CRUCIBLE: Moro Dialectic and RP-Malaysia’s Unwritten Rule

QUEZON CITY (MindaNews / 30 March) — We would supposedly talk about the recently held Arab Summit in Kuwait. It is thought that said event spoke volume of the dynamics in the Arab world today. It is a source of immense lessons. But the signing of the Comprehensive Agreement on Bangsamoro (CAB) on March 27 prods us to highlight too certain lessons, although we had initially underscored some of them in many of our previous khutbah (discourses) including our preliminary discussion of the term “Moro dialectic” of history.

Moro dialectic

By that, we mean, the seeming feature of our history where there is frequency of contrasts, at times, unity reflecting cooperation, sometimes contestation, that would evolve into a higher form of relations, but which its major feature remains the same: so that the whole process would appear cyclical with major actors simply playing similar, at times, reversed roles in their attempt to bring forth or advance their struggle. While they seem to be simply engaged in a cycle, there is a feeling that, at least, a step is taken. Although we do not know if they are moving two steps forward, one step backward; or two steps backward, one step forward. The signing of the Agreement on March 27 is symbolic of an unceasing dialectic that has continuously characterized Moro history.

As you understand, I have to speak a bit philosophical because the issue is not only sensitive; today’s political current is very much alive. We are not talking of history of old; we are talking of history in the making.  So I would like to say that when we are able to mention names, please note that these are simply incidental into our attempt to draw lessons; they are not intended to criticize or to advance an agenda or to put one over another.

Kitab al-iba

As you have noted, we have been consistent with our view that our anchor in understanding history is no less than the concept or principles of qasas (story) and ibra (lessons) more particularly the Qur’anic injunction that reminds the need to learn lessons in history. One of which reads:

“Do they not travel through the earth, and see what was the end of those before them (Yusuf: 109)?”

That is, we have to learn lessons from our past and draw instructions so that these can help to develop ourselves. In the same surah of surah Yusuf, the above-mentioned verse is interspersed by another verse and followed with the emphasis to learn from history, when the Qur’an says:

“There is in their stories instructions for men endued with understanding. It is not a tale invented but a confirmation of what went before it, a detailed exposition of all things and a guide and mercy to any such believe (Yusuf: 111).”

The concept of ibra was mentioned six times in the Qur’an as we noted in our previous khutbah. What is important to emphasize this time is ibra as instruction is not only used as a way to learn lessons from history. It is also a method in understanding nature or movement in creation whether big or small. For instance, the Qur’an says:

“And verily in cattle too will you find an instructive sign (Al-Imran: 66). “

In another verse, the Qur’an says:

“It is God who alternates the night and day. Verily in these things is an example for those who have visions (Nur: 44).” 

In other words, from both microcosmic and macrocosmic aspects of creation, men are enjoined to learn lessons and draw instructions.

In fact, at certain point, the Qur’an would appear very strong to mean of ibra not only as instruction but also as warning. The Qur’an says:

“But God doth support with his aid whom He pleaseth and this is a warning for such as have eyes to see (Al-Imran: 13).”

The above-mentioned verses of the Qur’an have been our anchor as we had long been engaged in the discourse of history both past and present. And we are guided with Ibn Khaldun’s work, the “Kitab al-ibar” also known as the “Muqaddimah.” The whole phrasing of his work is: “kitab al-ibar wa d-diwana l-mubtada wa l-habar fii ayyami l-arabi wa l-ajam wa l-barbara  wa man asarahum min duwi s-sultana l-akbar.” (Books of Lessons and Archives of Early and Subsequent History Dealing with the Political Events Concerning the Arabs and Non-Arabs and Berbers in the Supreme Rule Who Where Contemporary with Them).

This is our way so that we won’t deviate from the concepts, principles, and methods of ibra in the Qur’an that the Great Ibn Khaldun had enunciated in the case of social dynamics, politics of dynasties, and rise and fall of civilizations before and during his time.

As we speak of our contemporary Moro history, it entails certain difficulty because as a history in the making, it is inevitable that we are able to mention some names and issues, which from certain myopic or parochial perspectives may be interpreted that we are engaged in some personal attack or something. But, to reiterate, as you have noted in your years in attending our Jum’ah congregation, we have been consistent; we don’t have any agenda except to deduce lessons and instructions so that we elevate our understanding of things.

