The present armed-conflicts in the Philippines, along with many wars and violence in the global realities of the 21st century, are rooted in various historical injustices that have traumatized various nations, especially many Indigenous Peoples, over several generations.
Historical injustice, according to Encyclopedia Britannica, is “past moral wrong committed by previously living people that has a lasting impact on the well-being of currently living people. Claims to material reparations for historical injustices are typically based on the nature of the lasting impact, and claims to symbolic restitution are often grounded on the moral quality of the wrongs committed.” The Encyclopedia of Genocide and Crimes Against Humanity includes “episodes of genocide, slavery, torture, forced conversions, and mass expulsions of peoples” in its definition of historical injustice. It can be motivated by “political, economic, religious, or ethnic reasons” and that “states often abused or allowed the abuse of specific minorities or foreign populations.”
My reflection on historical injustice starts with the misuse of the name of Christ that sanctioned the colonial and genocidal policies of the European empires against the Indigenous Peoples around the world.
The Doctrine of Discovery: Misusing the Name of Christ. In the 1400s, a series of Papal Bulls were declared and sanctioned explorers to invade, colonize, and exploit lands and peoples around the world. The Doctrine of Discovery is the unsound theological basis for the colonialism and imperialism that still oppress many Indigenous Peoples today. These were done by the European imperial monarchs in the name of Christ.
The following 45-minute video explains how this doctrine affected the Indigenous Peoples of the Turtle Island (North America) and other IPs around the world:
The impact of the Doctrine of Discovery on Indigenous Peoples was addressed during the concluding session of the 11th UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues 18 May 2012 in New York:
Legal and political justification for the dispossession of indigenous peoples from their lands, their disenfranchisement and the abrogation of their rights such as the doctrine of discovery, the doctrine of domination, “conquest”, “discovery”, terra nullius or the Regalian doctrine were adopted by colonizers throughout the world. While these nefarious doctrines were promoted as the authority for the acquisition of the lands and territories of indigenous peoples, there were broader assumptions implicit in the doctrines, which became the basis for the assertion of authority and control over the lives of indigenous peoples and their lands, territories and resources. Indigenous peoples were constructed as “savages”, “barbarians”, “backward” and “inferior and uncivilized” by the colonizers who used such constructs to subjugate, dominate and exploit indigenous peoples and their lands, territories and resources…
According to the text, signs of such doctrines were still evident in indigenous communities, including in the areas of: health; psychological and social well-being; conceptual and behavioural forms of violence against indigenous women; youth suicide; and the hopelessness that many indigenous peoples experience, in particular indigenous youth.
Until now, the Regalian Doctrine, which is the face of the Doctrine of Discovery in the Philippines, is operational in justifying and legalizing the destructive mining operations of multinational corporations in the Philippines. The devastation of our land and the oppression of our people still are the continuation of this doctrine.
The historical injustices by the Spaniards were something I have read and have studied in academic classrooms. I still see the residual effects of Spanish oppression against our people in the present.
My personal experience and observation of historical injustices happened while living near an American military base during the Vietnam War.
War Crimes: Historical Injustices in the Philippines. I grew up surrounded by American baptist missionaries and was raised up in a very conservative evangelical religious community. As a brown Malay child, I really believed that the Americans were sent by God to the Filipino people to liberate us from the Spaniards through democratic ideals, to bring the Gospel to us, and to educate us.
Then I saw how the U.S. military personnel treated my Filipino sisters and brothers in Olongapo City, an urban center adjacent to the Subic Naval Base, where the officers and rank-and-file men and women of the 7th Fleet spent their rest and recreation time during the Vietnam War. As a teenager trained to do critical thinking through Inductive Bible Study, I questioned the incoherent presence of the Americans in our country. The well-meaning missionaries were teaching us how to go to heaven, while their military protectors were sending my peers to hell by treating those local economically-impoverished folks as $10-per-night sex slaves.
That was the circumstance when I decided to join a revolutionary youth movement to fight against US imperialism and the Marcos dictatorial regime. After graduating from a Bible college, I went to the Asian Center at the University of the Philippines and completed a master’s degree program in Asian Studies. I went back to Olongapo City and worked as a college instructor — teaching history, political science, and sociology — and organized a community.
Recently, more and more researches are surfacing that reveal the war crimes of the United States against the Filipino people. When I saw the video below, I identified with the young story-teller.
I could have been that boy. But unlike that boy, it was only during my university years when I realized the sad realities behind the official narrative of American presence in the Philippines — as told by the missionaries who ‘discipled’ me.
