Bangsa Moro Conflict – Historical Antecedents and Present Impact

In September 2000, I was invited to deliver a speech/lecture on the Social Impact of the Moro Conflict at the University of the Philippines in Los Banos. Later, I uploaded the speech in my website and in one web forum I joined. Later, I found out that this speech has been linked and/or re-published in various websites and web fora. Some of the cited links do not exist anymore. At any rate, here it is:
*********** ************* ************

A few years ago, I visited my girl friend’s house. Her septuagenarian Visayan grandmother was visiting them at the time. Upon seeing me, the grandmother fled the room. She knew that her granddaughter was going out with a Moro. But meeting a Moro in person seemed to be too unnerving for the old lady. She is not an illiterate barrio folk. She is a retired schoolteacher, her nephew (i.e., her brother’s son) is a governor and all her children are degree-holders, two of them are lawyers.

I had a sexagenarian office mate who told me that when he was growing up in Bicol, the kids’ parents usually scare the children off by shouting “the Moros are coming!” That announcement usually made the kids run immediately to their houses for safety.

These two anecdotal samples illustrate the social impact of the Mindanao conflict – not of the present MILF/Abu Sayyaf crisis nor of the MNLF wars in the 1970s. These were the effects on the intermittent warfare between the Moros and the Spanish from the 16th to the 19th century. Although the Spanish have gone for more than a hundred years now, the effects on the collective psyche of the Filipinos remain.

The social impact of the present Mindanao conflict will simply be a reiteration or reinforcement of the impact of the Moro conflict since the arrival of the Spanish to these Islands. The social impact of the Mindanao Conflict today is more or less the same as the social impact of the late 60s to early 70s conflict between the AFP-supported Christian vigilante groups led by the notorious Ilagas and the various Moro private armies like the Baracudas, Blackshirts, PUSA, etc. The social impact of today’s Mindanao conflict is more or less the same as that of the MNLF wars in the ‘70s. And for some of the parties concerned, the social impact of the present Mindanao conflict is the same as that of the Moro Wars during the American and Spanish eras. When it comes to Mindanao, some things never change. There are of course variations, relating to present conditions.

Perhaps what is needed now is to truly understand the Moro Problem, from the viewpoint of the Moros. And only a thorough understanding of history can give light to this issue. However, the Filipino majority is reluctant to talk about history. They always claim that the past should be buried and that everyone should be forward-looking. During every crisis in Mindanao, the Christian Filipino talk, write and generally disseminate their ideas on supposed causes of the conflict and give various solutions to the conflict – greater access to education, more infrastructures, coddling Moro leaders, peace negotiations, etc.

The Moros who call everyone’s attention to historical past are called obscurantists, obstructionists or simply rabble-rousers. But the adage “he who forgets his past is sure to repeat it” cannot be truer when applied to the so-called Moro Problem. No solution can be found if the underlying causes are not considered. The Moros, unlike the Christianized Filipinos, have a living culture, or as the French say, culture vivant. This culture is steeped in history. For example, the greatness of a man is not measured by how much money he has in the bank, but for the most part, his bloodline – i.e., who his father, mother, grandparents and ancestors were. Former US President John Quincy Adams in his defense of the “Amistad” African prisoners declared that “Who we are is who we were.” For the Moros, that statement is almost sacrosanct.


The Filipinos as ONE nation since time immemorial

It must be emphasized and acknowledged that the Moros and the Indios (the Christianized Filipinos) never constituted a nation and that it was only in 1946, upon the proclamation of the Philippine Republic that the Moros and the Indios became part of one nation-state.

The World Maps

The earliest world map that included “the Philippines” is on display at the Malacanang Museum. But lo and behold, the Philippines was not on the map, only Mindanao and Palawan were there. It is proof positive that before the Western world ever heard of the Philippines, they already knew Mindanao and Palawan.

In a 1716 map, a group of Islands was labeled I. Philippinae (Philippine Islands, plural) But Mindanao Island was also labeled. This could be construed as indicating that Mindanao Island was not part of the Philippine Islands. In an 18th European century map, North Borneo was labeled as “Territories belonging to the Sultan of Sulu.”

