Reflections on the Bangsamoro
Decades in the making, the conflict in the southern parts of Mindanao was born of centuries old problems inherited from our Spanish colonizers in their tactic of divide-and-conquer. They say that if the Spanish interregnum did not occur, we would have all been Muslim. That is true, for when the Spaniards arrived, most of the powerful polities in Mindanao, and the rulers in Manila were all Muslim. But unlike the Spaniards who used the power of the cross and the sword, the Islamic conversions were mainly for economic reasons, since most of the merchant partners of the datus were Muslim—and Islam then was a very missional (albeit, progressive) religion. It was here that when the Spaniards saw the strong sultanates of Mindanao and how they stubbornly refused to be subjugated, the Spaniards began calling these people collectively as “Moro,” a term (unbeknownst to most Filipinos today) that hails from the long history of Spanish ethnic cleansing in their Iberian peninsula, when in their Reconquista, they defeated all the Muslim emirates in Spain and tried to erase from their historical memory the enlightened Muslim Moorish heritage that built the beautiful palaces of the kingdoms of Toledo, Cordoba and Granada. It was just logical that the Spanish conquistadors would choose the term “Moro” to refer to all Muslims in Filipinas, who they would call negatively as juramentados.
The term Moro with its loaded meaning unfortunately caught up with our history as down through the ages, from the American imperialist experiment in the Philippines to the time of Filipino politicians, these collective peoples in Mindanao, marginalized, alienated and misunderstood, even fellow Filipinos would call them Moros. It was time then that the peoples themselves used the term in a positive light, an expression of their self-determination and sovereignty as peoples of a shared identity and historical circumstance. They began calling themselves “Bangsa Moro” or the Moro nation. Which is why it is so controversial and promising that the same term would be used in the territory that used to be the ARMM. That’s what makes today’s event, the signing of the Comprehensive Agreement of the Bangsamoro, so significant.
As Muslim mothers and warriors cried in Malacanang in tears of joy, the whole weight of history hangs on us. For the first time in Philippine history, a marginalized people who for the longest time fought for their right to self-determination, exasperated, even adhering to secession from the Philippines, was listened to, acknowledged, and promoted with dignity. A silenced people has been given a voice they can call their own. It is an experiment that has been carefully studied, with all the stakeholders having their own say on their shared destiny. For as Leon Ma. Guerrero said when referring to Rizal’s vision of the Filipino Nation, it must be an entity that is not Spanish, nor Catholic, but that which shares “mutual responsibility” and “respect.” Finally the longest conflict in Southeast Asia is ended. We pray for its success and for the peace and healing of the lands wounded by war and despair.
Together with the rest of the Filipino Nation, on this momentous occasion, we rejoice with our Muslim brothers, acknowledging our faults and weaknesses, and offering our hand of peace, for we are all, in God’s eyes, Filipinos.
Cheers to the Bangsamoro and for the lasting peace in Mindanao!
(Infographic, courtesy of GMA News)