Moros in Video Documentaries

[from my M.A. thesis (2004) with additional notes]

The Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) produced a one-hour documentary containing four episodes. The first two episodes were titled: “Komunidad Mindanao” and were sub-titled Komunidad Basilan: Peace and Governance Redeemed and From War Zone to Thriving Communities: The Story of Former Camp Abubakar. The last two episodes dealt with Christian communities in the North. This documentary was aired on national TV in the early part of March this year (2004).

The two episodes portrayed Moro provinces as war-torn but the government turned them around into bustling communities once again. And instead of waging war against Moros, i.e., the Abu Sayyaf Group in Basilan and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) in Maguindanao, the government waged a more meaningful war – a war against Poverty. These two episodes used what Dr. Samuel Tan’s (1) called ideological weapons to the hilt to gain the hearts of the Moro audience.

The documentary however fails to convince because the military is still shown all over the place and there is really not much improvement on the lives of the people. There was no massive pouring in of infrastructure. Government intervention was limited to building dirt roads, providing the public school with a couple of teachers and the giving of some supplemental food to children. Much of the footage was devoted to the President and her DSWD secretary.

What is interesting in the first episode is the focus on Lantawan Mayor Tahira Ismael Samsawi, a Tausug woman and her vice mayor Felix Dalugdugan, a Christian male. If anything, this shows the high respect given by Moros to their women and even to Christians. While Basilan is 90% Muslim, Christians have been elected to various posts including governor and congressman.


A 15-minute documentary by the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ) titled Behind the Veil gives a poignant portrayal of the horrors of the MNLF war as experienced by Moro women.

This documentary contains many of the prevailing Philippine discourses on the Bangsa Moro and their women. First, it describes the Moros as belonging to 13 ethno-linguistic groups who call Mindanao their home. This definition relegates the Moros to a bunch of disparate groups with Islam as a common denominator. This definition becomes problematic when one comes to the Yakan and Badjao groups, many of whom are not Muslims. This definition also erases the proud history of the Moros who belonged to the Sultanates of Maguindanao, Sulu, Buayan and the Lanao confederacy. These were sovereign states. The first three had treaties with England, Spain, the Netherlands and the U.S. beginning in the 16th century. (Majul:1973, etc.)

The narrator, Ninez Cacho Olivares, explained the MNLF war in the 1970s, noting that some 100,000 Moros died in that war, while half a million fled Mindanao. Then she says, “Through all these, the Moro women kept silent vigil.” A few seconds later, she says, “In the 1970’s, these women went to war.” The documentary then features a series of Moro women recounting their experiences as MNLF fighters in the 1970s. One is led to ask, “Did the Moro women keep silent vigil or were they as noisy as their guns?”

The narrator says: “In the 1990s, we see them as shapeless figures in long loose dresses, their faces behind veils, their ways bound by strict codes of Islam.” Again, one can infer that an accusing finger is pointed at Islam for its “strict codes” that bind (read: dis-empower) women.

Is that how the Christians saw the Moro women in the 1990s? A Tausug senator, Santanina Rasul was a senator until 1992 and is still nationally active today. She does not wear a veil. Her daughter is now running for senator, a national office. She does not wear a veil. A Maranao woman won a national beauty pageant in the 1990s. She did not and still does not wear a veil.

What is the definition of a veil? Nowadays, it is customary for people to call a scarf that covers one’s head and shoulders a veil. Bandanas, a common accessory among Filipino women until the 1960s, would now be called a veil. Even if one calls bandanas or scarves veils, there would be nothing behind these scarves-cum-veils.

But the title of the documentary is “Behind the Veil”. And the narrator says, “…their faces behind veils.” Yet of all the interviewees, only 2 wore veils that covered their faces. And these two were deputy commanders of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front’s (MILF’s) Women’s Auxiliary Brigade.

The difference between the MNLF and the MILF is not only their second letters. The government calls the former “moderate” and the latter “fundamentalist”. The first usually signifies uncovered faces while the second signifies covered faces.

In the Moro society, or even in the Muslim world, less than one percent of the women cover their faces. And in the Philippines, many of those who cover their faces are not even Moros – they are Christians converted to Islam. One other interviewee who had her face covered in the PCIJ documentary was Babylynn Omar. Judging from her name, accent and phrasing of words, one can infer that she is a convert.

Again, the Orientalist view of the Muslim woman as a second-class, even unthinking being, is perpetuated by this documentary. Veiled (veil-covered faces) women are shown training for war – dismantling weapons, shooting with long arms, etc. Yet the narrator goes on to say that although trained for war, these women will never go to war; they know they have a place in the jihad but they cannot fight alongside their men. Contradictions abound.

To cement the portrayal of a Muslim woman as a second-class citizen, an MILF woman cadre says, “Women are not allowed to decide on their own. We follow the decisions of men.” Fortunately, a former MNLF woman says, “War is always an option and women will be there with their men.”