Jabidah Massacre

To begin with, it must be said that Moro dialectic does not happen in a void. There are conditions into which Moro history has hardly moved forward and simply rotated in a cycle because the tension between traditional society and nation-state system continuously characterized it. There were, in many instances, attempts to break the cycle with the rise of liberation movements through the Moro fronts. But the two systems and their attendant tensions are so entrenched that Moro fronts could hardly wade through and muster to change old social structure. There were triggers in the rise of new inertia with the formation of Moro movements. One of which was the Jabidah Massacre.

It is not incidental that the signing of the Comprehensive Agreement on Bangsamoro came with the prelude commemorating just 10 days ago the Jabidah Massacre in March 18. Incidentally, I received five invitations from different institutions and agencies inviting me to participate in the commemoration of the Jabidah Massacre. What surprised me is the variety of institutions with varying interpretations of that event. There was even an invitation from the US Embassy, although it is not directly related to March 18 commemoration as it was just probably a coincidence for me to join a group tour in the USS Blue Ridge anchored at the Manila Bay. There was also an invitation from a Mindanao-based NGO and another one from the Moro National Liberation Front. I did not attend them. I thought I could hardly resolve the variety of interpretations that come out from supposedly triggering event in the rise of Muslim struggle in the Philippines.

Instead, what I did was to look for major materials about the Jabidah Massacre in my small library at home. I have identified a number of them. Two military officials wrote about it. The “The Mindanao Story: Troubled Decades in the Eye of the Storm (2004)” of Maj. General Delfin Castro underlined the issue of Sabah in the rise of Moro struggle, but not an instance where Jabidah Massacre was mentioned in that almost 700-page book. I browsed too Cesar Pobre’s “History of the Armed Forces of the Filipino People (2000).” It has around 800 pages. There are many stories about the exploit of the Armed Forces of the Philippines in Mindanao and Sulu, but not a single word or page that mentioned the Jabidah Massacre. I came to the conclusion that Jabidah Massacre must have been a no-no being mentioned in the military institution of the country.

I also tried to survey some objective academic works like those of Dr. Cesar Adib Majul’s and Dr. Samuel Tan’s and so on. The Jabidah issue was given certain highlights but only as short introduction in their treatises. Hence, I looked for more journalistic sources. Marites Vitug’s “Under the Crescent Moon: Rebellion in Mindanao” underscored in the first chapter the Jabidah Massacre. Lo and behold! The finding is that most of the documents about the Jabidah Massacre have already been lost or burned. While there were still some interesting findings presented, yet the writer and her co-writer accepted Former Executive Secretary Alejandro Melchor’s recommendation “to put a closure into this chapter in our history.”

I looked for yet another source, the book of Arnold Azurin, “Beyond the Cult of Dissidence in Southern Philippines and War-torn Zones in the Global Village (1996).” I was around when the author presented the book’s findings sometime in the mid 1990s. The book was perceived then a bit conspiratorial that the academic community hardly noticed it. After reading it again, the book can be considered as quite creative and adventurous. It identified the critical role of what he spoke too as dialectic in Mindanao history. One of the crucial phases of such historical dialectic is the role of both the Philippines and Malaysia in the formation of what Azurin referred to as “cult of dissidence” in southern Philippines. In fact, I would love to talk to Azurin again as he is also a friend. It’s good to know his reading with contemporary unfolding reflective of the new cycle, with new players taking different roles: formerly outside, now inside; with another group formerly inside now outside of the political process and other more groups continuously mutating while others in the offing.

This in our view somehow underscores not only the cycle, but also the sensitivity faced by authors when they examine critical junctures of Moro history.

Beyond herd politics

Indeed, it is easy to follow what I call the impulse of the politics of the herd – to join the euphoria given the fact that we had long suffered; thus even a small opening of what maybe viewed as a victory then we need to taste it; we need to experience it. But given the political current and the continuing cycle we have been into, we also could not help but discern deeper into our history and politics.

This is not to raise myself, but to impress on you the difficulty in balancing or coming up with a balanced perspective while sensitive to diverse voices as I could hardly manage engaging the public sphere with one media with another and yet another asking endless questions on things that have something to do with Moro history, government policy, programs, and so on. I’d long felt the need to ponder our fate and our history defined by such condition – the contestation between traditional society and nation state system including the rise of liberation movements that have to wade through, at times, even change course, change vision in the process and adopt and re-adopt strategies and tactics that often differ from each another and from one period with another.

