The Mindanao problem is ultimately a POWER problem – the power of one group over another. It is a problem of colonization. The fact that there was a law called the Legislative Act 4197 or Quirino-Recto Colonization of Mindanao Act, which was enacted on 12 February 1935 is very telling. The Commonwealth considered the Act as a lasting solution to Mindanao colony. The law enabled a massive exodus of settlers from Luzon and Visayas to Mindanao, with complete government support.
Partly in response to the Act, on 18 March 1935, 150 Maranao datus and sultans signed a manifesto, known as the Dansalan Declaration, and submitted it to the US President. The datus and sutans opposed the annexation of Mindanao to Luzon and Visayas.
A year and a half later, Commonwealth President Quezon signed into law Commonwealth Act 141 which classified all Moro lands as PUBLIC LANDS, thus making all the Moros squatters in their own homeland.
Today, the social reality constructed by the Filipino leaders since the Commonwealth, supported by the vast resources of the government, has now been fairly entrenched such that the word Colonization or Occupation of Mindanao seems out of place.
The Philippine narrative that is the bedrock of the imagined Philippine nation goes something like this:
The Philippines is one country and until recently, the only Christian nation in Asia. It has minorities, who are also citizens of this nation-state. The citizens are called Filipinos. They belong to one race, one culture, one psychology, one destiny, one history. Those who do not think they should be a part of this nation-state have no choice because there is only one country, the Philippines. The fundamental law of the land is its Constitution.
The media constantly reinforces this narrative. In “Under the Crescent Moon: Rebellion in Mindanao”(Q.C.:2000), top journalists Vitug and Gloria say: “Mindanao was part of the Philippines ever since the Spanish colonizers came and created boundaries in what were formerly trading networks”
History is “the act of selecting, analyzing and writing about the past. It is something that is done, that is constructed.” (Davidson and Lytle 1982)
The grand historical narrative is this:
The Archipelago is nothing but a bunch of barangays ruled by datus. “Mother Spain” came to the Philippines and gave the natives Christianity and civilization – education, language, the arts, architecture and even cuisine.
For 350 years, the Spanish nurtured the people and protected them from the murderous raids of the Moros – the pirates
THE TERM FILIPINO
Throughout the Spanish rule in the Philippines, the term Filipino was reserved for pureblood Spaniards, differentiated only as peninsulares (those born in the Spanish Peninsula) and insulares (those born in the Islands). The Christianized natives were never called Filipinos. They were referred to as indios or naturales. Even the mestizos (half-breeds) were not called Filipinos.
In the latter part of the 19th century, Governor-General Clavecilla ordered all indios (except Manila’s local nobility, i.e., descendants of Rajah Suleiman and Lakandula) to adopt Spanish names in pain of punishment if they refused to do so. Thus, present-day Filipinos bear Spanish names. Having a Spanish name does not make one a Spaniard.
When the Aguinaldo government appropriated the term Filipino for the indios, the
identification with the Spanish masters became complete. In one semantic stroke, the history of the Philippines became the history of the indios (the present-day Christian Filipinos) and not of the Spaniards (the original Filipinos).
This is a grave malady. By appropriating the name Filipino, the present-day Filipinos think that the Filipinos referred to in history indicate them and not the Spaniards. This makes them identify with the Spanish, forgetting that under Spain, their forefathers were virtual slaves – mandated to do forced labor and were considered eternal minors.
Leon Ma. Guerrero, one of the elites who constructed the “imaginary nation” called Filipino nation, had a hard time translating Rizal’s novel, Noli Me Tangere. In the novel, Rizal used the word Filipino to mean Spaniards in the Philippines which was incomprehensible to most readers in the 1950s who were brought up to believe that the term Filipino meant them, i.e. Christianized natives. Benedict Anderson (1994) wrote :
“…young Filipinos would at once see, in any straight translation from the Spanish, that they do not exist within the novel’s pages. Filipinas, of course appear, but they are exactly what today’s Filipinas are not: ‘pure-blood’ Spanish Creoles.”
Guerrero, in his attempt to fit the Noli into the elites’ “nation-state project”, effectively revised history. The Filipinos in Guerrero’s translation considered both Spain and Philippines as homes, worshiped European-looking deities, spoke foreign languages, alluded to Greco-Roman classical mythology and fell in love with Caucasian ladies. References to colonial abuse were rendered bland and ineffective. And since the modern-day Filipinos believe that they (or their forefathers) were the ones referred to in the book, it is but natural for them to imbibe the thoughts and beliefs of the Noli’s characters. In effect, Guerrero re-wrote the Noli. Jose Rizal must have turned in his grave when the translation was published and made required reading for Filipino students.
And so the confusion of the modern-day Filipinos’ identity continues. The historical narrative continues as such:
In 1896, Bonifacio and the Katipunan revolted against the Spanish. In 1898, with the assistance of Commodore Dewey, Aguinaldo defeated the Spaniards and proclaimed Independence. Soon after, the Philippine-American War erupted and by 1902, it was officially over. Philippines became an American territory.
