After 119 years, the same clans rule Muslim Mindanao



Marlen V. Ronquillo

There are two unbroken verities in our sad, oftentimes-broken, country.

First is something we know by heart. That our democratic institutions are still weak and wobbly, standing on shaky ground. We do not have fully-functioning three branches of government that respect each other and treats each other as equals.

The executive branch is always dominant and Congress is the willing courtier and supplicant. The House of Representatives (HOR) cheers even at the most brazen abuse of executive powers. The Senate, once a proud rampart of free thinking and independent men and women, is now a collection of grovelling men and women. The judiciary has bright spots in honest and discerning judges but Erap’s description of most in the judiciary, that they are mostly HIRs (hoodlums in robes) is true. Painfully true. If they are not corrupt, they are pliable.

An aggressive, effective and independent media? Are you dreaming? The last paragon of an effective press was Joe Burgos’s Malaya , which shook and rattled a dictatorship. That it thrived under a martial law regime made it an impressive outlier. That it was called the leader of the “ mosquito press” was the badge of honor bestowed on Joe Burgos, whose nightly reminder to his reportorial staff was either “ingat” or “always watch your back.”

Joe said that someone may stab our backs while pretending to rob our emaciated pockets.

Civil society is inhabited by poseurs. Give them a chance, and they will float the noble-sounding “ Peace Bonds “ to enrich themselves.

After 119 years, we can’t find a single “ sanctuary city” where those trying to find solace from the warts of our democracy can find refuge.

What is worse than this?

Easy. Living in the hamlets of poverty and ignorance in Muslim Mindanao. Muslim Mindanao is the Exhibit A of stasis, or the failure of a place to move in lockstep with the exhilarating changes that sweep other parts of the globe. Muslim Mindanao gives you the feeling of living in a time warp where the political and economic leadership has not changed for more than a century.

Start with a simple quiz, trivia if you will.

Make an inventory of the families dominant (politically and economically) in Muslim Mindanao at the turn of the previous century. Make an inventory of the current leadership. If you can prove that much have changed, you are free to slap me around.

MM is not even a region where the dominant families rise and fall as they compete and one family takes charge while the competing family is down. There is nothing on record that says the Dimaporo family took a break from power, or loosened their grip on the bigger part of Lanao at any one time.

The Adiongs of the other Lanao are arrivistes if compared with the Dimaporos but still you can count the decades that they have been in power. Had it not been for the massacre of journalists, the Ampatuan family would still be in power in Maguindanao.

Some claim that that the story of clans in Mindanao is the story of the country. There are clans, like the Ortegas in La Union, who have been ruling their turf in over a century. But still, you can see that the tightest grip of clans is essentially a Muslim Mindanao story.

So what happens to the ambitious young men who want to challenge the elitist order?

The story of Nur Misuari, post UP and post his university association with Jose Maria Sison, is the story of a young man who tried to join mainstream political competition with all the post-university idealism. Naturally, the clans crushed the dream of the upstart his idealism and his vow to change the old ways of MM politics nipped in the bud.

That discontent led Nur to admit the folly of politics-as-usual under the clans and that discontent radicalized him. The MNLF and the war of secession, bloody and long-drawn, were the offspring of Nur’s failure to reform MM politics from within.

At some point, the struggle in Muslim Mindanao lost its secular luster and appeal and a religious injection came in. The MILF was a splinter of the MNLF but with a religious underpinning. It was not fundamentalist, of course, but the Muslim faith became a central tenet of the MILF’s insurrection.

The war of the Afghans against the Soviets was the breakout war for the Islamist fundamentalists. And from that point, from the first Afghan believers to the ISIS now, the young volunteers who have fought and died for the “cause,” those who are fighting and dying in Mindanao now, all believe in the glory of, first, a truly Muslim caliphate. And second, dying to put in place that caliphate that will bring them straight to heaven.

The Mautes and the Hapilons of the Muslim world came to that same belief by a combination of religious zeal and frustration with the secular system they have grown up in and the ghastly leaders who have ruled their place for generations. The Mautes and their like would have turned to violent and senseless fundamentalism even with a chance to join the leadership mainstream. But, really, we can never tell.

A cruel land breeds no lilacs. No new leadership is nurtured by places overwhelmed by stasis. The ambitious young men with reformist bent or leadership zeal are crushed early by a system of dynasties and legacy leaders.

The story of Misuari and the story of the Mautes is essentially the same. They cannot break the tight grip of the ancient clans on power and on the system.

The only difference is THAT the Mautes’ chosen path is crazier, bloodier and stripped of a coherent belief system except for violence.


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  1. Bravura Marlen V. Ronquillo,

    Thank you for telling straight forwarded reality of the syndicates in congress and judiciary.

    We, the sovereign Filipino people, imploring the aid of Almighty God, in order to build a just and humane society and establish a Government that shall embody our ideals and aspirations, promote the common good, conserve and develop our patrimony, and secure to ourselves and our posterity the blessings of independence and democracy under the rule of law and a regime of truth, justice, freedom, love, equality, and peace.

    Therefore, we implore the solution that every Nationalist Filipinos must unite to demand of Declaring a Revolutionary Government under President Dutarte to reform all syndicated bureaucracy of governance- judiciary and corruption, wipe out narcopolitics, drug syndicates and oligarchs who siphoned the wealth of Filipino people.

    Makibaka Tayong lahat
    God Bless The Philippines

  2. philip khalid on

    So let us just federalize? Let Mindanao decide what is best for them; and if the present system works for them (you may disagree), but if they want it that way, let them. It appears broken from a unitary form of government, but for me the kind of unity man people are dreaming about is the unity like Japan or Germany. Lets face it, we are not that kind of people. With some exceptions in Mindanao we are Latin Asians. We are not that cohesive is Japan but we are not that divergent like India either. But my point is, let us federalize so each province decides their own destiny.

  3. Is there anyone to blame? Blame it on the people in those places who let themselves be bought so that in every election, they would still vote for the same clan whether the clan performed on their mandate or not. It is the same on the national level. Why do we have to blame the son of the congenital liar for the last six years that the Philippines was? Blame it on Comelec and the people who voted him. The people allowed themselves to become fools so let them suffer the consequence of their stupidity. Let someone who is so rich who does not need to steal anymore be the next President and let him/her wisdom and magnanimity spread throughout the land. With respect to the present President, I can not guarantee that there is no malfeasance anymore.

    Political instability
    Social deprivation
    Lack of education
    Lack of motivation
    Lack of innovation
    Lack of competition
    Closed markets
    Closed minds