Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Of Prejudices and Datu Paglas

“To travel is to discover that everyone is wrong about other countries.” ~~ Aldous Huxley

When my relatives especially my maternal aunt who raised me up knew that I'll be traveling to Datu Paglas, Maguindanao she told me "Halong ka kay Kamusliman daan na didto (Take care because it is a Muslim area)."

Another aunt, cousins and my older sister also told me to take care primarily because it IS a Muslim predominated area. Same line was also said by my host families and acquaintances in M'lang.

It is a sad fact that even us, Mindanaons have this thought about our fellow Muslim brother and sister. First, I would like to emphasize that this is not a blog to discriminate our fellow Muslims. This is just to show that at this time and age, prejudice and discrimination to our brother and sister Muslims remain. We discriminate base on their religion. We discriminate as we our also discriminated.

Before, I really cringe every time an acquaintance from Manila would ask,after knowing I'm from South COtabato,"Muslim ka? May giyera doon sa inyo? (Are you a Muslim? Is there a war on your place?)"

I retorted, "If I'm a Muslim, so? Would that make me less of a human to your eyes?"
Hearing always the word Cotabato is equated to "war-ravaged" areas. Blame it to the media and the Manila- centric history books and geography lessons, that we do not even care to know about this island. What we know is the terrorists, kidnappings. I want to blame the mass media for this unending prejudice. The equation always seems simple: Muslim areas= war= underdevelopment.

But I could not just go on ranting if I myself have this fear and prejudice. That traveling in Muslim area is MORE dangerous than any areas in Mindanao? I'd like to think NOT. As the daughter of my host in Mlang said, "Parehas lang man na sila sa bisan unsang grupo- Ilonggo man o Bisaya. May ara buot man ara man mga traidor. Hindi mo siya husgahan kay tungod lang nga MUslim siya, delikado na dayon. (It is the same with othe rgroups- whether Ilonggo or Bisaya. You can find someone who is kind, but there are also traitors. You should not judge the person, that when she/he is a Muslim, he/she is already dangerous.)"

For my research regarding local rice production, I choose M'lang in North Cotabato and Datu Paglas in Maguindanao Province. M'lang is dominated by Ilonggo populace and as a person who speaks their language, it would be easy. I can just travel alone. But to Datu Paglas? Aside from language differences, I knew no one from that place. And as my relatives have warned me, it is a Muslim area.

I am touched by my friends and relatives' concern but I told them that traveling alone to the place with no one I knew personally will prove them wrong. That yes, I'll be back in one piece. I only knew Rasul, a staff from a partner of a partner NGO. This is how it goes-- I met the Executive Director (ED) of Mindanao Peoples Peace Movement who referred me to the ED of TRIPOD who in return also referred me to this staff in Datu Paglas. I never met Rasul before. I just texted and called him the day before traveling to the area.

I stayed for four days in the area and here I am, still in one piece. Datu Paglas is a miracle town that was brought back into pieces by peace-loving individuals. Owing also to the powerful clan of Paglas, the once dreaded place became one of the rice granary of Maguindanao Province.

But still, government support is lacking. Official development aid (ODA) projects in the name of the "poor people of ARMM" must also be scrutinized if it really went to the real beneficiaries. As for the rice areas, again their is a threat of land conversion to high value crops such as bananas and oil palm plantations.

I just learned that, hearing from the news and traveling to the place is two different things in the spectrum. Visit areas in Mindanao that you fear or dread and learn. Also, traveling alone and experiencing the hospitality of the people you know for the first time, makes you proud to be a Mindanaoan.


Nikki =) said...

Hi! I'm glad you visited Datu Paglas. You really don't need securities when going there just someone who knows the place because even Ambassadors of different countries go there without securities. =)

It is sad that when people hear that you are from Mindanao they cringe and tend to generalize everybody. I am an advocate of equality and I find those people asking me those same questions ignorant. They only know and think of those around them and often believe what they read and hear from the news. Everywhere you go there's violence, bat Mindanao lang yung laging napopoortray na delikado? diba? Ako nga I go around the municipality with friends wala naman nangyayari sa akin. =)

To see is to believe. =)
If ever you go back in Datu Paglas email me ahead of your schedule. I'll take you around the area. =)

See you!

Nikki =)


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