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Wednesday, 29 August 2012

Cotabato, Mindanao

Teddy taking photo with the Philippines security forces in Cotabato, Mindanao

I was very fortunate yesterday for an opportunity to follow some of our local reporters for a brief visit to Mindanao island. The island is the second largest in the Philippines located south of the Luzon island (Manila) with significantly large Muslim presence. I was being briefed that it was once predominated by the Muslims who lived a traditional life mostly works as a farmer and fishermen. Later the policy of the central government which have encourages the Christian Filipinos to emigrate down south as a solutions to ease the density of the people in the Luzon island venturing into other economic activities with such a fertile volcanic land in Mindanao for coconut field and palm oil had created a tension between the Christian and Muslim populations in Mindanao. Funny as it sound I still remember when Dato' Mokhtar Selat taught us in UM, the Moros nickname of the Muslims in Mindanao were given by the Spanish when they landed in the Philippines due to the religion professed by the Filipinos resided there as a preponderance to the religion of the Moroccan people of the North of African hence the nickname the Moors or the Moros.



Me taking photo with the current MILF leader standing in the middle

The civil war and emergency problems in Mindanao is very complicated which started as early as in the 1914 according to my friend stationed there. This might sound cliche but what started as a family quarrels over an inheritance of land had put most Muslims in Mindanao at war between each family clan/ tribe. Looking at the volatile situations of the family feud what make it worse is that such quarrels over the inheritance had turned into an armed clashed between the family clan/ tribes thus the long feud came in the civil war which put the whole island into a very bad light over these years. As the Christian Filipino from Luzon settled in with the backing of the central government with official land grants, the Muslims became more embittered when pushed aside and start to take up armed struggle over the infringement of land that was once belong to them in Mindanao.

As the civilizations creeps in, and the surge of oil prices from the middle east in late 1970s has catapulted the intervention of the Libyan government headed by Muammar Gaddafi which supplied weapons and funds for the local Moros from the island to taken up Jihad against the central Philippines government up north in Manila. The 100 years long of instability in Mindanao had freeze the development of the island and the long civil war fought among the family clan/ tribes and between Moro International Liberation Front (MILF) and government forces has halted the much needed development of the whole island. The situation in Mindanao is very much worse nowadays as the residents hasn't been able to experience even a brief period of stability and every disagreement however small they are were settled by the muzzle of a gun. 

Tank are clearly visible to guard a checkpoint in Cotabato, Mindanao

For one to buy a gun is as easy as buying a bread at the local town. Even the bakery are also guarded by a heavy armed security personnel. The local roads were full of the army personnel manhandled heavy weapons and there are also a tank and armored car visible along the busy road with one checkpoint for every kilometers stretch. Our driver drove the taxi like a race driver as he wearies of the security threats along the main road due to the rampant bombings and shootings occurred over the weekends. I thought Southern Thailand was bad, I guess I was wrong, dead wrong. I was briefed that the economy was quite bad as there are almost no investment from abroad due to the volatile situations there. Curfew were effective as early as 5pm and after that life of every man is on his own. Most of the killings cases were classified by the police as unable to be resolved. Through my observation, the commerce activities in Cotabato were active mostly along the main road. Even the local pharmacy were heavily crossed iron like a jewellery shop. Mosque and churches were many and clearly insight. One of the services offered in Cotabato are the trishaw, but the trishaw here are one of of its kind that are custom made with anything that's available. 


Types of trishaw and services offered in Cotabato
My friend told me among the famous services in Mindanao are domestic helper. For an expatriates, Filipinos maids are willing to accept as low as 2000 pesos per month for them to work as domestic helper. That account to as much as RM200-300 per month. One household with five family members can live for a week just for 800-1000 peso, that's RM80 per week. Life is really tough in Mindanao and cheap too. I wish to return back, perhaps for more closer look at the life of the Filipinos especially in Davao city. Filipinos that I met in Cotabato are very friendly, even their security forces personnel are more than happy to talk with me and taking photos when asked upon. Kids are as usual, they are wonderful whenever you go. But, there's nothing much that I can learn from a one day visit in Cotabato except observe it through the windows of my taxi van. I hope I can come back with a closer look one day.


On my way home

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Faces of Tun Teddy

Faces of Tun Teddy