ANGAY-ANGAY LANG: Reflections on  the Bangsamoro Right to Self-Determination (4)

[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.]

Part IV
Pressures of Tradition: The Pagan and Islamic Past

The particular case of Lanao will illustrate what we wish to convey.

When Islam arrived in the Philippines, it had long been absorbed in the feudal set up, such that the first Islamic social structure established in Sulu in 1450 was a sultanate. More than one and a half century later, the Maguindanao sultanate was born. All the sultanates in the present day Lanao, more than forty of them, flowed from feudalized Islam.

In the beginning, Islam was a revolutionary force in the lives of the people who became Muslims in the Philippines. It raised their anito-diwata worship to the level of a monotheist belief system; it also brought centralism to what were once fragmented barangay communities. But then later, as with institutions, it became conservative, even reactionary.

How Islam merged into the Maranao people’s pagan past, and vice versa, is clearly illustrated in the story of Indara Patra. The famous Bantugan in Maranao legends descended from Indara Patra. From the Bantugan line emerged the three originators of Pongampong a Bayabao, a pongampong a Onayan and Pongampong a Masiu. Balo’i, the fourth pongampong, is credited with a separate origin. Islam is said to have come to the first three pongampong through Sarip Kabungsuan, and to Balo-i through Sarip Alawi.

With Islam, Maranao genealogical tradition acquired new facets. We are told that some genealogies (salsillah)  start with Adam and Eve, and continue through figures in the old testament as these appear in the Qur’an until the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) is reached. A line is than traced from Muhammad’s daughter, Fatima, through a chain of males, all of whom bear the title of Sarip.  The last in the series is Sarip Ali who migrated to Johore where he married Putri Diasul Asiken, daughter of Iskandar Diukarnine (Alexander the Great), Sultan of Johore. From this marriage came the Petoka Tao a Sarip (the seven sarips) who allegedly brought Islam to Celebes, Borneo and the Philippines. Two of these were Sarip Alawi and Sarip Kabungsuan.

The genealogical tradition is preserved in the salsillah. Legitimacy of membership in Maranao society must, in theory at least, find justification and place in a salsillah. Descent from Sarip Kabungsuan is the source of all ascribed rights and privileges with the pat a pongampong a ranao (the four principalities of Lanao). In the words of one scholar, Melvin Mednick who did extensive research on Maranao society, “All descendants of Sarip Kabungsuan… are of upper class rank and entitled to be called dato, if male, or bai’i, if female. Those who are not descendants of the Sarip are of a lower class status and live within the territorial bounds of the society by arrangement and sufferance.” The same descent line from Sarip Kabungsuan used to trace the descent lines of individuals is called Bangsa. Thus, Mednick observes, “in the widest genealogical sense, the Maranao speak of themselves as being isa ka bangsa (of one descent line.)” (Encampment of the Lake, p. 43)

Now since each descent line is associated with a particular place, it is only logical that certain clans are associated with a particular pongampong. How then are the different pongampong related? The links and genealogical relationships are trace to those which existed between their founding fathers. And in a series of combinations, communities build up into territorial units on and one, until they reach the level of the Pongampong. How such rights and relationships are determined is enshrined in the taritib (codes of protocol and organization). Said to have started in agreements first made by the Maranao ancestors, the taritib is handed down orally and is open to revision by descendants. Clearly delineated are: order of authority, prestige and

On pp. 44-45 of this book, Encampment of the Lake: The Social Organization of a Moslem Philippine (Moro) People,Mednick expounds on the taritib:

      “Taritib in the sense of proper behaviour incumbent upon specific descendants and communities, is sanctioned by a concept of honor and status esteem due to persons and places because of their place within the total society. These notions, termed maratabat,  (Arabic; rank) demand the behaviours and attitudes necessary for the maintenance and recognition of the social position and social honor laid down in the taritib. It is right, duty, and privilege on one side, and an obligation to recognize these on the other, to uphold the taritib. Infractions of the taritib are treated as matters of maratabat and may invoke sanctions. Thus, maratabat, which involves notions of duty, honor, and shame, provides much of the motivation which inspires the performance of roles involved in the pongampong a ranao.”

Now, where does Islam come in? Mednick continues:

    “To the bond created by the network of social relations are added those of belief… In the eyes of the Maranao, the pongampong a ranao, its institutions, its customs, and its beliefs are inspired by Islamic doctrine and derived from Arabic civilization by way of Sarip Kabungsuan. The contention has little basis in fact, which many Maranao recognize, but the idea itself emphasizes an important basis of solidarity within the society. The adherence to a single set of religious beliefs and practices as these, are laid down in the Koran and further codified by a school of Arab legists.”

