Inequality, land grabbing at the root of crisis in Mindanao – Moro leader

Mural depicting war and bombing in Bangsamoro lands. This mural graced the doorway to Moro camps in Sitio Sandugo (Bulatlat Photo)

“You can come visit our lands, interact with us, do business with us, but we will resist if you encroach on our lands.”


MANILA – “Krisis ang marami sa amin, hindi Isis,” (Crisis is what abounds among us, not Isis), a local leader of Suara (voice of the Bangsamoro) once told Bulatlat as he waited for his turn to be attended to by doctors at the Sitio Sandugo during their recent Lakbayan.

Jehad Muhamad, 45, a farmer and the secretary general of Suara Bangsamoro in Sultan Kudarat, hailed from Mamasapano in Maguindanao but currently lives in Esperanza, Sultan Kudarat. He joined the recent Lakbayan to add his voice in amplifying the issues of the Moro people in the capital. He said they are not terrorists but the government soldiers seem to want the people to think they are.

“They refer to us as ‘terrrorists,’ but in truth they torture us and they are just out to facilitate landgrabbing,” Muhamad said of the government’s military.

Jehad Muhamad, Suara Bangsamoro leader, while waiting for doctors at Sitio Sandugo in UP

He cited as an example the Islamic City of Marawi, the parts of Mamasapano where recently government soldiers conducted military strikes, and other parts of Mindanao where the soldiers claimed other Isis-influenced followers have probably arrived. In Marawi City after five months of military air strikes, the World Bank and representatives of big businesses which used to find it difficult to enter the city are now moving in through the proposed “rehabilitation” of the city.

Government launching wars for plunder

Based on his experience of wars and conflicts in Mindanao, Muhamad said, “Kung walang sundalo e walang gyera sa amin. Kaya nagrerebelde ang mga tao e hindi pantay ang mahirap at mayaman” (If there’s no soldier there is no war in our place. The reason people rebel is because of the inequality between the rich and poor).

He denied the existence of so-called Isis in conflict-torn places of Mindanao, saying the Isis is just a manufactured enemy to justify the launching of military tanks, aerial and ground strikes against Moro and Lumad communities. “The Isis is mere hearsay,” Muhamad said.

Where the Philippine government is conducting military strikes in Mindanao, he insisted that the Isis is “just part of their scheme to launch a war against our people.”

Aside from Muhamad, another leader of Suara Bangsamoro, Epang Abdullah, 48, traces to government’s “>militarization and martial law the bakwit and impoverished status of her family since 1974.

She was eight when government soldiers and an American couple desiring their coconut fields abducted (allegedly arrested) her father and brother. Accusing the father and son of being members of the New People’s Army, soldiers allegedly took them to the house of the American couple where they were tortured and forced to dig their own grave.

Friends from the Manobo tribe tipped them off about what happened to their family members and led them to the father and son’s grave.

What used to be their family’s big house, carabaos, and cows, were burned down by the soldiers. From Kidayan, Sultan Kudarat, Epang and some family members were forced to move to Palimbang. She said the family never recovered their former lands and they also got separated from each other.

Forty-five years since the declaration of Martial Law, Epang is again on the run from soldiers who, she said, have been at her heels, accusing her of being a member of the NPA.

Duterte’s martial law fueling more protests, activism

“You can come visit our lands, interact with us, do business with us, but we will resist if you encroach on our lands,” Muhamad said of some Moro customs. The same sentiment has led to pangayaw or tribal war of defense by the Lumad and other indigenous peoples.

In the natural gas-rich Liguasan marsh for which the Philippine government waged war against elements of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, Muhamad said, the Moro fighters eventually resisted and would likely continue to resist the encroachment of the likes of the Philippine National Oil Corporation (PNOC).

“If our government is any good, why do all these things happen to us?” Muhamad anticipates more people opting to take up arms if the government didn’t show its sincerity to the people he calls as his kababayan.

President Duterte hails from Mindanao, and here is where he imposed Martial Law. He identifies himself as a person with Maranao bloodline, yet he allowed the Armed Forces of the Philippines, aided by US troops, drones, military supplies, and intelligence, to lay waste to the lone Islamic City.

Asked again how the looming “rehabilitation” of Marawi after months of government aerial strike will likely unfold, Muhamad warns that considering the government announcements and the areas to be repurposed by the likes of the World Bank, it’s a big question what will happen to the Moro people. From what’s befalling them in Mindanao, he concluded, “Duterte is our kababayan only in words.” (

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