Who informs us about Mindanao?

Patricio N. Abinales
Visibly absent in history textbooks is any serious, substantive discussion of Mindanao's place in Philippine history

The larger issue that those concerned with what happened in Mamapasano and the pending Bangsamoro bill is the absence of Muslim Mindanao, if not the whole of Mindanao, in the national historical narrative. 

Take a quick glance at the history textbooks available at National Bookstore, especially those approved by the Department of Education as required reading in all levels of the educational system, and you will notice that visibly absent is any serious, substantive discussion of Mindanao’s place in Philippine history.  (The exception here may be Samuel K. Tan’s A History of the Philippines where he brings the Moros into the narrative).

Why this has been the case has never been thoroughly explained to us by our education czars nor our historians. But one can possibly come out with some tentative observations. The first has to do with numbers. When you go down the list of historians across the nation, what stands out is that you can count with your  fingers those who write about Muslim Mindanao and/or Mindanao: Ruben Canoy,  Salah Jubair (Mohagher Iqbal), Francisco Lara, the late Cesar A. Majul, Datuk Michael Mastura, Rudy Rodil, Samuel K. Tan, Macario Tiu, and the tandem of Marites Vitug and Glenda Gloria

Only Canoy, Iqbal, Mastura, Rodil, and Tiu are based in Mindanao. The others reside elsewhere: Lara heads an international NGO in Manila; Tan is retired in Quezon City; Vitug and Gloria help run Rappler; and Majul passed away in California decades back. Among those based in Mindanao, all but one (Iqbal) are based in the Christian settlement zones: Rodil teaches at Mindanao State University-Iligan Institute of Technology; Canoy continues to advocate for federalism in Cagayan de Oro; and Tiu has retired from Ateneo de Davao.  

Unless Vitug and Gloria decide to leave journalism and become academics, no one in this list is teaching full time. And because a majority are still active in occupations other than academic, one doubts if they spend a good enough time continuing their research on Mindanao. 

Lara’s Insurgents, Clans and States: Political Legitimacy and Resurgent Conflict in Muslim Mindanao, Philippines has been published by Ateneo de Manila University Press and so it is the most readily available. The University of the Philippines Press has also come out with a 2009 edition of Majul’s path-breaking Muslims in the Philippines (first published in 1973 and reissued in 1999), published Tan’s above-mentioned comprehensive history of the Philippines. And one can still find copies of his Selected Essays on the Filipino Muslims (1982) and A History of the Philippines (2008) in bookstores or in some stalls in Avenida.  The same can be said of Iqbal’s second book The Long Road to Peace: Inside the GRP-MILF Peace Process (albeit outdated because of current developments), and Rudy Rodil’s A Story of Mindanao and Sulu in Question and Answer (2003) and Kalinaw Mindanao: The Story of the GRP-MNLF Peace Process, 1975-1996 (2000). 

But Vitug and Gloria’s Under the Crescent Moon, Rodil’s The Minoritization of the Indigenous Communities of Mindanao and the Sulu Archipelago (2004) and Two Hills of the Same Land: Truth behind the Mindanao Problem (1979, and written under his nom de plum Rad Silva), and Tan’s The Filipino Muslim Armed Struggle: 1900-1972 (1977) and The Muslim Struggle in the Philippines, 1900-1941 (1973) are now difficult to find. And their respective publishers appear uninterested in issuing out new editions. 

There are also a number of works that have yet to see the light of day, the most prominent of which is Datuk Michael Mastura thick tome, The Rulers of Maguindanao in Modern History, 1515-1903: Continuity and Change in a Traditional realm in the Southern Philippines (I saw a copy of it at the library in my place of work). Mastura, a distant relative via his spouse Lourdes, has informed me that the manuscript badly needs editing. But he has no time to do this, given his job as an MILF consultant who dispenses ideological and political advise for the rebel leadership.

Finally, even if these works are available, their reach is limited. Publishers often just print 500 copies of one’s work and will only issue reprints if it is clear that there is a market. This means that for most the part, readers from urban centers,  are the first to have access to these materials. And as one moves farther from the cities, these books’ availability is also reduced, and quite considerably.

Neither has National Bookstore helped. It may have a nationwide chain but the stack of Filipiniana books are very much uneven. You can stumble into one of these books, but in most cases, looking for them in its provincial chains is like going through a maze with very little chance of finding them. 

So, this is the first obstacle that we need to overcome if we are all serious about including Muslims and other Mindanawans into the national history.  

But this is the less serious concern. The more problematic is the dominance of an orthodox explanation that, while progressive in orientation, has tended to obscure rather than clarify the issues surrounding Muslim Mindanao. – Rappler.com


Patricio N. Abinales is from Mindanao

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