Undoubtedly there are many chauvinist Muslims as there are chauvinist Christians and those of other faiths. But it is not true that Muslim women cannot fight with the men. Aisha, the widow of the Prophet, led an army to fight for what she believed in. And there are many Muslim women in history who were leaders and queens. Sulu was ruled twice by women – Sitti Kabira (Pangyan Ampay) and Dayang Dayang Hadja Piandao.

Even how well-intentioned a documentary or a film is, somehow, the Moros come out second best. This is because of the non-Muslim’s or non-Moro’s lack of awareness of the different nuances in Islamic and Moro culture, history, politics and general environment.


A very pro-Moro documentary was produced by the Philippine Human Rights Information Center titled Bangsamoro: Isang Sulyap sa Kanilang Pakikibaka. The left-leaning organization went out with their guns blazing in this documentary. The villain in this documentary is the government. As the narrator said, “Nilinaw ng MNLF na ang kanilang kalaban ay ang Philippine government, hindi ang masang Kristiyano.” (The MNLF made it clear that the enemy is the government, not the Christian masses.)

This 30-minute documentary correctly puts the present conflict in proper historical context although its research on history is a bit awkward. For example, it exaggerated the strength of Sultan Qudarat of Maguindanao. The documentary made him into a veritable Alexander the Great or Genghis Khan. It said that Qudarat’s territory covered Mindanao, Sulu, Borneo, Sabah, Celebes, Cebu and many others including China.

The portion on the Badjaos of Batangas did not seem to be in synchrony with the rest of the story. It portrayed a group of Badjaos who sailed from Zamboanga during the height of the conflict and settled on the shores of Batangas.

Some Badjaos are Muslims and many are not. The Christian producers do not seem aware of that so they try to give their own explanation. They think all Badjaos are Muslims. To explain the apparent “non-Muslimness” of the Badjaos, a Christian professor explains that the Badjaos’ concerns center on daily survival so that they hardly know Islam. The narrator says that some people do not consider the Badjaos as belonging to the Bangsa Moro. She further says that the Badjaos are discriminated upon by both the Christians and the Moros.

To corroborate the ideas of the professor, the interviewer then asks a Badjao couple if they know the Bangsa Moro. (“Alam nyo ba ang Bangsa Moro?”) The couple, who have Muslim names, could not understand the logic of the question. The guy answers, “Kami ang mga Moros.” (We are the Moros.) The interviewer then asks in Tagalog, “What do you know of the Bangsa Moro?” The couple answer, “Kasama namin. Pareho namin.” (Our colleagues. Like us.) The couple were obviously perplexed at the question.

The scene then goes to a Badjao woman with a Christian name and born in Batangas. She says she remembers nothing of Mindanao. Yet she and a couple of colleagues dance a Moro dance, the Sama version of the pangalay.

It was obvious that the producers and director do not know what to make of the Badjaos.

The documentary correctly points out that the Moros are disappointed with the concept of autonomy and that they are asking for their right to self-determination.

Betraying their leftist biases, the documentary-makers pointed out that the real terrorists are the Americans who, as early as the 1900’s, massacred thousands of Moro men, women and children.

The leftists are also very particular about the “numbers game”. They insist that the Moros are a minority in Mindanao (therefore, they cannot dictate their future.) According to the narrator, there were only 2.5 million Moros left in Mindanao in 1990 although the Moros numbered 14 million at the height of the conflict. The Mindanao problem is also a statistics problem.

Whatever its flaws, this documentary tries to present the Moro situation from the point of view of the Moros. However, it is quite unfortunate that not many will see this documentary as the producers do not intend to air it on national TV due to budgetary constraints.


In 2002, a documentary on the Battle of Bayang was shown on national TV to commemorate the battle’s centennial. Writer / reporter Howie Severino must have believed he had a “scoop” when he found a man claiming to be an eyewitness to the event one hundred years ago. The man was supposed to be 112 years old. But the way he talked, walked and moved could not make him more than 80 years old.

It is normal for people to exaggerate the age of the elderly. When my grandmother was in her 80s, people thought she was 100 years old. Even my own cousins still think that their father died in the 1970s when he was 100 years old or so. I know that it was not so because my grandfather was the elder brother, and he was born ca. 1898.

One interviewee said that only five men survived the Battle of Bayang. Severino did not even ask how five men could populate Bayang so fast in three or so generations. Presumably, all the able-bodied men of Bayang fought at that time. How could there be so many clans in Bayang today if only five men were left in 1902? This writer’s great-grandfather, al faqih Sheikh Yahya ibn Hadi, an Arab jurist from the Sultanate of Lahej in Yemen, survived the Battle of Bayang with his children. His descendants now number in the hundreds. He was not one of the five men mentioned.

