DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/14 April) — For almost more than four decades, we were made to believe that there was such thing as a Bangsa Moro nation – a nation of “unconquered people,” a nation that fought the colonial powers of the Spanish and United States for several centuries. But this view about history has become the reality to most of us. With more than 5 million Filipino Muslims in our country today, how many of us really see this as a reality?
I see the history of Mindanao and its people having at least two stories. First story, which is now the mainstream basis of looking at the Muslims is the Bangsamoro “narrative.” This is a story that leads to a political identity, a creation of young activists the likes of Prof. Nur Misuari and Chairman Salamat — imagined nation and state that was valid in the 1960s – 1980s because the Philippine state during the time of Marcos was set to annihilate the Filipino Muslims. This was also supported by the academic work of Cesar Majul, the Moro Wars, and the story of Tri-People in Mindanao. Thus, most of us viewed a monolithic Muslim people in Mindanao, the Bangsa Moro narrative.
Again, I would like to reiterate that we were made to believe that: “the Moro struggle for freedom and self-determination is the longest and bloodiest in the entire history of mankind”. However, history and thorough research will show us that this is not the truth about our people. There is a different truth viewed by people like me whose ancestors are coming from the Sultanate of Maguindanao and Sultanate of Bugasan of the Iranun nation.
As much as I do not question or contradict the Bangsamoro narrative, I would like to raise the question, “is there such a thing as Muslim nationalism? Is the struggle of our forefathers in defense of homeland?” Our answer is – there never was a Mindanao Muslim nationalist struggle. The struggle of our ancestors was in defense of their religion and way of life. The Spaniards came to Christianize the “uncivilized” Moros. So our forefathers fought them. The Americans came, not to impose a new religion but a new order. So they were welcomed, at first. But, when they introduced new laws that threatened our forefathers’ way of life and economy (slavery and datuism), there arose the conflict. Thus, we can ask, when did the Bangsamoro identity emerge and become popular? It was only at the time of Chairman Nur Misuari of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) that this consciousness emerged. It was to fight Marcos dictatorship that seemed to inherit the colonial move of the Spaniards and the US. As a reaction, the Bangsa Moro had a monolithic view of the Philippine state. A state ruled by Christians, with the same view and objective of colonizing the Muslim peoples or Islamized peoples of Mindanao.
I come from a different generation of Islamized peoples of Maguindanao. I am direct descendant of the Royal House of Maguindanao and Sultanate of Bugasan. I am an Iranun by birth and by self ascription. I was once an active member of the Bangsamoro Student League (BMSL). But I transcended that political identity and accepted that I am a citizen of this Republic. Thus, I define my identity as a Filipino citizen, belonging to the Iranun ethnolinguistic group, a Muslim, and a resident of the proposed Bangsamoro political entity.
I have high respects for the MNLF and Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) founders and their people. They viewed a different reality about our history and our people. But we share the same view of helping our people and fighting the status quo of localized oppression.
The Bangsamoro for me must not be viewed a monolithic or homogenous people. It is very much complex. In this 21st century, we need to have updated discourses about our people and about Mindanao. Our story is yet to unfold. As a people that traces our history beyond the year 1521 (when Christianity started in our islands) or in the 13th century (when Islam became our religion and way of life).
I envision that we will have new narratives. A narrative that will tell our children and their children’s children of our story on how we developed as a nation. Fighting the evils of graft and corruption at all levels, adapting to the global changes of our environment and our world.
Lastly, the dilemma faced by the Filipino Muslims (at least 5 million residents of our country) in the 21st century is how to preserve our culture in the face of pervasive cultural influence coming from the West, the Philippine state, in media, and in the academe. At the same time, the intra-Muslim challenge is to protect it against the incursion of Islamist extremism and Moro pseudo-nationalism.
In short, we are faced with a dilemma as to the preservation of our identity, assertion of our right to self-determination; ensuring our cultural, if not political autonomy.
(MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Mussolini Sinsuat Lidasan delivered this piece during the “Conversations on Peacebuilding in Mindanao” organized by the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines’ Episcopal Commission on Inter-religious Dialogue and the Catholic Educational Association of the Philippines on April 9 at the Ateneo de Davao University. Lidasan is Executive Director of the Al Qalam Institute of the same university)