The Moro Islamic Liberation Front:
An Islamic Revivalist
Marjanie Salic Macasalong
The conflict in Mindanao did not come into being without any root. Like any other conflicts, the case of Mindanao is very much anchored to its history. As a matter of fact, majority of the Moros consider the current Christian-dominated government as a continuation of the colonial domination and exploitation by the foreign powers – Spain and America. Only the names and strategies varied but the effects and consequences to the Moros are very much the same. To some extent, it became even more systematic and subtle in carrying out the strategies and policies to ensure that the Moros would be pushed aside, if not completely eliminated. Books of different authors unanimously agree that Islam came to the Philippines long before Christianity. Although precise date is not available, some data show that Islam came as early as 10th century. Majul noted that “there is an evidence that Arab ships, or rather, ships captained by Arabs, had reached China from some islands in the Philippines during 10th century”. However, most writers recorded that Islam became only well established during 13th century. According to Chinese sources dating from the Yuan Dynasty (1280-1368), record of trade activities between China and Sulu were evident. Prior to the coming of Spain in the middle of 16th century, Islam was already established by Muslim traders who married local girls, buried there and expected to have left descendants. At around the same time, Muslims were already active participant in trade, not only in domestic one but also in international trading system. Dr. Muslim wrote that Mindanao and Sulu were “the epicenter of two trade routes, one was towards Java and the Moluccas; the other was towards China via Manila, with the Muslim’s fort in Mindoro in Luzon guaranteeing Muslim monopoly in domestic distribution.” Therefore, it is very clear that the Moro society was sovereign and independent not only from the northern parts of the present Philippines, but also from any other broader political units, as it was recognized even the colonial power that time – Spain, America, France, Britain, and others. The coming of Spaniards in the islands was dated on 1522 when the Portuguese-born explorer Ferdinand Magellan led a Spanish expedition and reached the so-called ‘Philippines’. Like any other colonial master, the motives behind Spain’s exploration were to spread Faith (Christianity) and to have an access into the field of the so-called ‘spice trade’. However, because Islam had already been established in Mindanao and Sulu region, clashes of the two were inevitable.
America, also a colonial power and far more powerful than Spain, came into the picture with the pretext of spreading civilization although the main agenda was as the same as the Spaniards, as was evident through their policies, to exploit the economy. United States colonial domination began on December 10, 1898 when the Spain ceded the Philippine Islands to the America by the virtue of the Treaty of Paris. What became the main contention, however, was the inclusion of Mindanao, Sulu and Palawan to the agreement where in fact the islands had never been under Spain’s control. The first battle of the Moros against the American forces was the Battle of Bayang in Lanao on May 2, 1902. In this battle, the whole strength of Bayang together the forces of the other neighboring communities fought against the American soldiers. Despite of this unity, out of 600 Moro fighters, around 400 died including the Sultan of Bayang and the Sultan of Pandapatan; while the other side, only 7 American soldiers were killed and 44 wounded in which three of them died eventually. These high casualties of the defenseless Moros with only bamboos and swords as their forts and weapons against the most sophisticated guns reinforced the general perception that invaders (American government) consider Moro...
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