The sad thing is that, the Philippine government is still subservient to US foreign policies. Under the current defense agreement our government has with the US, American armed forces can legally do military “training; transit; support and related activities; refueling of aircraft; bunkering of vessels; temporary maintenance of vehicles, vessels and aircraft; temporary accommodation of personnel; communications; prepositioning of equipment, supplies and materiel; deploying forces and materiel; and such other activities” as the US and Philippine governments may agree. Through onerous agreements like this, the on-going train of historical injustices continues.
The historical injustices brought about by the Spanish and the American colonial presence in the Philippines caused deep wounds in our journey as a nation. This is significantly being felt by the peoples of two regions who were able to preserve their respective Indigenous identities — the Bangsamoro and the Cordillera People.
Bangsamoro: Historical Injustice in Mindanao. “Bangsamoro” is the name which the 13 Muslim tribes of the southern Philippines use to refer to themselves collectively. Bangsa is a Malay word meaning nation. Moro is the name which the Spanish colonizers used to denote the Islamized peoples of the southern islands of the Philippines, and is derived from the Spanish name for the Muslim Moors who dominated the Iberian Peninsula until late in the 15th Century. Thus, the term Bangsamoro literally means “Moro Nation.” The tribes which comprise the Bangsamoro are the Iranun, Maguindanaon, Maranao, Tao-Sug, Sama, Yakan, Jama Mapun, Ka’agan, Kalibugan, Sangil, Molbog, Palawani, and Badjao.
The roots of the Bangsamoro conflict are the historical injustices which are summarized and illustrated in this four-minute animated video:
The conflict in this land was exacerbated by a number of historical and social factors. One of them is a strong anti-Muslim bias by the majority Christian population of the Philippines. When Joji and I were beginning our work here in 2006, we learned that 57% of the residents in Metro Manila, according to the 2005 Philippine Human Development Report, will opt for residency in a place with higher rent so long as it is far from a Muslim community. Also, the government failed to deliver basic services and the needed development to Moro communities. The same 2005 Human Development Report showed that Muslim areas like Lanao del Sur, Maguindanao, Sulu, Tawi-Tawi and Basilan continue to suffer the highest poverty incidence.
At present, the Christian majority of the Philippine population still looks at the Mindanao conflict from the perspective of the colonial lenses, falsely justified by the Doctrine of Discovery. One of the most painful challenges we’re facing as PeaceBuilders Community is the accusation of some American missionaries and American-trained Christian pastors and leaders that we’re “siding with the enemy”.
We say, “We’re seeking to love the so-called enemies in the name of Jesus.”
Then we were led, I believe, by the Creator’s Spirit, to listen to the Indigenous Peoples in the northern mountain ranges of Luzon.
Cordilleras: Historical Injustices in the Northern Mountain Ranges. In 15 February 2015, I had the privilege of interviewing a Kalinga elder, Andres B. Ngao-I, who was then the President of the Cordillera Bodong Administration (CBA). He shared the journey of the Kalinga people and the whole Cordillera region which was passed on to him through oral tradition. He explained that the term Cordillera was used by the Spaniards to describe the mountain ranges in Northern Luzon with its “breath-taking plateaus and valleys.” According to Ngao-I, their consciousness and awareness of their “being a people in these rich system of mountain ranges have been alive through their cultural values and customs.” His series of stories gave me glimpses of their deep conviction of who they are as a people and how that “strong sense of being” sustained their struggle against the Spanish and American invasion.
The Cordillera Region is composed of 6 provinces — Abra, Benguet, Mountain Province, Ifugao, Kalinga, and Apayao. The region’s capital, which is also considered as the Summer Capital of the Philippines, is Baguio City.
My friendship with Madam Juanita Chupan Chulsi, Vice Chairman of the Cordillera Peoples Liberation Army (CPLA) gave me a deeper understanding of the experiences of historical injustices committed by the Manila government against her people. During a dinner conversation in her home at the the CPLA’s Camp Conrado Balweg last 01 February 2017, Ma’am Chulsi told me the story of her revolutionary journey. Her words seem to jump out of my field notebook: “The peoples of the Cordilleras have always been protective of our identity and land. We were never subjugated by the Spaniards and by the Americans. We fought with the CPP-NPA (Communist Party of the Philippines and their armed wing, the New People’s Army) during the Martial Law when the government tried to dam the Chico River.”
With us in that dinner was Ka Pablo, the Camp Commander. He shared his memories of being “discriminated by the lowlanders” as a young man. He narrated how he joined the revolutionary movement because he saw “the representatives of the central government merely regard our lands, waters, and minerals as something to offer to foreigners.” Both Ma’am Chulsi and Ka Ambo felt that the indigenous governance, conflict resolution processes, and cultural values were generally disrespected by the Filipino majority and by the Manila government.