The Myth of the Spanish Conquest of Moroland

The Christian majority in the country propagates the myth that although the Moros fought, they were nevertheless conquered by the Spaniards. History books call the Moro wars as rebellions that were answered by Spanish punitive expeditions.

Going back to history, a look at the views of the other Europeans would give a more objective conclusion. Let us see what the Europeans themselves thought. The 14th Dutch governor of Moluccas, Simon Cos, brushed away Spanish claims on Mindanao arguing that if such claims were based on raiding villages, then the Maguindanaons had much more territory to claim than the Spaniards. On May 16, 1658, Gov. Cos wrote to his superiors:

” The Muslims have the Spanish settlements burning and blazing every year and take some 500 captives per raid, while the Spaniards got only one Maguindanao last year.”

When the French led by Admiral Cecille blockaded Basilan in 1845, the Spanish governor protested alleging that Basilan had recognized Spain’s sovereignty just the year before, in February 1844. (This alone is telling. This means that after almost 200 years in the Philippines, the Spanish admitted that Basilan was still not under their control.) The French answer was to force the Basilan datus to sign a document affirming the “absolute independence of Basilan vis-a-vis Spain” on January 13, 1845 aboard the steamer Archimede. And on February 20, 1845, France forced the Sulu Sultan to formally cede Basilan Island to France in exchange for 100,000 piastres or 500,000 French francs. The French Admiral totally ignored Spanish protests. However, the French King, Louis Philippe decided against taking Basilan although the French Cabinet already approved the annexation, even allocating the budget for Basilan for that year. In fact, France has more right than Spain to claim Basilan since they got a formal cession from the Sultan of Sulu as well as formal written agreement from the Basilan datus.

In answer to Spanish claims that the Moros were mere pirates, the British Earl of Denby’s instruction to Consul Palgrave on Aug. 25, 1877 stated:

“Her Majesty’s government has never regarded the Sultan of Sulu as a pirate; they never admitted the claim of Spain to sovereignty over the archipelago;and in the interests of British trade, they never have been disposed to regard with favor any extension of Spanish authority or influence in the Sulu waters…”

And what did the Spanish themselves think? In a letter by Spanish Captain-General Marquma to the King of Spain in the late 18th century, he wrote:

” From this time…these Moros have not ceased to infest our colonies. Innumerable are the Indios they have captured, the ranches they have destroyed and the vessels they have taken. It seems as if God has preserved them for vengeance on the Spanish that they have not been able to subject them in in 200years in spite of the expeditions sent against them, the armaments spent every year to pursue them. In a very little while, we conquered the islands of the Philippines, but the little islands of Sulu, parts of Mindanao and other islands nearby, we have not been able to subjugate to this very day.”

Scanning through the various Spanish reports and other official documents — bandos y circulares, cartas, cedularios, memorias, etc.– one could see the pain and destruction suffered by the Spanish masters and their Indio subjects at the hands of the Moros. The Moros regularly raided Spanish settlements in Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao. The report of Spanish Governor-General Manuel de Arandia to the King of Spain dated May 24, 1755 enumerated the losses suffered by the Spanish from the Moros, who attacked with impunity most of the Spanish settlements in Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao which brought the Islands practically to its knees (“en el deplorable estado y fatal sistema“).

Even the Americans belittled Spanish claims in Mindanao. In his Foreword to his book, Swish of the Kris: The Story of the Moros, Vic Hurley wrote:

“The close of the unsuccessful Spanish conquest of Moroland marked the beginning of the end of one of the most remarkable resistance in the annals of military history. The Moslems has staged a bitter and uninterrupted warfare against the might of Spain for a period of 377 years. It is doubtful if this record has been equaled in the whole bloody history of military aggression. The Dons, accustomed to the easy conquests of Peru and Mexico, met their match and more in the jungles of Mindanao.”

Historical records show that the Mindanao, Sulu and Palawan were never conquered by Spain and therefore the Treaty of Paris in 1898 was void ab initio with regards to Mindanao. The US had no right to take over Moroland, except through the law of Conquest.

