With the aborted MOA-AD between the Philippine government and the MILF still in the news, so many Indio Filipino commentators keep on repeating ad nauseam the myth that the Moros and Indios are both Filipinos since the coming of the Filipino savior, Ferdinand Magellan. Some are even saying that the Moros and Indios have always been one nation since time immemorial.
In the epilogue of their recent book, “Under the Crescent Moon: Rebellion in Mindanao” (Q.C.:2000, 327 pp.), Mesdames Vitug and Gloria wrote: “…the history of East Timor is different from that of Mindanao. East Timor was never considered part of Indonesia until its forcible annexation in 1976. Mindanao was part of the Philippines ever since the Spanish colonizers came and created boundaries in what were formerly trading networks.” The two ladies probably think they are now THE experts in Moro affairs and hence can very well afford to throw around cavalier statements like the above. Christian leaders have also echoed the above statements every time the Moros suggest a referendum à la East Timor.
First of all, the history of Mindanao (and Sulu , Palawan and Sabah, i.e., the historic homeland of the Bangsa Moro) is certainly nothing like that of East Timor. East Timor’s history is closer to that of the Philippines’ (Luzon and Visayas) — the Europeans saw, came and conquered. Period.
Bangsa Moro history is a remarkable chronicle of bravery in war, diplomacy in peace, and most of all, independence from European colonizers. The Bangsa Moro sultanates, which included their vassal states or districts, were free and sovereign and recognized by European powers as such. The numerous treaties and agreements signed between Moro sultanates and European powers are incontestable proofs. In comparison, the so-called Philippine Republic of 1898 was recognized by nobody except the Indios themselves and not even by all of them.
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 200 years 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”).
It is interesting to note that during this time the Spaniards held hostage in Manila the Sulu Sultan, Azim-id Din I and hundreds of his retinue. The Sulu Sultan came to Manila to ask for Spanish help under the Treaty of 1737, which was ratified by him and the Spanish King. Instead, the Spaniards held him captive for 15 years. The Sultan was released by the British during their brief Occupation of Manila.
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.
For some Moros, the war has not yet ended. East Timor and the Philippines do not have an historical past to boast of, unlike the Bangsa Moro sultanates.
The political and economic systems of the sultanates were certainly more complex than East Timor’s or the Indios’ barangay systems. The Dutch anthropologist Ruurdje Laarhoven has this to say about the Maguindanao sultanate:
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 all human 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. (The Maguindanao Sultanate in the 17th Century: Triumph of Moro Diplomacy, New Day Publishers, Q.C. :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 its ascendancy in the region.
Mesdames Vitug and Gloria must be commended for their excellent journalistic work, “Under the Crescent Moon: Rebellion in Mindanao”. But the Moro Problem, or any problem for that matter, can not be completely understood by ascertaining certain facts about contemporary events as perceived by certain people and filtered through the minds of journalists who come from a different and even hostile milieu. And most importantly, a big part of the Moro problem is historical. The history of the Christianized Filipinos (formerly called Indios or Naturales) began only during the Gom-Bur-Za martyrdom. Before that, it was only the history of the Spanish in Southeast Asia. The Filipinos must open their eyes to historical facts if they truly want a lasting and peaceful solution to the problem.
And it is an historical fact that the Bangsa Moro as a whole was never under Spain. The Moros were never subjects of the Spanish Crown, which means that the Moros were never part of the Philippine revolution of 1896 and its so-called Republic in 1898 and that Spain had absolutely no right to include the Bangsa Moro homeland in its cession of its Pacific territories to the United States of America through the Treaty of Paris.
Therefore, Mindanao was illegally annexed by the US and illegally given to the Indios as part of the Philippine Republic in 1946.
During the Age of European colonization, Moroland was unconquered and free. Now, in the age of de-colonization and independent nation-states, Moroland is a colony of the once subjugated Indios – Filipinos. It is a crime against humanity to let some 8 million or more Moros live under the yoke of Indio-Filipino rule just because of a piece of paper signed in Paris by Spaniards and Americans more than one hundred years ago.