The personal narratives of historical injustices I heard from Chupan Chulsi and Ka Pablo were consistent with what the Cordillera Peoples Alliance summarized in their website as National Oppression:
As indigenous peoples, we additionally suffer a distinct problem of national oppression and ethnocide at the hands of foreign colonial powers in earlier times, and presently by the present Philippine state and its foreign masters. Our people have been forcibly integrated into the dominant social system and prevented from seeking our own way to development. At the same time, the system subjects us to various kinds of discrimination and inequalities.
As a violation to our inherent right to self-determination, ethnocide and national oppression as directed against our peoples have the following forms and manifestations:
• State denial and non-recognition of our rights of collective ownership, priority use and management over our ancestral lands and resources
• Development aggression (imposition of destructive socio-economic projects in the name of “national development” or “national interest” such as megadams, large-scale mines, megatourism, NIPAS, etc)
• Political misrepresentation
• Commercialization of indigenous culture
• Institutionalized discrimination
• Violation and non-recognition of our indigenous socio-political systems and processes
• Government neglect of basic social services to indigenous peoples
The Doctrine of Discovery and its negative impact in the history of the Philippines is still being perpetuated, wittingly or unwittingly, by the government, by the church, by the school, by the media, by the military, and by the police.
The historical injustices continues.
Oligarchy and Patronage Politics: Historical Injustices in the Philippine Society. I’m praying for a radical transformation in our land. Our people are stuck in a system that perpetuates the violence of injustice. We are deeply mired in a socio-political system that enslaves our people and devastates our land for so long. This inherently corrupt system is called oligarchy. We are being run and enslaved by our country’s oligarchs.
In this 2016 video, academic scholars and political analysts share their thoughts on the characteristics of the oligarchs in the Philippines.
Even strong, popular politicians can be eaten up, so to speak, and swallowed by oligarchy. For most of them, getting corrupted by this unjust system is just a matter of time and enormous taste of wealth and power through graft-and-corruption.
Oligarchies are mostly remnants of former colonial families and their cronies who maintained their ownership of the best lands in our country based on the Regalian Doctrine. These elite families made sure that the laws of the land, especially those laws about land ownership, are not changed. To protect their interests, they made sure they control the executive, legislative, and judicial processes in our country. Their land capital was extended to commercial-industrial capital, merged with global capital.
These national-global mergers of mega-capital are protected by the laws of the land. Since the interests of these elite families and their global partners are legal, they are then protected by the armed forces and the police forces of the land, with the support of the global military powers operating in our land.
Some of these colonial families inter-married with certain landed, traditional leaders in many indigenous communities. These inter-married clans of colonial families and tribal royalties brought vast areas of lands within their ancestral domains under the Regalian system. When the new elites opened their lands to modern agri-business corporations, many indigenous clans outside these mixed marriages were pushed up to the mountains. Their traditional livelihood began to disintegrate along with their indigenous governance, culture and identity. Meanwhile, the new elites morphed into local oligarchies. Soon, they sent their children to senate and congress to join the national oligarchies.
The big media, which are owned by these oligarchies, are the narrators of the story. The story, as they tell us, is that some oligarch families are more benevolent than others. The Filipino middle class and the masses must learn to discern which of the oligarch families are best suited to rule over them. And the story sounds so true! Actually, there’s truth that oligarch families try to annihilate each other, through violence and other means, just to be on top of other oligarch families. What the big media do not tell us is that, these oligarchies will always maintain their class dominance over the middle class and the masses.
Through the big media narratives, the oligarchies maintain a system in which the majority of the professionals would manage the oligarchies’ interests for them. And surely, those professionals get rewarded enough to be controlled by the oligarch master.
Also, through the big media, the masses are lulled into a kind of entertainment that paralyzes their analytic capabilities. They are also pushed into an economic state that made them easy targets for financial manipulation especially during election time. A dumbing media and an unjust economic system create and sustain a people of mendicants who are easy prey for patronage politics. And true enough, the masses indeed reelect the oligarchies. The price for each vote? Perhaps from 100 pesos to 1,000 pesos. Then as soon as the oligarch-politicians assume power, they would immediately get their money back through various forms of pork barrels.
As a system, patronage politics is rooted in greed, historical injustice, blatant deception, violence and impunity. Although the oligarchies may be bloody competitive against each other regarding issues of wealth-and-power-distribution (what election has been all about), the threat of dismantling their system of patronage politics will surely bring them together to protect their interests as a class. In the face of this threat of losing their corruption-based wealth and power, especially from people outside their network of elite families, these self-righteous, church-going, charity-donating, descent-looking elites will join together into a phalanx-like cohesion against the outsiders.
The outsiders are the common people. The outsiders include you. The outsiders include me. The outsiders include anyone who will stand up for, and with, the common people. The oligarchies would ‘neutralize’ or ‘pacify’ the outsiders who would challenge to dismantle their base of wealth and power—which is patronage politics.
