Children of Mindanao’s endless wars

“Development aggression pertains to development projects that exclude and oppress the indigenous peoples and other marginalized sectors even further.”

Last Friday, I spoke at the Youth for Climate Justice for Mindanao’s (YCJM) webinar, “ML @ 50: The Impact of Martial Law on the Environment and the People in Mindanao.”

YCJM is convened and led by a group of young Mindanawons based in both Manila and Mindanao. I am proud to be their mentor.

I genuinely looked forward to speaking at this event because I believe that it focuses on two aspects of Marcos Sr.’s Martial Law that are not discussed enough: the injustice against the environment and against Mindanao.

Professor Rufa Cagoco-Guiam concentrated on the Bangsamoro experience while I focused on the environmental aspect.

Professor Rufa delivered a clear run-down of the Bangsamoro history.

The Bangsamoro refers to the Islamized indigenous peoples in Mindanao who have continuously defied colonial rule.

However, they were not safe from the violence of Martial Law.

Not only did Marcos Sr. use the “Muslim secessionist movement” as an excuse to hold onto power, his regime also harassed the Bangsamoro by sending massive troops to Mindanao to “annihilate” outlaws, and by doing land, sea, and air strikes.

It was also under his administration when the Jabidah Massacre and the Palimbang Massacre were committed.

By 1977, there were already 100,000 deaths, most of these from the Bangsamoro people. Evidently, this is why Professor Rufa asserts, “The Muslim ‘insurgency’ was not the trigger for Martial Law; it was the other way around.”

As we see the human rights violations done under martial law through the Bangsamoro lens, I spoke of violence under Martial Law through the environmental lens.

Human rights violations were rampant, but I grew to understand that Martial Law was also violent against the environment through development aggression.

Development aggression pertains to development projects that exclude and oppress the indigenous peoples and other marginalized sectors even further.

It usually causes displacement, loss of cultural identity, and loss of livelihood. It merely aims to serve the elite. And this started way before Martial Law; development aggression began with our colonial experience.

In my talk, I outlined how colonization caused the exploitation of and domination over our land and resources.

As far back as the Spanish colonization, colonizers have been collaborating with the local elite to gain ownership over Filipinos’ land for their benefit through feudalism.

This foreign domination and elite collaboration has continued even years after colonization, and it has manifested during Marcos Sr.’s Martial Law as well. This is why it was called the US-Marcos dictatorship.

Marcos’ Sr.’s Martial Law carried on the tradition of development aggression by promoting destructive development projects such as the Chico River Dam which was going to displace the IPs of the Cordillera, authorizing excessive logging and mining leading to large scale deforestation, and allowing industrial and urban pollution causing the decline of quality of life. Mindanao was not spared from this environmental injustice.

We also experienced energy projects, building of roads and expansion of plantations that led to the further marginalization of the poor and the Bangsamoro people as Prof. Rufa discussed.

Unfortunately, this tradition of exploitative practices hinging on ‘development’ practiced by large foreign powers and the local elite has continued on after Marcos Sr.’s Martial Law.

Today, the powerful continue to push for development aggression through infrastructure projects that displace communities, to grab land from small farmers and expand plantations to promote agribusiness, and to mine mountains which causes worse calamities.

All of these exploitative practices continue to exist which largely contribute to biodiversity loss, climate change and the damage experienced from the climate crisis.

Last Sunday, together with the initiators and members of at Youth for Climate Justice for Mindanao and with Moro and Lumad school colleagues, I watched “Anak Datu,” Rody Vera’s epic play, based on the original story “Anak Datu” by National Artist Abdulmari Imao.

It has been described as “Tanghalang Pilipino’s multi-universe, post-pandem production that banners PEACE through the intertwining of conflicts in a folk tale, a stark social realism, and an all-too-familiar family drama.”

“Anak Datu” is a story about the son of a village chieftain in Muslim Mindanao during pre-colonial Philippines.

Before he is born, their village is raided by pirates. His mother gives birth under captivity. He grows up with the knowledge that his father is a former pirate from the land of the Tausug.

When the old man dies, only then the son realizes the truth about his real father.

This story gives birth to other events in the history of Mindanao and the personal lives of Abdulmari Imao’s family.

It is the inaugural production in the Cultural Center of the Philippines’ newly built Tanghalang Ignacio Gimenez and directed by recently retired CCP Executive Director Chris Millado, with Set Design by Toym Imao, son of Abdulmari.

The last four performances will be this coming weekend and I recommend it to everyone who wants to understand Mindanao and the Philippines better.

“Anak Datu” ends with a familiar refrain by the acting ensemble and I echo them: ”Mga anak kami ng mga digmaang di natatapos. Katotohanan, Katarungan, Kalayaan. Bago Kkapayapaan.” We are children of endless wars. Truth, justice, freedom. Before peace.”

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