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Ninoy Aquino's Speech on the Moro Problem

: A Brief History of the Muslim Struggle 

Over the last eight years as a result of the so-called Muslim Mini-War in the Philippines, more than hundred thousand Filipino Muslims have lost their lives, over two hundred fifty thousand hav...e come as refugees in the neighboring Sabah State of Malaysia, and more than one million have been displaced and rendered homeless. On the other side, according to President Marcos himself, about ten to 11,000 thousand Filipino soldiers have been killed over the last eight years as a result of the battle in the Southern Philippines. These grim statistics have not captured the headlines of the world press and as a result world opinion has not been mobilized. The Philippine government under President Marcos calls the Muslim fighters as rebels, he calls them outlaws, he calls them insurrectionists, and he calls them secessionists or far worst – traitors to the Philippines. The Muslims on the other hand see themselves as patriots, as holy warriors, birth right of self-determination from infidel attacks. It is a most unfortunate that Filipinos are fighting against Filipinos today.

I have come all the way from Boston precisely to urge our brothers especially the Moro National Liberation Front and the Bangsa Moro Liberation Organization to start their unity effort so that as one Muslim nation they will be able to present a more formidable force with any negotiation with the present government. This evening I would like to announce to you that the MNLF under Chairman Nur Misuari and the BLMO under Sultan Haroun Al-Rashid Lucman have finally joined forces and together they will now continue the struggle for the freedom of our Muslim brothers in the Southern Philippines. Chairman Misuari heads this joint group together with the leadership of Sultan Lucman, will be rallying most of the Muslims not only here but in our country so that once united they will be able to present their case better in the halls of the Organization of the Islamic Conference and before the Philippine government, and will work towards the resumption of the Tripoli Agreement and international bodies like United Nations.

However, before I go into this, I would like to give you a brief history of the Muslim struggle. This struggle has gone for almost four (4) centuries and may be the last chapter of the classic encounter of the crescent and the cross. It is true that this conflict has many ingrain rivalry, and political antagonism, but all these reasons, a radically different understanding of each side as toward the conflict is all about. My point is the Muslims look at it from another angle. They cannot seem to agree on what they are saying and we have this incessant conflict. I will just cite an example to what happened last February. According to the best reports, there is an island outside of Jolo known as Pata Island. This island has about eleven thousand people. According to the reports, the military sent a battalion of soldiers to that island to inventory firearms of the people of the island.

However, the soldiers came from Luzon and do not understand the customs of our Muslim brothers in the south, occupied the mosque in that island. After they occupied the mosque, they got some pigs and dogs and started making “Lechon” (grill) inside the mosque. Now you know that pork is one of those prohibited foods in the Muslim religion. But they did not notice that they were in sensitive situation and so, they started cooking inside the mosque which naturally enraged the people in the village. And I understand that one soldier got drunk and raped a Muslim woman. The next thing we knew there was a shoot-out in that area and about one hundred and sixty to two hundred soldiers were completely massacred killed. The army, on the other hand, when they found out that their soldiers were killed, started bombing, strafing and shelling the civilians in that island. We don’t know how many civilians have died. Some say two hundred, some say five hundred, some say one thousand but the truth is many civilians died in the encounter that followed the massacre. Subsequently, a lot of shoot-out occurred and now we don’t know how many people were killed. Now, the incident started because there was a misunderstanding of the cultural habit of that region and mere misunderstanding has caused this conflagration and this has contributed to the bloodshed in our country for the last eight years.

At this juncture, my dear friends let us look back at the little history. You and I know that the Muslims in the country have pre-dated the Christians in that country. Arab traders as early as 9th century have become dominant in the vigorous Southeast Asian center with the religion of Islam. At the end of the 13th century, according to Marco Polo, he found a flourishing Muslim Sultanate in northern Sumatra. By the middle of the 14th century, Islam came to the Philippines 200 years before the coming of Christianity in 1521. Many of us do not realize that Islam came to the Philippines two hundred years before Christianity so that the forces of Magellan arrived in our shores when Islam was already all over Mindanao and there were already many Sultanates in many enclaves of Luzon. In fact, the ruler of Manila was a Muslim leader called Rajah Suleiman and this man controlled all the headwaters of Manila Bay. This is now history. The year when Spanish came to the Philippines they fought this Muslim vigorously because as you will know, Spain was occupied by Muslim Moors for many centuries and this occupation ended at the famous battle of Granada in 1492.

Therefore, the Spaniards who came to the Philippines already fought the Muslims in their own homeland. And when they came to the Philippines and found the same Muslims, renewed this hostility and again fighting broke out. This is the beginning of the conflict between the Christians and the Muslims because the Spaniards saw in the Muslims another threat to their hegemony. The Philippines, the Spaniards tried to set up their control, they tried to establish political control and convert the natives into Christianity. Most of the other Filipinos who had no religion were taken as hostages and converted into Christianity. But our Muslim brothers fought and resisted the coming of Spaniards and denounced the Spanish faith.