New Filipino leaders – Quezon, Osmena, Roxas, etc. – emerged. America bestowed democracy to the Philippines. America pacified Mindanao. Quezon et al worked for Independence. America declared a Commonwealth and gave Filipinos self-government. World War II came and Filipinos fought side by side with Americans against Japanese. After WWII, America granted Philippine Independence. And the Philippines is now a democratic republican nation with a homogeneous people and culture, thanks to Mother America
In short, the Moros and Christian Filipinos were colonized by the Spaniards and Americans and they share the same colonial history. The only difference is that the Moros were mostly bandits and so had to be punished (Spanish “punitive expeditions”) every so often, as the grand narrative goes.
And since Philippine history books recounting events from 1521- 1886 were about the Spaniards in the Philippines including Philippine literature like Noli Me Tangere, the Filipinos identify with the Spaniards.
The Christianized Filipinos’ (or Indios’) historical experience with the Moros was fret with horrors. Caught between the Moros and the Spaniards, the Indios suffered terribly from both parties. Forced to side with the Spaniards, they bore the brunt of Moro retaliatory raids in their communities. And to ensure their cooperation against the Moros, the Spaniards demonized the Moros in their literature, church sermons and stage plays like the moro-moro where the Muslim is always the villain.
INDIO-FILIPINOS AS NEW COLONIZERS
When America gave Moroland to the Filipinos in 1946, the Indios (now called Filipinos) found themselves, at least theoretically, masters of the Islands. The Colonization of Mindanao was pursued vigorously with slogans like “Mindanao, Land of Promise” to entice the Indios to settle in Mindanao. Finally, the Indios became colonizers.
Filipino leaders promoted the slogan, “Go South, Young Man!” imitating the slogan “Go West, Young Man” which the Americans used to promote the colonization of the Western United States which belonged to the American Indians. And to make the analogy even stonger, the Indios referred to the Moros as Tribes just like the Navajo or the Iroquois.
In constructing the “Filipino nation”, the Grand Narrative of the Christian Filipinos and the government is embodied in the “One-Nation Theory.”
One-Nation One-History Syndrome
The Sultanates of Sulu and Maguindanao were established ca. 1400’s. According to “official” Philippine history, the Philippines (Luzon, Visayas, Palawan and Mindanao) was discovered by Fernando Magallanes in 1521. However, historical accounts say that Mindanao and Palawan were already known to the rest of the world way before that time.
For a time, at the Malacañang Museum, a guide would point out a 16th century map that he/she would describe as the oldest map that shows the Philippines.
A closer look at it would reveal that the map indicates only Mindanao and Palawan. Luzon and Visayas were not yet “discovered”. This was a good proof that Mindanao and Palawan (which belonged tp Brunei) were already in world maps before any idea about a territory called Philippines. The MNLF submitted copies of the map to the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) to support its arguments for self-determination.
The official historical view claims that 350 years of Spanish rule in the Philippines included Moroland. Spanish attacks against the Moros were called “punitive expeditions against rebellions.” Moro victories over the Spanish were denied or ignored. Moro raids on the Christian natives were called pirate attacks.
This is what can be called “the one-nation one-history syndrome”. This syndrome propagates the myth that the present-day Philippines has always been one nation sharing one history. It is alleged that the only difference between the Moros and the Christianized natives (indios) was that the Moros continually resisted while the indios resisted only intermittently (Dagohoy Rebellion, Diego Silang rebellion, etc.)
There is a preponderance of evidence against this myth. While the Indios were under Spanish colonial rule, the Moro sultanates thrived. The Moros were considered sovereigns by European powers, including Spain, as proven by treaties between them. Even the US signed the Bates Treaty with Sulu thus proving that the Treaty of Paris was not sufficient or even valid in the case of Sulu. Primary sources abound in the archives not only in Manila but also in Madrid, London, and Amsterdam.
BANGSA MORO (Moro Nation)
In the late 1960s, the Moro Young Turks led by Abbas, Jr., Misuari et al, supported by their elders proposed another narrative: the Bangsa Moro or Moro Nation as distinct from the Filipino Nation.
This Bangsa Moro nation concept is steeped in history, with the Moros unconquered by colonizers and as great defenders of Islam.
Graeme Turner (1993) says that “implicit in every culture is a ‘theory of reality’ which motivates its ordering of that reality into good and bad, right and wrong, them and us, and so on.”(p.133) The belief system produced by this ‘theory of reality’ is called ideology.
Ideology and history are both social constructs. Turner says, “Ideology works to obscure the process of history so that it appears natural, a process we cannot control and which it seems churlish to question.” (Turner, Graeme (1993) Film as Social PracticeLondon: Routledge)
A nation’s collective memory is complex and in continuous flux. “It is basically made up of stories: the myriad stories which people tell each other; and, more significantly, the mass mediated narratives of a nation’s ‘official’ history, told in books and other cultural artifacts like television and feature films.” (Ituralde 1995)
TWO SOCIAL CONSTRUCTS / NARRATIVES
In the Mindanao Conflict – two constructs are fighting – the “Filipino nation” construct as created by successive Philippine governments and the Bangsa Moro construct exemplified by the MNLF and MILF.
