Injustice to the Bangsa Moro

This is a CONTINUATION of Prof. Macapanton Yahya Abbas‘s “Is a Bangsa Moro State within a Federation the Solution?”


Injustice to the Moro Identity

The national identity claims of the Bangsa Moro has been given acceptance by no less than the outgoing President of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP), Bishop Orlando Quevedo, O.M.I. in a paper he read before the 27th General Assembly and Annual Meeting of the Bishops “Businessman’s Conference, July 8, 2003 where President Arroyo also attended as well as Professor Michael Mastura.

Bishop Quevedo who came from the Christina settlers in Kidapawan, Cotabato cited the loss of political sovereignty as the cause of the poverty, displacement, land-gabbing and oppression of the Bangsa Moro people.  If the sultanates were respected and allowed to develop as in Malaysia and Brunei, then all these evils would have been avoided and a century of armed and fratricidal conflict among racial brothers of the Malay race would have been avoided.  He stated:

“My understanding of the Moro struggle from the late 1960’s to the present hinges on this most fundamental issue of Moro identity.  It is from this basic issue of Moro identity that the other issues at the heart of the Moro struggle are derived.  (This paper owes its historical and political data to the enlightening book, of Salah Jubair, Bangsamoro: A nation Under Endless Tyranny 3rd Edition, IQ Marin SDN BHD, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, 1999, 364 pp. But the interpretative synthesis is my own.)

“Islamic groups spoke different languages and demonstrated great differences in customs and traditions.  What brought the communities together into a distinct and identifiable social group was the common religious bond of Islam that totally governed their social structures, their relationships, their values and their way of life.  Such unity in diversity was already a reality long before the term “Filipinos” came to describe the indios colonized by the Spaniards in the second half of the 16th century.

“The Muslim communities shared a common political and governmental structure based on the sultanates, with their own defined territories.  They also shared a common history of resistance in Spain and later against the Americans.  In the 16th to the 18th centuries, the Muslim communities might not have had a sense of distinct political nationhood (as understood today), but they consider themselves quite distinct from everyone else by their adherence to Islam.  By the 19th century, Muslim leaders and thinkers were convinced that the Moros constituted one nation, a belief that they impressed on the American colonizing government always with passion and often with violence.

In contrast, Christian Filipinos asserted their nationhood only when the revolution against Spain was launched in 1896, when this sense of nationhood among Filipinos began to be firmed up under American rule, the leaders and thinkers of Muslim communities resisted the attempts to put them under Filipino rule.”[48]


It is in the light of the above social, political, and cultural history based on their common Islamic belief that I make the following assertion.  The various campaigns military, and otherwise by Spanish, American and Filipino governments to subjugate, assimilate and integrate the Bangsamoro into the mainstream body politic, apparently without regard to their historical and cultural make-up, is an injustice to the bangsamoro’s religious, cultural and political identity.[49]


Injustice to Moro Political Sovereignty


“Even before the Spaniards arrived in the 16th century the Muslim communities in Mindanao already had their own structures of political governance centered on their datus, rajahs, and sultans.  They had recognizable territorial boundaries.  They were free to govern themselves in their own way, according to their customs, traditions, and the precepts of their religion.  They possessed political sovereignty.  They waged numerous wars against Spanish forces to defend their homeland and their religion.  The death of Rajah Sulaiman, the last Muslim ruler of Manila, at the battle of Bangkusay channel, off the shore of Tondo 1571, is an initial chapter of the resistance that the Moro people waged against those that threatened their sovereignty.


“Before American troops landed in Mindanao and Sulu, Moro military forces strengthened Moro sovereignty by attacking Spanish garrisons in Cotabato, Zamboanga, Sulu and Lanao.  They also dislodged Katipuneros in Cotabato who tried to fill the political vacuum that the Spanish evacuation from Mindanao created.