The Muslims were the only ones who fought for four hundred years thereby staving off what Spaniards wanted to call a “complete conquest.” In 1578, for example, the Spanish Authority commissioned Captain Esteban de Figueroa, who lost the campaign against the Muslims. He was ordered to burn Mosques, arrest Muslim priests and stop Muslim missionaries coming into the Philippines from Borneo. Captain Figueroa had succeeded. He captured Jolo, the capital of Sulu, and signed a Treaty with Sultan Pangiran. As soon as Captain Figueroa left, the Sultan repudiated the Treaty and declared “Jihad” against Spain. This was to be repeated for over four hundred years of Spanish conquest in the Philippines. When the Muslim warriors attacked Spanish enclaves, the Spaniards call them “pirates” and “barbarians” but to the Muslims it was a “Jihad” against an infidel. Whenever Spanish conquest was successful in Muslim areas, however temporarily, there were individuals who would carry the war of “Jihad” on their own and Spaniards call them “huramentados” (amoks) while the Muslims call themselves “Mujahids,” one who perform a sacred act in defense of Dar-ul Islam, the abode and territory of Islam. So upon his death, the “huramentados” are buried as “Shahids” which was the Arabic for martyrs.

Part 2: American Plan to Eradicate Muslim Religion and Customs

When the Americans came to the Philippines, they followed what the Spaniards were doing. They also wanted to govern the entire Philippines from Manila and so when the Spaniards... left, the Americans came in, also wanting to conquer the Muslim communities and integrate them to the greater community of Christians. Here, many Americans came and many Generals distinguished themselves. You will recall that the Americans in World War II have an American caliber 45. Many of you do not realize that this American 45 caliber was discovered and actually invented for the Moro Wars in the Philippines. Before that, the Americans have small guns. When they shoot Muslim “Huramentados” they could not stop them and these “huramentados” kept on coming with their bolos (swords) and so the Americans devised a gun strong enough that when it hit the “huramentados,” he fell instantly from the impact and that was the beginning of American Colt 45.

The Americans failed to subdue the Muslims and they were many treaties that followed. There was the “Bates Treaty,” the “Carpenters Agreement,” and to the end the Muslim failed to integrate into the body system. General Summer, a US military commander in southern Philippines, wrote and I quote: “It will be necessary to eradicate all their customs, their Muslim religion will be a serious bar to any efforts toward Christian civilization.” General Leonard Wood, the first American Governor in the southern Philippines, made his observation and I quote: “The Moros and other savage peoples have no laws, simply a few customs which are nowhere, in general, nothing has been found worthy of codification and imitation, a little or nothing, which has not existed, and better for humane, decent and civilized laws are enforced.”

According to our own Dr. Mauyag Tamano in his book, and I quote: “…by 1917, the US government has as one of its goals the complete fusion of a group of Filipino Muslims and a majority segment of the Filipino Christians. In other words, the Spaniards before them, the Americans who came later, had one goal – to integrate this community, but this community cannot be integrated because the Muslims felt they have their own national identity.”

The Americans, bringing in their own cultural tradition, wanted to enforce a strict separation of church and the state but this American tradition was seen by the Muslims as threat to their own traditions. The very notion of the separation of church and state but this a Christian idea, for the Muslims, the church and state are indivisible, at most; two aspects of the same reality. You will find that here in the Royal Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, you do not have a separation of State and Church. The Church and the State are one because this is the will of Allah and this is the Muslim tradition.

American secular schools, American laws, American political organizations may be enlightened, progressive and humanitarian in the eyes of Americans but they are not in the eyes of the Filipino Muslims. The system of educations, law and government may be secular model to Americans, but they are certainly not to the Muslims. Their institutions which stand at the very center of God’s revealed Will for man. There could not be a better example of fundamental deference in how events are to be understood. This misunderstanding is to play into subsequent Filipino governments who inherited the American tradition, so now we have the Spaniards setting up a tradition, the Americans came in and followed the Spaniards and when the Filipinos came in they followed the Americans and the misunderstanding continued.

What is worst, by 1928, when Luzon was getting crowded and part of the Visayas was also getting crowded, the American administration together with Filipino administration started moving Filipino settlers to the south. The idea was, “Go south, young man, because the south is the land of promise.” So what happened is that thousands of settlers came into Mindanao. The Muslims who were in Mindanao were pushed away from the coastal regions and then when the Philippines became independent, for every six persons in Mindanao, five were Christians and one was a Muslim. Today, for every seven persons in Mindanao, six are now Christians and one is a Muslim, and where they control all of Mindanao before, the Muslims today have concentrated at most in five provinces, minorities in other six provinces and therefore, our Muslim brothers are asking, “What have we done to deserve this? Why is it that we who fought the Americans, we who fought the Japanese, we who had been fighting for our Darul Islam and now a minority in our own region?”

