Saturday, March 14, 2015

The Moro Problem in Muslim Mindanao: A Personal Perspective

Singkil Dance in Muslim Mindanao

The Moro Problem

The Moro problem in Muslim Mindanao has been a thorn on the Philippine government's program of integration for several decades now. The Muslims have defied unification with the Christian community since the Spanish era down to the American regime. The sporadic Muslim uprisings have killed thousands of Filipinos, since the time of the late President Diosdado Macapagal up to the present.

Several programs have been initiated, but all failed due to either---wrong planning, problems in implementation, and lack of sustained effort by both the local and the national government. Many researches have been made to analyze the reasons for  failures in this area, but with diverse outcome. The main reason given, is the non-homogeneity of the different tribes in Muslim Mindanao. There are around ten ethic groups: Badjao, Maranaws, Maguindanao, Tausug, Samal and several others.

Islamic Center in Marawi City
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The country is composed of many indigenous tribes, with different cultures, traditions, and manner of integrating with the rest of the population. The Muslims, remain to be one of the last frontiers, where lasting peace seemed out of reach and remains separated from the mainstream society.  It was aptly pointed out that the social, cultural and religious beliefs are far too different from the Christian community to make integration doable.

The entry and domination of Christians in Mindanao have become a thorn in the cordial relationship between the groups. The innate abhorrence of the Muslims to be colonized by foreigners, from the Spanish conquistadors to the American occupation, up to the present dispensation, has been a prickly issue that gave rise to the creation of the Bangsamoro organization. The term is a Malay word, which means the Nation of Moros. It calls for the creation of an autonomous government, which still awaits passage in the present legislature.

Bangsamoro Office
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The Moro Problem can be traced to the different groups that comprises it. It is a hierarchical society with the Datu as the acknowledged leader and father of the tribe. However, the group is not homogenous nor do they speak a common language. Loyalty is tribal and clannish with disputes leading to an all out war being waged against the families of the conflicting parties. The Rido or revenge, can be bloody, that results in the death of the various members of the clan.

These continuing problem has resulted in loss of human lives. More lives however are lost, as a result of the sporadic fightings between the government troops and the Muslim rebels. The most recent, is the killing and massacre of the 44 Special Action Force (SAF) of the Philippine National Police (PNP). Debates are now raging in Congress regarding the passage of the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL), with both Muslim and Christian groups calling for an alternative solution that includes all sectors --- from the tribal groups  to Non-Muslim communities.

The Bangsa Moro Republic

The group sprang into existence during the 60's at the time when  my family was in Marawi City. My parents belonged to the initial batch of faculty members at the Mindanao State University. The Bangsamoro was a revolutionary group that consists mostly of students from the nearby colleges and universities. The battle cry then, up to the present, is autonomy for Muslim Mindanao. Leadership has changed over the years, with the MILF now taking over the helm of negotiations with the national government. However, questions were raised if they were the right group to talk with. Or if the talks should expand to include other tribal groups.

MILF militant with M-60 rifle
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The protest movement during the presidency of the late Diosdado Macapagal caused quite a stir. Nonetheless, no major changes came out of it, except that it made the national government take notice. The rebel groups sowed terror in the outlying areas leading to sporadic attacks on civilians and Christian communities. The national government took steps towards peaceful negotiations, but was disrupted by other groups.

Eventually, it was the Muslim National Liberation Front (MNLF) headed by  Nur Misuari and Abul Kay'r Alonto as second in command, that became the lead agency.The government's peace panel started negotiating with this group. However, another faction came about --- the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF and presently headed by Al Haj Murad Ibrahim) that wrested control from the MNLF. The latter is now headed by Abu Kay'r Alonto after the failed attempt of Nur Misuari's to annex Zamboanga several years ago. He is now in hiding and wanted by the government.

Inherent Difficulty of Solving the Moro Problem

The national government is at present negotiating with the MILF. The group and the national leadership are pushing for the passage of the Bangsa Moro  Law in both the Senate and the House of Congress. After the recent massacre of the forty four PNP-SAF soldiers last January 25, the law is now on a standstill. Several legislators are asking for a thorough review of the BBL and possibly a modification before it can be passed into law.

44 PNP-SAF Officers killed during the MMASAPANO clash
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The major difficulty encountered, is that Muslim Mindanao is  a diverse group where decision making is not homogenous. Having an agreement with the MILF and giving them autonomy, might not be the solution to the problem. It might even create more problems, as the other Muslim groups are not taken into consideration. Giving autonomy to one group may lead to the creation of splinter groups that could wreck havoc to the peace process.

As it is, the BBL still hangs in the air. The legislators claim that the MILF has not shown good faith, since they are still refusing to surrender the men behind the massacre.  The weapons and armaments of the slain 44 SAF commandos, have not all been returned. Unless, these issues are dealt with, negotiations can fall flat with no lights at the end of the tunnel.


Peace in Muslim Mindanao is what every Filipino aspires to have. We dream of a scenario where we are not forced to kill each other, despite differences in creed, tradition, and religion. We look forward to the day when we can live in peace and harmony---as Filipinos, and as one nation.



Onli in da Pilipins: A Writer's Journal
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