Reflections on the Bangsa Moro




When the Spaniards conquered Luzon and Visayas in the late 16th century, the natives, or Indios or Naturales as they were called by the Spaniards, lost all their rights to life, liberty and property. For 350 years, the indios were considered perpetual legal minors. They could not even own property or do practically anything unless approved by their legal guardians – the Spanish civil or church officials.


The Spaniards owned all properties in the islands. But, they gave some to their favorites – their sidekicks, their lovers or their illegitimate children. These favorites became the native elites called Ilustrados. These ilustrados were the cronies of the Spaniards. They managed the plantations in behalf of the Spaniards, much like the cronies of President Marcos who managed the business conglomerates in behalf of Marcos.


The favorites of these ilustrados became the petty politicians – the gobernadorcillos, the alcaldes, the tenientes del barrio, etc. These petty politicians and their families made up the native middle class called the Principalia.


The rest of the population had to serve these classes and the Spaniards who were then called Filipinos. There were two kinds of Filipinos – the Peninsulares and the Insulares. The former were the Spaniards born in Spain but residing in the Islands. They were usually the officials sent by the Spanish government and church – from the Governor-General and the Archbishops down to the lowest officials. The Insulares were the Spaniards who were already born in the Islands. These were the landholders and business people.


For the indios or naturales to have a good life, they need to be in the good graces of the Filipinos. The women can be the lovers of these Filipinos. It was common for Spanish priests to sire mestizo children. Jose Rizal’s Padre Damaso and Maria Clara are the most famous examples of a Spanish (Filipino) friar and his illegitimate child.


To be in the good graces of the Spanish-Filipinos, one needs to be a loyal and hardworking servant. The easier way was to destroy the reputation of a favorite and extol one’s own qualities. Thus was born the Indios’ crab mentality.


Since going up the social ladder is based merely on the whims and caprices of the Spanish masters (called Filipinos), the indios needed to totally embrace the crab mentality in order to survive. A whisper from a favorite indio (an ilustrado) could mean life or death for an ordinary indio. And it goes down the line. A word from a principalia indio to an ilustrado indio could make or break an ordinary indio. This was the state of affairs for 350 years under Spanish rule.


When the Americans came, the indios, who were now called Filipinos, simply continued the tried and tested practice of crab mentality. The Americans simply replaced the Spaniards. New sidekicks like Tuason became owners of vast tracts of lands. Others, like the Ayalas, married Americans. Many of the Ilustrados obtained legal ownership of the lands and businesses they managed in behalf of their Spanish masters just as many cronies obtained ownership of the companies they used to proxy for Marcos, to the great indignation of Marcos’s widow, Imelda.


The new Filipinos had to master the crab mentality again in order to succeed during the American Occupation. They especially needed it because the American regime opened up new vistas for the new Filipinos – government posts, employment in businesses, etc.


A new window of opportunity opened – American education. People who were educated and spoke English had greater chances of employment.


When Philippine Independence came, the Americans departed – well, most of them. A new round of sucking up and backbiting ensued. There were massive opportunities to join the ilustrado and principalia classes. And those who didn’t know how to play the game simply fell on the side.


Education became even more important in the social ladder. Educated people were taken in by the ilustrados to run their businesses or to be their proxies in the political arena. Education was publicized as the great Equalizer. The myth that good education guarantees good life was set in the agenda. “Education, not revolution”, was the idea promoted by the new Republic.


The pacifist Jose Rizal was declared the national hero while the exploits of revolutionaries Emilio Aguinaldo and Andres Bonifacio were downplayed. The educated cosmopolite Jose Rizal became the role model of the young new Filipinos.


But for the clever ones, they knew that the crab game was still the game to play – with or without education.




The Moros had a totally different historical experience. During the Spanish times, the various sultanates had to be strong to be able to survive the Spanish onslaught as well as the attempts of other Europeans like the Dutch, the Portuguese and the British.


The social system was quite fixed. There were the royals, the nobles, the Arabs (in Sulu they are called salips or sharifs), the freemen and the slaves. The Moros usually marry within their class but they could be from other ethnic groups. The Tausugs usually intermarried with Bruneians or Samas; the Maguindanaons and Buayanens intermarried with Maranaos / Iranuns and even with Ternatans or Moluccans.


There was no room for the crab mentality. To go up the social ladder, one could join in the Moro raids on Spanish territories in Luzon and Visayas. And to protect those gains, one needs to support the datus and sultans in the fight against Spain.


It is only among royals that in-fighting occurs. The Maguindanaons were constantly fighting with each other. And if they were not fighting with each other, they fought the Taosugs for territories in mainland Mindanao. Sometimes, they formed united fronts together with Borneo and Ternate to fight the Spaniards.


Succession to the throne was always a major issue. And the Spaniards capitalized on that by supporting their favored royal. That was the extent of their crab mentality. But then, in order to have a claim on the throne, one needed to be born royal first and foremost…





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