BOOK REVIEW: MAKING MINDANAO, Cotabato and Davao in the Formation of the Philippine Nation-State

by Rose Churma

The author who is currently a professor at the School of Pacific and Asian Studies at the University of Hawaii at Manoa states in the book’s preface that this is a revised version of the dissertation he submitted as a doctoral candidate at Cornell University 20 years ago.

Since then, other books on Mindanao has emerged from other scholars but this book’s approach to its subject merits a second debut — such as its interprovincial comparison which the author believes is able to describe how state-building can go beyond the confines of Metro Manila.

It is commonly assumed that the two major rebellions in southern Mindanao in the mid-70s was due to historic ethnic disputes, religious differences, class inequalities, militarization and others.

The first rebellion sought to create a separate Muslim state, and the second was a communist insurgency. By comparing Cotabato and Davao, the author describes the process of state formation through the shaping of local power during the American colonial period (1900 to 1941) to the eve of the declaration of Martial Law (1946 to 1972).

The book’s thrust was to examine how local power was determined by state formation and how the state’s ability to establish its authority was enabled by mutual accommodation between strong men who controlled this frontier zone.

Thus, the political landscape of Southern Mindanao maintained its stability because the Philippine state obliged these intertwined identities. This set-up continued without disruption until the late 1960s to early 70s when Ferdinand Marcos changed the rules.

Resil Morales, the Philippines’ National Artist for Literature in 2018 notes that “it is a major contribution to critically understanding the “making” of Mindanao and the nation.”

First published twenty years ago, it remains urgent and necessary today. Abinales is one of the indispensable voices in contemporary Philippine scholarship.

Abinales, who once studied for the priesthood, grew up in Ozamiz City in northwestern Mindanao and has always been drawn to Mindanao’s complex past.

He also believes that understanding Philippine political development “cannot be focused solely on principal metropoles like Metro Manila, but needs to incorporate tales from the peripheries.”

In the process of absorbing the contents of the book, that is the insight that stayed with me.

ROSE CRUZ CHURMA is a retired architect who now has the time to do the things she always wanted to do: read books, write about them and encourage others to write. Her online bookstore, Kalamansi Books and Things (, promotes Filipiniana books and publications by Filipino-Americans. Email her at

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