As May Elections Near in Philippines, Bayang’s Leaders, Candidates Sign Peace Covenant
April 14, 2010
When the Spanish-American War in the Philippines ended in 1898, the Americans attempted to subjugate the southern territories of the Muslims (“Moros” – so called since the Spanish had likened them to the Muslims they had fought on the Iberian peninsula), who had remained unconquered during the 377 years of Spanish colonization. True to form, the Moros in Mindanao, particularly the Maranaos (known as the “People of the Lake”) fought American rule in various battles throughout the southern Lanao del Sur province. In resistance to American sovereignty, the Maranaos protected the border along Lake Lanao from American entry, killing soldiers who attempted to cross with surprise attacks and ambushes.
One of the most important battles between Americans and the Maranaos was the Battle of Bayang in 1902, at the beginning of the American colonial period. The Americans overran Padang Karbala fort, leaving only seven male Maranaos survivors. These warriors ultimately became local datus (local chieftains) and it is believed that the people of Bayang have descended in seven clans from these datus. Though defeated, the legacy of the Padang Karbala represents for the Maranaos the highest moment of courage and strength, a battle collectively waged by the warriors of Islam in Lanao in defense of their homeland against colonial aggression.
Despite its historical place in Maranao culture, Bayang, the home of Padang Karbala, still endures brutal internal conflict today. Incidents of rido, a Maranao term used to describe clan feuds, are pervasive and have resulted in the deaths of men, women, and children. The rido cases in Bayang are mostly due to political rivalry and have historically intensified during every election.
From 2001 to 2007, Bayang has been consistent in the list of election hotspots identified by the Commissions of Elections due to a likely occurrence of violence and offenses committed as experienced in previous elections. “In Cold Blood,” a story on rido published in 2004, depicts how violence in a range of forms has marred Bayang because of rido since the 2001 elections. It was reported that nearly 53 houses were burned leaving many public spaces like schools, police stations, and barangay (village) halls empty – an eerie reminder of how many families (reports of at least one-third of the population) have left Bayang over the years in fear of the violent and destructive affects of rido. The threat of violence was also felt in the 2007 elections when the competition for the mayoralty seat became so intense that a heated debate in the polling precincts between political supporters of respective contending parties prompted the military to fire a warning shot to stop the tension. A school where voting took place was also burned in the town which reinforced the town’s placement on the list of election “hotspots.”
Such loss of livelihood, destruction of property, and death reached its tipping point for local NGO Mindanao Dynamic Culture of Peace, Inc. (MidCOP), when in December 2009, it decided to intervene. Made up of Maranao professionals, the organization designs and implements approaches such as holding various consultations and dialogues with traditional elders and religious leaders in Bayang, in its effort to successfully conduct a peace convention to prevent election-related violence in the area.
On Feb. 23, 2010, nearly 500 traditional, religious, and barangay leaders, students, community residents, local politicians, and local candidates in the upcoming May elections attended a Peace Convention, initiated by MidCOP with Asia Foundation support, held in Bayang to address the highly influential role these leaders personally have to advocate for peaceful elections, especially as May elections approach and fear of increased violence prevails. The event culminated in the signing of a peace covenant to encourage a peaceful and honest electoral process among candidates and their supporters prior, during, and after the election period.
The Peace Convention aims to regain and infuse the ideals of the battle of Padang Karbala among the leaders of the town as they seek political positions: that the greatest battle being fought is not who wins or looses the election, but rather, the battle to protect the safety and well-being of the Bayang people and their homeland.
Hyro Domado, who is a Maranao, is The Asia Foundation’s Assistant Program Officer for the Conflict Management Program in the Philippines. She can be reached at email@example.com.
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