Congressional Multi-Stakeholder Consultation on the Bangsamoro

[Welcome and Keynote Address: Public Hearing of the Congressional Committee on Cultural Minorities on the Bangsamoro, ADDU, 26 June 2014]

We are at a historical moment in the history of Mindanao – as the Filipino nation shall deliberate on whether to pas s or not to pass the BBL. As in this university we have put this historical moment in centerstage, it is my privilege to welcome you to this Congressional Consultation: Multistakeholders Perspectives on the Bangsamoro. I welcome our discussants and participants. I welcome especially our legislators.

This historical moment impacts immediately on Muslims of 13 different ethno-linguistic tribes living in Mindanao and their longtime desire to find a homeland in Mindanao – a home where their customs and traditions might be practiced and respected, a home where they might worship and serve Allah in peace. It may be said, once the homeland was theirs when the Muslim missionary Sharif Muhammad Kabungsuan offered Islam to two brothers. One, Tabunaway, accepted Islam in freedom; the other, Mamalu, did not. As brothers, however, both accepted to live on this their island in peace. Mindanao was home to the Islamized indigenous peoples; it was also home to the non-islamized indigenous peoples. Together it is said they lived in peace.

The harmony forged by brothers tolerant of differing faiths was broken by the coming of the Spanish conqueror. Islam had not been forced on the Filipino, but it came with a vibrant seafaring trade between Mindanao and communities in Indonesia, Malaysia, Brunei, Vietnam, and even China and India. By the time the Spaniards came, the Islamized descendants of Tabunaway had organized themselves into indigenized communities of Muslims in Mindanao: the sultanates of Maguindanao, of Buwayan, and of Sulu as well as the four principalities of Lanao. When they were discovered by the Spanish conqueror as worshippers of Allah, they were called Moros – the same pejorative, hate-filled term they had used for the north-African Muslims – Moors – who had ruled Spain for 700 years. The Spanish conqueror claimed the entire archipelago for the Spanish crown and named it in honor of the Spanish prince, Felipe, who eventually became its king.

We know the Spaniards shared their faith with the natives of the Philippines, whom they first referred to with disdain as indios.   In Luzon and in the Visayas “the child of colonization was the Filipino,” and most of us owe our faith and culture to that historic tradition. In Mindanao, however, the “offspring of anti-colonization was the Moro.”[1] The Moros refused Spanish rule, because they had perceived it as inextricable from Christianization. When the Spaniards came to conquer, often with the help of islanders from Luzon and the Visayas, they also came with the conviction that the “infidel” should be brought to the true faith. The Moros resisted in defense of their way of life, their traditions and their religion. They resisted in cunning, valor, and ferocity. They were never conquered.

But as we know, when the fathers of our Filipino nation had used the fruits of the European Enlightenment against the unenlightened European conqueror, when Emilio Aquinaldo had declared independence from Spain, and when the Malolos Constitution had amply demonstrated the Filipino to be educated, enlightened and skilled enough for self rule, independence was snatched away from the Filipinos through the Americans. At the end of the Spanish American War, Spain sold the Philippines that had won independence from it to the United States, and along with it the sovereign sultanates they had never conquered.

Ironically, it became part of the “manifest destiny” of American imperialists, whose nation had been born under the “self-evident” notion “that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by the Creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” to impose their notion of life, freedom and happiness and their imperial interests on the unequal Filipinos. While it was relatively easy for the Filipinos of the north to be reconciled with American rule, it was not the case with the Moros. After a brief interlude of peace, when the Moros thought the Americans offered them more religious freedom than they had ever enjoyed under the Spaniards, the true colors of the Americans emerged. Once he had conquered the Filipinos of the north, he turned to conquer the Moros of the south. It was the American manifest destiny to “civilize” the “savage” Moros and make them into “true Filipinos” – his “little brown brothers,” just like the Christian Filipinos of the north. With superior firepower and military might, their way of pacification was savage carnage and slaughter – as in the Battle of Bud Dajo and in the Battle of Bud Bagsak in Jolo. They created a Moro Province to further pacify the Moros and integrate them into Filipino society. In this “integration” they claimed respect for Moro culture, but subjected the Moros to the rule of Christian Filipinos in newly-created provinces. These had absorbed the American disdain for the savage and heathen Moros. In time, the Moros’ hatred for the Filipinos surpassed their dislike for the Americans, and many eventually preferred to be ruled by Americans than by Filipinos.

