Colonization and the Bangsa Moro Struggle and Call for Peace

by Atty. Jamil Matalam

What I offer here is only a perspective or frame concerning the political issues involving and surrounding the Bangsa Moro. It is no political position, although it is my position that only democratic or political solutions are really possible. I point out here the urgency of peace to deter the outbreak of a possible catastrophic violence or war.


A Filipino must be perplexed why Jose Rizal, whose portrait most teachers of Philippine history tell us was: an artist, sweet boy, timid, short in height and alone was sentenced to death? He is no ‘terrorist’, in fact, even in his radical stage in the El Filibusterismo, he would not use the explosives to kill all the oppressors partying in one house—the perfect opportunity. But because he has to be put to death by the authorities, it is clear that he was perceived, at least by the government, to be a dangerous man. But why would a Jose Rizal, unarmed, be dangerous?

To that question there could be one good answer: Rizal, despite the timid portrait, is a dangerous radical. He wanted to actually create a “Filipino Nation”—the most radical idea. In doing so he did not only challenged ‘politically’ the colonial government but also the very foundation for its establishment in the Islands. He discovered that the history of the people of these Islands has a past way long before the arrival of Magellan, i.e. that Magellan discovered these Islands was the greatest lie! In his stay in London he found out that the people of these Islands were prosperous and have wealthy economic life with its neighboring Malays, Indians and Chinese before they were deliberately isolated by its Spanish colonizers. Their lives were killed, the people of these Islands were robbed of their history and was separated from their race—a grand scale identity kidnapping. In order to build a Filipino Nation and revive the lives of the people of these Islands, Rizal asked that the Spanish colonizers and Powers to leave.

Among the various reasons for the colonial policy of isolating these Islands with its race, there are two possible good reasons. First, known to and thought by Rizal, is to control possible uprising and resistance by the people; the colonizers thought that if the people of these Islands maintain relations with the rest of their race, strong resistance to their powers would easily come. Thus, according to Rizal, the economic life of these Islands for a long time was mainly restricted to Acapulco, Mexico, regardless of how it would devastate the lives of its people. Second is the 1529 Capitulation of Zaragoza between Portugal and Spain. The treaty of Zaragoza restricted possible Spanish colonies to the Pacific and West America. In fact, however, Spanish colonization of these Islands was in violation of the treaty, but it was tolerated by the Portuguese Crown. It was this violation that led the Spanish powers to isolate these Islands and its people from the rest of its race, i.e. they cannot anymore colonize other areas in Asia aside from these Islands. This is the history of the modern Philippine territory, how it came to be geographically defined.

Whether Rizal has in mind the modern Philippine territory when he thought of his Filipino Nation is unclear. Maybe it is because the juridico-legal meaning of the term territory was not as important during his time compared today. In modern legal theory, territory means sovereign jurisdiction.  In the formation of the Philippine Republic, which is a modern state, the colonial boundaries was assumed and adapted unquestionably. Our unmindfulness of the colonial boundaries for a long time now proves to be a great obstacle that we have to hurdle for us to move as a people—the Bangsa Moro struggle.

The colonial boundaries set by European powers were no cultural boundaries. It did not take into consideration cultural differences and the history of the people of these Islands. Juxtapose this with the modern concept of territorial jurisdiction, and then we have, in the Philippines, the Bangsa Moro struggle. The treaties of Tordesillas, Zaragoza and Paris need not mind the actual cultural boundaries because it only involves them and not the people of these Islands. But, nevertheless, the colonizers did recognize cultural boundaries in their actual dealings with the people of these Islands; for instance, entering into treaties with the Sultanates of Maguindanao and Sulu. It was only when the Independent Philippines emerged that these cultural differences was set aside in government policies and laws. So much so that the new Independent Philippines, with its modern theory of territorial jurisdiction, thought that it was not illegal to occupy the lands and divest the indigenous peoples of Mindanao and Sulu of their land holdings; it was only a sovereign or a state act.  

The forgetfulness of our long and rich pre-colonial history together with the neglect to consider cultural boundaries in these Islands makes it difficult for many of us to properly think of the Bangsa Moro struggle normatively and politically. For them, normatively, the Bangsa Moro struggle is not even a struggle but only a criminal act, at least a rebellion. Politically, we think that it can be solved by mere enforcement of the laws, legal and not political. It should have been seen as an assertion of cultural boundaries and sovereignties; the Bangsa Moro struggle is a secessionist movement.

Our persistence not to see this as problematic only exacerbates the difficulty in the search for practical or political solutions. For instance, because the history of the Philippines give the arrival of Magellan a central role, which it does not deserve, it does not understand well the Islamic history and dimensions of the Moro people—they are mere pirates. It fails to see that (1) the Bangsa Moro struggle is not merely local, and considering that the Moro people were Muslims even prior to Magellan’s arrival, (2) historical developments in the Muslim world will affect the Bangsa Moro. This is also the reason why an all-out war, not only the most stupid, will never be a solution—this would require genocide of a people part of the Muslim world. The might of the Muslim world would descent in these Islands if that ever happens.

No war can be a solution therefore for all. There can only be political solutions and political solutions are most urgent now. The recent incident in Mamasapano, Maguindanao, by now has reached the Muslim warriors at the power centers of the Islamic world, and would interpret that as an invitation to come in. If they come, their enemies will come as well, turning these Islands into their battle fields, and its people fighting a war that is not truly theirs. We have to call for peace and find democratic or political solutions to the problems that beset the Bangsa Moro in order for us to determine our destiny as a people and not be mere flow in the ebb of global politics.  This would entail re-examining our assumptions about what a Filipino Nation is.


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