Mindanao as a “distant star”

Musings on Mindanaoans and Martial Law.


My roots are in Mindanao. I was born, raised, and educated in Manila, but both my folks are from the southern island of the Philippines. There’s nothing incredible about that fact, but it’s something I’ve always appreciated. As a child, this fact made our occasional summer vacations to the province seem like exciting adventures. A lot of our friends only had to get in a car and drive a few hours out of town to visit their lolas (grandmothers) and lolos (grandfathers), but not us. We had to make the extra effort to book tickets and time our getaways during the summer when school was out.

Catching up with relatives in Mindanao also meant communicating in an intriguing language. To my untrained ears, conversations in Visaya sounded robust, lively, and brusque. “What exactly were they saying?,” I first thought. In time, though, we eventually got used to hearing the language and became adept enough to understand and speak it as well.

The place itself felt familiar and yet considerably different from the capital. Different how? I can’t quite put my finger on it. Just.. different. Not bad different. The people were warm, smart, hardworking, and friendly. The landscapes were breathtakingly lovely. It just had a different energy, I guess. Was this energy the resiliency of choosing to live despite the threat of war? Was this energy the resolve to persevere despite the lack of government support? Maybe. I don’t know.

Beautiful but..

As the years passed, I began to realize that Mindanao was a beautiful but very troubled island. Troubled because it’s been torn by strife since the time of Magellan. Troubled because it’s long been neglected by the powers-that-be in Malacanang. Troubled because it’s beset by poverty, injustice, and oppression. Troubled because it’s the hotbed of rebellion.

That it’s so full of potential and natural wonders makes this fact all the more sad.

A glimpse of Mindanao.

A distant star

All these thoughts came rushing in this week when President Duterte declared Martial Law over the entire island because of the presence of an ISIS faction in Marawi City. It reminded me of something the president said about Mindanao last year:

“You people from Manila look at Mindanao like it is some distant star.. But we are also Filipinos, just like you.”

That quote isn’t verbatim but it pretty much sums up what the President meant. I must admit that I felt guilty hearing him say it. Notwithstanding my personal attachment to the place, it was an accurate statement. Had I not any lineage from Mindanao, I would no doubt be looking askance at the region now, worrying about the overall security situation there, and thinking about its implications to the rest of the country.

Not Bisdak

The thing is, I know enough of the Visayan language to follow a conversation. I’ve also been to Mindanao enough times to have fond memories of the place. I’m keenly aware that I’m not Bisdak (“Bisayang Dako,” or someone who grew up in a Bisaya-speaking region), however, so I don’t know the nuances of what it means to be a Mindanaoan. I’m not Bisdak, so I can’t pretend to know what it’s like to grow up in what some people have called the “hinterlands” of the south. I do not understand their pains on a personal level. I do not understand their grievances, their hopes, their aspirations. Not really.

That’s precisely why I trust that our current President has a better handle on the current crisis than any of our previous leaders. He’s Bisdak. He knows what it’s like to live in Mindanao. He’s fought a lot of its evils. As President, he now carries the hopes for lasting peace of Mindanaoans and the rest of the Philippines. If those in the crossfire themselves support his decision to place the whole island under Martial Law, then why shouldn’t we too?

Watch this. (It’s in English.)

And while I may not be Mindanaoan, I do fervently wish for the type of genuine peace that has eluded us for so long.

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