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By Atty. Soliman M. Santos, Jr.
The contemporary armed conflict on the Moro front is the sharpest expression of the Moro or Bangsamoro problem: the historical and systematic marginalization and minoritization of the Islamized ethnolinguistic groups, collectively called Moros, in their own homeland in much of the Mindanao islands, by Spain (from the 16th to the 19th century), the US (in the first half of the 20th century), and more recently by successor Philippine governments since formal independence in 1946. It might be viewed as a clash between two imagined nations or nationalisms, Filipino and Moro, each with their own narratives of the conflict. For the Moro liberation fronts, it has been a conscious struggle to regain the historical sovereignty of the independent Moro nation-states called sultanates over their old homeland. For the Philippine government (henceforth, GRP) and nation-state of the 20th century, it has been a matter of defending the territorial integrity of the country against secession and dismemberment among the three main island regions of Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao. This has made the conflict a veritable case of “irresistible forces, immovable objects.”

Historical roots

Both Spanish and American colonial regimes had to contend with small but fiercely independent sovereign nation-states (sultanates) of the main Moro ethnolinguistic tribes. Islam had arrived in Sulu in the last quarter of the 13th century and the Sulu sultanate was established in 1451, more than a century before the start of the Spanish period in 1565. The Spanish colonial period was marked by bitter Spanish-Moro wars (the so-called “Moro Wars”) fought in six stages spanning four centuries. The colonialists called the Muslim natives “Moros” after their hated enemy, the “Moors,” who had previously ruled Spain for eight centuries. The Spaniards fostered Christianized indio (Filipino) prejudice against Moros through such cultural institutions as the “moromoro” plays.

American rule started in the Philippines in 1898 and military pacification of the Moros began in 1903 with the organization of the Moro Province, a military government distinct from that for the rest of the Philippines. Though the Moro people had remained free of Spain, by 1913 Christian and Muslim Filipinos were, by force of arms, under a single government and sovereignty. At that time, an American colonial official in charge of Moro affairs defined the Moro problem as the question of “method or form of administration by which the Moros… can be governed to their best interest… for their gradual advancement in culture and civilization, so that in the course of a reasonable time they can be admitted into the general government of the Philippine islands as qualified members of a republican national organization.” One might say that the post-colonial Philippine government’s definition of the Moro problem remains essentially the same, including its corresponding policy solution of national integration.

Philippine independence in 1946 marked full-fledged Filipino nation-statehood. Because Moroland was incorporated into Philippine territory, however (or annexed, as some Moro nationalists would say), this event also sealed the loss of Moro independence.

Muslim (1994) sums up the historical roots and contemporary causes of the Moro problem listing 10 foundational causes from 1898 to 1972. Historical roots include (1) the forcible/ illegal annexation of Moroland to the Philippines under the Treaty of Paris in 1898; (2) military pacification; (3) imposition of confiscatory land laws; (4) indionization (or Filipinization) of public administration in Moroland and the destruction of traditional political institutions; (5) governmentfinanced/ induced land settlement and migration to Moroland; (6) land-grabbing/conflicts; and (7) cultural inroads against the Moros [Box 2.1]. Contemporary causes are (8) the Jabidah Massacre in 1968; (9) Ilaga (Christian vigilante) and military atrocities in 1970-72; and (10) government neglect and inaction on Moro protests and grievances. The triggering event of the contemporary Moro armed struggle was President Ferdinand E. Marcos’s declaration of martial law on September 21, 1972.
*From the Human Development Report 2005. Published by the Human Development Network (HDN) in cooperation with United Nations Development Progamme (UNDP) and New Zealand Agency for International Development (NZAID).
  Source: http://hdr.undp.org/docs/reports/national/PHI_Philippines/Philippines_2005_en.pdf
Used with permission by the author.
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