Ateneo de Davao University

Ateneo de Davao

Bitiala sa Maguindanao (Second of Five parts)

LAST November 11, 2015, forumZFD, Al Qalam Institute of the Ateneo de Davao University in partnership with the Action for the Advancement and Development of Mindanao (Afadmin), conducted the 2nd BitialasaMaguindanao Series. The topic was “defining the roles of traditional leadership in governance and in the Bangsamoro peace process”.

During the first conversation series, the discussion revolved around the relevance of Bangsamoro identity. Part of the discussion is on how the meaning of Bangsamoro identity evolved as various conflict lines also developed and the need to redefine it. The role of the traditional leaders in the evolution of Bangsamoro identity and struggle was raised.

From this discussion, the organizers framed the Second Bitiala sa Maguindanao Series to reflect on the roles of traditional leadership in the past, its relevance on the current governance system and their role in the Bangsamoro struggle and the peace process.

The existing narrative of the Bangsamoro people looks back at the pre-colonial and colonial period of Mindanao. However, there are developments that happened after the 1900s and during the occupation of the Americans that are neglected in the said narrative. Key questions were asked: what happened to the sultanates? Why was there a decline of their role as a socio-political institution within the Bangsamoro? To answer these questions, the Bitiala was designed to use a case study presentation on the role of the datus.

The organizers invited Dr. Bai Sahara Salazar, a professor at the Mindanao State University-Maguindanao, as the lead discussant. She started the conversation by differentiating traditional from executive leadership. Traditional leadership is one that is inherited by blood while executive leadership means having the opportunity to occupy positions in the government either through appointment or election. She also said that a defined constituency is important.

In the context of the Maguindanaon culture, the relatives are considered the constituents (not as subjects) because of their sustained support to the leader.

At present, the Maguindanaons still believe in traditional leadership. This belief is rooted in our history that our forefathers had established their our own unique system of government which was subdivided into units, each ruled by a family exercising sovereignty over a specific territory. Some of these families survived up to the present context. A few of them have occupied positions in the government, both as elected and appointed officials. With the extent of their influence, wealth and power, they also managed to maintain some features of their traditional socio-political structures that includes the presence of datus, sultans and even slaves in their areas.

Dr. Bai Sahara further stressed that the concept of leadership is innate in Maguindanaon culture. The Maguindanaon tradition demands that the ruling class must come from the noble families of Maguindanao. These families have a stronghold on the people and even on the government system which explains why the datus have retained their status as traditional and political or executive leaders.

History has it that when the Americans came to the Philippines and introduced a new democratic form of government, the traditional leaders have continued reigning in power as they were appointed as leaders of the colonial governments and were later elected to various positions in the current government system.

But as time changes from Spanish, American, Japanese occupations to the emergence of the Republic of the Philippines, the datuship was pushed back paving the way for other qualified Maguindanaons to occupy positions in the government. This could be one reason the datuship and the role of the Datu weakened, along with the coming of the western culture and the educational advancement.

There were many points that were discussed. The following summarizes the main output of the discussion: The relevance of traditional leadership at present.

The traditional leaders, referred to as Datu or Sultan, have played significant roles in the past. In the current Maguindanao province, they were considered great leaders of their constituents. They governed their area and took part in resolving conflicts as mediators. As pointed out by some participants, the traditional leaders always prioritize the interest of the community and the common good. In the local language this refers to “ungaya”.

The “ungaya” value possessed by traditional leaders in the past was also a significant factor in sustaining constituents’ respect.

A leader has to put emphasis on the “ungaya” or giving importance on the welfare and common good of the community. This value motivates people to do good to others even if they do not hold political influence. However, the value of ungaya is seldom seen in most Maguindanaon societies nowadays.

Most of the participants said that some of the current leaders in Maguindanao have taken for granted this important value. Some leaders are now focusing on the welfare of their own families and clans.

The emergence of new leaders. There are new emerging leaders from different sectors of our society. Some of them are not coming from the traditional leaders’ lineage.

These are individuals who have gained advanced education, and have succeeded in their career and business endeavors. These new leaders are also effective because they have integrity and that people believe in them. Combining the influence of the tradition and modernity, young leaders are now knowledgeable with tools and updated in important current events that are crucial to the life and welfare of their people.

Disconnect between the BBL and the current traditional leaders. At present, traditional leaders are hardly engaged in most of the significant stages of the Bangsamoro peace process particularly in the discussion of the Bangsamoro Basic Law. Some of them expressed apprehension on the BBL as the previous peace agreement with the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) is still not fully fulfilled.

The conversation series ended by challenging the participants to continue nurturing a culture of dialogue and reflection on common themes or issues by which the different Moro tribes can come together. It also challenged the participants to instill the importance of education, traditional values and the sense of belongingness among the youth.

The participants also shared a common hope to sustain the roles of traditional leaders as mediators, as role models in the preservation of traditional values and in fostering unity among the diverse tribes of the Bangsamoro. And finally, a dialogue between traditional leaders and mainstream political leaders must be encouraged, for them to work together for the common good and welfare of the Bangsamoro people.