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“Moro”- A Spanish concoction


For the general interest, proper understanding, and functional knowledge of my fellow inhabitants of Mindanao and Sulu, without distinction as to ancestry, color of skin, creed, social status, political affiliation, and other anthropological categorizations, labels, or brands, I have again taken the initiative to explain in simple and understandable manner, the term “Moro” in hopes that the prejudices, biases, negative connotations and denotations attached to it by our former colonial masters, will somehow be reduced substantially if not entirely expelled toward   harmonious and peaceful co-existence in our common Land of Promise. I hope it serves fully its intended educative purpose.   

The term Moro has no indigenous dialectal or linguistic roots. In short, it’s entirely a Spanish lingual concoction which was used to refer to all the inhabitants of Mindanao and Sulu when they first set foot on the shores of these two ancient monarchial territories to conquer, colonize, and Christianize as early as 1578. As a matter of historical truth, before the coming of Spaniards, there were no Moro inhabitants to speak of in Mindanao and Sulu. There were only Mohammedans and the different indigenous peoples living in these two archipelagos distinct from those of the Visayas and Luzon who were either, adherents to the Sultanate of Sulu or to the Sultanate of Maguindanao. There were already Muslims or Mohammedans when the Spaniards arrived in Mindanao and Sulu because the Islam faith was introduced in these two archipelagoes by Karim-ul Makhdum, an Arab religious missionary, as early as 1380 according to reliable historical accounts ahead of Christianity by about 141 years if we based our reckoning  on the date when Ferdinand Magellan  discovered the Philippine Islands on March 16, 1521. There was no Bangsamoro then, but only the Sultanate of Sulu and the Sultanate of Maguindanao which were recognized internationally as independent and sovereign Islamic states both de jure and de facto. According to historians, during this period, Jolo was already known far and wide as a Super port while Cebu and Manila could even be hardly considered as attractive and flourishing settlements. 

According to Salah Jubair, author of the book, entitled, ‘Bangsamoro, A Nation Under Endless Tyranny,’ copyright 1999 “ all the monikers assigned to the natives, Indio, Moro, and Filipino were given by the Spaniards. History should credit them for these names, either out of hatred or by reason of similarities, or by force of circumstances, or by all of the above.”

While it is true that the Spaniards really tried with all the might to place Mindanao and Sulu under the Crown of Spain for more than three hundred years, historians generally say that they miserably failed. It was the United States who occupied Mindanao and Sulu starting with the unintended or sneak arrival in Sulu of the American Forces on May l9, l899 whose specific order was to occupy Fort Pilar but was repelled by the revolutionary forces under the command of General Vicente Solis Alvarez who captured the biggest Spanish fortress in Mindanao which led to the surrender of the last Spanish Governor-General, Diego de los Rios together with all the remaining colonial forces on May 18, l899.

Virtually and irrefutably with this historical fact, it was not the Americans who freed  Zamboanga and the entire Philippines from the Crown of Spain by virtue of the Law of War, but the revolutionary forces under the unified command of General Vicente Solis Alvarez who established the short-lived genuine de facto Zamboanga Republic. What was capitulated to the Americans by the Spanish Governor-General Fermin Daudenes, was only the City of Manila through the conduct of a “Mock War” on August 13, 1898 which in my own personal point of view, was grossly contrary to the Ethics and Law of War. 

The concept of a sub-state, or state within a state, was first applied by the Americans in governing the Moros (Muslims, Christians, and Lumads) of Mindanao and Sulu separate from the Christian Filipinos of Visayas and Luzon. This was because, the Americans considered the Moros to be a separate and distinct nationality from the Filipinos. The friars in the Spanish occupied and controlled areas of Mindanao and Sulu started converting the Moros  to Christianity and in consequence became Filipinos as subjects of Spain. Some Moro Muslims were also converted to Christianity and also became Filipnos. All Christians and Muslims in Mindanao and Sulu came from the different indigenous inhabitants. Those Moros who have remained un-Christianized or un- Islamized are now called Lumads. So at present the tri-people of Mindanao and Sulu are the Muslims, Christians, and the Lumads who all came from the same racial roots represented by the different ethno-linguistic groups originally inhabiting these two ancient monarchies who were collectively called Moros by the Spaniards and later on also by the Americans.

Fearing that placing these two nationalities (Moros, inclusive of Muslims, and Filipinos) which seemed to consider each other as traditional enemies, would pose tremendous difficulties for the Americans to govern effectively, the Americans never integrated the Moros into the mainstream of Philippine body politic, not until the Philippines was granted Independence by the United States on July 4, l946 under the Tydings-McDuffie Act (officially the Philippine Independence Act; Public Law 73- 127, approved March 24, 1934.)    

There were actually several names of the Moro sub-state that the Americans gave to govern the inhabitants of Mindanao and Sulu. The first one was organized on October 30, l899 and was called the Military District of Mindanao, Jolo, and Palawan. This was under the Command of Gen John Bates. On March 20, 1900, Brig. William Kobbe took over and afterwards, the status of the Command was changed to the Department of Mindanao and Jolo. When Gen William Kobbe was replaced by Brig. George Davis on October 1, 1902, after a few adjustments in the structure, on July 10, 1902, it was renamed Department of Mindanao. And finally, on June 1, 1903, the Moro Province was created.)  Whether or not, the occupation of Mindanao and Sulu was lawful from the standpoint of the 1787 Constitution of the United States, is for the experts to debate and resolve.

If the sub-state (Bangsamoro Juridical Entity) will definitely lead to the attainment of meaningful, durable, genuine, and sustainable peace, progress, and development of Mindanao and Sulu, why should anybody oppose it? If however, it will just be another political sub-structure for the ascendancy of another set of power seekers and dreamers and only for the satisfaction of their economic and political ambitions, then let’s all unite and oppose it using history as our legitimately valid and peaceful defense. No need for employment of guns, blazing emotions, or any methods of violence. We are not the gladiators of Rome, but the descendants of peace-loving multi-cultural indigenous ancestors.

By the way, why are we so worried? With history on our side, we have no reason to be afraid of because we are all Moros by Spanish branding which was also adopted by the Americans when they took over the occupation of Mindanao and Sulu starting May 19, 1899. Only the veritable Zamboanga Republic possesses the most valid and historically authentic justifications for decolonization and independence from the Republic of the Philippines based on the Law of Conquest.

By Clem M. Bascar

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