By Karl M. Gaspar CSsR
“As soon as we entered Purok 10, Barangay 9-A near San Rafael, Marfori in Davao City for our inter-faith dialogue with the people of this community, I felt fear in my heart and I realized that the old prejudices that I had against Muslims surfaced as soon as I saw them with their peculiar looks.” These were the words Christopher Sta. Ana shared during the processing session following our class immersion in this community on Wednesday, 16 July.
Christopher is from Sorsogon City and is a second-year student at the St. Alphonsus Theological and Mission Institute (SATMI) in Davao City, a seminary in consortium with the Ateneo de Davao University (ADDU), where I teach Theology of Dialogue. Along with 19 other SATMI students, Christopher met with the Kagans of Barangay 9-A whose Immam, Aladin Pandadagan, welcomed us in the name of the community, as soon as we arrived in their purok, located quite near the Davao River.
Ustadz Mussolini Lidasan and the staff of ADDU’s Qalam Institute of Islamic Identities and Dialogue in Southeast Asia had kindly included us among those who visited this village for a Duyog Ramadhan activity. They along with those enrolled in ADDU’s A.B. Islamic Studies program accompanied us for this visit which included a conversation with the religious leaders, joint prayer inside the mosque to break the fast and a shared meal after the prayer.
Seated together on plastic chairs arranged in a circle in front of the Businas mosque, named after the Immam’s grandfather who was first to come to this village sometime in the early 1900s, the students learned more about Islam’s beliefs and practices. Aside from Ustadz Lidasan, two others explained to us many aspects of Islam, namely Ustadz Janor Balo who coordinates the Islamic Studies at ADDU, and Muhammad Ishaq from Marawi City.
The seminarians whose ages range from early 20s to early 30s were drawn to the witness of Muhammad Ishaq. He had finished doing medical school in a Cebu university who will soon be taking up the Board examinations. After finishing his studies he realized that he knew very little of Islam. He decided to forego review classes and postponed taking the Board exam in favor of setting aside time to study Islam not just in his homeland but in other parts of Asia. Once he thought that he had something to share with other Muslims, he decided to become a missionary and to visit Muslim communities to share what he knew of his faith. This itinerant life brought him to the Businas mosque and other mosques in Davao.
The conversation between the Muslim scholars and the Catholic theological students traversed various topics from the pillars of Muslim faith to the manner that Muslims interpret the Qur’an, from the origins of Islam to the convergences between Islam and Christianity, being both Abrahamic religions. There were also questions as to the specific manner in which Islam is practiced among the Moro people of the Philippines as well as how to situate some of the practices in relation to the local cultures of the various ethnolinguistic groups among the Moro people.
Immam Pandadagan was also asked about the situation of the Kagans of his village. He informed the visitors that there are around 500 households in their barangay; practically all are Muslims. But the Kagans intermarried with other Moro ethnic groups including the Tausogs, Maranaws, Maguindanaos and the Iranuns. The houses of these families occupy around 8 hectares of this village and one could tell that most of the people are poor. Immam Pandadagan said that they rely on whatever they can earn from what can be grown in this place – coconut, bananas, fruit trees and other crops. As they are near the river, some of the men earn a living by collecting sand and selling these at very cheap prices.
They have no title to the 8 hectares. An attempt was made to consult with the Department of Environment and Natural Resources as to the possibility of them applying for a title but they were informed that there is a family connected to the Nograles’ family who have applied for this land. They feel quite insecure that, one day, they might be pushed away from this land and will no longer have a place to transfer.
This is, of course, very ironic as Immam Pandadagan’s ancestors were part of the original dwellers of what is now Davao City. The Kagans (also referred to as Kalagan) – along with the Bagobos, the Guingans, the Atas, Dibabawons, Mangguangnas, the Tagakaolos, Mansakas and Mandayas were named by Spanish documents as the first settlers – were residents along the coastal areas of the Davao Gulf long before the conquest era. Before the Americans reached this area, the population data included the Kagans along with the others. Unlike the other indigenous peoples but joining the Tausog, Maguindanaos, Maranaws, Iranun and the Samas, the Kagans embraced Islam.
In his book Davao Reconstructing History from Text and Memory, Macario Tiu made an attempt to come up with a comprehensive listing of Davao’s various ethnolingustic groups based on “current ethnography” but he indicated that such classification “needs further study.” In this list he included fifteen tribes: the Atas, Bagobos, Blaans, Dibabawons, Giangans, Kalagans, Kulaman Manobos, Mandayas, Mangguwangans, Mansakas, Matigsalogs, Obos, Samals, Sangils, Tagakaolos and the less numerous and not-so- known tribes – Attaws, Etos, Klatas, Loacs, Managosans, Manurigaws, Pagsupans and Tigdapayas. It is sad to say but very few among the citizenry of Davao would have any knowledge nor interaction with most of them.
In the mid-1970s, the Bishop of the Prelature of Marawi, the late Bishop Bienvenido Tudtud had a dream and took a step to make that dream come true. He dreamt of a day when the Muslims and the Christian settlers in Mindanao would no longer live in a land of conflict and war, but would peacefully co-exist with one another while respecting each other’s cultures and faith traditions. He dreamt that the animosity and prejudice would vanish and there would arise a sense of mutuality and harmony among them for the sake of their descendants.
Thus was born the dialogue movement in Mindanao, a dialogue of faith and life and would later develop into an inter-faith and inter-cultural movement. From Marawi, this movement has spread across the Philippines and other parts of Asia. Once he articulated the architecture of his dream, Bishop Tudtud and his trusted companions in this movement set up the Duyog Ramadhan, an initiative to encourage Christians to accompany the Muslims during the days when the latter enter the sacred season of the Ramadhan. I had the privilege of being in that company during the birthing of Duyog Ramadhan and to this day I feel a deep sense of gratitude for the gift of being present when a vision for a new mission took shape.
Almost forty years later, along with my students and our friends in the Al Qalam, here we were gathered together with the Kagans of Barangay 9A for a Duyog Ramadhan. As we boarded our vehicle to return to the seminary, the students felt a very deep sense of gratitude for this experience which was a first for most of them.
Christopher’s fears are gone. He and the other students shared the same positive thoughts and feelings after the Duyog Ramadhan experience. Some of their positive feedback: “I felt so welcome by the people in this village… They are no different than us… I wish I could be like them who are more deeply rooted to their identity… They were so hospitable and open to share their space and place of worship… It was wonderful to be there to pray together and share food… We can live in peace together if we can learn to be more respectful of each other, to accept our differences while sharing the same hopes and dreams and to work for a just and peaceful world.”