Category: amelia h.c. ylagan

mindanao, marcos, aquino

sharing a rare angle on mindanao through the lens of a soldier’s wife.

At the Libingan ng mga Bayani 
By Amelia H.C. Ylagan

ANCIENT ACACIAS stretch their limbs to the skies in the exuberant yawns of their leafy canopies. Filigrees of light and shadow from leaves trembling in the slight breeze speckle the grass — while on the horizon, visible waves of steely white heat vibrate silent reverence. Someone up there quietly peers through the acacias in perpetual care of those buried under the mute white crosses at the Libingan ng mga Bayani — the national cemetery for heroes.

Alas, that the sacred silence would be intermittently violated by the crass zoom of low-flying jumbo aircraft landing at the international airport nearby. Maybe the juxtaposition of sound and silence at the Libingan has some meaning: for the majority of those lying under the white stone crosses were soldiers killed in action — in World War II, in Korea, Vietnam and in troubled Mindanao since the Libingan ng mga Bayani was first established in 1947. Somehow the boom from those descending commercial aircraft sounds terrifyingly like whistling war bombs or the thunder of monstrous artillery.

“Killed in action” (KIA) seems incongruous a classification for a dead soldier in a post-war democracy, specially for those who were killed in Mindanao. Initial tally of KIA was said to be at 13,000 in the first four to five years of the 14-year dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos that started in 1972. In a University of the Philippines study of the Mindanao conflict it was said that “from 1972-1982(?) the 30,000-strong MNLF funded by Malaysia and Libya tied down 70-80% of the Philippine military, inflicting an average of 100 casualties per month.

The United Nations (UN)-inspired Norwegian International Displacement Monitoring Center (IDMC) places the post-World War start of conventional warfare in Mindanao as 1970, when then President Ferdinand Marcos declared an all-out military anti-insurgency campaign, perhaps then conjuring a preamble to martial law. This was after the horrible 1968 Jabidah massacre off the northeastern seacoast, when Muslim Filipino fighters were killed by Marcos operatives, after the Muslim mercenaries discovered that they had been deceitfully hired to infiltrate and kill fellow — Muslim insurgents.

There was no democracy then, in those years of the antithetical dictatorship. Soldiers were marionettes to keep alive a puppeteer’s story of a need to protect the country from threatening powers here and abroad. Sadly, dying was very real, and not play-acting for the soldier. Nor was he aware and in control of any options, aside from the baffling dilemma of renegading towards equally mind-bending communism. Those were the days of cadaver bags quietly ferried from Mindanao to Manila in rattling World War II-vintage C-47 aircraft. On the widows and orphaned families was imposed the vow of silence about their painful, unexplainable loss — to “unduly stir unrest” among the unknowing other citizens would be “subversive.”

And of course there were no obituaries to announce those KIA, for none of the government-controlled newspapers would print them. But the news spread quickly and efficiently by word of mouth, and wakes overflowed with sympathizers silently shaking their heads as they hugged condolences without alluding to the war in Mindanao, exacerbated by the strongman’s political bungling with “peace mediator” Libya. Yet no government stoolie would tell on sincere friends and grieving relatives walking behind the horse-drawn caisson at the funeral of a fallen soldier. No eye would be dry at the plaintive call of the bugle to the soldier’s “Taps” breaking the painful silence at the Libingan ng mga Bayani.

The peace problem in Mindanao has always been how to distinguish between the mercenary brigands, warring clans and foreign-fed terrorists of Southern Philippines on one end, and on the other, those thinking, principled Muslim Filipinos who are fighting for recognition and deep-rooted culturally identified property rights of since five decades ago. Unfortunately, the soldiers who died in Mindanao, Sulu and Palawan had no time, in the face of ambushes, snipers and massacres, but to fight aggressive, often suicidal terrorists. These foreign-backed rebels brag of superior weaponry contrasted to government soldiers’ failing ammunition and obsolete weaponry.

Perhaps the biggest treachery in history of Muslim Filipino rebels against brother-Filipino Christian soldiers was the massacre of Brig. Gen. Teodulfo Bautista with 34 of his men (including five colonels) in Patikul on Jolo island, in October 1977. Bautista came trustingly for peace talks with Osman Salleh, a rebel leader of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), who promised that 150 of his men would switch to the government side.