The Myth of Socio-Economic-Political Backwardness

The Filipino also insist that it was Spain that brought civilization to the Philippines. The former President Fidel Ramos once declared that before the coming of Spain, the natives of the country had nothing but a crude political system known as barangays. The political and economic systems of the sultanates were certainly more complex than the Indios’ barangay systems. The Dutch anthropologist Ruurdje Laarhoven has this to say about the Maguindanao sultanate in the 17th century:

“The Maguindanao rulers must be credited for their astuteness in utilizing their strategic position between the Spanish-controlled Philippines and the Dutch-controlled Moluccas. They were able to mobilize the rivalry of these European powers to neutralize each other while successfully maintaining its independence and advancing its own political development. Even factional struggles within the Mindanao confederacy can be seen positively as indicators of political evolution towards a supra-tribal state able to harness allhuman and ecological resources within its territory for higher political goals, able to operate as a state in a larger political arena defined by the presence of other state-organized powers such as the Dutch, English and Spanish operating in Southeast Asia.” (Laarhoven : 1989, p. 181)

James F. Warren, in his book, The Sulu Zone, wrote:

“The source of Sulu’s hegemony after 1768 was its role as a regional emporium in the commerce between European traders, southeast Asian realms and China. The increasing magnitude of this external trade made regional distribution the dominant pattern of the economy of the Tausug state and established itsascendancy in the region.”

The Sultanates of Maguindanao, Sulu and Buayan entered into several treaties with European powers like Netherlands, England and even Spain. European powers never entered into treaties with barangay datus. Blood compact was the preferred mode of the Europeans when negotiating with barangay chieftains.

The Filipino people were united in their desire for Independence from the US.

During the American Occupation, the great majority of the Moros fought for independence through peaceful and even violent means. And they repeatedly communicated their desire for Independence. And if they could not have Independence, they would rather be with the Americans than with the Filipinos. The Wood-Forbes Commission Report of 1922 stated:

“The Moros are a unit against independence and are united for continuance of American control and, in case of separation of the Philippines from the US, desire their portion of the Islands to be retained as American territory under American control. The pagans and non-Christians, constituting 10% of the population, are for continued American control. They want peace and security, These the Americans have given them.”

Countering Filipino propaganda that the Americans simply wanted to grab the lands of the Moros, Datu Gumbay Piang ofBuayan declared in a speech in 1926 that the Moros “would be between two fearful and objectionable daggers – American at the one side and Filipino at the other. As a defenseless people they would have no alternative but choose which dagger would be less injurious. And, funny to say, they have already, since long ago, chosen the American dagger.”

With the intensified fight for Philippine Independence led by Manuel L. Quezon, the Moros sent various petitions to the US President and the US Congress. On June 9, 1921, the Moros of Sulu sent a petition to the US government which stated:

“We are independent for 500 years. Even Spain failed to conquer us. If theU.S. quits the Philippines, and the Filipinos attempt to govern us, we will fight.”

On February 4, 1924, another petition to the US Congress was signed by more than 100 datus led the Maguindanao Sultan Mangigin. The petition in part reads:

“…In the event that the United States grant independence to the Philippine Islands without provision for our retention under the American flag, it is our firm intention and resolve to declare ourselves an independent Constitutional sultanate to be known to the world as Moro Nation….”

The Moros found sympathetic ears in the US Congress. On May 6, 1926,Congressman Robert L. Bacon of New York gave a stirring speech in support of the Moros. He said:

“Their (the Moros’) so-called representation in the Philippine Legislature is a farce and a mockery. They are deliberately denied any share or participation in the government. They have no elective representatives…They have no magistrates, no judges, no public prosecutor drawn from their own people. And the guardians of law and order in their region – constabulary – are practically drawn from the ranks of their hereditary enemies – the Filipinos. The Filipinos are their lawmakers, their governors, their judges, their persecutors and their policemen. To these conditions the Moros respond by giving nothing but hate and unwilling submission.”

Some 75 years later, and the Moros find themselves still with no representation in the Senate, very few judges, and the guardians of law and public order – the military and police– are still practically drawn from the ranks of the Filipinos. Congressman Bacon added:

“The Philippine Islands are divided into two very distinct areas – the Christian provinces and the Mohammedan territory….These two regions belong to different and opposed civilizations– the Christian world and Islam.”

