MILF founder Salamat: Have they renounced his goal for an independent Islamic state?

The most basic flaw of the Bangsamoro Basic Law is in its title itself, enough reason to reject it: the term Bangsamoro.

There is no such thing as a “Bangsamoro,” never was in history, none now in this archipelago. But there will be one, at least temporarily as a transition state, if we continue to have a President and negotiators with the Islamic insurgents as uninformed, stupid and gullible as we have now.

Aquino’s “Comprehensive Agreement on Bangsamoro” is the first and so far the only government pact that contains the term “Bangsamoro” and recognizes it as an entity.

The term was not used even in the 1976 Tripoli Agreement, which the then powerful Libyan strongman, Muammar Gaddafi, arm-twisted the Marcos government to sign, calling the entity to be set up only as “Autonomy in Southern Philippines.” Nowhere in the 1996 final peace pact with the MNLF did the term appear, and the agreement appropriately called that special area the “Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.”

This nation has gone mad. The Constitution’s Article X Section 1 very clearly specifies that “the territorial and political subdivisions of the Republic of the Philippines are the provinces, cities, municipalities and barangays… and autonomous regions in Muslim Mindanao and the Cordilleras.” How can the President, Congress, even some of those who drafted the Constitution, even think of creating a Bangsamoro “political entity”?

The use of the term in the “Comprehensive Agreement on Bangsamoro” and in the BBL already means a great victory for the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

We, who are now concerned about peace and the future of the country, who discuss how the insurgency can be resolved, because of this inane government, have been hoodwinked into using the language of the Islamic rebels, and, therefore, their narrative. And because we now use the term casually, becoming nearly a household term, we have been giving more and more flesh to a myth.

Where again did you get that term? (Alhamdulillah means “Praise be to Allah!”)
Where again did you get that term? (Alhamdulillah means “Praise be to Allah!”)

Neither “bangsa” nor “moro” is a word in any of the languages of the 13 Muslim and 18 non-Muslim cultural minorities that the BBL law will classify as “Bangsamoro People. ”

“Moro”
“Moro” is a term the Spanish colonizers used to call the Muslims they found in Mindanao, believing they were descendants of the Muslim Moors of North Africa who humiliated them by their conquest of the Iberian Peninsula in the 8th century. “Moro” was a pejorative Spanish term, even a racist one used in Europe referring to anyone of dark color, of the same genre as the American “nigger.”

It was similarly a defamatory term in modern Philippines, which not even the Muslims in Mindanao use to call themselves. Ask them “what” they are, and they’d identify themselves as Maguindanaon, Tausug, Maranao, or any of the 13 Muslim ethnic groups of the Islamic faith. Before the Spanish came, several of these groups even regularly fought each other, raiding the other’s villages to get slaves.

It was the American colonizers who put the pejorative term in official lexicon when a few years after conquering the country, Legislative Act No. 787 in 1903 created the “Moro Province,” consisting of the five districts of Sulu, Zamboanga, Lanao, Cotabato, and Davao. The residents of the “Province,” of course, detested the name so that the Americans renamed it in 1914 simply as the “Department of Mindanao and Sulu.”

There is one report that in 1921, Jamalul Kiram, who laid claim to the Sultanate of Sulu, sent a petition signed by 57 Sulu officials to the US Congress that “in the event the US grants independence to the Philippines islands, it is our firm intention and resolve to declare ourselves an independent constitutional sultanate to be known as Moro Nation.”

Other than that, though, no Muslim leader, writer, nor academic from Mindanao would use the term “Moro” to call the Islamic residents of that region – until the late 1960s, as an invention in order to propagate a political agenda.

There is an obverse side, though, to the deprecatory meaning of “Moro,” which Americans, as they did with the Sioux or Cheyenne or Apache peoples they subdued, disseminated in media, and which, decades later, would prod Moro National Liberation Front founders to adopt the term. “Moros” became known as fearless warriors.

Harpers’ Weekly in 1906, for instance, quoted a colonel who fought in Mindanao: “The Moro is brave to fearlessness, a born pirate, and essentially a first-class fighting man.”