We could easily fall into the rhetoric of those standing on the perch of power as their language appears to delineate and polarize us more, although we commend the statement of Prime Minister Najib Razak with his rather calibrated and conscious recognition and sensitivity when he hailed the new agreement as a vision for the future rather than a hold or nostalgia of the past, notwithstanding the continuing commitment, he said, of Malaysia to continuously help in Mindanao. We also appreciate the humility and the statement of Moro Islamic Liberation Front Chair Al-haj Murad with his recognition of past and present Mujahideen (freedom fighters) in the liberation movements and his invitation to other groups to join the process. Per their experience, he said, the CAB is the best offer they could get.

Engaging in rhetoric especially if one is standing on the position of power could spark more emotions rather than bring more people into the vision of peace. But this is not something new in the history of the Moro struggle. In fact, we have been almost travelling in a kind of roller coaster then and now; we’d being made to hope incessantly only to be frustrated and to suffer despair at the end many times. We were there in similar situations in the 1970s, 1980s, 1990s, and 2000s. These are numerous episodes of cycle in our history. Yet, history should not be viewed as something unimportant in the formation of our selves and the nation. History, in fact, must be viewed as a canvas – it shapes us and it shapes our values and determines the kind of persons we are. Hence, history as a source of instructions is a not a dead fact. It is a living instrument into which we are able to gauge our selves as person and as collective.

History cum philosophy

When I appear to seemingly wax philosophical, this is not incidental because the Great Ibn Khaldun views history as cognate with philosophy. In the foreword of his Muqaddimah – the Meaning of History – Ibn Khaldun wrote:

“History is a discipline widely cultivate among nations and races. It is eagerly sought after. The men in the street, the ordinary people aspire to know it. Kings and leaders vie for it.

Both the learned and the ignorant are able to understand it. For on the surface, history is no more than information about political events, dynasties, and occurrences of the remote past, eloquently presented and spiced with proverbs. It serves to entertain large, crowded gatherings and brings to us an understanding of human affairs. It shows how changing condition affected human affairs, how certain dynasties came to occupy and even wider space in the world, how they settled the earth until they heard the call and their time was up.

The Inner meaning of history, on the other hand, involves speculation and an attempt to get at the truth, subtle explanation of the causes and origins of existing things, and deep knowledge of the how and why of events. (History) therefore is firmly rooted in philosophy. It deserves to be accounted a branch of (philosophy) (p.6).”

Those who have read Ibn Khaldun may oppose my approach that as he was writing in the 14th or 15th century regarding totally different social dynamics involving dynasties and civilizations that seemed too detached from the dynamics of what I refer to as today’s tension of traditional society and contemporary nation-states; hence, to reflect on his work is like bringing the old into the new. But as already known, Ibn Khaldun is a universal man. His work, according to Arnold Toynbee, is one of the greatest works on history and sociology of all times. Hence, distinct locale and situation like the Arab world or, say, the Muslims in the Philippines, while unique individually can be framed along the Khaldunian paradigm. We could use it as guide in drawing lessons and instructions. In other words, Ibn Khaldun’s perspective of history could serve as conceptual or theoretical framework in understanding any kind of history especially those in the Muslim world.

Scholarship and policy

Due to constraint of time, we could not highlight equally important parts of our discourse. The dilemma or difficulty we faced as scholars or public intellectuals is such that social forces posed pressure in such a way that we are enticed to take certain position. I could just reflect on the situation of the late Dean Majul at the University of the Philippines when in the 1960s and 1970s he was faced with how precisely to put together a perspective that is quite sensitive to different orientation and representations. I could empathize what he felt being pulled by varying forces from the left to the right, from front to rear, and so on.

For instance, when the New Society of President Ferdinand Marcos was made to entrench, it was viewed as the birth of a new dawn in Philippine society. In one of his works, “Some Social and Cultural Problems of the Muslims in the Philippines” published in 1976, Dean Majul was prodded to write quite rare from his usual tone and I quote:

“There is no doubt that for the first time in the history of the Filipino people there is now a determined effort to rectify all ills while reconstructing Filipino society in such a manner that Muslims will feel, and likely to be part, of it. But this will involve a process that will take many years.”

