Philippines is one of the multicultural states in the world that faces ethnic conflict and hostilities amongst the various ethnic groupings. Located in Southeast Asia in the western Pacific, the country which is officially known as the Republic of Philippines is an archipelago comprising 7,107 islands. These Islands make up a total area of over 115 000 square miles making it of the relatively larger countries in the world with a population of over 92 million people and a further 12 million people living overseas. There are numerous ethnic and cultural groups practicing different religions and cultural practices. There are three main religions in the country, Islam, Christianity and traditionalists. All these groups have one thing in common, poverty which to some extent contributes to the violence and ethnic hostilities (TrustOrg, 2013)
Religion is closely tied to cultural and ethnic backgrounds (Olsen, 2009). The main cultural grouping in the country are 28.1% of Filipinos are Tagalog, 13.1% Cebuano, 9% Ilocano, 7.6% Bisaya/Binisaya, 7.5% Hiligaynon, 6% Bikol, 3.4% Waray, and other minor communities make up 25.3%. Some of the minor non-tribal communities which play an integral role in the country`s political climate are the Moro, the Lumad, Ivatan and, the Kapampangan people. The huge number of the Tagalog people in the country saw the Talalog language declared as an official language in the 1930`s and was incorporated in the country`s education system. There are over 80 other languages in the country (Flashpoint 2013). Such decisions have led to the perception that some groups are favoured and others are not. The easternmost part of the country comprising of the Island of Mindanao, Luzon and Visayas have claimed the greatest marginalisation by previous governments (Olsen, Powell & McBride 2010). The three islands have the highest population if Muslims and as a result of these marginalisation and religious differences, the region has been the host to the separatist movement group called the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). The group holds separatist agenda and has been involved in conflict with national forces. Other than this particular conflict, there are others conflicts that have erupted in the country. This paper relies on a number of relevant sources to provide a succinct discussion on the issue of ethnic conflict in Philippines with an emphasis on MILF.
Claims of marginalisation by some communities have been the main reason of ethnic tension and hostilities towards other communities. The Stuart Kaufman theory posits that “the necessary preconditions for ethnic war are ethnic myths justifying hostility to the other group, fears of group extinction, and the opportunity to mobilize” (Kaufman, Machida & Wang 2006, p. 2). In the current situation in Philippines, Schiavo-Campo and Judd (2005) claim that the perception by Muslim inhabitants in Mindanao that the land was ancestrally theirs led to the opposition by the group to the central government`s attempts to settle Christian Philippines in the region. The Christian settlers originated mainly from central Luzon and Panay islands in the Visayas. Their increased presence led to the region having a majority Christina population which did not go down well with Muslim inhabitants. Other reasons that motivated ethnic tension was excessive logging destroying natural forests and the government`s underinvestment in the region using money obtained from mining activities in the Mindanao region. The MNLF felt that the government did not invest well in the region from the mining revenue in the area.
Socioeconomic marginalization and fears of population wipeout are the main widely accepted symbols and myths that drive ethnic conflict in the Mindanao region. The myth-symbol theory by Kaufman claims that myths and symbols bring a group of people together and motivate them towards a common goal (Kaufman, Machida and Wang 2006). Politicians can manipulate these myths and symbols and evoke emotional responses in their followers motivating them to change their preferences and allegiance and align with those of the group. One of the myths that the Muslim population of Mindanao has taken-up, is perceiving the Christian population in the region and the central government as the enemies. Consequently, violence and hostility is meted towards the offending group(s).
The birth was of the MLNF was the Jabidah mass execution. In this event, about 28 Muslim military trainees undergoing guerilla warfare training in the Corregidor Island were summarily executed despite a few senate and congressional hearings. The bitterness and government resentment emanating from these events and the claims of marginalization were somehow addressed with the integration of a few MULF leaders into the central government in 1996. However, this led to the formation of a splinter group, Abbu Sayyaf Group (ASG) which comprised of Muslims still pushing for an autonomous Islamic state in the region. This group was founded in 1991 by Addurajak Janjalani (Schiavo-Campo & Judd 2005). The group openly expressed its resentment to Christian groups with the first bombing of a packed catholic church in 1993. The central government thus adopted a `search and destroy` policy with regards to the ASG. The group has remained active up to today and caused havoc in the region. Property worth millions of dollar has been destroyed, thousands killed and millions displaced. Nonetheless, the resentment expressed towards the government and a number of ethnic communities are not unique to Philippines alone. Other countries such as the US have their fair share of marginalized communities.
Native Americans or American Indians comprise of one group in America today that has been marginalized. Since the claim that Christopher Columbus discovered America, the plight of Native Americans has been overlooked and their right to their ancestral land denied. Their presence alone was denied by the claim that Christopher Columbus discovered a new land, which apparently was already occupied. Currently, the United States Department of Justice Native American acknowledges that Native Americans have been marginalized and are more predisposed to violence double the rate an average American citizen is likely to experience. However, there has been no violent response by this particular group of people (US Department of State, 2009). Kaufman, Machida and Wang (2006) indicate that it is not a must that where the preconditions of ethnic conflict exist, as per the myth-symbol complex theory, that ethnic violence will erupt. In the case of the Native Americans, there has been no political manipulation by anyone to evoke emotions among the Native Americans that would identify an enemy and seek to wipe out the enemy (O`Neil, 2008). This is the difference between the Philippines and the US, lack of political manipulation among the Native Americans.
The issue of land has been a very divisive factor in Philippines. The United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) has identified the country as a zone of discrimination based on ethnicity and social stratification. Government forces and people wielding political power have often times discriminated against the poor and the helpless citizens. A report prepared the UN Special Rapporteur Philip Alston in 2007 showed that government activities to demilitarize separatist and terrorist groups such as the ASG wrongfully targeted leftist leaders and community organizers. For instance, the founding member of the Cordillera People`s Alliance (CPA) James Balao, was abducted while travelling between Baguio City an La Trinidad. His family members claimed that the man was abducted by a military unit and locked up in seclusion. Such abductions are common and have also targeted news reporters who are perceived to be against the central government. In 2007 alone, the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) handled 173 cases of mysterious deaths and disappearances involving a number of civilians, social leaders and journalists (US Department of State, 2009).
Different ethnic groups can be a blessing or a curse to a country`s development. Many countries around the world that boast of numerous ethnic groups such as the Philippines have constantly balled to contain ethic hostilities. Other countries such as the US have managed to contain the ethnic tensions and exploit them positively. However, where violence is absent, cases of discrimination and marginalization by the central government have been voiced. As discussed in the paper, ethnic differences are common but ethnic wars are not. I therefore feel that the politics of the day and political leaders hold a central role in determining how ethnic differences and issues are handled. The myth symbol complex theory stipulates that politicians often times manipulate the myths and symbols and cause ethnic conflict. Therefore, it is the political leaders in Philippines who have manipulated the various differences between the ethnic communities to cause war and ethnic hostilities. In other countries around the world, Muslims and Christians have coexisted peacefully. Filipinos should not allow political leaders to evoke and arouse emotional tensions and violence for their own private gains.
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Ethnic conflict in the Philippines (Name)