(Although my great-grandfather was a faqih (jurist) and not a warrior, I am sure he was inside the cotta because in the discussion with the Americans before the fight, a faqih would be important. Also, the Americans brought with them an Afghani to act as interpreter. The Afghani probably spoke Arabic.  Before the battle, the Americans demanded that the Sultan of Bayang follow the law. The Sultan answered that he followed only the law of the Sultan of Turkey, the Caliph. Needless to say, in the realm of law, a faqih is needed.)

If Severino read the historical accounts of the Battle, he would have known that there were many survivors. The battle ended because of mis-communication. When the Sultan of Bayang was slain, the people put up the white flag signifying the death of the Sultan. The Americans thought it was the flag of surrender so they ceased firing and sent their negotiating team.

The Bayang warriors were confused. They were angry because the reinforcements from other camps did not arrive and were crestfallen because of the death of the Sultan and leading datus. Thus, they decided to leave the fort instead and fight another day.

There was no surrender. There was no annihilation of the people of Bayang.
It appears that in all these documentaries, there is need for more research work, especially when it comes to history.


1 Tan, Samuel K. (2000) Three Wars and the President Kasarinlan Vol. 15, No. 2 University of the Philippines, pp. 221-226


POSTSCRIPT: Dec. 3, 2011

As part of my answer to Howie Severino’s comment below, here is a photo of my grandfather Sheikh Ismail ibn al faqih Sheikh Yahya ibn al faqih Sheikh Hadi taken in the 1930s. Does he think that this gentleman, who was around 12 years old during the Battle of Bayang, would not have any identification as to proof of age?

My grandfather
Sheikh Ismail ibn al faqih Sheikh Yahya ibn al faqih Sheikh Hadi

5 thoughts on “Moros in Video Documentaries

  1. Hi Datu Abbas,

    Thank you for mentioning my documentary in your blog. For the sake of the historical record, I’d like to pursue your discussion of disputed points in the documentary.

    Re: the old man, Hadji Salic Mangursao, of Biabi in Upper Bayang — I know that he seemed strong for his age, but residents and family members all vouched that he was the last surviving witness of the battle of Bayang. He did not of course have documentary proof like a birth certificate, like most his age. But he described those times in detail. Phyllis Marie S. Teanco, a history professor at the Mindanao State University-Iligan Institute of Technology (MSU-IIT), relied on his accounts of the battle for her doctoral dissertation.

    As for accounts of the Battle of Bayang, I read Peter Gowing’s account as well as several others, visited with historians in MSU in Marawi, and interviewed scholar Prof. Teanco, a leading expert on the Battle of Bayang.

    “If Severino read the historical accounts of the Battle, he would have known that there were many survivors.”

    May I know these “historical accounts of the Battle” so that I may be enlightened?

    Many thanks, and I am happy for your interest in this event.

    howie severino


  2. Hi Howie,

    I’m sorry that I couldn’t help but criticize your documentary.
    Re: 5 survivors
    I am (from my maternal side) from Bayang. According to a man in your video, only 5 (or 7?) people remained in Bayang after the fight. That was quite shocking to me. What happened to my great-grandfather and his sons then?

    Even if he meant survivors of the cotta, it would still not account for my great grandfather. He was a recognized faqih (jurist) from South Arabia (Yemen) and must have been inside the fort because there were negotiations with the Americans. The Americans brought with them an Afghani (from Afghanistan), who was residing in Maguindanao, as interpreter. Presumably, the Afghani spoke Arabic and not Maranao. Also, the Americans were insisting on following the law. My great-grandfather was an Arab and a jurist so his presence inside the fort could be presumed. Besides, he came from the Sultanate of Lahej, an autonomous sultanate in Yemen recognized by the British and is a world traveler. My grandfather, al-Faqih Yahya ibn Hadi also known as Imam Yahya or Shaykh sa Yaman, was not new to international conflicts as Lahej had to use its entire means to maintain independence from the Zaydi Imams of Yemen, from the Ottoman Empire and from the British Empire. His advice would be needed in discussion with the Americans. Besides, by marrying into Bayang royalty, he became part of the House of Bayang and thus duty-bound to defend it.

    According to your informant (in Teanco’s paper), an imam delivered a sermon inside the fort on the eve of the battle. That imam could only be Imam Yahya. And he survived.

    Even in Gowing’s Mandate in Moroland, he wrote that there were some 600 Moro warriors inside the fort and only 300-400 were killed. More than 200 are certainly far from 5 or 7. By saying that there were only 5 or 7 survivors, you attempt to erase the lives and memories of so many who were in that Battle.