In 1899 Brigadier Gen. John C. Bates and Sultan Jamal Kiran II of Sulu successfully Bates agreement newsnegotiated the Kiram-Bates Treaty.  Informal agreements were also made with the other Moro leaders of Mindanao.  The treaty gave due recognition to the Moro religion, customs and traditions.  On sovereignty, two versions of the treaty exist.  The English version states, “The sovereignty of the United States over the archipelago of Jolo, and its dependencies, is declared and acknowledged.”  The Moro version says otherwise:  “The support of the aid and the protection of the Sulu Island and archipelago are in the American nation.”[50]


“However, the Kiram-Bates treaty paved the way for the American occupation of Mindanao and Sulu.  In 1903 the Moro Province consisting of the districts of Sulu, Zamboanga, Lanao, Cotabato and Davao was created and was placed under the direct supervision of the Civil Governor of the Philippine Islands and the Philippine Commission.  In 1904 Pres. Theodore Roosevelt unilaterally declared the treaty null and void.  In 1912, Brig. Gen. John c. Pershing, head of the Moro Province, created the first Christian colony of settlers in Mindanao.  He was also responsible for the disarmament of the Moros, but not without a fight as the massacre at Bud Bagsak in 1913 demonstrates.


“From 1899 to 1941 there were many Moro military uprisings against the Americans.  But gradually through military, political and educational stratagems the American government gained de facto sovereignty over the Moro people.  Moreover, the introduction of Christian settlers to Mindanao that began under General Pershing in 1912 eventually made the once dominant Moro population into a minority and marginalized them (In 1913, the estimated population of Mindanao was the following:  324,816 Moros; 193,882 non-Moros.  The Moro people constituted a 76% majority.  Twenty-six years later, in 1939, the Moro population was only 34% of the total Mindanao population, in 1990, only 19% of the total Mindanao population of 14,269,456; see Jubair, pp. 130-31, using 1990 Census of Population and Housing).  Many Moro leaders vehemently resisted being called Filipinos.  They protested against the independence movement of the Filipinos, preferring even to remain under the American flag rather than be independent and yet be under “Christian Filipinos.”[51]


“It is from the historical record that I come to the following conclusion: for the Bangsamoro the gradual loss of their sovereignty to the American government and later to the Philippine government was a fundamental injustice, even though some of their leaders who served in government might have acquised.[52]


Injustice to Moro Integral Development


“With the loss of political sovereignty came the loss of great chunks of Moro ancestral lands.  Much of the loss resulted from a long series of legal enactments by the Philippine Commission, the Commonwealth government, and the post-independence government.  Moro writers call this “legalized land grabbing.”  Land registration, declaration of public land, mining, cadastral surveys, creation of agricultural colonies, procedures for land ownership, land settlements…. All these legal realities, often without the proper understanding of the Moro people, drastically reduced the areas of ancestral domain and benefited the Christian population.[53]  By 1976 Moros owned less than 17% of the Mindanao land they once owned almost exclusively before the Spaniards came.[54]


The loss of land was compounded by government neglect of the Moro right to integral development during the Commonwealth and post-independence governments.  In all dimensions of human development, political economic, educational, and cultural, the Moro population continues to lag far behind its Christian Filipino counterparts.  The latest national consensus bears this out in terms of educational improvement, political participation, and economic development.  This is truly a tragic plight.


Indeed the Bangsamoro is at the lowest tier of Philippine development when one uses the framework that the Estrada government used to portray the root causes of insurgency.  These are maldistribution of wealth and poverty (double standard of justice, low quality education, low productivity, malnutrition, low purchasing power, criminality, and eco-mainstream, environmental degradation, poor resource base, plutocracy, or government inefficiency, human rights violations, rigged elections, graft and corruptions and cronyism).  The central government in Manila can be justly faulted for this underdevelopment.  But one cannot escape the impression that many Moro leaders serving in the government have also failed their own people.  (For confirmation of this impression, see Jubair, pp. 257-59).[55]


“The extensive quotation is necessary because of the importance of the statement from the CBCP president.  The recognition and support of Bishop Quevedo for the Bangsa Moro Identity claims and the fundamental injustice to the sovereignty of the Bangsa Moro causing serious social political, cultural and economic damage to the Bangsa Moro society is a historic recognition of the Christians of their moral and legal responsibility to give justice to the sovereignty and identity claims of the Bangsa Moro.