The taritib must, moreover, be distinguished from other customary forms of conduct and sanction, that is, the adat and the kitab. Adat a Maranao, said Mednick, applies “to all forms of custom thought of as peculiarly Maranao and having the sanction of Maranao tradition,”  which include those involving marriage, birth, death, conflict, etc. The Kitab refers almost to any aspect of Maranao culture. Strictly, speaking though, it has to do with forms of behaviour enjoined by the Qur’an, among them dietary instructions, manner of prayer, fasting, etc. Modifications of changes in the kitab are made through ijma or the reinterpretation of the Holy Book. These usually involve matters affecting inheritance, divorce, etc.

Although, the bangsa, salsillah, taritib and maratabat govern Maranao life. And it is also within the context of these social institutions that we must attempt to comprehend the social structure that obtains within the pat a pongampong a ranao. We refer to the relationship between the datu class, the sakop class and the bisaya or slave class.   Mednick insists that the class system in Lanao is in a state of disappearance. This is certainly true if he is merely referring to the traditional class system. It has definitely suffered erosion as a result of external forces like the American colonial system and the present day arrangement imposed by the Philippine government. The slave system is virtually gone from the scene and classes similar to those in Luzon and the Visayas have emerged.  But whatever these new emergent social classes are, we have to recognize that Maranao life possesses its own unique features. Islam is an essential part of this unique character. As we have noted earlier, Islam in its feudalized form has both reinforced and sanctioned the Maranao social structure and the entire way of life as well. Considering that the class system, claimed to have divine sanction, is practically interchangeable with the unjust system of unequal distribution of wealth, we can thus imagine the difficulty confronting any political organization that seeks to bring about revolutionary change.

We are not sure the pagan past, the social structure and Islam are combined in other parts of Moroland, but scattered reports and studies reveal a similarity with that of the Maranao.  We can actually point to the datu or the clan system as a common denominator among all Moro groups.

How did the datu or clan system affect the MNLF struggle? From scattered reports and observations we can deduce that in the rise and fall of the MNLF-led struggle, the clan system certainly offered what we can call a built in mechanism against the forces of “Philippine colonialism”; it provided a natural mass base for the mujahideen. And on this stage, to a certain extent may be credited the meteoric rise of the struggle as well as its survival to the present. But President has proved himself “an enemy” to reckon with. Supported by the US government, he fought the Bangsamoro Army toe to toe. His foreign relations policy virtually cut off the MNLF’s conduit of foreign assistance, e.g. through border security agreements with Indonesia and Malaysia, through diplomatic agreements with select Middle East countries. Government agents worked on loyal Muslim datus to exert pressure on other datus who were supportive of the MNLF. The result was not only a split in the ranks of the MNLF, signalled by the emergence of the Bangsa Moro Liberation Organization in 1978, but also a change of stance on the part of Islamic countries from full support to the resolution of the conflict within the national sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Republic of the Philippines.

That the clan system cracked open and led to mass surrenders revealed unmistakably that the clan’s strength is also the MNLF’s soft belly, at least one of the major ones. And so the organization declined considerably. It seems now that one major; factor that can help its revival is its ability to rise above, transcend the clan structure and this certainly implies a redirection in their organization efforts, something that will rely more on the democratic forces, the poor among the Moros in general. It also means a re-assessment of Moro history, the role that Islam played in the process, also those of the Moro datus as compared to the broad masses. Then, perhaps, the MNLF could lead the struggle towards the genuine liberation of the broad masses of the Moro people, and not only from the external forces of oppression and exploitation but from those within the Moro society itself as well.

We can certainly imagine the problem involved if the step towards redirection is made. In the light of Qur’anic  injunctions  on poverty and justice, the MNLF may have to speak categorically against the datu or clan system. It means overhauling the clan system of relationships long held as sacred by tradition. It means questioning the very foundations of the various Moro communities. It means, as in the particularly case of Lanao, shaking the salsillah, the taritib, the bangsa, the very foundations of maratabat, and infusing these with concepts and theories that would go against the grain of tradition. The shockwaves such a move would create can be terrifying in magnitude. And yet it seems that such a move is inevitable on the part of the MNLF. And any Moro group for that matter which seeks to liberate the Moro people from its present state of oppression. (MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. A peace specialist, Rudy Buhay Rodil is an active Mindanao historian and peace advocate)

TOMORROW: Relations with Other Lumad and Christian Populations