ANGAY-ANGAY LANG: The Minoritization of the Indigenous Communities of Mindanaw and Sulu (9)

(Done in 1992 at Iligan City, published initially as two versions. First as the abbreviated edition published by The Minority Rights Group, London entitled The Lumad and Moro of Mindanaw, July 1993. The Philippine edition carrying the full draft was printed by AFRIM in Davao City 1994. This was later updated in 2003, summarized in an epilogue. This is the third revision, now with an expanded Epilogue.)

Part IX

Early Moves Towards Recovery of Self-Determination

When armed resistance died down, Moro leaders in what appeared to be early experiments in parliamentary struggle, continued to articulate and revive the issue of self-determination.

In 1921, for example, 52 Moro datus and five Americans — four of whom were residents of Sulu and one had served there for many years and intended to be one — addressed a petition to the President of the United States requesting that should independence be granted to the northern provinces of the Philippines, “it is the desire of the people of Sulu that Sulu Archipelago be made permanent American territory of the United States of America”, that law and order be maintained by American troops, and finally, that “we, the people of Sulu guarantee that we ourselves will maintain law and order in the event our territory is made a part of the American nation”.

This was a curious petition because while there was express resistance to becoming assimilated with the Philippines, there was at the same time an even more manifest desire to become integrated into the United States of America. Of course, the presence of five American signatures renders the petition suspect. But not quite so, if placed within the perspective of a subsequent document from Lanao.

A similar petition was sent to President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1935 by 120 Meranaw datus of Lanao lead by Hadji Bogabong. Like those in Sulu, these expressly sought to remain under the tutelage of the American government, if and when this would grant independence to the Philippines.

Freedom Through Congress?

As early as 1961, four years after the creation of the Commission of National Integration, Representative Ombra Amilbangsa of Sulu filed a bill seeking the separation of the Archipelago of Sulu from the Republic of the Philippines. As to be expected the bill did not prosper. But a message was delivered that not all was well in the Moro front.

Movement for Muslim Independence

About six years later, or in early 1968, the Moros hit the headlines again. A Muslim Independence Movement, headed by Datu Udtog Matalam, acknowledged among the Muslims of Mindanaw and Sulu as the venerable Magindanao patriarch of the Cotabato Valley, issued a manifesto  declaring their desire for independence from the Republic of the Philippines of Muslim inhabited areas like Cotabato, Davao, Zamboanga, Zamboanga City, Basilan City, Lanao, Sulu, Palawan and other adjoining areas, islands and seas, and announcing its intention to establish an Islamic State. Their reasons? They made it clear that integration into the Philippine body politic was impossible.  The  Philippine government had been implementing a policy of isolation and dispersal of Muslim communities which had been detrimental to the Muslims and Islam. It was the duty of the Muslims to wage a Jihad physically or spiritually to change their situation. Islam is a communal religion and a way of life that requires a definite territory for the exercise of its tenets and teachings and for the proper observance of its Shariah and adat laws. Shortly after, Muslim was changed to Mindanaw in the name of the organization in an apparent attempt to accommodate the non-Muslims.

It was not long before rumors of secret military training camps filled the national newspapers. In the early part of 1970, MIM (Muslim Independence Movement but was later renamed as Mindanao Independence Movement to include non-Muslims) had allegedly become so powerful that Datu Udtog Matalam, Jr., then a mayor of the town of Pikit, reportedly boasted at a peace conference that the MIM could wipe out Christian towns, including Cotabato City, if they wanted to.

“Christian”  Counter-Moves

The next year was going to be a local election year and seven politicians, some of them mayors in North Cotabato, and popularly known as the Magic 7, organized the Ilaga, a paramilitary organization that became known for its uncompromising anti-Muslim sentiments. It was composed initially, as reported in the media, of Ilongo (natives of Panay) underworld characters. The founders, too, were all Ilongos.  “Ilaga” means “rat” but the Muslims preferred to call it the “Ilongo Landgrabbing Association.”