    Re: Age of Informant – 112 years old

    The old man you interviewed claimed to be 112 years old and was practically an eyewitness to the event. You cannot simply say “He did not of course have documentary proof like a birth certificate, like most his age.” If he were truly that old, he would be a contemporary of my grandfather and granduncle, the sons of Sheikh Yahya. My grandfather, Sheikh Ismail (ibn) Yahya (a.k.a. Shaykh sa Yaman like his father), who died before World War II, had TONS of evidentiary documents about his age – land registrations, business holdings, government posts, cedulas, international travel documents (he went to Mecca in 1922 to meet his father), other official documents and even photographs.

    Did you ask to see any official documents from the old man like travel documents, voter’s registration, IDs or even cedula dated 1920s, 1930s or even 1940s and where his age at that time would be indicated?

    More than 100 years of life and no evidentiary documents to substantiate it? Impossible!

    Re: Phyllis Marie S. Teanco of MSU-IIT

    I’ve read her paper “The Battle Of Bayang Recounted After A Century: Maranao Perspective” from the web. On its face, it would not stand in any court of law as far as evidence goes. Historical and academic papers, as a general rule should be able to defend itself against any courts of law or bars of opinion.

    The age of his “witness” is doubtful and absolutely unsubstantiated by any evidentiary document. Besides, he was not even an eyewitness but merely relied on his father’s stories. Therefore, it is simply hearsay. Plus, there are some factual mistakes which can be proven by simple logic and simple facts like the number of survivors (big, big mistake) and the naming of the cotta as Padang Carbala and the sermon on Padang Carbala BEFORE the Battle began. No leader would try to inspire their men to fight by reminding them of historical battles where the heroes were massacred unless they knew that it was a hopeless fight. But from all American accounts, there was no such indication. On the contrary, the people of Bayang were very confident.

    The sermon on the historical Carbala could have been made only by my great-grandfather, who was all too familiar with it as most of Yemen was at that time ruled by the Zaydi imams. Carbala is a sacred event among the Shi’as and the Zaydis were Shi’as. Besides, it was the most logical choice for a sermon after – not before – a disastrous battle.

    Next time you make a documentary on the Bangsa Moro, I would be glad to be of help.

    Coincidentally, I just uploaded an article on the Battle of Bayang in my other blog — Reflections on the Bangsa Moro


    Jamal Ashley


  3. I got excited after reading Jamal Ashley’s comments on the video documentary about Padang Karbala. I have lately been following Padang Karbala’s story. I visited Bayang last week as part of the historical journey activity for the Mindanao Week of Peace. I became greatly interested in the story, which nobody can tell me of some details. I read Teanco’s account but it is a bit subjective. But of course, it expresses how the people of Bayang felt and it also presents the story on the Maranao’s point of view.

    I got a picture of the fort’s attack from an account of a soldier who was part of the mountain battery, and also from US reports. Somehow, some points coincide, except for the number of survivors that Jamal pointed out.

    I hope that some experts would continue to piece together the story of the battle of Bayang, as many details are lost.

    I would like to post some points here which I hope Jamal Ashley or other readers could give some insights.

    An account of an American soldier said that in the morning of May 3, 2 Moro warriors dashed out from the Fort Pandapatan and tried to kill the americans. They were shot dead. The Americans later found out that the two were the Sultan of Bayan himself, and his brother, Raja Muda Bayan. If the American story is true, then the Moro at the fort could not have raised the flag for their fallen Sultan?

    I learned that Maranao forts surrendered by sending their red flags to the Americans, which the historical accounts never mentioned that the warriors in Padang Karbala did.

    Yes, there must be more that 200 Moro who survived the battle, excluding the women and children who fled.

    I wish I had a way to watch Severino’s documentary.

    Stories of the past make us understand what is happening today.


  4. Hi Boyet,

    Historiography is not a complicated matter if one merely uses logic. The Sultan and the Rajah Muda would not be idiotic to be the first to run out and attack the enemy. Moro forts, like most forts in the world, are primarily DEFENSIVE. Defenders usually wait fire their weapons – cannons, arrows, rocks, etc. — at the enemies. They do not go out of the forts to attack one by one.

    And there were no surrender flags sent. I have never heard of a red flag as a symbol of surrender.

    And even IF the Sultan himself were the one who charged outside with a view to kill the enemies singlehandedly, the people inside the fort could have still raised the white banners — which were signs of mourning, not surrender.

    There are a billion things still needed to be written about Philippine history. I just hope people do not try to RE-WRITE Moro history just as Philippine history has been re-written — from Magellan’s death and the massacre of his companions by Rajah Humabon to the Philippine Revolution of 1898 and the Philippine-American War.


    Jamal Ashley


  5. I saw a painting in agakhan museum in msu marawi depicting a Spanish attack on Kuta Marahui. Many sources say, including Jamalashley’s comments, that the Maranaos never come out of their kuta during a seige. I believe this is true. But the painting in Agakhan museum shows the Maranao fighting with the Spaniards outside of the kuta. Anybody could check on that? or maybe the one who conceptualized the painting has a basis.


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