Today, Bautista’s son, Brig. Gen. Emmanuel Bautista, is commanding general of the Philippine Army. Though he had reportedly repeatedly asked to be assigned to Jolo and other hotbeds in Mindanao in his more junior years, it was probably thought by prudent superiors that a murdered general’s son would be perverted target for perverted rebels in those areas. But does not Bautista, the son, being in his father’s vulnerable shoes today, 35 years gone, beg the key questions that must be answered for peace in Mindanao?

Who is fighting whom, and with whom should the government talk peace? In the five or so “peace agreements” in the post-war government efforts to settle the conflict in Southern Philippines, the internal rivalries, lack of unity and leadership on the Muslim Filipino side held back the implementation of such attempts at peace. “Bangsamoro” (unity of “Moros,” a Spanish name for Muslims) was the goal of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF, led by Nur Misuari) when the MNLF and the government were discussing peace for Mindanao. Misuari shed separatist ambitions and participated and won in national local elections for the ARMM (Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao).

While the MNLF suffered Misuari’s vainglory and alleged corruption, the splinter group, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), gained respect and wrested political dominance. So, negotiations for peace were then with the reformed, re-engineered MILF, representing the “thinking” side that soon embraced the October 2012 peace agreement with the government of President Benigno Simeon Aquino III — the “Bangsamoro Peace Accord,” to be implemented over four years, coterminus with Aquino’s term.

But now Nur Misuari, resurrected hero of the MNLF, is belly-aching why he was not involved in the Bangsamoro Peace Accord, when Bangsamoro was his battle cry for the earlier, likewise properly agreed talks. Some analysts suggest that the convolution of political changes abroad, like the political fall of Egypt, the liquidation of Libya’s Moammar Khadaffy (said to be supporting MNLF/MILF at some point or other), the suspected ties to terrorist al Qaeda, even to the terrorist of the US 9/11 attack, have had bearings on the shifting power structures in Muslim Mindanao, and on several attempts at peace accords.

So, will this latest peace accord succeed, a Mindanao State University (MSU) anthropology professor, (a Muslim Filipino) was asked at a recent history conference? His cryptic reply: Come to visit me… at your own risk, he added with misplaced mischief. Have you ever been to Jolo, he challenged.

Yes, I have been to Jolo. I brought my husband home to the Libingan ng mga Bayani, many unchanging decades ago.

This land is mine

By Amelia  H.C. Ylagan

Spanish colonial law prohibited Spaniards from taking land already occupied by the natives…(But as) native chiefs…were coopted into the colonial administration, they later started selling or donating great parcels of these lands to the friar orders in the name of their villages or towns. That was how the vast friar lands, and later the vast private landholdings came to be, in the 300 years of the Philippines under Spain.

In her 1998 paper, “Twenty Years of CARP,” Aurea Miclat-Teves traces the history of real property ownership in the country and landlord-tenant relationships that necessarily developed to till the huge tracts of land. The opening of the Philippines to world trade in the late 18th century increased demand for Philippine produce, and this “intensified the system of exploitation and abuses” on subjugated tenants and sub-tenants by the friar-landowners and landlords, including “the middle layer of non-cultivating leaseholders calledinquilinos, mostly Chinese mestizos and former native chieftains who had amassed wealth.” Social justice for the small farmers is an old issue for the Philippines.

The earliest efforts on agrarian land reform were when the Philippines was sold to the US for $20 million in 1898, after the Spanish-American War. The Americans encouraged settlements for the disadvantaged, while private property limited to 16 hectares was regulated under the Torrens Title framework. Still, the haciendas and plantations of the mestizerias (Spanish- and Chinese-descent landed rich) were allowed to survive, some historians say because the Americans expediently used ascendancy of this elite socio-economic group as the initial leadership clique for the so-called “government of the people, by the people”

World War II interrupted serious efforts at egalitarian land reform.