Congressman Bacon sponsored a bill that would retain Mindanao and Sulu in the event of Philippine independence. Other similar bills –the Roger, Cooper and Kies bills – were also deliberated in the US Congress.

After the 1935 Constitutional Convention, 189 ranking Maranao datus sent an appeal to the US Government through the Governor-General that stated:

“…With regard to the forthcoming Philippine independence, we foresee that the condition will be characterized by unrest, suffering and misery…

One more discriminatory act of our Christian Filipino Associates is shown in the recent constitution of the Philippine Commonwealth. In that constitution, no provision whatsoever is made that would operate for the welfare of the Moros…the (provision of the) constitution are all for the welfare of the Christian Filipinos and nothing for the Moros. As proof of this, our delegate did not sign the constitution.

We do not want to be included in the Philippine Independence (for) once an independent Philippines is launched there will be trouble between us and the Christian Filipinos because from time immemorial these two peoples have not lived harmoniously. …It is not proper for two antagonizing peoples live together under Philippine Independence.

The Dansalan Declaration, as it came to be known went on to say that the Maranaos would rather “drown in the lake” than be included in the Philippine Independence.

The Honeymoon Years

Unfortunately for the Moros, World War II came about. When the US granted Philippine independence after the war, the Moros neither had the resources nor inclination to fight another war. Thus the “honeymoon” with the Philippine Republic began, with very few troubles like the Kamlon rebellion.

But in 1969, with the discovery of the Jabidah massacre, the Moros realized that the honeymoon was over. From then on, up to the present, the Moro fight continues.

The Present Conflict

It must be very clear to everyone that the Moro conflict today did not begin in 1969. It did not begin with Misuari, Salamat or Abbas, Jr. In 1969, they were the Young Turks but the independence movement was led by the elders – Congressman Lucman, Senator Pendatun and other Moro leaders.

In 1972, President. Marcos told OIC officials that the Moros were not united and could never unite, that Maranaos hate Maguindanaos and both hate the Tausugs, etc., and that the Nationalistas would not sit with a Liberal, etc.

The OIC then challenged the Moro community to refute Mr. Marcos’s allegation. Thus was born the Islamic Directorate of the Philippines (IDP). The founding directors included Maranao, Tausug, Maguindanao, Nationalista and Liberal Party leaders. For the first time political rivals Lucman and Dimaporo, Sinsuat and Pendatun, and other Moro leaders like Anni, Abubakar, Sen, Tamano, Sen. Alonto and a host of others including the Young Turks – Abbas, Jr., Misuari and Salamat joined together in one organization to prove to the Islamic countries that the Moros were united. The founding chair of IDP was Dr. C. Adib Majul, then the Dean of the UP College of Arts and Sciences. Abbas, Jr. was the Secretary-General.

The present conflict in Mindanao does not pertain to only the MILF and the Abu Sayyaf, although they are the only ones fighting now. The MNLF cadres are still very much there. The Islamic Command Council is newly-formed but composed of former MNLF commanders. The MNLF-Reformists can regroup anytime. There are still thousands of armed Moros simply waiting for the most opportune time.

An all-out war against the MILF is indeed ill-advised because the repercussions might be far worse. An all-out war between the AFP and the MILF will surely expand to an all-out war between the AFP and all Moro armed groups, which could very well escalate into a full-scale civil war between the Moros and the Indios.

Time for Peace

Wars will only bring more wars. The Bangsa Moro enjoys the inalienable right of self-determination. The 1966 Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights of the United Nations states:

“All peoples have the right of self-determination. By virtue of that right they freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development.”

It is high time that the Bangsa Moro be asked on what it really wants. Does it want to remain in the present set-up? Do the Moros prefer an autonomous region within the Republic? Do they want a federal form of government? Or do they want independence? A clean and honest referendum can give the answer, and everyone should abide by the outcome.

Social Impact of the Present Conflict

The present conflict has already shown the negative impacts on the communities. The degree of intolerance by both communities towards each other has dramatically increased. The popularity of an “all-out war” policy among the Christian population is evident as shown by the surge in the popularity rating of President Estrada.