The late Dr. Majul hardly takes the side of the State or the liberation movements given the sensitivity of the matter. In this regard, he was almost short of believing in President Marcos’s “New Society,” although he was very alert in saying that the rectification of Philippine society requires certain reconstruction that would have to convince the Muslims in the Philippines that they are part of the system; but yet, he said, it will take a long time. Four years later, Dean Majul resigned or took an early retirement from UP. He went to the United States and continued to write about the Philippines. As we had known, the rectification did not happen. In fact, what happened was all contradictory from the promise of New Society as President Marcos was eventually removed from power years later. The effect of all of these was the continuing saga of Moro struggle proving Majul’s forecast that its resolution will take a long time.

It was not only in the 1970s that there was euphoria like today; it was not only in the 1980s; it was not only in the 1990s, and so on. As we had known, the Muslims in the Philippines continued to suffer working in cycle. It suggests indeed that the dilemma of scholars and public intellectuals on how to underscore history in the making is indeed difficult given the continuing fluxes of State policy, governance and administration, and so on. What is pronounced with Majul and his works is the discerning, almost contemplative attempt to understand Moro history and to learn lessons and to be sensitive and careful with his position as scholar.

Unwritten rule

We could only hope that indeed we are into the new dawn again this time. But as we follow the timetable, this will take many years, with almost no guarantee that the promise will turn out to be what we originally hope for and what we originally aspire. Time can only tell.

Meantime, the lessons we learn may be summed up in two-fold:

One, the tension between traditional society and nation-states continues to reverberate in southern Philippines. Moreover, those who hold power have always been dictating terms on Moro affairs. For instance, the cry of the Sulu Sultanate is understandable in this regard as it tried to test the water in resurrecting the Sabah question a year ago. But the law of nation-states is such that it is national interest that is primordial in the scheme of things in contemporary history.

Even if Muslims in the Philippines are Muslims like those in Malaysia, unfortunately, it is not Islam that primarily dictates the tempo of their relations. It is national interest as defined or dictated by what I termed “unwritten rule” of Philippine-Malaysia relation. I had declared this concept in my lecture at the University of Malaya in Kuala Lumpur during the height of Sabah crisis a year ago. Stated by way of metaphor, the Muslims in the Philippines may be likened to entities in a mat traditionally known as “baluy” or “banig” into which both sides of the mat are held and controlled by the two geopolitical states dictating when and how the mat would be rolled open, when it would be folded up, and how much space would be apportioned to the Moros in the south.

In other words, the visioning of freedom and independence in Mindanao and Sulu has always been adjunct to the interest of both the Philippines and Malaysia as two geopolitical states necessitating both countries to entrench too tight a controlling mechanism to any idea of self-determination that may arise amongst the Moros where they could only aspire and work for such supposedly noble objective and universal values of freedom and political determination within a limited frame defined by two countries’ national interests.

Two, social or liberation movements that rose up in Moro society were undoubtedly product of both domestic and external forces. They could simply not have sustainable of ideology and methodology that would allow them to dictate terms of their fate for their vision of freedom, independence, and self-determination to be realized. They had to swerve from the right to the left many times as they are forced to calibrate ways and means for them to be able to persist. Unless they do that, they would be thrown into oblivion just like that. Their reversal oftentimes happens with their vision and their methods ebbing and flowing, at times, would make them above board and, at times, too, would place them into the altar of public opprobrium.

On both counts, Moro movements will continue to face problems and prospects with new reality from now on until 2016 onward. Their main nemesis or their main enemy is time. Most of the harbingers of Moro struggle are now in their late 60s, 70s and 80s. If only they had the idealism and physical stamina that would allow them to work even in different form and mode with the same enthusiasm and energy, then they could possibly do more and do well.

The implication of this whole drama of Moro struggle is that it will now be the new generations of Moros that would have to push forward their vision or engage in struggle that is consistent with their new found ideals while aware of the dictates of time. This is an interesting time indeed, interesting time to make history anew, and interesting time to learn new lessons. For, what is being crafted today both inside or outside the present dispensation will eventually be left for the next generation of Bangsamoros to bear and to pursue.

[MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. This piece is a slightly revised khutbah transcribed from extemporaneous delivery at the UP Institute of Islamic Studies on 28 March 2014. Julkipli Wadi is Associate Professor of Islamic Studies, University of the Philippines].