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What is “Bangsamoro”?


(BY: CLEM  M. BASCAR) Rightfully, the Media should be credited for the phenomenal rise to peak popularity of the word “Bangsamoro.” Undeniably, it has now become a part of the vocabulary of all sectors of society including the street children. But there is a downside to the attainment of household popularity of a given word of term, for oftentimes, people tend to utter or use it without making any serious effort to know its real or originally intented meaning. This situation was observed during the consultation held recently in Zamboanga City primarily to elicit the true sentiments, suggestions, recommendations, reactions, and perceptions of the different stakeholders with regard to the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) drafted jointly by the GPH and MILF Peace Panels.

It is of fundamental and paramount importance for the proper and common understanding of a given word or term to be operationally defined to avoid confusion and differences in interpreting, providing its right meaning, and insuring its correct usage. The operational definition of a new or unfamiliar word or term  is  very essential for all the people concerned, affected, interested, and involved to acquire common  knowledge and understanding of its true meaning. Unfortunately, the clear-cut, simple, and functional definition and the etymology of the term “Bangsamoro “ is nowhere to be found in any of the diplomatic documents forged between  or drafted jointly by the GPH and MILF Peace Panels, particularly the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro (FAB), the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB), and the draft Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL).

While the Bangsamoro is being given the identity of a nation, this has not been sufficiently provided with the proper and clear definition  and description as to who or what constitutes this group of inhabitants distinct or different from the indigenous inhabitants of Mindnao and Sulu. This ambiguity gives rise to such questions as: Is “Moro” one of the native groups in Mindanao and Sulu? Does this term refer only to the Mohammedans (Muslims) in Mindanao and Sulu? If it is one of the ethnic groups, why are the other indigenous inhabitants not included as organic members under the BBL? Does the Bangsamoro people refer exclusively to the  members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF)? If the Bangsamoro is indigenous, why is there still a need for the other  native inhabitants to apply for this national identity if they so desire by ascription or self-ascription as stipulated in the draft BBL which makes it appear more exclusive rather than inclusive of all the native or original inhabitants of Mindanao, Sulu, and Palawan. Besides, the phrase “at the time of conquest and colonization” as used in Section 1 of Article 1 of the BBL  defining the Bangsamoro Identity, runs contradictory to the common assertion, confirmation, and attestation, and claim of world-recognized, respected, and accredited authors of history textbooks and references that Mindanao and Sulu were not conquered and colonized by Spain.  

I shall not venture into the difficult technical task of coming up with a generally understandable, culturally harmonizing, politically solidifying, and generically acceptable definition of the term” Bangsamoro” because admittedly, I am neither an expert nor authority in linguistics. What I am actually doing is just articulating my own personal  viewpoint about the term based on some historical materials available.

Let me again stress the fact that the “Bangsamoro” has no endemic ethno-linguistic origin in Mindanao and Sulu. It is not even included in the 13 ethno-linguistic groups originally identified by anthropologists. As it obviously appears, it is a combination of “Bangsa”  and “Moro.”  The word “Bangsa” is  Malay (the Austronesian language) which means in English “nation” or “people” while “Moro”  or “Moros” according to the New Encyclopedia Britannica, Vol.11, page 381, was the term used by the Spaniards to refer to the native inhabitants of Mindanao and Sulu.The Spaniards might have thought that the Moros were all Mohammedans, like the Moors who conquered Spain in the 8th Century and ruled for eight hundred years according to some historical accounts.

“Moros” was also the term adopted by the Americans to refer collectively to all the indigenous peoples of Mindanao and Sulu. In fact, the first autonomous province which the Americans created on June 1, 1903 by virtue of Philippine Commission Legislative Act No. 787, was the Moro Province which was made up of five districts in Mindanao and Sulu, namely; Sulu, Zamboanga, Lanao, Cotabato, and Davao. The Moro Province was  administered separately under the direct control of the Civil Governor of the Philippine Islands. While the Spaniards were credited for the “Moro” monicker given to the native inhabitants of Mindanao and Sulu, the Americans were the ones who officially recognized and admitted that Mindanao and Sulu belonged to the “Moros’ by joining them to comprise the moroland and organized as a political sub-division called the Moro Province.

