Tedurays’ in dilemma?

In one look, it seems the Tedurays are currently in big dilemma, if not in trouble. Various interests and forces are finding common rendezvous in their areas. In consequence, they are pulled away in several directions. However, most of them remain loyal to the establishment of the Bangsamoro government as envisioned in the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL).

The most immediate threat to this ethnic tribe, sometimes referred to or pejoratively as Tirurays, comes from the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF). In fact, the BIFF made armed incursions into the Mount Firis complex that resulted in the deaths of two tribesmen and burning of several houses.

 The complex is sacred to the tribesmen, likened to Vatican for Christians. Every year they perform a sort of pilgrimage to the “sacred stone”.

 BIFF spokesman accused the tribesmen of working actively with the military, as members of a paramilitary force called Civilian Armed Force Geographical Unit (CAFGU), and for allowing Christian settlers “to squat lands” in the complex, which is surrounded by Maguindanao’s Datu Hofer, Datu Unsay and Datu Saudi towns.

Mount Firis was and still is part of the Camp Omar, one of the acknowledged camps of the MILF way back in 1999 during the time of President Joseph Estrada. The late Ustadz Umra Kato, the founder of BIIF, was for some time the camp commander until he was expelled from the MILF in 2010. Until today, his followers still clings to that line; and therefore, it should be free of hostile elements, they argued.

The other groups, which also operate in the tribesmen areas, are the rejectionist faction of the Communist Party of the Philippines, and their leaders are practically known to everybody. Likewise, the New People’s Army (NPA) is also actively recruiting members thereof. Religious and mining interests groups are also working round the clock to promote their agenda.

Also the land mess is seriously made messier. About 70 percent of their ancestral lands, especially in South Upi are owned by non-Muslims. Making the problem more intractable is the non-permanence of land occupants due to the slash-and-burn system of farming, as well as the concept of communal land ownership versus the land Torrens title system.

Like any group, the Tidurays have internal problems. But their case appears more serious. They lack dominant group leadership that more or less can call most of the shots that can unite them. There are many, of course, who have altruistic agenda but they are not yet powerful enough to influence the greater majority. 

The MILF is doing everything to help. At the same, the MILF explains to them that their aspirations, as a people, cannot be achieved in a flash. In negotiation, one or the other party cannot get all what he or she wants, because negotiation is essentially a compromise. The MILF did not get everything it wanted, in spite of the fact that in terms of deaths and destruction to properties lost in the course of struggle, they cannot be compared to any other groups. Other groups’ sacrifices and losses are pale in comparison.

We listen to other people’s advices, because we know there are many bright ideas down there. This is a strength of character and part of good process in generating or knowing better ideas. But at the same time, we must also keen on spotting ideas that are sugar-coated but ultimately designed strategically for those vested interest groups. This we want our Tiduray brothers and sisters to discern.