#Journeyto30 Southern discomfort
Epi Fabonan III (The Philippine Star) - May 14, 2016 - 10:00am

MANILA, Philippines – Violence has been a part of Mindanao’s history since time immemorial. The year 1994 was no exception.

In June of that year, the Abu Sayyaf terrorist group massacred 15 Christian civilians in Basilan and held 19 others, including the parish priest of Lamitan town Fr. Cirilo Nacorda, hostage.

Nacorda’s two-month ordeal in the hands of the terrorist group filled newspapers’ headlines, such as The STAR’s Aug. 9, 1994 front page. He and his fellow
hostages, mostly schoolteachers, were the subject of a Philippine Army manhunt and rescue mission. Eventually, Nacorda’s fellow captives were freed, but he remained with the group until they turned him over to the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) in August and freed to government representatives.

At the time of Nacorda’s captivity, Abu Sayyaf was still a relatively new Islamic separatist group that perpetrated kidnappings, massacres and bombings against Christian communities. It was led by the young Abdurajak Janjalani and funded by rogue Islamic states such as Libya and Iran.

Elsewhere in Mindanao, the terror was also on the rise.

On Feb. 19, two separate grenade attacks in Isulan, Sultan Kudarat and Bajada, Davao City killed 11 people and injured 22. This followed a spate of bomb attacks in Davao City in December of the previous year, wherein a church and two mosques were targeted, killing at least two and injuring 150.

On Aug. 27, the Moro Islamic Liberation front (MILF) held eight South Korean engineers and 30 Filipino workers at the construction site of the government’s P1.7-billion Malitubog-Maridagao irrigation project being built by Shinsung Construction Corp.

The rebels claimed that the project encroached on MILF territory and that they weren’t consulted regarding the project. On Sept. 4, they freed their hostages and left the area after negotiations with the authorities.

However, in October that year, they took hostage 26 civilians in Kabacan, North Cotabato after they burned a church and 10 houses in Aleosan town.

While the hostages were freed later on, the rebel group continued their terror campaign of burning communities, leading to the death of 50 people from both the rebel and government side, and the displacement of 15,000 people from Kabakan, Aleosan, Pikit and Midsayap in North Cotabato.

Further violence was only averted after a ceasefire was reached by the end of the month.

Aside from hostage-takings and bombings, kidnappings were also on the rise in the region.

On the same day that the MILF released their South Korean hostages, unidentified men kidnapped two traders in separate cities. Hardware store owner Sixto Escudero Sr. was abducted from his store in M’lang, South Cotabato, while businessman Jorge Lim and his two children were abducted from their home in General Santos City. Authorities eventually rescued them.

But perhaps the most unfortunate of these kidnappings was that of Davao City sports official So Kim Cheng, who was kidnapped from his pig farm in Bunawan district by former members of the MNLF’s Bangsa Moro Army. His captors initially demanded P10-12 million ransom for his release.

He was almost certain of being free after a deal was reached between his family and his captors. But another group of operatives, unaware of the negotiations, conducted their own rescue attempt, which prompted the kidnappers to kill So.

Such was the situation in Mindanao in a period when lawlessness and banditry prevailed because of perennial poverty and lack of economic opportunities. All that its residents have yearned for for so long was peace, normalcy and order — something that cities such as Cagayan de Oro, Iligan, Dipolog, Koronadal, Tagum and Davao have been trying to achieve for the past two decades through stern leadership and good governance.

While Mindanao is still far from achieving peace and order, these recent strides in establishing safety and security as well as boosting economic activity and growth have given its residents hope of catching up with “Imperial Manila’s” development.

With the recent election of the first Mindanaoan president, former Davao City Mayor Rodridgo Duterte, its residents have more than just hope these days. There is now certainty that the center of economic development and growth will shift from the north to the so-called “Solid South.”

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