A more serious effect is the apparent success of the Abu Sayyaf and the apparent failure of the MILF. This means that more Moros would now be inclined to go the way of terrorism instead of a semi-conventional warfare as practiced by the MILF.

But there are interesting effects, too. Many Christian intellectuals are now seeing the practicality in Moro separatism. More Moro wars would create greater havoc on the economy of the whole country. Dan Mariano, Executive Editor of the Philippine Post wrote in his column ofMay 13, 2000 the ff.:

If only they would be honest about it, the ordinary Filipinos — the so-called Christians — feel little kinship and affinity for those whom they perfunctorily refer to as “Muslim brothers.” There is a great deal of discrimination and prejudice against the Moros that is expressed officially, as in the disenfranchisement of entire Muslim communities from the body politic, and unofficially, as in chauvinistic jokes that portray Moros as crude, opportunistic yokels.

The Moros are a people that have been set apart from the Filipino nation by history, faith and culture. Their integration into the Philippine Republic was a fabrication of colonialism. The creation of the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao merely acknowledged this fact, but it did not go far enough to rectify a centuries-old mistake.

The creation of a homeland that the Moros can truly call their own is the only intelligent solution to the Mindanao problem. When this comes to pass, only then can Filipinos and Moros learn to live in peace — as good neighbors.


Speech delivered by Datu Jamal Ashley Abbas at the University of the Philippines in Los Baños on 5 Sept. 2000


BLAIR, EMMA HELEN and James Robertson (eds.) The Philippine Islands, 1493-1898 , Cleveland: 1904

DERY, LUIS CAMARA The Kris in Philippine History: A Study of the Impact of Anti-Colonial Resistance, 1571-1896 self-published : 1997

HURLEY, VIC Swish of the Cross, The Story of the Moros, E.P. Dutton &Co., USA: 1936

GEORGE, T.J.S. Revolt in Mindanao: The Rise of Islam in Philippine Politics,OxfordUniv. Press, Kuala Lumpur: 1980

GOWING, PETER G. Mandate in Moroland: The American Government of MuslimFilipinos 1899-1920, UP Press, Q.C.: 1977

JUBAIR, SALAH A Nation Under Endless Tyranny, 2nd ed., Lahore: 1997

LAARHOVEN, RUURDJE Triumph of Moro Diplomacy, The Maguindanao Sultanate inthe 17th Century, New Day, Q.C.: 1989

MAJUL, CESAR ADIB Muslims in the Philippines, 3rd edition, UP Press, Q.C.: 1999

MAN, CHE W. K. Muslim Separatism: The Moros of Southern Philippines andthe Malays of Southern Thailand,Ateneo de Manila Press, Q.C.: 1990

NARDIN, DENIS France and the Philippines: From the Beginning to the End ofthe Spanish Regime, translated by Ma. Theresa Cruz, National Historical Institute: 1989

PIGAFETTA, ANTONIO Magellan’s Voyage Around The World, 1906 edition

RASUL, JAINAL D. The Philippine Muslims: Struggle for Identity, Nueva Press,Manila: 1970

SALEEBY, NAJEEB MITRY Studies in Moro History, Law and Religion ,Manila: 1905

TAN, SAMUEL K. The Filipino Muslim Armed Struggle 1900-1972, FilipinasFoundation, Q.C. 1977

THOMAS, RALPH Muslim But Filipino: The Integration of Philippine Muslims,1917-1946, PhD dissertation GSAS,Univ. of Pennsylvania: 1971


6 thoughts on “Bangsa Moro Conflict – Historical Antecedents and Present Impact

  1. Sir,
    I really enjoyed reading your article. I am a Filipino and it is true that most of us feel distant from our Muslim brothers.
    I am very interested in the topics you have raised because ever since, I always thought that Muslims preferred to be under the Philippine flag. I guess they deserve something better.
    There are so many questions in my head.
    Would you please e-mail to me more articles pertaining to this topic?
    Thank you in advance..


  2. Hey ppl, i’ve codify when i searched google
    for a admissible and well-minded forum, and i concluded to fix here)
    if you note my english bad… so be it, i’m valid learning


Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s