I just had a call saying that it is over. The recent stand off in Zamboanga is over. After having more than 81,000 internally displaced persons affected, casualties on both sides, properties and houses destroyed, what now? What is our assurance that this will not happen again?
Before we answer these questions, let us have a brief historical and anthropological study of the Moro Problem or what people outside Mindanao call as Mindanao Problem.
For some, the conflict begins at the Treaty of Paris in 1898 where in exchange for $20,000,000, the United States received the Philippines from Spain. The Maguindanaons, the Tausugs and the rest of the indigenous communities in Mindanao believed this treaty was unjust.
In the words of the late Sultan HRH Datu Amir Andong Baraguir, al Hajj, the 25th sultan of Maguindanao, said:
“History shows that as a nation our people, the Maguindanaons have continuously enjoyed their independence prior to the illegal occupation of America which was merely based on the illegitimate inclusion of Maguindanao in the sale of the Philippine Islands to the USA by Spain. We were not duly consulted when Spain illegally sold us. We were not rightly consulted when the U.S. occupied us. We were not adequately consulted when the Philippines inherited us from the illegal occupant – the USA.”
Based on the different peace accords, it seems that precedent was set up to EXCLUDE people in their own governance. Our government tend to talk with people with arms and at some point, “reward” the dissidents who “surrendered” with economic packages one after the other. Thus, we had the experience with the MNLF group of Misuari.
But as early as 1913, even the US government tried to address the Moro Problem. Dr. Najeeb N. Saleeby from the US Army wrote in 1913: “By the Moro problem is meant that method or form of administration by which the Moros and other non-Christians who are living among them, can be governed to their best interest and welfare in the most peaceful possible way…” he further said that, “… We have not gone to Moro-land to exploit the resources of the country nor to rule it for our benefit. Its government is a sacred trust and the principle of “the Philippines for the Filipinos” was meant to apply to Mindanao and Sulu in the same sense at that in which it was applied to the Bisayans and Luzon… Moroland is destined to ultimately form one or more provinces which will be integral parts of the general provincial organization of the Philippine Islands, and it is the duty of its present government to also develop its citizens and institutions as to bring such transformation and incorporation in due time…” So while he is saying that Mindanao or “Moroland” is a “problem,” he also says that it should be ruled first for its best interests.
He had this description of the way it was: “A wide and deep chasm separates the Moros from their Christian neighbors. Marked inequality in culture and radical differences of civilization make it impossible to govern them alike. Two forms of government are at present necessary, one for the Moro and one for the Christian. The Moro has to develop reform and rise to the level of the Christian before the two governments can be united or incorporated.”
He then offers two ways to solve “the problem”: “We have to either be tolerant and accept present conditions and institutions as they are and gradually reform them, or be intolerant and introduce radical changes from the start. The first course begins with amity but permanent progress with telling effect. The second course is bound to begin with amity and proceed with opposition every step of the way.”
Unfortunately, while Dr. Saleeby’s recommendation to take the first path was not followed. In 1955, the Congress – House of Special Committee investigated the “Moro Problem.” They said: ’The Moro Problem,’ as it is known and so called by the government and the nation at large,is nothing but the problem of integrating into the body politic the Muslim population of the country and inculcating into their minds that they are Filipinos and that this government is their own and they are a part of it.”
Reading this statement, it makes us think that although the colonial period is over, there is very much still a colonial view. One wonders how much the government actually spoke to the people because it really lacks proper communication on the ground even during those period.
From 1955, lets fast forward the events. In the late 1960s, Muslim students and intellectuals began the Muslim separatist movement. It was a global effect of the start of the Cold War. Then, after violence in the 1970s in Cotabato, the moro movement gained popular support and became an armed movement in response to 1972’s Martial Law. Although popular support and cohesion fell and rose in the rest of the 1970s, in the 1980s, the movement became more organized, more based on religion and run by Islamic religious leaders. Moro rebellion gained more support locally and internationally.
So now we’ll fast forward forty years, where more research has been done and more discoveries have been made—WHERE MORE UNDERSTANDING OF WHAT THE REALITY ON THE GROUND IS.
In 1995, Fortunato Abat, a retired general and chairman of the Ramos administration’s Peace Panel said,
“The conflict in the South is not merely a Muslim problem but is in fact a Christian problem – a legacy of the Spanish era……Even Jose Rizal, the national hero, regarded the Muslims as part of the Filipino nation, and in the statutes of La Liga Filipina, drafted in 1892, he proposed to unite the archipelago into one ‘compact, vigorous and homogenous body.’
Emilio Aguinaldo, the first president of the short-lived republic, sought the establishment of a special political system for non-Christian communities in conformity with traditional customs.
However, the Christian delegates to the Malolos Congress, who were influenced by the Spaniards, were unable to appreciate Aguinaldo’s call for unity. Spain’s crusading spirit inculcated fear and hatred of Muslims.” (Rosario – Braid, 1995)
So contrary to popular belief, some Filipino leaders believed in growing Mindanao for Mindanao together with the Muslims.
There are approximately 5-8 Million Muslim Filipinos living in our country today. Did our government really ask themselves, what percent does the moro fronts actually represent? Or better yet, who are they actually representing?
Second part will discuss the current studies and realities on the ground.