And that, my friends, is the answer to the crisis that we now face. Can we now redress this grievance? Can we now make-up this neglect and should we continue in this fratricidal warfare that will spill the blood of the Filipinos? Let me be more specific. When Americans came and tried to impose their law, our Muslim brothers did not want to follow the Americans. The Americans wanted to teach English but the Muslims wanted to study Arabic. The Americans brought in their laws which are Christian and said in all marriages there should be one wife. The Muslims were practicing the Qur’anic law where they can have polygamy and therefore they responded and they said, “We are Muslims. Why should we follow your tradition, your Christian ethics?” This was the cause of the clash.

In the American system, the government and the church were separated. In the Muslim system, the government and church were one. Under American system, the laws are civilian and secular. Under the Muslim system, the laws were part of the Qur’an and they drew their own ethics and their own laws from the Qur’anic law and from the sayings of the Prophet. Therefore, this clash was to continue and this became the bedrock and the reason for the conflict.

But let me go in focus to what has happened to us in Luzon and from the Visayas because I think many of us here are Christians and came from Luzon and Visayas. Due to the fighting and warring during the Spanish times, when our families were living in the enclaves, and there were pirates coming in. We told our children in the Christian north, beware of the Moro pirates. We called a Moro a pirate and a barbarian – slave trader, cruel, cunning, treacherous, savage. When the child is not going to sleep, the father will say, “You go to sleep or the Moros will take you,” which has become a tradition.

Eventually, about two hundred years, the saying in our country was “a good Moro is a dead Moro” and you will also note that when a Moro will ask to marry a Christian girl, the entire family will reject that proposal and say we cannot get married to a Moro. They had a very bad image. My friends, this was being perpetuated from generations to generations by word of mouth, by majority of courses in our school history books and by popular drama as in our Christian north. We had our “Balagtasan,” we had our own “Zarzuela” the “contrabida” (villain) was always the Moro. In the American history, the Indian was always the villain. In our society, the Moro was always the villain.

Part 3: Muslims Portrayed as Backward and Violent People

The Muslims are portrayed primarily because of their religion as ignorant and backward people, as having a low-grade civilization, as tricky and violent, lawless. They are over-sensitive and ultra-conservative. Their picture, in short, as a second-class citizen in a Catholic country. The Muslims had to illustrate their Islamic identity; they held virtually an opposite image of a popular Christian Filipino opinion. Because of their faith, the Muslims feel that they are in fact morally and culturally superior to the Christians who after all eat pork, worship images, and perpetuate abuse after abuse on the Muslim people. As a result, Muslims rejected the integration policy which meant assimilation into the Christian culture which led to their non-inclusion into the mainstream of development which in turn created economic disparity between the two communities and persist today.

My point is, because the Muslims refused to integrate, they did not go to school. Because they did not go to school, they were left behind while the Christians go to school and developed themselves. So, while the Christians gain more money, they get better and better in business and the Muslims are falling behind and then they lose their land and then they lost their mineral claims and then they were driven away. Only few Muslims actually succeeded while many Christians were succeeding under the new environment. Over the decades, a number of Muslims have been attracted into a larger Filipino national identity but the great majority particularly in the rural areas has no sense of being part of the Philippines at all. Their orientation are entirely local or beyond there to the larger Islamic World. They regard the Philippines as a sort of a foreign infidel power devoted to the annexation of Muslim lands and the subversion of the Muslim people away from their faith.

In a very real sense, the Christian Filipino and the Muslim Filipino do belong to different worlds. Each is oriented towards a different wider community from which they drew their religion, their law, their values and their sense of history. The Christians went to the Vatican, the Filipino Muslims make pilgrimage to Makkah, thus is history of the two peoples which so fired the conflagration in the southern Philippines. The question then, can we solve this problem? What could be a solution? This evening, my friends, I would like to outline to you a solution that I propose to the leaders of the Muslim communities led by Chairman Nur Misuari and Sultan Haroun Al Rashid Lucman, hopefully will be able to bring peace to our troubled land.

