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MINDANAO – The Land of Promise: A Convergence

October 2, 2009

The revolt of the Sakdalistas led by the erstwhile Manuel Quezon supporter Benigno Ramos in 1935 partly highlighted the inadequacies of the transition government under Manuel L. Quezon. In response to that uprising, Quezon proposed an ambitious plan to address the economic problems of the poor, including his “Social Justice” program that would break up the huge landed estates and distribute these to cultivators.  When the legislature turned his proposal down due to intense landlord opposition, Quezon backtracked and instead promised to hasten the development of Mindanao. (Abinales and Amoroso, State and Society in the Philippines, p. 154)

The Pioneers:  A New Beginning

In 1939, the young Pampagueno couple Agaton and Faustina gathered their few material belongings and, together with their three small children, Remedios, Lorenzo, and Adelaida left Santa Ana, Pampanga for good, leaving the eldest, Antonina behind with relatives.  The struggling family  joined the exodus of thousands of landless sacadas and tenants from the haciendas of Central Luzon, Panay, and Negros, and thousands more landless peasant families from the Ilocos who migrated to Mindanao, then dubbed as the “Land of Promise,” under Manuel L. Quezon’s resettlement program in the second half of the 1930’s.

It should be recalled that the transition Commonwealth government under Manuel L. Quezon opened up vast areas of virgin lands in the fertile valleys and plains of Mindanao, notably in the then empire province of Cotabato, like the Alip Plain, and the Allah  and  Koronadal valleys in the late 1930’s.  The resettlement projects in Cotabato,    a component of Quezon’s solution to the then explosive agrarian situation in the vast landed estates (haciendas) in Luzon and the Visayas  was initially headed by the late General Paulino Santos.  The fertile plains were subdivided into eight and twelve-hectare farm lots.  Town sites,  barrio centers, and roads were carved from virgin forests. Houses on 600 square meter home lots in the town centers were built for and awarded to each settler family in addition to houses on 400 square meter home lots in the barrio centers.  The de Alas, like many other settler families were eventually awarded a parcel of land at the Barrio 8, Marbel, Koronadal, Cotabato resettlement site as pioneer settlers. There, they were provided with everything that they needed to survive and to make the virgin forests productive. The de Alas tilled their piece of land until the decade of the 70’s.

The Red Scare:  Postwar Mindanao Migration

“In the first fifteen years of the postwar period, Filipinos from the densely populated northern and central islands moved in massive numbers to the southern “frontier” of Mindanao.  The migration of more than a million people by 1960 was largely spontaneous and had little government support, but was surprisingly well-organized and did not produce the volatility that often accompanies mass migration.  Utilizing family and village networks, migrants from Cebu and Bohol provinces in the Central Visayas and some Pampangos from Central Luzon moved steadily into northern and eastern Mindanao.  Migrants from northern Luzon settled in western Mindanao and those from Western Visayas settled in the southern province of Cotabato.  …..”

“…..It was  a phenomenon the AFP and the CIA immediately appreciated,  prompting them to add organized resettlement of surrendered Huk supporters and sympathizers to the counterinsurgency program.    The Economic Development Corporation (EDCOR) project, which settled ex-Huks in Lanao del Sur and Cotabato, became a powerful propaganda tool of the state __ it advertised an alternative to rebellion, the chance to own a piece of land, and a way out of poverty.  …..” (Abinales and Amoroso, State and Society in the Philippines, pp 175-176)

It was against this backdrop that Vivencio and Rosario, my paternal grandparents, went to Mindanao. Via  the Economic Development Corporation (EDCOR) of President Elpidio Quirino and his Defense Secretary, Ramon Magsaysay.  Their initial destination was the EDCOR farms at  Buldon, Parang, Cotabato, as medical workers.  The EDCOR became a part of Ramon Magsaysay’s “land for the landless program” as embodied in the National Rehabilitation and Resettlement Project (NRRP) of his administration. (Danguilan-Vitug, Power from the Forest, Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism at Yahoo.com, p. 3) This land re-distribution program was designed to accommodate returning Huk rebels and the unemployed who were encouraged to migrate to parts of Mindanao, Palawan, and Mindoro in the early 1950’s to help stem the tide of the Huk insurgency during that period.

According to my father, Pio Adonis, the family migration to Cotabato was not a matter of personal choice.  It was more of a necessity, specifically for reasons of security and personal safety for the Muegos.       .

When Ramon Magsaysay became the Secretary of National Defense of President Elpidio Quirino, he appointed Vivencio, Sr, a close friend to help oversee operations against the Huks on the Zambales side of the foothills of  Mount Pinatubo.  With the blessings and support of his boss, Magsaysay, Vivencio became active in covert operations against the Huks in his area.  Hence; he also became a hot target for the insurgents.  Towards the end of 1952, Palauig, Zambales, where the Muegos were staying  was burned down and looted by the Pinatubo Huks.  They were looking for Vivencio and his family.  Early the following day after the burning of Palauig, Ramon Magsaysay arrived in his military helicopter and helped evacuate the family to a military camp (Camp Conrado Yap) near Iba, Zambales.  There, he persuaded them to pick up the pieces and re-settle in Cotabato.  The following year, a few months after the birth of their youngest child, Estela in January 1953, the couple boarded a navy ship for the long voyage to the port of Cotabato.

Next….

Different  Seasons,  Diverse Reasons

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