TIME was when Muslims and non-Muslims lived together, broke bread at the same table even if they worshipped separately. This never seemed to be a problem in postwar years up to the sixties when Sabah was annexed by the Malaysian Federation in violation of the Manila accord of 1962. This is when the secessionist/terrorist groups came into the picture. Trained and supplied in Malaysia the MNLF and its breakaway group the MILF broke the peace in Mindanao and have been solely responsible for the strife in the so-called land of promise.
Post-Independence saw Muslim communities pretty much integrated in Philippine society as in the multi-racial and multi-ethnic societies of Singapore and Malaysia.
In this country mosques sit beside churches while Muslim politicians, professionals and traders rub elbows with their non-Muslim counterparts. Today our Muslim brothers and sisters occupy important positions in government, the private sector and the academe.
In our own experience dealing with Muslims has never been a problem. Working in congress for Muslim legislators, the likes of Tamano, Sinsuat Pendatun, Dimaporo, Mastura and other Islamic legislators was never a challenge and in fact a pleasure for me. As an officer of the National Union of Christian Democrats which had merged with the United Muslim Democrats to support the presidential candidacy of Fidel Ramos, the relationship between the two political parties was nothing short of complete harmony and cooperation. This was because both embraced the principles of subsidiarity, solidarity and the preferential option for the poor. As their colleagues in the NUCD-UMDP party never for a moment did I look at our Muslim counterparts as anything but fellow Filipino democrats out to make a difference in the body politic.
In the sixties following the encouragement of high government Muslim officials in government a group of technocrats laid down a master plan for the development of Mindanao. I recall visiting the Liguasan marsh with former planning secretary Sixto Roxas to try to convert the marshland into a rice granary and the Allah Valley with a team of British plantation managers to convert the area into palm oil plantations. As Chairman of the Philippine Coconut Authority my Malaysian counterpart and I like the British also wanted to plant palm in Muslim Mindanao which the rebels now claim suffered from benign neglect from the government. Truth to tell it is these secessionists who have metamorphosed into present day “peaceniks” are the very same people who thwarted attempts to develop the area by making it a no-man’s-land by their terroristic activities.
Given an honorary title by the Sultanate of Sulu because of my support for the Sultanate’s rights to Sabah I always considered my advocacy as an attempt to promote the territorial integrity of the country to which our Muslim brothers belong and not to cause their alienation.
Indeed Muslim Filipinos like the indigenous peoples, cultural minorities, Buddhists and those belonging to other religious denominations are Filipinos who have learned to live together with their Christian brothers as in other countries despite the cultural divide.
And now coming out of nowhere former insurgents brandishing armalites, Kalashnikov rifles and anti-tank recoilless guns have, like an epiphany, resurrected to claim leadership of Morolandia demanding a large chunk of Mindanao to be converted into a substate. Transported to Tokyo, courtesy of their Malaysian handlers, self-professed leaders of Bangsamoro were accommodated by no less than the chief-of state of this republic who agreed to enter into a comprehensive peace agreement drafted in Kuala Lumpur by representatives of the revolutionary group and a team of relatively unknown panelists from the republic’s side. The same document was signed in Manila under the watchful eye of no less than the prime minister of Malaysia.
The same group is hell-bent in accentuating the differences instead of emphasizing the things that bind. Digging deep into the past, they talk about exploitation, alienation and marginalization, which is true not only in the case of poor Muslims but also of one-third of Filipino families because of benign neglect by the national government and graft and corruption.
These Muslim agitators conveniently forget that thousands of their kith and kin have prospered in other parts of the country as traders, professionals and even politicians while many others have wallowed in destitution thanks mostly to their exploitation by the likes of the Ampatuans and other Muslim political warlords.
