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The population dimension of the Mindanao question

First Posted 11:35:00 08/08/2008

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Amini war is ongoing today in some villages in Mindanao. The cause ? the MILF (Moro Islamic Liberation Front) attacking or occupying by force far flung Christian communities which are undefended by the Philippine military forces. In Cotabato, the Pinols are saying the military is not doing enough to help them. Stung by the charges of the Pinols, perhaps, the government told the MILF to abandon their occupied areas in 24 hours.

That was yesterday and the deadline is 10 this morning? After that we cannot be sure what happens next in Cotabato. This is serious.

This Esperon also has a lot of explaining to do. According to the Pinols, Esperon said that if Cotabato will not support the signing of the MOA between the MILF and the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP), the military would not be there to help them when trouble erupts.

This man is the same person who has advised the President on the Peace Process now undergoing between the MILF and the GRP. What an adviser! Is he or is he not for peace? It is bad enough that he helped hammer an MOA that is very controversial; saying things like leaving the people of Cotabato to defend themselves when trouble erupts making him the worst of the evils that plague the country.

No matter, the problem of Mindanao, I repeat, is serious and it is a wonder why until now many of us outside the area behave as if the problem does not exist. It has existed since the Spanish and American period where they failed to put many Muslim communities in Cotabato, Lanao, Zamboanga, Basilan and Sulu under effective control.

The American solution was not necessarily always military. It also involved moving many people from the Visayas and Luzon to populate the country's biggest island in the south. Land was plentiful there while the Visayas and Luzon had a problem with their people not having enough space to farm. During the Commonwealth days and the early years of Independence, migration continued to be encouraged either through direct government intervention under its various resettlement programs or indirectly through the building of more roads crisscrossing the island that made it easier for the people from Luzon and the Visayas to find their new homes in Mindanao that they were looking for.

Mindanao during the 1903 census was occupied only by some 670.8 thousand lumads, Muslims, and some sprinkling of Visayan and Luzon migrants. That was equivalent only to 8.8 percent of the total population of the country, too small in relation to the land of Mindanao which at 102,000 sq. km is equivalent to 34 percent or a third of the country. At that time, Luzon with 47.1 percent of the land had 53.7 percent of the population but the Visayas with 18.9 percent of the land had a relatively much greater of the population with 37.5 percent of the total. Such was the level of imbalance of population distribution of the country in the beginning of the last century.

The imbalance did not remain for long. By 1939 or after the implementation of the various programs to populate Mindanao with people from the Visayas and Luzon, the share of Mindanao markedly increased from 8.8 percent to 14.0 percent of the country?s toil population. By 1970, when the government resettlement programs were effectively halted, Mindanao?s share of the total population went up to 21.7.

Despite the stoppage of the government resettlement programs, however, many people from the Visayas and Luzon continued their ventures to find new lands and better life on the island such that by 2000 Mindanao finally had 23.7 percent or close to a fourth of the total population of the country. This would have been more actually if not for the pocket war that erupted on the island in the 1970s that discouraged some to come or drove others to leave the island.

What is certain though is that Mindanao, compared to the Visayas and Luzon still has room for more people. Last year, the census revealed that Mindanao?s population was still inching up to 24.4 percent of the total.

This trend may not continue anymore with the same problem that is now coming back to the island ? the conflict between the Muslims and the Christians. When this happens many people who lack the space in their hometowns in Luzon and the Visayas have nowhere to go this time but to their own emerging and fast urbanizing cities.

Migrants to Mindanao largely came from the rural areas in Luzon and the Visayas. They easily adjusted to their new homes in rural Mindanao. But when they go to the cities they will find that they are out of place.

Still, for lack of other opportunities in their homes in the rural areas, they flock to the cities. That makes managing the country more problematic. What jobs can we give to the teeming thousands that flock to the cities annually. They only add to the city?s army of unemployed and create more squatter and slum colonies.

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