Already under the Americans, but even under the Commonwealth, an insidious means of pacification and integration of the Moros into Philippine society was the resettlement of Christian Filipinos from Luzon and the Visayas into Mindanao. First through the Agricultural Colonies Acts of 1913 of the Philippine Commission, then through the Colonization Act of the Commonwealth Government of 1935, waves and waves of homesteaders came into the Mindanao “Promised land.” But the promised land for the migrant settlers disenfranchised the Moros and the indigenous peoples of their communally-owned lands, and the unfamiliar system of land registration imposed on them led to the loss of their lands when they did not comply. What ought to have been an orderly homesteading program became chaotic and often violent. Landgrabbing became the order of the day, with the educated and those familiar with the northern bureaucracy taking advantage of the uneducated and ignorant, among them the descendants of Tabunaway and Mamalu. It must be noted that in both the Agricultural Colonization Acts under the Americans and the Commonwealth’s Colonization Act under the Filipinos, resettlement and repopulation was a tool of colonization. Not only the foreign Americans but the Filipinos subjected Moro territories to “colonization,” implying that they were colonizers and the Moros were foreign. For the Moros then, the Filipinos were foreign. Are we to be surprised at the deep-rooted ill-feeling Moros harbor for Filipinos?

Ill feeling became hatred, and hatred turned violent. To defend their new homesteads, the Ilongo settlers, the Ilagas, warred against the Moros. The Maranao Barracudas and the Maguindanao-Iranon Blackshirts retaliated. The Promised Land, now overrun with people who shared nothing of the fraternal harmony between the descendants of the brothers, Tabunaway and Mamalu, had become a battlefield of the imperialism, proselytization, “national” interest, greed and land hunger of intruders from the north, on which the Moros spilled blood in defense of their traditions and religion, and sacrificed their own. As houses were burned and people perished, hatred and frustration deepened. Where they were regarded as “other,” outsiders, second-rate citizens, pagan, savage, mere means for the good of the Filipino nation in the north, they knew their aspirations for a homeland had not been achieved.

Some of us have personal memories of the ferocity of the Mindanao wars against the Muslims, triggered by the massacre of men, women and children who had gathered in search of peace in the mosque of Manili of Carmen, Cotabato. We may also recall the shamelessness and national treachery of the Jabidah massacre, where the adventurism of Marcos into Sabah, ended with his massacring the young Muslims he had recruited and trained in Corregidor, because they’d asked to be paid their fifty peso monthly allowance. How cheap Muslim blood had become! To cover up this murder, Marcos then renounced the Sabah claim that in fact was not his to renounce but belonged to the Sultan of Sulu. Soon after, the Maguindanaoan patriarch Udtog Matalam announced the Muslim Independence Movement; it was complemented by the emergence of Nur Misuari’s armed Moro National Liberation Front. The idea of Muslim independence sowed fear and terror in the hearts of many non-Muslim inhabitants of Mindanao. Soon the battlefield of Mindanao was to claim more victims, including an interlude when the President of the Philippines declared “all out war” against the Moros. How had the Muslim suddenly become the national adversary on the island of his birth? Today, it is the Moro Islamic Liberation Front led by Al Hajj Murad Ebrahim that continues the struggle to break away from a past of discrimination, hatred, and violence, and find for the Muslims in the Philippines a homeland. After years of struggle and negotiation, the chance for that seems to have come in the political entity called Bangsamoro. It is the Bangsamoro Basic Law that is a chance for a Moro homeland in the Philippines.

It is in this context of a troubled history that I welcome you to this congressional consultation.

It is a consultation that looks forward to the enactment of a Bangsamoro Basic Law crafted by the Transition Commission in fidelity to the Comprehensive Agreement Bangsamoro. Through this law, the just claims of the descendants of Tabunay for a homeland in the Philippines must be addressed.

But it shall also have to be a law which addresses the concerns of the non-Islamized descendants of Mamalu, and their legitimate claims for their homelands.

It shall even have to address the rights and of non-Muslims within the Bangsamoro.

May the frank and open exchange among diverse groups and interests in in the valued presence of our lawmakers contribute to understanding, insight, and peace. Not the peace of the graveyard, not the tenuous peace that comes from signatures on parchment, but the peace that comes from what our Pope Francis calls “reconciled diversity.” Peace, because in our diversity we will to be one. Peace, because in our woundedness, we will to be reconciled. Peace, because in our fear, no matter the cost, we choose to trust in one another. And refuse to extinguish hope.



About Joel Tabora, S.J.

Jesuit. Educator
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