The years 1969 to 1972, prior to martial law, was a period of indiscriminate encounters between Muslims and Christians. But 1971 was the peak year of the pre-martial law Mindanaw crisis. It was local election year and the increasing incidents of indiscriminate violence had pushed Christian politicians to consolidate forces, meaning ensuring Christian control of local positions. Hardly a day passed without bloodshed on either side.

The physical pattern of events showed the spread of conflict,  from North Cotabato to Lanao del Sur, from Cotabato to Lanao del Norte, and from Cotabato to Zamboanga del Sur.  It did not overrun all the towns. As a matter of fact it was highly selective. It confined itself to those places with a significant proportion of Muslim and Christian populations, and to those towns where rivalry between Muslim and Christian politicians were most intense. The general atmosphere of disorder opened plenty of room for bandits. Personal scores were settled. Military officers and men took their sides. Politicians secured themselves. The general masses, both Muslims and Christians were caught in the crossfire.

The most shocking event in North Cotabato was the massacre of 70 Muslims, men, women and children in a mosque at Manili, Carmen on 19 June 1971. The Muslims were gathered there for a peace conference. Once inside the mosque, they were machine-gunned and bombed.  It shocked the whole nation but nobody was held accountable. It also added a religious dimension to the conflict. That was not going to be the last mosque to be desecrated.

Another tragic event was the Tacub massacre on 22 November 1971. Three truckloads of Meranaw voters were on their way to Marawi, Lanao del Sur late in the afternoon of that day after voting at the special elections in the town of Magsaysay, Lanao del Norte. At the military checkpoint in Tacub,  Kauswagan, they were stopped, ordered to alight and lie face flat down on the ground, and were searched for weapons. It was while the search was going on that a shot rang out ang immediately the army troopers at the checkpoint fired their guns, including a .50 caliber machinegun. Those who were not hit and scampered for safety found only death in the hands of civilians which included women, young boys, with white bands  tied around their heads who mercilessly pounced on them with axes, boloes, knives, etc. Thirty five were killed at the scene, 54 were wounded. The 14 troopers who were later charged with multiple murder and multiple frustrated murder with robbery were acquitted allegedly for lack of sufficient evidence. From January 1 to December 31, 1971, a local newspaper in Iligan City  had documented for  Lanao del Norte alone a total of 89 incidents.

So severe was the violence that President Ferdinand Marcos cited the state of chaos in Mindanaw as one of two reasons for declaring martial law on 21 September 1972. The other was the CPP-NPA.

MNLF Launches War of  Bangsamoro National Liberation

The MIM faded into the background after President Marcos spoke to Datu Udtog Matalam.  But after the declaration of Martial Law, it was finally confirmed that there was indeed military training given to batches of Moro youths, both abroad and locally. Within two months after the declaration of martial rule, in November 1972, the Moro National Liberation Front-Bangsa Moro Army (MNLF-BMA) launched a series of coordinated attacks on military outposts and announced to the world the struggle for independence of the Bangsamoro. It declared the entirety of Mindanaw, the Sulu archipelago and Palawan as the ancestral homeland of the Bangsamoro. Its battle-cry: “Victory or to the graveyard!”

From the last months of 1972 to December 1976, large-scale fighting raged in Moroland. No one knew the score of the dead, the  wounded and the displaced. No one, not even the military kept any record or if they did, this was never made known. A publication, made an estimate of deaths, injured and displaced in the Cotabato provinces, Lanao provinces, Sulu & Tawi-Tawi and Zamboanga provinces from 1969 to the first quarter of 1976 and it came out with the following combined total:  Deaths – 35,000 to 60,000; Injured – 31,000 to 54,000, and Displaced – 260,000 to 350,000.

The OIC Mediates RP-MNLF Negotiation

Through the intervention of the Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC), the Philippine Government and the MNLF agreed to meet at the negotiating table. The framework of the talks: the problem is a domestic one and must be resolved within the territorial integrity  and the sovereignty of the Republic of the Philippines.

