The Land of Promise is once more a land of unfathomable tumult

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Marlen V. Ronquillo

After the 2016 elections, many expressed a sense of celebration and hope. First over the fact that Mindanao, after decades in the leadership wilderness, finally got its president. Second was the intention of Mr. Duterte (an intention he later formalized), to staff his key positions with Mindanao natives. Third was this: the expectation that a Mindanao-centric development plan would finally be a major policy plank of the Palace.

I shared that sense of celebration, knowing how history has been unkind to Mindanao. I wrote one piece that had this essential theme. The 2016 elections broke the stranglehold of the Tagalog-Pampango areas on presidential elections, a development we should all welcome, I wrote then. The leadership equation had been skewed toward one particular part of the country and that was unhealthy for democracy.

Just look at this unhealthy leadership equation. The Commonwealth president was from Aurora province, now a part of Central Luzon. The president Mr. Duterte replaced was from Tarlac, also a part Central Luzon. The president before Mr. Aquino comes from Pampanga, Tarlac’s neighboring province. Mindanao had never been given the leadership break it deserved.

What a relief that this stranglehold was finally broken in 2016. Finally, many said, the Land of Promise would get the development attention it deserved. Redressing a long record of neglect, whether this is ethnic or regional, is a mandate of the state.


Paying real attention to the development of Mindanao is an imperative, both a moral one and an economic one.

The economic one is easy to explain.

With its agriculture sector fully developed, Mindanao can feed the whole country, it can function as the country’s true bread basket. The soil is not only fertile and suitable for agricultural production on a massive scale. It is FMD-free, which makes it an ideal center for meat production and exports. We can’t underestimate the commercial value of an FMD-free area. The precipitation level is better than most parts of the country. It is also the region least visited by devastating typhoons.

The unexplained anomaly that dry and drought-prone Pampanga is both a meat-processors’ haven and a thriving area for poultry and hog production would finally cease to be an anomaly once Mindanao ‘s livestock and poultry sector gets started. Because of the simple fact that Mindanao is the most ideal area for such purposes.

Mindanao is a land of migrants and this is the universally accepted truth. Areas peopled by migrants are daring, more predisposed to creativity and enterprise and more adventurous than areas not benefitted by massive waves of migration. Silicon Valley, the not-so-humungous enclave in and just off the California’s Bay Area was built, in part, on the backs of driven migrants. More, Mindanao has an excellent university system and Metro Davao is Exhibit A of that fact. Any and all efforts to build knowledge-based and technology enclaves in the region can get support from the university system.

The moral dimension is easier to explain.

Mindanao, the original Land of Promise, never got the adequate policy attention, resources and wherewithal to fully develop its potentials. The national government, from time immemorial and because of the failure of Mindanao to send leaders to Imperial Manila, just paid lip service to the region but failed to deliver the funding and the policy attention required. All talk, no real action.

In the Muslim Mindanao part of the region, the government just allowed political warlords and robber barons to run the place – the state’s leadership proxy – until this part reached its apex of chaos and underdevelopment. Here is a region with poverty and illiteracy rates historically past the 50 percent levels.

Throughout much of the nation’s history, Mindanao has been essentially the graveyard of grand but broken promises and fickle and flimsy government attention.

The recent decision of President Duterte to impose martial law on Mindanao is the supreme tragedy of the region – a native of the region imposing martial rule on the region to save it from a fall into the precipice. The great hopes of mid-2016 has turned into a martial law declaration. A president turns to martial law when no other governing alternative is left and this is now, apparently, the situation in the region. It is all too clear, according to statements from the Palace, that Mr. Duterte has no other alternative except that recent one.

And the worst thing that could happen to a place in modern times – to be the operating territory for Islamic fundamentalists with links to the brutal and savage ISIS – happened in Mindanao, according to the presidential declaration. The Abu Sayyaf and the Maute groups have the conscience and cold-bloodedness of the fundamentalists sowing terror across Europe, the Middle East and North Africa. Those you see on the news that do beheading humans as routine as doing grocery.

A martial law declaration is always a blot on the innate civility of a democracy and democracy’s supposed built-in capability to deal with major problems. Including the breakdown of peace and order. Senator Honasan has raised a good point. The failure of the intelligence bodies (they have funds and they have supposedly trained personnel) was very clear on the overnight rampage of the Maute Group. Whether the group has ISIS links or not is not even the issue. It is its capability to sow terror at will, and with hardly any prompt response from the concerned military units.

And this is the bigger point taught to us by history. Force, historically, has never been the harbinger for peace and for development.

That Mindanao has come to this is an unbearable burden on both Mr. Duterte and every Filipino who wants Mindanao to fulfill its great potentials. We can only pray that his martial law declaration will reverse the current chaos in the region.

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