“The author is making another extensive quotation from the paper delivered by Professor Michael Mastura for the 27th General Assembly and Forum of the Bishops-Businessmen’s Conference for Human Development at NBC Tent, Fort Bonifacio, Taguig, Metro Manila on July 8, 2003 entitled “Just Peace: Understanding the Frameworks Document”, he stated that:


“Today’s discourse assumes that the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, through the MILF Peace Negotiating Panel, is clear about its position on the call for “principled negotiations” of Her Excellency, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.


“This has implication for our understanding of security and security policy to give sense to an educated grasp of the torsion within the body politic and the social order.  More to the point, I want to stress that the Terms of Reference (TOR) for what has come to be known in public as the “Peace Process” is covered by:


  • The 1976 GRP-MNLF Peace Agreement signed in Tripoli
  • The 1996 GRP-MNLF Final Peace Agreement signed in Jakarta


“Taken together with the cumulative Resolutions of the Organization of Islamic Conference, GRP-MILF framework agreements form additional TOR:


  • The 2001 GRP-MILF broad Framework for Resumption of Peace Talks signed in Kuala Lumpur
  • The 2001 GRP-MILF issue-specific Framework Agreement of Peace signed in Tripoli


“All in all, these dossier instruments constitute what I refer to as “Frameworks Document” for negotiated political solutions.  Consider that these Frameworks rest on two crucial dimensions to produce the necessary dynamic:


“First of all, we have been moving at the levels of domestic and international interactions.  Incremental agreements do create GRP-MILF real commitments to bind both Parties to a Final Act of political settlement.  The dynamics of the negotiation process is underpinned by the fact that Malaysia, as a Third Party, acts as facilitator by tender of good offices, without glossing over diplomatic practices.  With initiative the US Institute of Peace wants to enter the picture.


“Secondly, we have been trying to link up peace dividends to the mechanics of implementation on the ground.  Procedural steps do operate GRP-MILF basic understandings to motivate both Parties toward acceptable comprehensive political arrangements.  All talks of a just peace are driven by the desire to secure unarmed representational means to recognize Bangsamoro identity claims and common interests.[56]


Prof. Mastura who is a senior adviser of the MILF Panel and further elaborated:


“There are commonly agreed points that make up core issues.


  1. Benchmarks for policy change are built into “incremental characteristics” of the peace process:


To recognize “the need for a comprehensive, just and lasting political settlement of the conflict in Mindanao” (italics supplied).  (Preamble, Agreement of Peace, Tripoli/2001)


To consider that “normalization in conflict affected areas can be achieved if certain principles and guidelines of conduct and action are adhered to by the Parties.” (Agreement of Peace, Tripoli/2001)


  1. The fundamental guiding principle of consent is in step with a broad framework itself, but specifically pointing to a strategic direction:


“The negotiation and peaceful resolution of the conflict must involve consultations with the Bangsamoro people free of any imposition in order to provide chances of success and open new formulas that permanently respond to the aspirations of the Bangsamoro people for freedom” (italics supplied).  (Par. 2, Security Aspect, Tripoli/2001)


  1. The rights-based principle of people’s struggle is accepted as a broad framework itself, but particularly sustaining a non-derogation status:


“The observance of international humanitarian law and respect for internationally recognized human rights instruments and the protection of evacuees and displaced persons in the conduct of their relations reinforce the Bangsamoro people’s fundamental right to determine their own future and political status” (italics supplied). (Par. 2, Rehabilitation Aspect, Tripoli/2001)


“As I see it, however, the set of talks that have formulated Guidelines for the Implementation of the Security Aspect and Rehabilitation Aspect is set back by the ambiguity at Cabinet level.  Going beyond militarist thinking there is absence of clear-cut strategy and policy aim.  Is the war “on” or non in Mindanao?  The fortunes of war smiled on Malacañang at Pikit on 2/11 because of discrepancy between cause and effect of 9/11.