The first formal talks, which failed, took place  in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia in 1975. The failure, according to Dr. Adam Malik, Foreign Minister of Indonesia, “was partly attributable to the complexity of the question, but certainly also due to the disproportionate demand put forward by the rebel faction headed by Mr. Nur Misuari.

To insist on a prior public declaration agreeing to the creation of an autonomous region, with a separate government and army, as a condition for the success of those talks, we believe, cannot be accepted by any sovereign government worthy of its name.”

Another was attempted in Tripoli, Libya in December 1976.  This resulted in the Tripoli agreement which established an autonomous region for the Muslims of Southern Philippines, or more specifically in the 13 provinces of Davao del Sur, South Cotabato, Sultan Kudarat, Maguindanao, Cotabato, Lanao del Sur, Lanao del Norte, Zamboanga del Norte, Zamboanga del Sur, Basilan, Sulu, Tawi-Tawi and Palawan.

There were disagreements on how the document should be implemented.

The government said there was going to be a plebiscite to determine which of the 13 provinces would be willing or unwilling to be part of the autonomous region.  The government proceeded with its own interpretation and emerged with the two autonomous regions (Region IX and Region XII), each with five provinces. The three provinces of Palawan, South Cotabato and Davao del Sur opted not to be part of the autonomy.

The MNLF never accepted the government position and eventually reverted to its secessionist stance. This was the situation when President Corazon Aquino assumed the presidency.

1987 Constitution Provides for Regional Autonomy in Muslim Mindanaw

A new ceasefire was entered into by the government and the MNLF. A new round of talks took place which ended in a deadlock. But while the negotiations went on, a new charter was being drafted by the Constitutional Commission.  The 1987 Constitution provided for the specific steps for the establishment of an autonomous region, including the enactment of an organic act for the autonomous region in Muslim Mindanaw. The MNLF consistently stood against accepting the terms of the new Constitution and took no part in the institution of the new autonomous region.

The new Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanaw currently in place covers only the four provinces of Magindanao, Lanao del Sur, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi. They were the only ones that decided to join the autonomy out  of the 13 provinces and nine cities which took part in the plebiscite to determine which of them would want to be part of the autonomous region.

Prospects of the Bangsa Moro Struggle

It is not possible to discuss the prospects of the Bangsa Moro struggle without at least mentioning the split within the ranks of the Bangsa Moro revolutionaries.

The first signs of factionalism showed in late 1977 when, said a  prolific foreign author on Moro affairs, “word was received from Jeddah that Nur Misuari had been ousted as MNLF Central Committee Chairman by Hashim Salamat (a Maguindanao) because 1) he was veering away from Islam and following Communist methodologies and objectives; 2) he was arrogant, secretive and autocratic; and 3) he had lost the confidence of the MNLF rank-and-file.”

The first external sign was the emergence of the Bangsa Moro Liberation Organization (BMLO), “a largely Meranaw faction,” said the same author.  More definite signs emerged later.

In the early 80s,  the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) came to the surface, identified with Hashim Salamat, a Maguindanao. And not long after, another one came into the open, the MNLF-Reformist Group, led by Dimas Pundato, a Meranaw.

So, there are now three factions and the leadership of each one comes from one of the three major Moro ethno-linguistic groups, the Tausug of Sulu, the Magindanao based in Maguindanao, and the Meranaw of Lanao del Sur-Lanao del Norte in  north central Mindanaw.

The Organization of Islamic Conference has continued to recognize the MNLF as the legitimate representative of the Bangsa Moro, and the government of President Corazon Aquino acknowledged this by negotiating with the MNLF in 1986-87 despite protests from the other factions. The rift continues to this day. The present administration of President Fidel V. Ramos has so far expressed its desire to talk with all factions, not just one.

The ceasefire agreed upon between President Aquino and MNLF chairman Nur Misuari remains in effect to the present. But the political settlement that the MNLF  desires is still a dream.  The quest for self-determination somehow continues.

(MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. A peace specialist, Rudy Buhay Rodil is an active Mindanao historian and peace advocate)

TOMORROW:  Chapter 4. Part X
Among the Lumad: The Case of Mt. Apo and Datu Inong Awe

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