I recently had a discussion with a foreign friend who used the Maguidanao massacre as a symbol of the Philippines’ problems. I disagreed, arguing that Mindanao has a very distinct history, dating back at least to to the 18th century Sulu sultanate. The pathologies that have characterized the island in the last 20 years—violent secessionist movements, beheading terrorists, armalite-toting warlords—all these are a consequence of the numerous unsuccessful attempts to integrate this divergent past into the general flow of Philippine history.
Mindanao is more culturally rich than other parts of the archipelago, but, because of its warped relationship with the centre, it is the negative aspects of that culture, such as the rido or vendetta (about which every columnist has become an instant expert) that have been allowed to flourish.
Finally, since President Ramos’s attempt at a negotiated solution to keep the lid on tensions was discarded by President Estrada, himself a kind of wannabe warlord, large parts of Muslim Mindanao have been under military occupation, the tragic consequences of which were brought out in a recent article (Mindanao is Dying). Under such circumstances, it was only a matter of time before something like the grisly events in Ampatuan town came about.
A few days later, I found myself taking up almost exactly the opposite point of view with a Filipino friend, who was writing off the southern island and its inhabitants. All of elements that led to the rise of the Ampatuans can be found, to a greater or lesser extent, in other parts of the Philippines, I said. What about Ilocos, are not Chavit Singson, Rodolfo Farinas, and Ferdinand Marcos perfect examples of the criminal¬–political–military nexus that characterizes provincial politics in the Philippines?
The circumstances that allowed the Ampatuans to tighten their corrosive grip on the unfortunate residents of Maguindanao were driven by national, not local dynamics. After all, Maguidanao was at the apex of the defining moment of the Arroyo presidency, the “Hello Garci” scandal. Commissioner Garcillano was in Maguidanao when he received that famous cell phone call from his patroness and it was the Ampatuans who delivered the famous 1 million vote plurality that Arroyo sought.
Given this, how can you say the Mindanao is atypical? On the contrary, it is only years “ahead” of the rest of the crumbling Philippine body politic.
I am not sure what to make of this except that I seem to be in a rather argumentative mood these days. Mindanao, different or the same? Beats me.