“For political effect, the whole Country has the onus to shift the balance between Filipino de-nationalizing authority and Bangsamoro identity claims.  Therefore, where no sensible political alternatives are found to deal with the tired colonial “Moro Problem”, there is no minimum position for the MILF to live with or to care for.  This holds true to the MNLF.  Truth telling reckons that the two national liberation movements trace origins not to terrorism but to a series of massacres of Muslims: Jabidah, Manili, Tran, and Tangub to name but a few.


“The dire consequences could be brought to bear before OIC on very real “Question of Muslims in Southern Philippines” across the Muslim-Christian divide.  The we/they outcome is likely to remain prolonged impasse about “no surrender politics.”  What has decent people of this Republic done to alleviate the victims from those serious atrocities and numerous abuses? How come there is impunity in this Republic as we recognize familiar faces after many years of similar tales, similar outcomes in negotiations?


“If the Cabinet Oversight Committee on Internal Security is serious in giving value to Muslim constructive identity, it should be honest about any real intent to address the political aspirations and serious grievances of the Bangsamoro people.  Read from the standpoint of policy goal we can only rely on “the reality principle”:  The people not governments are the sovereign.  To say that EDSA 1 and EDSA II created trade-off for governance is to capture the essence of the “unlooked-for” solutions, changeover of legitimacy, authority and identity.


“Thanks to these and other events, Chairman Salamat says not to bring up “the Islamic state” issue in the negotiations believing it is the business of the Bangsamoro people alone, and the Government has nothing to do about it.  There are those who among the present generation of Muslim leaders taking up the cause of the Bangsamoro people’s struggle assert the need for new generative principles of relation or association with the Philippine Republic.  The very term political status in the text of the Frameworks Document denotes not an abstract entity totally disjointed from both ruler and ruled.  This meaning of status conflated with the related question of authority allows for participation of people in power, and makes it possible to “rewrite” the state via a comprehensive compact put to a referendum.


“To begin with, a question of terminology: identity claims and national interests need common referents.  Among the concrete steps are outlined below:


  1. A comprehensive concept of security is rooted in the collective identity of the Bangsamoro People in solidarity with other Indigenous Peoples that links that pivotal relations of their identity claims to common interests with the political community of the Philippines.


  1. The representational balance between primacy of identity claims and the priority of interests, through principled negotiations as well as processes of domestic and diplomatic interactions, is the final political arrangement that must be embodied in a Comprehensive Compact.


  1. A comprehensive Compact is a concrete implementation of security policy consistent with Purpose and Ideals of the Philippine Republic and to deal justly with the legitimate aspirations and the serious grievances of the Bangsamoro people without recourse to military means or violence.


  1. Comprehensive strategies are vital to the consolidation and operation of the incremental agreements as well as the understandings between the negotiating Parties in order to bind them to the Final Act of political settlement of the conflict in Mindanao in context with the Question of Muslims in Southern Philippines.


  1. Comprehensive democratic institutions are essential to respond to the aspirations of the Bangsamoro people as stable political arrangements involving much more than coercive policy.”[57]


These five (5) points as the MILF parameters in the Bangsa Moro Identity claims which is entwined with political status and sovereignty can be rationally discussed within the parameters of National Security concerns of the GRP as well as the Bangsa Moro.  This must be embodied in an agreement that must be accepted by both parties as binding legally and politically and modify the constitutional arrangements to implement fully and sincerely the agreement.  Prof. Mastura also presented the political options for the Bangsa Moro Political entity.


The position of Mastura now coincides with the admissions of Quevedo on Identity Claims and Sovereignty as a Fundamental Injustice to the Bangsa Moro as the crux of the conflict which the GRP-MILF negotiations must accept and resolve to continue where GRP-MNLF agreement of 1996 ended.  The issue of Bangsa Moro Identity and sovereignty must be the subject of the final stages of the negotiations to arrive at the final political status for the Bangsa Moro.


“Weighing the benefits and advantages of political alternatives, however, we now can redraw the matrix for home-rule comprehensive compact under UN General Assembly Resolution 1541 (XV) of 1960 as reference:


  • Integration into an Independent State;
  • Free Association with an Independent State; or
  • Full Self-Governance.


