ANGAY-ANGAY LANG: Reflections on the Bangsamoro Right to Self-Determination (3)

[My paper written in typewriter when I was a participant at the Eleventh Annual Seminar Session on Mindanao and Sulu Cultures, Dr. Peter Gowing Memorial Research Center, Marawi City April 15 to May 10, 1985; delivered at the First Assembly of Ranao Development Forum, 18-19 May 1985, Marawi City. Slightly revised.]

The MNLF Response: Their View of the Present Moro Situation

ILIGAN CITY (MindaNews / 25 October) — In an article entitled “A Case of Self-Determination” by Abdusarad Asani, reportedly the MNLF Information Director, published in the book Philippines: Repression & Resistance, he states the following as the reasons for their struggle:

  1. That the Philippine presence in the Bangsamoro homeland of Mindanao, Basilan, Sulu and Palawan is colonial and that the Bangsamoro people are illegally deprived of their right to self-determination, freedom and independence.
  2. That such colonial presence and domination bring about and are direct causes of economic exploitation, repression and discrimination of the Bangsamoro people by the Philippine regime and its local and foreign collaborators.
  3. That the Marcos regime in the Philippines is criminally engaged in a diabolical campaign of genocide against the Bangsamoro people.
  4. That the U.S. imperialism, through its persistent support and assistance to the Philippines economically and militarily, is guilty of complicity with the Philippine regime in the commission of such crimes.

In another article, “The Moro Problem in South Philippines”, published in the Asean Review of August 28, 1976, Asani says that  “…colonialism is the root cause of the Moro Problem in South Philippines – a phenomenon that is not after all an exclusive pre-occupation of western nations. The present fighting in the area may be a fight against an established but repressive government. The issue therefore is essentially political in character. Hence it requires primarily a political solution, which calls for the thoroughgoing restructuring of the prevailing Filipino-Moro relation.”

The restructuring referred to here is the separation of the Bangsamoro people from the Republic of the Philippines, the only way as they saw it, to regain the full expression of their “right to self-determination, freedom and independence”, and the establishment of an Islamic state. This, in fact, constitute the MNLF’s ultimate objective.

Their claim over Mindanao, Basilan, Sulu and Palawan as ancestral domain does not become fully comprehensible until we understand what they really mean by “Bangsamoro people”. In their definition, this means a combination of three broad groupings: (a) the thirteen Muslim communities in the said region; (b) the Lumadnon (now Lumad, as the more commonly known) or those we commonly describe today as cultural communities or tribal Filipinos in the same territory, and (c) Christian residents in the same area who are sympathetic to the Moro (Muslim) cause. And by way of an assurance to non-Muslim citizens of the projected Bangsamoro Republik, the following is stated in the MNLF April 1974 Manifesto:

“That those Filipinos who may wish to remain in the Bangsamoro National homeland even after independence, shall be welcome(d) and entitled to equal rights and protection with other citizens of the Bangsamoro Republik, provided that they are formally renounce their Filipino citizenship and wholeheartedly accepted Bangsamoro citizenship; their property rights shall be fully respected and the free exercise of their political and cultural rights shall be guaranteed.”

Some Basic Problems Faced by the MNLF

In the course of the MNLF-led struggle, certain basic problems have surfaced both internal and external to the Moro people themselves and which bore heavily on the shoulders of the organization. These are matters which have a direct bearing on the struggle itself; poverty in Moroland;  pressures of tradition; the pagan and Islamic past; relations with other Lumad and Christian populations; the need for a workable model.

Poverty in Moroland

For anyone who has travelled around Mindanao, it does not require much argument to realize the existence of massive poverty among the Moro people, and of widespread maldistribution of wealth. Among the Moros themselves, wealth and income is concentrated in the hands of the few.

While the MNLF has been relatively clear in attributing this situation to Philippine colonialism thereby declaring both the Philippine government and the American imperialists as enemies, it has been relatively silent on those people from within their communities who are “collaborating” with their declared enemies; it has been relatively quiet on those factors which are obstructing efforts at liberation. And this silence is rather strange.

Islam is a central factor in their struggle and the Holy Qur’an is unequivocal on the question of justice and poverty. The prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) comes from a poor family, and the choice of him as the last prophet of Allah is well justified in the Holy Book: “He it is who has sent a messenger amongst the masses from among them”. (62:2)

Those who hoard wealth certainly do not find favour in Allah. Says the Qur’an:

       “(Woe unto) who best gathered wealth and sedulously hoards it thinking that their riches will render them immortal!  By no means! They shall be flung to the Destroying Flame. Would that you knew what the Destroying Flame is like. It is Allah’s own kindled fire, which will rise up the hearts of men. It will close upon them from every side, in towering columns.” (104:2-9)

The Islamic concept of justice is no less clear. It says:

“ O you who believe! Be you staunch in justice, witnesses for Allah, even though it be against yourselves or (your) parents or (your) kindred whether (the case be of) a rich man or poor man, for Allah is nearer unto both (than you are). So follow not passion lest you lapse (from truth)…” (4:135)

And again in another passage, it states:

    “O you who believe! Be steadfast witnesses for Allah in equity, and let not hatred of any people seduce you that you deal not justly. Deal justly, that is nearer to piety. Observe your duty to Allah…”(5:8)

We will recall that in the early years of Islam, particularly when Muhammad (peace be upon him) was still alive, it was this categorical bias for the poor and against the rich that threatened the ruling elite of Mecca, and which prompted them to resort to violence against the infant Islamic community. And about the only thing that delayed their action was the protection of  Muhammad’s uncle. When this protective mantle was gone, the hijrah had to be executed immediately.

Islam at that time, in Mecca and in Medina, was a radical departure from the concrete social conditions obtaining then. It was a social revolution similar to the revolution that the MNLF is waging in Mindanao. The Meccan rich offered inducements, a share of their wealth, in an attempt to stop the prophet from preaching an egalitarian doctrine. When Muhammad (peace be upon him) refused the offer, they went after his neck and those of his flock.

In the Qur’anic  injunction on justice and poverty and in the early traditions of Islam, one can see that democracy was an integral part of the fundamental principles being advocated, and there is thus sufficient doctrinal basis, in Moroland, for a campaign against unequal distribution of wealth. The matter though may not sound so simple if we consider the next item in our discussion.  (MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. A peace specialist, Rudy Buhay Rodil is an active Mindanao historian and peace advocate)