On the one hand, there is the “one-nation narrative” that asserts the indivisibility of the “Filipino nation”, proud of its Christian religion and Western heritage and identifies with the Spaniards of historical texts. This group believes in “democracy” defined as rule of the majority.
On the other hand is the Bangsa Moro narrative that gives prime importance to the Islamic religion and Moros’ historical fight against Westerners. Believers in this narrative hope to get back their former territory and freedom.
With two diverging social constructs, it would be very difficult to find a middle ground. A million dialogues will not accomplish anything if the premises of both groups are clearly divergent.
With number and over-all resources on its side, the Christian Filipino would not easily give in to any demands of the other party. The logical thing to do would be to convince the other party of the soundness of the “one-nation” principle and debunk the Bangsa Moro or Moro nation theory by emphasizing on the divisions of the Moro nation.
Appadurai (1996) says: “Through ‘print capitalism’ (Benedict Anderson 1991) and ‘electronic capitalism’ such as films and TV (Warner 1992, Lee 1993), citizens imagine themselves to belong to a national society. The modern nation-state in this view grows less out of natural facts – such as language, blood, soil and race – and more out of a quintessential cultural product, a product of the collective imagination.” With all resources at its command, the government can simply reinvigorate its construction of the reality of “One Filipino nation”.
The dominant group will insure that the received reality prevents an examination of the non-viability of present situation (one-nation principle).
The Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain (MOA-AD) between the Government of the Philippines (GPH) and the MILF was junked as well as the BBL of Pres. Aquino because the dominant group refuses to consider that the status quo is not viable. In the Filipino grand narrative, there is only One Constitution for ALL citizens just as there is one “national language, one national anthem, one national dress, etc.” There is only one government, one security force, etc.
The BBL of the Pres. Duterte also falls short of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) signed by MILF and the Philippine Government.
While the “Filipino nation” has been continually constructed since the Commonwealth, the “Moro Nation” concept came up only in the late 1960s. And because of lack of mass media and other resources, such concept has not yet taken root as much as the Filipino nation.
Also, for centuries, the Moro groups have been keenly aware of their own history individually – Sultanates of Sulu, Maguindanao and Buayan and the Pat a Pangampong ko Ranao. These were virtual nation-states and acted independently of fellow Moro states. Thus, many Moros are still not comfortable with the notion of one Moro nation.
CHANGING THE NARRATIVE
Both sides must examine their theories, assumptions, axioms, etc
History is a construct. History is used as the “memory” of another socially and culturally constructed concept, the nation. But what is constructed can be re-constructed. For the Filipino nation to find its Identity and be at peace with the Moros, it is high time that it’s “memory” be re-investigated. Philippine history does not need re-construction. It merely needs re-discovery.
Using new approaches like microhistory, forgetting the grand narratives and keeping an open mind, Moros and Indios might find that they have many commonalities and that in many ways, they do have a shared history and be better off with a shared future, where power is equitably distributed and shared.
We don’t have to belong to One Nation. But we can belong to One State. There can be MANY NATIONS in ONE STATE or MANY STATES in ONE NATION-STATE. There can be many nations in a Bangsa Moro (Moro Nation) and many more in the Filipino nation just as there are many nations in a British or German nation and much more in a European Nation.
The dissolution of the USSR, Yugoslavia and other nation-states born after WWII as well as the many problems experienced by many other nation-states like Thailand, Myanmar, Iraq, Philippines, the Middle Eastern countries, etc. means that the “nation-state” project of the Western world has failed. A new system may be the way of the future: nations-state like the European Union – many nations in one state.
FEDERALISM FOR ALL
In a federal Philippine nation-state, we can have several autonomous states like the Tagalog State, the Ilocano State, the Bicol State, the Ilonggo State, the Cebuano/Bisaya State in the Visayas, the Binisaya State in Mindanao, etc. And we could have a Maranao State, a Tausug State (or Sultanate of Sulu) and a Maguindanao/Buayan State.
The Christian Filipinos do not have to begrudge the Moros having an autonomous region or a sub-state because they, too, will have their own federal states!!!
RECOMMENDATIONS TO PRESENT-DAY FILIPINOS (MOROS and NON-MOROS):
– Study history – Moro, Indio, Filipino, Islamic, World history
– Practice critical thinking – do not believe books or teachers unless their arguments are backed by proofs – documents and logic.
– Look for points of convergence, commonalities
– Disseminate what you have learned or concluded through whatever media – the internet (blogs, websites, social media network), printed materials like magazines, papers, journals, TV, radio, speaking engagements, etc.
– Look for alternatives to the grand narratives and help create a new one that would embrace all.
For the first time in history, a Philippine president (Duterte) supported a change to a Federal State, although his administration paid only lip service to it. Now, in 2022, the number one winning senatorial candidate promises to work for a Federalist system. If ever, this is going to be a long process. Not any region can be a federal state immediately. There will be a process to follow.
A Peaceful Philippines is a Prosperous Philippines. The Federal path may be the only path to lasting peace in the Philippines.
(updated: July 24, 2022)