“It behooves upon us regardless of the unintended consequences to realign national integrationist-cum-unitarists thinking, at least at the ruling elite level, military, business and church leadership.  The harsh reality is to realize that our task has ceased to persuade the Bangsamoro people to pay obeisance to a colonial “expansive logic” of integration.  Indeed, generations of Bangsamoros have never been accustomed to the habits of paying homage to “Imperial Manila” simply because, the Muslim-Moro inhabitants were never subjects of the Spanish Crown colony.  The political expression of Muslimness is Moroism.


“At sovereign root, the unaltered Muslim-Moro organic identity has remained a distinct domestic community, with essential attributes or de facto suzerain authority.  Bangsamoros have political indigenous inheritance that continues to attract loyalty and to cause deaths.  There is a proviso in “treaty regime” that the Sultan reserved to cast “the right to give consent to disposition of any territorial possession”, in which the Bangsamoro people have a shared interest.


Injustice coupled with insecurity over contested space/domain dimension is a major cause of unrest for a people who value it above all else.  Ancestral domains defining the Bangsamoro homeland constitute their natural wealth and patrimony, and yet, the reality is they do not share in the security of wealth creation of the whole country.  What defies Bangsamoro imagination beyond the nationalist conception of Filipino “imagined community” is that the Americans were granted party rights while they were defaulted priority rights.  The pursuit of Filipinization of territorial strategy means denial of Bangsamoro self-determination by birthright ownership of their ancestral domains.


“We are all aware that in the course of political changeovers, Moro “enlightened” Countrymen openly expressed their desire for representation in association with the American modern ideals of democracy, principles of justice and fair play.  Likewise, they reserved their representational project/enterprise before the annexation/incorporation of their homeland into the national territory of the Philippine Republic.  Bangsamoro collective representation has not been decided a priori because being “Moro Nation” is a consequence of the political process of self-rule “50 years time-scale” (1946-1996) after grant of Philippine independence.


“You will recognize that it has taken insecurity more than desirability for our new generation of Muslim leaders to confront the actual situation: that the formation of the Philippine unitary state retains its colonial core structure.  This form of governance is the stranglehold of colonisibility over the Bangsamoro people in that “imagined community.”  This is instructive for our common understanding of security and its relation to Bangsamoro identity.


“Integration option under the present unitary system erodes the very integrity of Muslim distinct domestic community.  Accordingly the Bangsamoro are mindful of the fact that already, by 1972, this Nation State tried to employ full coercive powers in genocidal proportions, thus preceding East Timor or recent European events equated with “ethnic cleansing.”


Diversity demands the equality of all peoples.  This relates to another organizing element: the foundational authority in matters vital to Bangsamoro identity claims and interests.  Historically being the definitive people, the Bangsamoro ka-datuan or ka-rajaan set up the first organized governments outside Las Filipinas, long before the advent of Republika ng Pilipinas.  How is it that actually measured against the Peace of Westphalia, in the emergent state system their status of “Asiatic Sultanism” (in contrast to despotism) was “acquired” rather than “granted” in anarchy itself, with which foreign powers and countries have had effective Bangsamoro diplomatic relations and dealings in trade.”[58]

[48] Quevedo, Orlando, Paper presented before the Bishops Businessmen’s 27th Annual Assembly,

July 8, 2003

[49]  See Jubair, Salah Bangsamoro: A Nation Under Endless Tyranny 1999

[50] Ibid. Jubair, 61

[51]  Ibid. Jubair, pp. 86-94, 101-108

[52] .Ibid. Jubair, pp. 115-116

[59] Ibid. Jubair, pp. 95-97, 102-04, 119-241

[54] Ibid. Jubair, p. 121, quoting Aijaz Ahmad. (1982), p. 7

[55] Ibid. Jubair, pp. 257-59)

[56] Prof. Mastura “Just Peace: Understanding the Frameworks Document”, Bishops’ Businessman’s

27th Annual Conference, July 8, 2003.

[57] Ibid. Prof. Michael Mastura

[58] Ibid.  Prof. Mastura





TO GO BACK, GO TO: Philippine Agreements with Moro Groups



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