Independence was granted to the Philippines on July 4, 1946, and Filipinos had to grapple with setting up the republican government, where land reform was a later task to do. Meantime, social unrest festered in the hungry rural areas, where the economic rehabilitation after the War was slow. It was the indulgent ambience for the leftist protests and power-show of the 1950s and ‘60s. Came then the 1962 Second Vatican Council (Vatican II) with make-over changes for the Catholic Church — explicitly directing clergy, religious and the laity to work for the poor and support land reform, among other growing social and human rights concerns.

Then President Ferdinand Marcos’ 1972 Code of Agrarian Reform of the Philippines was the official starting point for land reform. Some point to the crony system in the dictatorship that favored big land owners and weakened the efforts for reform. After Corazon Aquino was installed as President by the 1986 EDSA I People Power Revolution, Republic Act No. 6657, otherwise known as the 1988 Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Law (CARL), was signed into law and became the legal basis for the implementation of the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP).

The 10-year life and budget of the Aquino CARP expired in 2008, and there were still 1.2 million hectares of agricultural land to be redistributed to landless farmers. The Philippine Congress was generally perceived to have reluctantly passed the five-year CARP Extension with Reforms Law (CARPER), inherited by Cory’s son, Benigno Simeon Aquino III, from the extraordinarily expanded nine-year regime of his political archrival Gloria Arroyo.

According to a 2009 activist blog “Bulatlat”: among other provisions, the CARPER bill mandates that private agricultural lands — the type that the Arroyos and the Cojuangcos own — can only be distributed if the original CARP managed to distribute 90% of its target. But CARP, despite the two decades it had, only distributed less than half of it. It’s an impossible provision that only underscores what progressive farmers have been saying all along — that CARPER is bogus.

Socially-conscious groups Anakpawis, Bayan Muna, Gabriela Women’s Party and Kabataan were cited as against the conversion of land to other uses (e.g., residential subdivisions, cyberparks, etc.) beyond the close to a million hectares that already slipped from CARP as of 2002. Also objectionable is the option to landowners for “alternatives to the physical distribution of lands, such as production or profit-sharing, labor administration, and distribution of shares of stocks which will allow beneficiaries to receive a just share of the fruits of the lands they work.”

Some more than 5,000 hectares owned by Eduardo Cojuangco in Pontevedra, La Carlota City, La Castellana and Himamaylan evaded physical distribution to farmers under CARP by creative stock option and joint-venture schemes, which fully involve the farmers in the liabilities without full and direct ownership of the land. Such, likewise, is the exception of nearly 6,500 hectares of Hacienda Luisita (owned by the Cojuangco family of Tarlac), where the farmers were given shares of the company under the stock-distribution option instead of physical land distribution.

Of course the only sympathy in agrarian land conflicts should be for the poor framers, forever the cult symbols of the oppressed and defenseless in society; the rich landowners can always take care of themselves every which way. That is the instinctive politically correct thinking. In 2001, the then newly-installed President Gloria Arroyo promised to distribute the 157-hectare Hacienda Bacan in Negros Occidental’s Guintubhan village in Isabela town, with the other pieces of agricultural land owned by the Arroyo family (in the name of her husband, Mike Arroyo) to farmers under the CARP program. But nothing happened to the promise, and in 2008 the protesting farmers who walked all the way from Negros (bridged by the RORO barges) were jailed for subversion, according to a report by the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism.

In view of their similar reluctance to yield their landholdings to the small farmers under CARP, it can only be judged the utmost crudeness for the Arroyo sympathizers to rile up the farmers claiming Hacienda Luisita against PNoy Aquino — as was shamelessly done during the impeachment trial of ousted Chief Justice Renato Corona, midnight appointee of Arroyo, and opportunistically self-proclaimed “Defender of the Hacienda Luisita framers.”

And now the Hacienda Luisita farmers are up in arms against Aquino, and are stronger in their self-righteousness by the invaluable support of the CBCP (Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines). The farmers are certainly justified in their issues, but the politicians hoping for political mileage in the coming 2013 elections are low-down devious for the havoc they are selfishly wreaking. Alas, that the land reform issues in our flailing, struggling country have become so pathetically political – the purity of the fight for noble justice and equality has been so tarnished.

You have no choice, President Aquino. Settle the Hacienda Luisita problem in favor of the farmers soonest, and put away the deadly weapon of your evil detractors.