomed to be in a struggle to occupy a space and time as its own home – the Nation sustains their life, the promise of a permanence.
"I am from Mindanao" cannot exist without the Nation's narration of a homogenous Philippines.
Duterte’s appropriation of the Bangsamoro struggle
I remember from conversations with Moro colleagues that, during the election campaign last year, Duterte claimed Maranao ancestry, that Maranao blood runs in his bloodline as a product of an intermarriage. The Dutertes of Davao trace their power and lineage to a powerful political family in Cebu. Like other Visayans in Mindanao, Duterte is a settler.
What is astonishing is how Duterte and his propagandists appropriated the Bangsamoro struggle and narrate it the Nation and to the world – an appropriation made legitimate not just by "I am from Mindanao" but by the argument that he has a "Maranao blood."
A settler cannot and will not articulate the narratives of the Bangsamoro struggle unless he or she addresses first the location of the settler's voice, including the language of this voice, in the grand narration of the Nation.
The narrative of the struggle – or any struggle for that matter – is not in the blood. It is in the collective memories of those who were part of the struggle, memories that eventually became the language of resistance. To keep this narrative intact and relevant for several generations, we have to collectively protect these memories and the language that carries the struggle. The bearers of the narratives are also soldiers that will guard these with their lives.
Blood is biological. What Duterte claims is biological, nature. Language, memories, and narratives are constructs that can be negotiated: there is leverage for power to be diffused, shared, or even captured; there is that possibility for resistance and the struggle is legitimate. "May dugo siyang Maranao" is a problematic essentialism. It runs counter to the several narrative strands of the Bangsamoro struggle, which is either nationalist, Islamic, or hybrid of the two that navigates between the goals of independence or autonomy.
Duterte's version of "Mindanao" is of the settler's alone. And this version is with the approval of the Center, that's why it is easier for us in Manila and for other Filipinos in other parts of the country to read, access, and accept his version without any critical engagement. "I am from Mindanao" is from the language of the settler's defense to any critique or attempt for a critical discourse that will challenge the legitimacy and position of settler's version of Mindanao in the grand narration of the Nation. "Duterte is Mindanao" is like a selfie: objectifying our narcissism, this craving for seeing only our face and then presenting it later to the approving public as a legitimate version of ourselves.
Who’s dividing this country now?
Moros are people who have been in a struggle for centuries. The distribution of and access to power has always been unequal. To articulate and even to entertain the thought that the people of Marawi City are complacent partners to the terrorists and that they deserve this debacle is to welcome this question on the possibility of equal distribution and access to power in a struggle. Why can't we give them the real freedom and their right to self-determination so they can build their own government, a government that will and can protect their interests?
Mindanao is a national issue and requires national discussion. People from Luzon and other parts of the country should never be deprived of participation in the public dialogues and should be encouraged by leaders to continuously interrogate the country’s history and Mindanao’s relevance to the formation of this archipelago’s several nations. To use "I am from Mindanao" and to "settlerjack" Mindanao’s narrative and narration will result to further divisions, reopening of old wounds, and conflicts.
The Philippine celebrated this week the anniversary of the declaration of its independence. Let me ask you again this question as this regime promises a "liberation of Marawi" as part of the grand parade for the entire country to witness: Ilang Moro pa ang kailangan mo para maging Filipino ka? – Rappler.com
Playwright and novelist Rogelio Braga is the author of the novels Colon, Ang Lihim ng Nakasimangot na Maskara and a book of plays Sa Pagdating ng Barbaro at Iba Pang mga Dula. His several plays on Filipino-Moro relations have been performed by the UP Repertory Company in various places in the country including in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao. He is currently dividing his time between Phnom Penh and Ho Chi Minh cities as a fellow of the Asian Cultural Council for theater in Southeast Asia researching on the narratives of the refugees, migrants, and the dispossessed.