Problematizing the Mindanao Settler Identity

LISTEN TO US. Traditional Maranao leaders are appealing to President Rodrigo Duterte to declare a ceasefire and allow them to intervene and talk to the families of the extremists involved in the attack in Marawi City. The leaders including sultanates and imams from Lanao del Sur province signed a petition addressed to Duterte on Thursday, June 15. (Zea Io Ming C. Capistrano/

Secession from Mindanao may be less likely though now that a settler mayor of Davao has been elected Philippine President of the Filipino nation.

Duterte’s election is a victory for the state (a victory I do not necessarily welcome) as it makes antagonistic Moro and Lumad sectors think again. A Mindanao president brings state power closer to them than ever, and they have a better chance to negotiate a more equal multicultural arrangement that they have ever had.

Duterte is also an example of why it may be necessary to rethink the totality of the distinctions between the narratives of the three peoples. Duterte’s grandfather, Elano Roa, was half Maranao but chose to take his mother’s family name as it was more convenient for business – a form of voluntary ensettlement. In a Rappler article, Braga identifies Duterte as a settler, and for all intents and purposes he is right as he argues that lived struggles and not blood is the basis of identification to a narrative.

READ: Leader challenges Duterte’s Maranao bloodline

But what Braga and Manila thinkers who do not live Mindanao realities fail to understand is that the narratives in Mindanao are complicated by hybridity and collaboration, and blood still retains a symbolic value. Duterte’s ensettlement – and his endeavor to capitalize on the Maranao blood his grandfather found inconvenient – is part of the Moro narrative. Like Mamalu’s assimilated descendants legitimizing their claim on Mindanao by using their Lumad blood, Duterte is exploiting the symbolic value of his blood in order to have access to the Moro narrative.

Reducing all this to mere Settlerjacking (as Braga has done) ignores the fact that the Moro and the Settler narratives are intimately linked in a not-always antagonistic note, and may at times even converge. Duterte’s speaking with his Moro blood may be construed by the likes of Braga as Settlerjacking, but it certainly isn’t for many Moros.

The Moro recognize Duterte’s claim to – or at the very least his sympathy for – the Moro struggle, a recognition his critics will say is rooted in ignorance and brainwashing but which I contend is another manifestation of both settler-Moro/Lumad collaboration and of the blurring of lines between the three peoples.

It can be pointed out that the Lumad and Moro communities have often historically disagree with Braga’s insistence that blood means little. Kidapawan history has two prominent examples to the contrary: Datu Joseph Sibug, and Sultan Omar Kiram.

Sibug had an Ilocano father and a Manobo mother with a Christian name. Indeed a large portion of the Sibug family lives settler lives. But Joseph chose to reclaim his Manobo heritage, and he became a prominent figure in the struggle to improve the living conditions of the Manobo in Kidapawan. The Manobo recognized his work and elected him paramount chieftain, a lofty post that has only had one occupant before him, Siawan Ingkal.

Omar Kiram, as many in Kidapawan now know from my work, was raised with a Christian name – Vicente Austria –was a practicing Christian for much of his life, and had a very Filipino education (getting a degree from Adamson University). And yet in spite this, his sultanate in Uyaan readily embraced him back, and today while most of his descendants are Christian and live settler realities in Kidapawan, they are also still intimately part of the Moro narrative.

But it is, I think, the long history of local collaboration to subvert the state that gives Duterte a much stronger position in the Mindanao discourse than his blood does. Manileno thinkers who accuse Settlers like him of Settlerjacking may be being guilty of projecting their own ignorance and detachment to the Moro and Lumad narratives unto the Settlers (who have, as already established, always been treated as mere avatars of the homogenized Filipino Nation). They ignore, or are oblivious to the fact that settlers live the same realities in Mindanao from which the Moro and Lumad struggles arise, and are consequently much more likely to understand their conditions, as these will have direct bearing on their own conditions. This is often what makes collaboration paradoxically both difficult (as the settler interest may be at stake) and easy (as sacrifice is easier to make for a humanized neighbour than a demonized savage).

Duterte is no stranger to this collaboration. In fact as local politician he has offered the best opportunity for the continued collaboration of the tri-peoples. His deputy mayor arrangement – with a deputy mayor appointed for each of Davao’s 11 recognized tribes – gave executive opportunity to the tribal peoples, complementing the tribal representation in the city council (which Duterte ensured was always instituted). This arrangement has since been copied by other cities with large tribal populations. As mayor of Davao, his stance on issues were often in conflict with National attitudes, such as his sympathy with the NPA, which partly stems from the knowledge that many guerillas are dispossessed Lumad.

The crisis in Marawi is only serving to weaken the antagonism between the Settler and the Moro, and as much as the likes of Teng Mangansakan and Braga would like to magnify the expression of resentment at Settlerjacking, the overall mood across the three peoples is one of solidarity against the common enemy of terrorism. The magnification of resentment is often borne by ignorance to the history of collaboration, and I dare say it is bordering on being counter-productive (Imperial Manila dividing Mindanao as always). The emerging Mindanao collective identity, which Braga has misconstrued as Settlerjacking, is an attempt to forge unity among the three peoples, a unity which is not necessarily homogenizing (and which, I argue, should necessarily be heterogeneous). Rather than claiming Mindanao identity as the exclusive privilege of the Settlers – something counter-intuitive and downright ridiculous considering by now the Settlers’ long history of cultural inferiority complex – Duterte and Settlers are initiating the forging a Mindanao community inclusive of the three peoples, a community with which the extremists behind the siege of Marawi can be othered.

I risk angering some by saying there is a case for claiming that the Muslim communities, including the Moro in Mindanao, have tolerated (if not outright encouraged) extremism – something understandable, as they are currently in a struggle against the homogenizing Filipino Nation, and religion can serve as an effective source of cultural strength. This is certainly the opinion of a large portion of the Imperial Manila public, manifested in the lack of surprise at this crisis occurring in Mindanao (even as Manila has a large Muslim population itself, one which may also be likewise guilty of cradling extremism). “It’s Mindanao being a Moro wasteland again.” In a way, the Settlers using “I am from Mindanao” is taking this demonization for themselves, a sign of solidarity with the Moro being dehumanized, indirectly relieving them of blame. (

To be continued

READ: Part 1Part 2, Part 3Part 4, Part 6, Part 7

Karlo Antonio G. David is a writer based in Davao. His interests include the Mindanao settler identity, the hybridization of the Filipino languages (with specific focus on Davao Filipino), and the development of local historiography and introspection, particularly of his hometowns of Kidapawan and Davao. His one-act play, Killing the Issue, won the second prize in the 2014 Palanca Awards.

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