Former Ambassador to Kuwait Tackles Mindanao Conflict

Former Ambassador to Kuwait Tackles Mindanao Conflict

Former Ambassador to Kuwait Dr. Sukarno D. Tanggol explained several factors that contribute to the present conflict in Mindanao during a special lecture on March 7 at the Silliman Hall.

Titled “Socio-Cultural Dimensions in Mindanao: In Pursuit of Peace and Development”, the Ambassador's lecture discussed prevailing misconceptions arising from religious differences and issues such as land and poor social services as roadblocks to progress in the region.

Mindanao is composed of “tri-people”: Christians, Muslims and Lumads (who are neither Christians nor Muslims). Of the three, he said that Christians comprise 70 per cent of the population; the rest are Muslims and Lumads whose population is high particularly in the five provinces of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao and the cities of Cotabato and Marawi.

A Muslim, the Ambassador, who is currently Chancellor of the Mindanao State University-Iligan Institute of Technology, said the effects of the erroneous understanding of Islam in the past continue to influence the affairs of the present.

“The 300 years of Spanish rule planted the seeds of misunderstanding and conflicts in Mindanao,” he related, with the chaos being rooted on the issue of land. When the Americans came, while democracy was introduced, the absence of the concept of federalism did little to address the conflict.

The Ambassador is an advocate of federalism. He has written two books on the topic: “Muslim Autonomy in the Philippines: Rhetoric and Reality” and “Regional Autonomy and Federalism: Concepts and Issues for the Bangsamoro Government”.

He also cited religion as another major cause of conflict and how there remains today a skewed appreciation of Islam – something that the Ambassador attributed to the past and described to be much worse centuries ago.

Islam is derived from the root word “Salam”, which literally means “peace”.

While Islam and Christianity share commonalities, he stressed that generalizations and misconceptions prevent a fuller appreciation and understanding of how both can be united.

The Ambassador referred to how Christians generalize Muslims from what they hear or read in the news, and how this affects their view of and attitude towards Muslims. In the same way, he expressed frustration over how Muslims justify the existence of local tyrannies with the Islamic teachings.

“If we only become true Muslims and Christians, there can be no chaos in the world; there can be no chaos here in the Philippines,” the Ambassador said.

Complicating the crisis in Muslim Mindanao is also the absence of a clear judicial infrastructure. He explained that instead of having courts to run to, people resort to their own means of seeking justice.

The Ambassador also tackled the lack of social services in Mindanao, expressing concern over the poor health and education conditions in the area. Add to that the negative political behavior coupled with the culture of cheating that normally leads to violence, especially during elections. This, he said, results to lack of transparency and bad governance. In this situation, he stressed that the “rule of law” must overcome the “rule of the ruler”.

In achieving peace in Mindanao, the Ambassador suggested for government to be “sensitive to the cultural peculiarities of Mindanao and the Moro people” and for it to pursue a “multi-cultural approach”. He also urged the military to be objective and neutral in dealing with feudal families, especially during elections.

As an advocate of federalism, the Ambassador believes that a federal type of government can solve the conflict in Mindanao. He traced Philippine history and highlighted the role of the Malolos Congress, the revolutionary government, particularly how it came up with three states for the Philippines: Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao.