Editor’s Note: I met Yolanda Ortega-Stern through my sister, Lorna Lardizabal-Dietz sometime in November 2011 when she and Thomas Stern, her husband came over to the Philippines to receive the 2011 Gusi Peace Prize International Laureate. I was fascinated with her stories of Mindanao and her quest for peace. I am sharing a piece she wrote in her facebook wall which she allowed me to post here.
Laughter and Tears for Monday
by Yolanda Ortega
She is the President of The One World Institute , http://theoneworldinstitute.org (OWI), a private health and education foundation. OWI specializes in areas of conflict with philanthropy for peace projects.
A good question: “Who master-planned the picnic to Lahad Datu?” That is the Big Question which I am asking as well. Even offered a small reward. Nelly Sindayen and I always made fun of our Tausug families and she always joked, “Yol, Tausugs leak like a sieve! Let’s not stay here longer than 30 mins because we may get kidnapped!” So I stopped asking because the answer was always the same. Now it really looks like they did it on their own, and over there, its likely. That’s what they do all day long, trade with Sabah, in ringgit. I could hardly believe it when I saw the news! Then I saw a few faces next to S. Jamalaul. If it happens on TV, better believe it. Then I said, what cojones! So I called to make sure my seaweed farmers all stayed out of the water and out of sight. Organizing a bush telegraph is easier than doing an underwater railroad during a conflict. Our farmers are scared of pirates and strange men in boats who attack them and throw them overboard.
There is a Sabahan in Government who is now accusing Najib-PNoy of masterminding it. Pretty soon CDs like those showing how the US conspired to produce 9/11will be available. I saw an Fb msg warning of the landing and saying 10-15,000 UK and US troops were just waiting for a signal to join the Tausugs. Good grief, now they think the Brits and the GI Joes are behind it. So I was really hoping everyone could forget their pride, sit down at Lahad Datu after they refused to leave, just to talk it over. But now that both governments have given their final word to “surrender or face the consequences”, and Malaysian tanks rolled in with an additional 17 battalions per some news, the die is cast. Most likely, someone from Malaysia or another country is now having a lot of fun at the expense of Filipino lives. And they are not after PNoy, since he cannot run again.
What am I to do now, a Daughter of Mindanao, the adopted daughter of Sultan Bantilan Esmael Kiram II, brother of Sultan Jamalul Kiram III. I champion Peace via Economic Solutions in Tausug territories as well as in all the poor areas of the Philippines. I am actual witness that they have sent many letters to the Malaysian Govt, and after my adoption in 2007, I sent letters to the different offices in the PH Government. But I think they all just went by way of the letter to PNoy. PGMA had bigger fish to fry. But I was not unaware of the brewing unhappiness among the Tausugs. It worried me considerably. Prof Misuari’s MNLF is entertwined with its history. Prof. Cesar Majul and I together, worried about the growing frustration. In Basilan, the old people still hand down the story of the Battle of Balangingi, when 500 men, women and children were massacred in 1848 by Spain in an island about 6 square miles between Basilan and Jolo. There they slew their wives and children before the attack so they would not fall in Spanish hands. Somewhere, there must be a photo. Our own Filipino soldiers imbedded in Merdekah, did not all return alive. So I have researched our history as a hobby, for the last 40 years and told stories make good notes because much of written history favors the new master. Discontent has brewed in these abandoned territories for decades now. There is a new generation of young and educated Tausugs who cannot be ignored. They’re calling on all their elders to unite. They have joined the struggle. In a fight, surrender is not in the dna of the Tausugs. There is only death. So my worries have an added dimension. I am now asking what alternatives are left to the Sultanate after March 1, 2013?
There is a petition to bring awareness to the situation. Someone has the power to call on Malaysia to end the military approach and the forced ejections of Filipinos from their abodes and to allow the PH to send in a Humanitarian team.
Reason 1. Tausugs feel insulted, belittled, and ignored. They feel that their suspicions are now vindicated. They now believe that the Philippine government and its allies do not value their lives. They are being driven out of their homes at the point of a gun. They are feeling: “Better to die fighting than to just be killed.”
Reason 2. The far reaching impact of an escalation and additional deaths, make for new scars on a whole new set of generations born in the 80’s and after.
Reason 3. I am an optimist. I still see a winning solution for both sides unless Malaysia thinks its cheaper to spend the money on arms. In that case, this conflict will outlive me.
As a kid, I would sail in a traditional sailboat in the Sulu Seas with my Grandmother to visit my relatives, the Mandi’s, in Manalipa Island. (My Grandfather Datu Mandi once owned all the lands in Zamboanga from Rio Hondo to Magay. ) My relatives would fetch us in Zamboanga. The entire clan would be by the shore, to oggle the “little princess” from Zamboanga. We would go in the same manner but in a bigger boat, to Jolo, Basilan, Sibuco. On Sundays, I looked forward to Atty Pelagio Mandi visiting my family. Once I bragged to Prof. Misuari that Manalipa was the only island never penetrated by anyone, as told to me by cousin Muslin Mandi. He looked at me, laughed, and told me they had been there to get a boat. When I asked him if it was OK to get adopted by Esmail II, he said he was coming for the event and his family contributed a name, in the name of peace. He calls me the Daughter of Mindanao. Now that I have been outed, I can share my story.