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Christian Immigrants and the Peripheralization of Rural Muslims

Government-assisted migration to Mindanao on a large scale began with the establishment of the Philippine Commonwealth in 1935. While the American colonial government had sponsored agricultural colonies in Muslim Mindanao as early as 1913, those settlements remained limited and experimental.[3] American efforts to encourage Christian immigration to Muslim Mindanao were motivated in large part by the intention to "civilize" Muslims by contagion. That intention was articulated by Governor Frank Carpenter in a 1917 report: "The problem of civilization of Mindanao and Sulu according to modern standards, or as it may be termed, 'the Philippinization' of the Mohammedan and pagan regions which comprise almost the entire terri-


tory of Mindanao-Sulu, has its most expeditious and positive solution in the movement under Government direction to that territory of sufficient numbers of the Christian inhabitants of Visayas and Luzon" (Carpenter quoted in Gowing 1983, 294).

The Commonwealth administration was principally interested in developing Mindanao economically for the benefit of the nation as a whole and, particularly, in providing an outlet for tenant farmers in the population centers of the North who had become further impoverished (and increasingly embittered) by the global depression. Christian political leaders at the national level neither anticipated nor encouraged any significant Muslim participation in their development schemes (Thomas 1971). In 1939, the National Land Settlement Administration (NLSA) was established and given the task of creating and administering a larger and better integrated system of settler colonies in Mindanao. By early 1941 the NLSA had established two large colonies, both in Cotabato Province—in the Koronadal and Alah Valleys (see map 2)—that accommodated approximately thirty-seven hundred families, all of them immigrants from the North (Pelzer1945). Unlike the earlier American-sponsored agricultural colonies, no effort was made to include Muslim families among the settlers (Thomas 1971).

After the wartime hiatus, government-sponsored and subsidized immigration resumed at an accelerated pace under a succession of new government agencies. One of those programs was specifically intended to relieve severe political as well as population pressures. On the eve of formal political independence in 1946, the fledgling Philippine state was faced with a rapidly expanding armed rebellion in Central Luzon, the most populous and agriculturally productive area of the country. By 1950, the Hukbalahap Rebellion—a popular insurgency seeking agrarian reform as well as complete economic independence from the United States—had an estimated fifteen thousand armed fighters and a half million sympathizers and was posing a severe challenge to the postindependence state[4] (Kerkvliet 1977; Walton 1984).

The Hukbalahap Rebellion was subdued in 1953 with the application of immense amounts of military aid and development expenditures by the United States (Walton 1984). Foremost in the government's policy of attraction—and the only element of its agrarian reform program that was effectively implemented—was a resettlement program for "Huk" fighters and supporters in Mindanao. The army-administered Economic Development Corps (EDCOR) established





















Muslims, percent






SOURCE: O'Shaughnessy 1975, 377.


settlement projects primarily in Cotabato (in Buldun and Alamada), but its first project, in 1951, was in the fertile Kapatagan Basin in neighboring Lanao Province (Scaff 1955). Demographic data are available only for Kapatagan, but they illustrate the scale of the postwar influx of Christian migrants. There were about 24 Christian settlers in the Kapatagan area in 1918. By 1941 their number had risen to 8,000 and by 1960 there were a total of 93,000 immigrants, many of whom had arrived under the EDCOR program. By 1960, Christian immigrants vastly outnumbered the 7,000 Maranao Muslims still living in the area (Hausherr 1968–69 quoted in Thomas 1971, 317).

The demographic shift throughout Muslim Mindanao in the postwar years, while not as dramatic as in Kapatagan, was equally momentous. The population of Central Mindanao (comprising the pre-1968 provinces of Cotabato, Lanao, and Bukidnon) soared from .7 million persons in 1948 to an estimated 2.3 million persons in 1970; representing a growth rate of 229 percent, as compared with the national figure of just under 100 percent (Burley 1973). Cotabato received the bulk of the postwar migrants. Net migration to Cotabato province in the period between 1939 and 1960 totaled 523,037 persons compared with 231,445 persons for the rest of the region (Burley 1973). During the twelve years prior to the 1960 census, the population of Cotabato Province grew at a rate of 8.48 percent per year, the highest population growth rate of any province in the Philippines (Wernstedt and Spencer 1967). Table 1 displays figures (reported by O'Shaughnessy 1975) showing that, while Muslims comprised 54.5 percent of the population of Cotabato Province in 1939, by 1960 Christian in-migration had caused the Muslim share of the population to slip to 34.6 percent.