Number one, we will note that in 1977, under the aegis of the Organization of the Islamic Conference, an agreement was signed in Tripoli known as the TRIPOLI AGREEMENT. Under this agreement, our Muslim brothers have given up the quest for independence and they will remain in the Republic provided they are given the Autonomy in the thirteen (13) provinces of Mindanao. In the thirteen provinces of Mindanao, we are going to give them autonomy in those regions. We will be able to set up their own security forces and they will be able to govern themselves. This was a very good beginning, for a while there was a ceasefire and there was no killing. Unfortunately, when this Agreement was not implemented, our President did not implement it to the letter and instead of discussing this with the Muslim leaders, they broke off and Mr. Marcos went on to implement it unilaterally. Instead of thirteen provinces, Mr. Marcos split it into two regions, one is region 9 and region 12 and they removed three provinces. Naturally, our Muslim brothers said “that is a violation of the TRIPOLI AGREEMENT. The Tripoli Agreement talks of thirteen provinces and now you reduced into ten and what is worse, you split it into two.

I therefore would like to propose that the Philippine government return to the original Tripoli Agreement. If the Philippine government will return to the Tripoli Agreement, then we will make an appeal to our Muslim brothers to come back to the table so that we can discuss our problem rather than shoot it out. If we do not negotiate, my friends, there will be a return to the bloodshed and more people will die. But we promised our Muslim brothers that if they will come back to the negotiating table, if they will come back to the Tripoli Agreement, then the entire Christian north will support them in the claim and once we would like to propose affirmative actions on regions in Mindanao. What do I mean by this? If our region in Mindanao are under-developed and they are entitled to only one school, by our definition of affirmative action will increase your school to four every year so that income between the two communities will be close at the end of the century.

Number two, we believe that all Christian troops in Mindanao should be withdrawn from that area. It takes two to fight. If there are no more soldiers, there will be no more fighting and therefore, we will be able to disconnect the fighting. All Christian troops will be removed from those Muslim areas and we will let the Muslims police themselves. We will tell them, we are removing the Christian troops, and you set up your own police force, you set up your regional forces, you police yourselves because we do not want anymore conflict between Christian and non-Christian communities.

Number three, we will propose that the Muslims set up their own courts, their own “Shariah” courts, their own schools, their own madrasahs. If they want to use Arabic to teach their children, let them use Arabic to teach their children. Why should we impose English or Tagalog, if they should also have their own courts, and they should also have their own schools? Their local autonomy should a Muslim and this should be elected by their own people. The national government will always support them if they are entitled to by way of development.

I believe the Muslim community should be allowed to call in their lawyers and set up their own civil code as against our own civil code. If this will be achieved, it will go along essential opportunities that will signal the beginning of the renaissance in the Muslim Philippines which some five hundred years ago was the center of the Filipino culture, learning and power. With the assistance of the Islamic Conference, funds for development could be secured ushering all over the Philippines. We feel that if our brothers will be united and the hostilities will stop, we can set up training camps, educational institutions all over Mindanao so that the products of these institutions can come to the Middle East for better employment and if we appeal to the Organization of Islamic States, I believe the Filipinos now numbering to a hundred and fifty thousand to two hundred thousand here will increase to more than half a million. And it comes in all ways that I discussed to you the possible solution.

For my part, I will be returning to Boston, happy in the thought that our Muslim brothers have finally found unity in their ranks. Chairman Misuari has come all the way from his place in Tripoli and Damascus, Syria to meet with Sultan Lucman and the rest of the BMLO members and with this new aggrupation today, this meeting, this new forging of unity, I find the our Muslim brothers will now have a strong voice in the international forum and as a result of this, we will be able to present their case better.

For my part, I have come to mediate and to ask and to plead that we should now join forces and hopefully once we are united, Mr. Marcos will listen to us, after stealing power now for sixteen years. We do not want to kill Mr. Marcos. All we want from Mr. Marcos is to return to us our freedom. All we ask from Mr. Marcos is to give us clean and honest election and if in the election he will win, then let him continue. But if he should lose, let him go to oblivion. That is all we ask. And it is nothing more but to ask that the Filipinos be given the freedom to choose their governors that must govern them.

The historic speech to this day has not lost its relevance. THE HISTORICAL BACKGROUND OF THE MORO PROBLEM IN SOUTHERN PHILIPPINES" By (late) Senator Benigno Ninoy Aquino delivered at the King Abdel Aziz University Jeddah, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia on May 12, 1981.
Norodin Alonto Lucman is the author of ISLAM WAR ON TERROR, Perspectives on the History of Islam, Terrorism and Armed Conflicts in East Asia (History, 700 pages). Rescued 40 kidnapped hostages; Cited as one of the Ten Most Outstanding Mindanaoans in 2001; Advised Pres. Fidel Ramos, DILG Sec. Raffy Alunan III, NSC Chavit Singson and MILF CC on the Mindanao peace process; involvement in pacification campaigns. There is more in life than just nuts and bolts, fun and games. God gave each one a mission to fulfill in one's sojourn on earth, in the interest of humanity and environment. We are just passing through. To Him we return eventually. Death, as in life, is an act of divine wisdom.

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