Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Bangsamoro: place and identity

Note: This photo-essay appeared in the 03-09 April 2015 issue of the FilAm Star,'the newspaper for Filipinos in mainstream America' published in San Francisco, CA. This author/blogger is the Manila-based Special News/Photo Correspondent of the weekly paper.

NHCP posters (left to right) – woman from Jolo as depicted in Baltasar Giraudier’s Expedicion a Jolo, 1876, 
and an Iranun warrior, as depicted in Frank S. Marryat’s 1848 Borneo and the Indian Archipelago

The name of the proposed political entity shall be Bangsamoro, says the draft Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) and its versions House Bill 4994 and Senate Bill 2408, and “[t]hose who at the time of conquest and colonization were considered natives or original inhabitants of Mindanao and the Sulu archipelago and its adjacent islands including Palawan, and their descendants, whether of mixed or of full blood, shall have the right to identify themselves as Bangsamoro by ascription or self-ascription.”  So do the spouses and their descendants, but the indigenous peoples (IPs) will have the choice to be Bangsamoro.

“Who are the Bangsamoro” was the theme “The Bangsamoro in National History” forum that the National Historical Commission of the Philippines hosted on 27 March 2015, which happened to be the first anniversary of the signing of the Comprehensive Agreement on Bangsamoro (CAB).

Muslim convert actor Robin Padilla like the others who came wanted to know the answer. Padilla succinctly explained why he was there: to fully understand the Bangsamoro and the BBL is just like reading a book, you don’t go to chapter 5 right away, start at chapter 1.  He was more specific: how can I make a movie about the Bangsamoro if I do not know much about it?

Four history scholars provided the historical contexts from pre-colonial times to the present: Dr. Ma. Bernadette G. Abrera of UP Diliman, Dr. Cecilia B. Tiangan of MSU-IIT, Dr. Ricardo Trota Jose of UP Diliman, and Dr. Renato T. Oliveros of the Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Maynila.

Their presentations resonated on what the BBL Preamble expresses as “the distinct historical identity and birthright of the Bangsamoro people to their ancestral homeland and their right to self-determination – beginning with the struggle for freedom of their forefathers in generations past and extending to the present.”

Dr. Bernadette Abrera dwelt on the time when the inhabitants of Mindanao were not yet called Moros. They were already engaged in maritime trade with the Chinese, Arabs and Southeast Asian merchants as early as the 4th and 5th centuries. There were already trade routes on the Straits of Malacca and the West Philippine Sea, coastal ports and market places.  The trade went well into the centuries as told by the accounts of Chau Ju-Kua (13th C) and Wang Tai-Yuan (14th C).

NHCP Chair Maria Serena I. Diokno (second from left) with the panel of history scholars (left to right): 
Dr. Cecilia B.Tiangan,MSU-IIT; Dr. Ma. Bernadette G. Abrera, UP Diliman; Dr. Ricardo Trota Jose, 
UP Diliman; and Dr. Renato T. Oliveros, PLM.  

She described the annual embassies or missions from Luzon, Pangasinan, Sulu and other areas to China in the 15th century. She cited the three datus who went there in 1417 with their wives and 300 families. They were received by the emperor. One of the datus died, was given a royal burial and tomb, and his family stayed for three years to mourn, according to custom.

Her narrative included the active raiding or kidnapping industry, so to speak, either for ransom or for trade, in pre-colonial times.  Captives, like the eight survivors of the Magellan expedition, were sold as slaves. The ‘mangangayaw’ or raiders from Sulu, Maguindanao and Panay, she explained, used fast boats called praus. 

Oral traditions and the tarsilas told of the peopling of Sulu, creation of sultanates, and the coming of Islam:  arrival of Sharif Makdum (1380), Raja Baginda (1390) and Abu Bakr (1450). The oral traditions of the Magindanaoans credit Sarip Kabungsuwanfor bringing the Islamic faith in the early 16th century.

They became Moros when Spaniards arrived. The colonizers named them after the Mohammedan Moors probably because the battle of Lepanto was still fresh in their memory.

To Abrera, an event in 1603 was significant. The Maguindanao Datu Buwisan raided Panay but later went back and entered into a blood compact with the Panay datus so that“they [can] join forces to attack Manila and throw out the Spaniards.”

Dr. Renato T. Oliveros (left), Exec. Vice President of Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Maynila, a Tausug, dwelt on contemporary Muslim Filipinos. Dr. Ma. Bernadette G. Abrera (right), History Dept. chair of UP Diliman, talked 
about the early Muslim Filipinos before the Spaniards arrived.

Dr. Cecilia Tangian reminded that there are distinct identities such as ‘Tausug’, ‘Maranao’, ‘Maguindanao’, among others, from 13 ethnic groups subsumed by ‘Moro.’