While the scale of Christian immigration to Cotabato caused inevitable dislocations, the manner of its occurrence also produced glar-


ing disparities between Christian settlers and Muslim farmers. As early as 1935, prominent Muslims such as Salipada Pendatun were complaining about the inherent disadvantages faced by Muslims who tried to compete with Christians in acquiring legal title to lands (see chapter 5). From 1935 onward, the successive administrations of the Philippine Commonwealth and Republic provided steadily more opportunities and assistance to settlers from the North. By contrast, the government services available to Muslims were not only meager compared to those obtained by immigrant Christians but were also fewer than they had received under the colonial regime. The land laws of the postcolonial government defined all unregistered lands in Mindanao to be public land or military reservations (Gowing 1979). Unfamiliar with the procedures or deterred by the years of uncertainty, the steep processing fees, and the requirement to pay taxes during the interim, many Muslims neither applied for the new lands opened up by road construction nor filed for the land they currently occupied (Thomas 1971). For their part, officials and employees of the Bureau of Lands (virtually all of them Christians) were at best indifferent to Muslims. Christian settlers, on the other hand, regularly obtained ownership of the best new lands as well as crop loans and other forms of government assistance. The new Christian communities became linked to trade centers and to one another by networks of roads while Muslim communities remained relatively isolated.

By 1970, this differential access had produced a profound economic gap between Muslim and Christian communities throughout Mindanao. In 1971 the Philippine Senate Committee on National Minorities reported that until that year there were no irrigation projects in any municipality in Mindanao where Muslims were a majority (Gowing 1979). A 1972 survey of three communities in Pigkawayan, a municipality adjacent to Cotabato City and one of the leading rice-producing districts in central Mindanao, revealed circumstances symptomatic of Cotabato as a whole. Muslims, who comprised 20 percent of the population of the municipality, occupied a remote, swampy portion of one of the villages in the three-village sample and did not possess legal title to the land they farmed. They had adopted new rice varieties but, unlike Christian farmers, did not use fertilizer, herbicides, or tractors and threshers. In sharp contrast to Christian farmers, no Muslims had received government aid, although all Muslims polled cited government aid as the most important way that farming could be improved (E. K. Tan 1974).


The fact of differential access to state resources for Christians and Muslims despite an official policy of equal access was exacerbated by the purposeful thwarting of the intentions of the government policy by bureaucrats and speculators. Both ordinary Muslims and Christians were disadvantaged by these manipulations, but the most obvious abuses of the system often favored Christians over indigenous Muslims.

Pelzer (1945, 12) notes that during the Commonwealth period it was common for homesteaders to rush to a road construction site to find that "influential persons who had been privately informed of the construction even before it was begun had taken up the choice land on both sides of the road. These people then held the land for speculative purposes, using hired labor to meet the bare minimum requirement for improvements."

Such collusions between speculators and bureaucrats were still common in Cotabato in the 1950s and 1960s. Speculators received information on roads to be constructed through undeveloped sections and gained title to the best adjoining lots for later resale. Legal limitations on the size of landholdings were circumvented by, among other means, titling lots in the names of fictitious persons or absent relatives and hiring children to simulate (by using their big toes) the required thumbprints on application forms. Philippine Constabulary officers were reportedly able to obtain large and valuable tracts of land for themselves. Also common was the practice by employees of the Bureau of Lands to apply for title to parcels of land in recently surveyed areas in the names of their absent relatives in Luzon or the Visayas. Their applications would be given priority treatment and relatives would then be notified to come to claim their lots.

Most rural Muslims (as exemplified by the indigenous inhabitants of Pigkawayan) found themselves peripheralized in place as a result of the maneuverings of Christian settlers and speculators. Others, however, were physically dispossessed of their lands. The Bureau of Lands recognized land rights on the basis of priority of claim filed, not priority of occupation. It was not unusual for individuals to obtain legal titles, either intentionally or unintentionally, to already occupied lands.[5] In such cases, the legal owners were mostly (but not always) Christians and the previous occupants ordinary Muslims. Poor Muslim "squatters" would usually be offered small amounts of money to vacate the land and would often accept it and leave. If the occupants refused to move and the titled owner was sufficiently wealthy or influential, he or she would gain possession of the land by use of armed might, most of-


ten supplied (in the case of Christian titleholders) by local units of the Philippine Constabulary.

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