Does the fact that the Philippine Muslim communities like some of our other cultural minorities have a distinct religion and their distinctive secular practices, cultures and traditions, constitute just and valid grounds for secession and separatism or at least exclusivity which seems to be encouraged by this administration through its insistence in passing the BBL which may very well turn out to be the Bangsamoro bubble that will be pricked by Congress or the Supreme court? Additionally is it right for the government to give a small percentage of the Muslim population consisting of no more than five percent (5%) of the total Philippine population concentrated in the ARMM, Region 9, 11 and 12 more perks and power than the rest of the country because of perceived and exaggerated historical wrongs?
First and foremost the few thousand soldiers representing the MILF cannot hope to speak for the Muslim community. As we speak there are already firefights between armed groups that have different political agendas which the MILF cannot seem to control as evidenced by the Mamasapano massacre
Indeed, and as history will bear us out, Muslim Filipinos are not integrated as one definable and united society. There are several endemic characteristics in their separate identities: (1) language, (2) political structure, and (3) history and the degree of Islamic integration with cultural traditions and customs already existent.
Each of the subgroups has been proud of its separate identity and conflict between communities has been endemic throughout Philippine Muslim history. We have seen how the MILF has broken away from the MNLF and now we see a BIFF and other groups going to war against the group that this administration has chosen to dialogue with for reasons only known to it.
We have to accept the fact our Muslim community consists of the following subgroups which this administration has to deal with separately. These are:
1. Maguindanaons – the people living in the Pulangi area, located in what are now North Cotabato, Sultan Kudarat and Maguindanao Provinces. Cultural communities within this region also include the non-Muslim Tituray, T’boli and the Manobos.
2. Maranaos – these are the “people of the lake” that is Lanao Lake whose language is similar to Maguindanaon and Iranun. These form the largest Muslim community and cultural minority in the Philippines. Their families are traditionally large and close-knit. Feudal standing is in some parts still visible. The position, wealth and land ownership of many of those considered from an ancestry of “royalty” still maintain some political position or prominence in their areas. The Maranaos are considered the most devout and most traditional of the Muslim communities who have braved attempts to conquer and subdue them.
3. Tausugs – The Tausugs of the Sulu archipelago whose name translates into “brave people” had promulgated their system of government even before the arrival of the Spaniards. The Tausugs openly welcomed Islam and the system of government that came with it. This has bred the establishment of the Sulu Sultanate. Leaders from this region moved to other places in the country, spreading Islam and its system of government in Tawi-Tawi, Palawan, Basilan, Zamboanga, and Sabah.
4. Sama – Also in the Sulu archipelago are the Sama consisting of five sub-groups including the Sama and the Badjao. These people are highly dispersed in the Sulu archipelago. They are considered boat-people, spending most of their time in constant movement throughout the islands in the area or living on the water. The Sama are also considered the sea-gypsies of the Philippines.
5. Yakan – Yakans form the majority Muslim group in Basilan. They have generally two spheres of belief integrating Islamic principles and traditional beliefs into what is referred to as “folk Islam.” The Yakans were primarily under the Sulu Sultanate, but later chose to be on their own. Fiercely independent Yakans opted out of ARMM and most have settled in the region of Zamboanga City.
6. IIanon or Iranun – The lranun are said by many to have been the origin of the ethnic groups within the Lanao Del Sur to the Maguindanao areas. The Iranun language is in fact seen in the Maranao and Maguindanao languages. The Iranun were said to have fought under the Maguindanao sultanate. Many sultans of Maguindanao were said to have been from the lranuns.
7. Add to the above the Molbogs who with other Muslim communities in Palawan were ruled by Sulu Datus, the Kolibugan or “half-breeds.” from the Subanon tribes, the Sangils of South Cotabato and Davao Del Sur provinces and last but not the least the Kaagans in the Davao provinces, and you have a medley of Islamic communities who have managed to live peacefully in their particular environments side-by-side with their non-Islamic neighbors.
Will these communities who have opted to stay out of Bangsamoro kowtow to the rule of the MILF? I seriously doubt it!