Factually and irrefutably, the Americans were  responsible for the arbitrary junction of  the two sovereign and indepedent Islamic states, the Sultanates of Maguindanao (inclusive of minor and major royal houses in Mindanao) and Sulu, first to constitute a military district, shortly after, the Moro Province, and then the Department of Mindanao and Sulu established on July 23, 1914 by virtue of PC  Act No. 2408.

 Another undeniable historical fact which proves that the Americans used the term “Moros” generically to refer to all the native inhabitants of Mindanao and Sulu without distinction as to religion and ethnicity, was the establishment of the Capital of the Moro Province in Zamboanga despite the fact that even as early as that particular point in our political annals, it was already dominantly populated by Christians owing to the long period of occupation, colonization, and Christianization of this area by the Spaniards.   

 Giving due credit to the national legislator who first used  the  term “Bangsamoro” as a revolutionary organization, Salah Jubair, a highly respected author of the book,” Bangsamoro: A Naton Under Endless Tyranny,” has this to say:

“In 1970 Congressman Rashid Lucman organized the Bangsamoro Liberation Organization (BLMO). It was designed to function as an umbrella organization under and from which all other liberation forces must radiate. In 1974, it was renamed Bangsa Muslimin Islamic Liberation Organization. It frowned upon the use of the term Moro which was given by the enemies of Islam, and in its stead Muslimin was chosen.”

Salah Jubair, on page 13 of the same book aforecited  states quite unequivocably and emphatically:

“ All the monickers assigned to the natives, Indio, Moro and Filipino were given by the Spaniards. History should credit them for giving us all these names, either out of hatred or by reason of similarities, or by force of circumstances, or by all of the above.”

Another world famous authority, CFW Forbes, author of the book etitled, ‘The Philippine Islands’, Copyright 1928, explicitly explains that:

“The term ‘Moro’ was associated with the inhabitants of ancient Mauretania who manned the Arab armies which conquered and ruled Spain  for centuries. The Moros were different from the native inhabitants of Luzon and Visayas who the Spaniards called ‘Indios.’

Before the Spaniards came to the Philippine Islands, particularly in Mindanao and Sulu, the word “Moro” was not a part of the vocabulary of any of the different indigenous inhabitants making it purely a Spanish linguistic creation or invention. It cannot therefore, be considered indigenous or endemic to our multi-dialectal inhabitants. There is no historical truth to the claim or assumption from the standpoint of our anthropological and sociological history that the “Moros” are indigenous or native to Mindanao and Sulu. In fact, for a long time in the past,  the inhabitants of Mindanao and Sulu vehemently desliked this “Moro” monicker given by the Spaniards because of the many derogatory and prejudicial connotations  attached to it.

Personally for me, (please correct me if I am wrong) the only authentic and official document that offers us a factual clue as to the first time the word “Moro” was used as a national identity, is found in the text of the petition sent to the United States by Sultan Jamalul Kiram and 57 prominent Sulu leaders in 192l which reportedly gained widespread support for the sentiments expressed. The most important and relevant part of the petition states:

“ the event that the United States grants independence to the Philippine Islands without provision for our retention under the American Flag, it is our firm intention and resolve to declare ourselves an independent constitutional sultanate to be known to the world as the Moro Nation.”

How the “Bangsamoro” evolved to be officially accepted and recognized national identity under the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) that will create the New Bangsamoro Juridical Entity (BJE) in place of the existing Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) on account of being declared a “failed experiment,” is officially the educational, technical, and functional responsibility of the MILF and GPH panels to  clearly explain to all and sundry.

In the absence of more valid and reliable sources of historical information,   anyone is constrained to assume that the etymology and evolution of the “Bangsamoro” as a national identity, for the moment, could be empirically attributed and traced to the aforecited petition signed by Sultan Jamalul Kiram and 57 prominent Sulu officials which was sent to the United States Congress for proper action on June 9, 1921.

Strictly from the linguistic standpoint, the term “Bangsamoro” is just a combination of “BANGSA” and “MORO”, which is not among the 13 ethno-linguistic inhabitants of Mindanao and Sulu as originally identified by anthropologists and sociologists. Both words may be interpreted to be of similar or the same meaning depending upon the manner, purpose, intent, or context for and in which it is used.

This concept of national identity must have been influenced by the “Bangsa Malaysia” (Malaysian Nation), a policy introduced by the former Prime Minister, Mahathir Mohamad to create an inclusive national identity for all inhabitants of Malaysia.

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