Bangsa
And “bangsa”? In the same way that Moro is not, bangsa isn’t a word in any of the odd two-dozen languages of minorities in Mindanao. Why didn’t they use “bansa,” which is a word in Pilipino that means “nation”?

The answer reveals why or how the MNLF and the MILF got to be threats to the Philippine Republic. The MNLF – and the MILF, which broke away from it in 1976 – would not have grown, and would have deteriorated into small bandit groups, as has been the history of Muslim rebellions – if not for Malaysia.

The facts are still not clear as to who made the first offensive move, after the Philippines broke diplomatic relations with Malaysia following this Asian neighbor country’s act of formally including Sabah, which we claim is part of our archipelago, into its federation in 1963.

What’s indisputable, though, is that the Malaysians in 1969 brought the first group of MNLF members – the so-called “Batch 90,” followed by a “Batch 120” – to a secret training camp in Sabah and given military training by retired British Special Air Service commandos. Malaysia’s plot was to create an insurgency in Mindanao serious enough, so that it could demand that the Philippines drop its Sabah claim in exchange for its termination of support for the rebels.

It is an undisputable fact – even admitted by former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad in a recent interview with Al-Jazeera TV – that Malaysia supported the MNLF and then the MILF with finances, arms, and refuge. Malaysia had become to the MNLF and the MILF what China (through North Korea) was to the Communist Party of the Philippines.

The young MNLF trainees in Malaysia, or even MNLF founder Nur Misuari, who was in close touch with Malaysian Islamic ideologues, got absorbed in the political debates in Malaysia at that time. One of the most important of these was the concern of that country in building a unified nation. This had become a serious national concern since the Federation of Malaysia consisted of three major ethnic groups: the Chinese, native Malays and Indians.

“Bangsa Malaysia”
One school of thought propagated the concept of “Bangsa Melayu,” or Malay nation. The concept would only gain prominence in 1991 when Prime Minister Mahathir officially adopted it as “Bangsa Malaysia,” his nation-building project.

The MNLF leadership had a similar problem, how to portray their organization – then mainly an organization of Misuari’s Tausugs and Hashim Salamat’s Maguindanaons – as one representing all of the minorities in Mindanao.

The young MNLF cadres, like Misuari, were of a different generation, growing up when the “nations” of their fathers and grandfathers – the Sultanates of Sulu and Maguindanao – were fast becoming forgotten notions.

Rather than the pejorative meaning of Moro, these young warriors were proud of the media descriptions of the brave Moro warrior by American writers.

Eureka! They invented “Bangsamoro,” the Malaysian word for nation melded with the old Spanish term for Muslims, was invented by the MNLF and then adopted by the MILF. However, it was initially used only to describe its guerillas, i.e., the former’s Bangsamoro Army and the latter’s Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces.

When Misuari first mentioned the term in the 1970s to us who were with the Communist Party, not a few comrades even made fun of what, at that time, was an obviously contrived term. After all, our chairman Amado Guerrero in his Philippine Society and Revolution, simply included “Muslim tribes” as among the “national minorities,” emphasizing that “it is more accurate to speak of them as Maguindanaos, Maranaos, Tausugs, etc.”

One particular book would revise history and facts to build up that myth: “Bangsamoro, a Nation Under Endless Tyranny,” written by one Salah Jubair. Who is Jubair? – Mohagher Iqbal, head of the MILF’s negotiating panel and reputedly a member of the five-man Jihad Executive Committee.

This inane government embraced the invented term Bangsamoro, mythicized by the Islamic insurgents as a once-upon-a-time nation when the Muslim peoples of Mindanao lived in peace under Islam, to be brutally conquered by the Spaniards, Americans and Filipinos. There was no such nation, and the biggest political entities Muslims in Mindanao lived under were the Sultanate of Sulu and the Sultanates of Maguindanao, institutions before the modern age, which no longer exist, nor will be permitted to exist.

It is the height of stupidity and gullibility for this Republic to pass a law that would give reality to a mythic nation they call the Bangsamoro. What it really would set up would be merely a transitional government for an Islamic state, or a Caliphate.