Would there be oligarch politicians who would join the people in dismantling patronage politics? Of course. Those are the exceptions though. As a class, these greedy clans will continue to be the perpetrators of patronage politics. They will have so much difficulties turning away from this system. It’s their source and base of wealth and power. Through many decades, these amassed wealth and established clan power have corrupted them and have become their gods. Within their realm of power, many of them have even manifested their view of themselves as gods. Impunity is one of such manifestations.
Our people and our land need radical transformation.
As I pray for radical transformation, my heart resonates with the words of Ella Baker: “In order for us as poor and oppressed people to become a part of a society that is meaningful, the system under which we now exist has to be radically changed… I use the term radical in its original meaning — getting down to and understanding the root cause. It means facing a system that does not lend itself to your needs and devising means by which you change that system.”
The injustices committed against the Filipinos by their fellow Filipinos and by foreign forces make us sensitive to the injustices done outside the Philippines. As a witness of Jesus working among Muslim peacebuilders and human rights workers, I’m often confronted with the justice issues when talking about the plight of the Palestinian people. For me and my Muslim partners in interfaith justice and peace advocacy, the Zionist occupation of Palestine is all at once theological, spiritual, political, ethical, and moral concern.
Nakba: Historical Injustices in Palestine. As a young conservative evangelical, I was trained to read Israeli-Arab conflict through the lenses of Dispensational Theology. “Israel, as a chosen people, must be supported or else we’ll be cursed,” my Bible teachers emphasized. The dispensational eschatology allows a Zionist view of looking at the plight of the Palestinian people. Such perspective made me ignore the just character of the God of Israel.
I was doing a research on West Asia at the University of the Philippines in 1981. I met a group of Arab Christians and they invited me to their fellowship. I started reading the Bible from the perspectives of my Arab sisters- and brothers-in-Christ. It was also the time when I heard of Nakba or “Catastrophe” which refers to the 1948 expulsion of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians from their land and the subsequent destruction of their communities. My Arab sisters and brothers shared with me how their people, both Muslims and Christians, lost their homes, their loved-ones, their communities, their lives. That was the time when I renounced dispensationalism and its Zionist biases on Arab-Israeli conflict.
In 2013, Al Jazeera released a series of special documentary on Al-Nakba. I started sharing this perspectives among evangelical leaders in the Philippines, framed in a peace theological perspective. A few changed their views. Most condemned my position as “unfaithful to God’s plan for the future.” Last month, I reiterated my conviction to stand in solidarity with Palestine while praying for the peace of both the Palestinians and the Jews during the 70th year of the commemoration of Nakba.
This hour-long video documentary on the 70th year of Nakba helped me understand better the impact of this historical injustice against the Palestinians:
I’m learning a lot from Palestinian Christian voices like Sabeel. According to their website, “Sabeel is an ecumenical grassroots liberation theology movement among Palestinian Christians. Inspired by the life and teaching of Jesus Christ, this liberation theology seeks to deepen the faith of Palestinian Christians, to promote unity among them and lead them to act for justice and peace.”
It’s also good to listen to young Palestinian Christian theologians like The Rev. Dr. Munther Isaac. His writings on issues related to the theology of the land, Palestinian Christians, and Palestinian theology influence my thinking about Middle East issues. I especially recommend his book, “From Land to Lands, from Eden to the Renewed Earth: A Christ-Centered Biblical Theology of the Promised Land“.
May the Spirit of God liberate our hearts and minds to see all sides of the narratives we listen to. May our liberated hearts and minds free us from the ‘official narratives’ that perpetuate historical injustices.
BEING JESUS’ WITNESSES IN THE CONTEXT OF HISTORICAL INJUSTICES
Part 1: Being Jesus’ Witnesses (08 June 2018)
:: Jesus–Our Justice and Peace
:: Being Martyr-Witnesses for Jesus
Part 2: Historical Injustices (18 June 2018)
:: The Doctrine of Discovery: Misusing the Name of Christ
:: War Crimes: Historical Injustices in the Philippines
:: Bangsamoro: Historical Injustice in Mindanao
:: Cordilleras: Historical Injustices in the Northern Mountain Ranges
:: Nakba: Historical Injustices in Palestine
Part 3: Justice-Based PeaceBuilding (28 June 2018)
:: Repudiating the ‘Doctrine of Discovery’
:: Supporting the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples
:: Supporting the Bangsamoro Basic Law
:: Supporting the Struggle for the Cordillera Autonomous Region
:: Supporting the GRP-NDFP Peace Talks
:: Supporting our Palestinian Sisters and Brothers in Christ