She took off from Abrera to expand on the Moro resistance to Spanish aggression. The Spanish Moro policy, she said, was to get the Moros to acknowledge Spanish sovereignty over their territory and Christianize them; trade with them but limit their trade to the islands; discover the rich resources for commercial exploitation; and end Moro piracy against Spanish shipping and the Moro raids in the Visayas and Luzon.

She quoted Sultan Kudarat’s speech of 1639 to rationalize the Moro resistance: ““What have you done? Do you realize what subjection would reduce you? A toilsome slavery under the Spaniards! Turn your eyes to the subject nations and look at the misery to which such glorious nations have been reduced. ... Do not let their sweet words deceive you, their promises facilitates their deceits, which little by little enable them to control everything ... thus, the jihad should begin”

The Spanish-Moro Wars that lasted for more than 300 years were intense, she summed up,  comprising “a long bloody story of conquest, collaboration, and resistance” that “highlighted the consistency of the Moro inhabitants’ adherence to the universal ideals of liberty, freedom, self-rule and self-determination.”  The coming of steamships, faster than their caracoas, faluas, joangas and pancos, later hampered the Moro resistance.

 “The Muslim Filipinos had never been conquered,” Dr. Ricardo Trota Jose averred, “despite the series of agreements between Spain and sultans and datus. Spain was unable to place them under jurisdiction even with these agreements and with payments of ‘salaries’.”

Jose narrated how the Muslim Filipinos fared under the Americans from the 1898 (Treaty of Paris) until 1946 and thence to 1968 (the year of the ‘Jabidah Massacre’).

American subjugation came about through diplomatic strategies and military interventions. The Americans stayed away when they were pursuing a war with the Aguinaldo forces in Luzon.  The Bates Agreement on Sulu, and the unwritten agreements with Basilan and Mindanao provided the modus vivendi: the sultans kept their positions, they got salaries but they were effectively under US jurisdiction.

In 1903, the Moro Province was established, the Americans in direct control. The restlessness among the Moros continued. Mailed fist, personified by Gen. Leonard Wood, more troops, were used to integrate or destroy them. The Moros were rankled by the separation of church and state espoused by the Americans because of their Islam way of life.

Bangsamoro history buffs with Muslim convert actor Robin Padilla.

The period 1914-1921 saw the abdication of the Sultan of Sulu, influx of Christian Filipinos to Muslim areas, construction of public schools, and the governance from Manila through the Department of Mindanao and Sulu, initially, then Bureau of Non-Christian Tribes of the Department of the Interior, later.  Muslims were sent to the US to study as pensionados; they would become the Muslim elite.

The Torrens Title system was introduced. Complications arose - it became the instrument of outsiders to claim lands within the ancestral, indigenous domains.

What’s remarkable about Manuel Quezon during the Commonwealth period was his recognition that the Muslims are Filipinos although he was not happy with the sultanate system. There was integration but force was used too. “Land of promise’ was the lure for outsiders from Luzon and the Visayas to Mindanao.  

“There was Quezon’s social justice program,” said Jose, “but in actuality Mindanao and Sulu were marginalized.”

Integration was the government strategy after World War II to bring the minorities into the mainstream but the law was deficient (RA 1888 of 1957), there was no money, and no political will as well.

The so-called Jabidah Massacre of 1968 appears to be the tippling point in the deteriorating peace and order in Mindanao because the call for liberation, secession, separation into an Islamic Bangsamoro was soon sounded

Dr. Renato T. Oliveros recalled a petition from 80 Moro tribes to create a separate state for Mindanao and Sulu on the eve of the inauguration of the Commonwealth on 18 March 1935. 

He then dwelt on the identities of Bangsamoro as place and people, which may not be clear to the stakeholders of the proposed Bangsamoro.  In the case of “Moro” versus “Muslim”, for example, he cites his personal experience being a Tausug on his maternal side. His mother would admonish them if they called her a Moro because it does not reflect her identity as a Muslim woman. The core Muslim identity is lost, he said, in Bangsamoro because it is a collective one for Muslims, Christians and Indigenous Peoples (IP).

He forwarded that there were weaknesses in the negotiations, that there should have been wider representation because of the particular character of ethnic groups, and who have different needs. “There was only a singular group speaking for all,” he said, considering that there are many ethnic groups with identities of their own (Tausugs, etc).

The latest commentary we read focuses on the question of identities as an element of trust with regard to the MILF in the ongoing thrust for approval of the BBL by 2016. Who do they represent? Is this group the voice of all the Muslim Filipinos residing in the proposed Bangsamoro entity? 

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