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Who really own Mindanao and Sulu?

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This academic treatise might again be frowned upon by many who do not ancestrally belong to Mindanaao and Sulu. Most particularly those who are now holding key government or political positions and who want to stick  to their offices as long as the law allows or by whatever political tricks , manipulations , machinations, and tactics which can be applied to keep them perpetually in power. These are the people who pretend to fight for the interest and welfare of the inhabitants of Mindanao and Sulu as if they are the real inhabitants and natives of these places. But don’t you think their ulterior political motive is actually to keep themselves and their families in total political control of the governmental sub-divisions they have been elected to?  If you really observe them very analytically, when they act and talk, they appear and sound more than the real native inhabitants of Mindanao and Sulu. Obviously, they act and talk as if the whole territory personally belongs to them or to their families.

But who are really the owners of Mindanao and Sulu? Whatever are my thoughts and perceptions about this issue are all personal and maybe categorized as purely opinions expressed under the doctrine of free expression. Again, I claim no expertise or disciplinary authority in the areas of history, international law, diplomacy, or any other academic fields and professions. Please forgive me if I commit flaws in the process of opinion exposition. 

*By Reason of Ancestry

All the ethno-linguistic groups in Mindanao and Sulu, by reason of ancestry, claim that the territorial areas where their ancestors first settled belong to them which under the present legal terminology is classified as ancestral domains. Strictly from the standpoint of the law of discovery and by virtue of long and continued occupancy as first settlers, each ethno-linguistic group such as the Subanens of the Zamboanga Peninsula, the Tausogs of Sulu, the Samas, of Tawi-tawi, the Yakans of Basilan, the Tagoloans of Misamis Oriental, the Maranaos of Lanao, the Maguindanaos of Cotabato, the Tagaulo of Davao, and many other ethnic groups, claim ownership of the territories they actually occupy by virtue of discovery and the first to settle in these areas. This is precisely the reason why these ethno-linguistic groups claim to own these territories as their ancestral domains. In Zamboanga City, the the Subanens, by virtue of discovery and the first to settle in the area, are the only ones who have the right to claim this territory as their ancestral domain.

Those who legally converted themselves to Latinos certainly have forfeited their right to call themselves Zamboangueños because they now claim to be descendants of the Latins in Latium, Italy, Iberian Peninsula. That’s their choice, so we just have to respect them. 

*By Virtue of the Moniker- “Moros.”

As I previously discussed the term,” Moro” or “Moros” was first used by the Spaniards to refer to all the inhabitants of Mindanao and Sulu without any distinction as to ethnicity or religion. From the view point of the Spaniards, Mindanao and Sulu belong to the inhabitants who they called “Moros” collectively. In effect, all the linguistic groups including those who were practicing the Islam religion were all categorized under the generic term “Moros” by the Spaniards. Later on the “Moros” who were converted to Christianity by the Spaniards, were called Filipinos and became subjects of the Spanish Crown. Over time two distinct nationalities evolved during the Spanish regime, the “Moros” and the Filipinos. Why the Spaniards called the people of Mindanao collectively “Moros,” had already been adequately explained by both local and foreign historians. As historians generally say, the Spaniards although consummate in their attempts to conquer, colonize, and Christianize Mindanao and Sulu, failed until the signing of the December 10, 1898 when Spain ceded and sold the Philippine Islands to the United States for $20-Million which also intentionally or unintentionally included the Sultanate of Sulu and North Borneo and the Sultanate of Maguindanao or Mindanao. This diplomatic and commercial transaction was forged after several months of negotiations between the Spanish and American plenipotentiaries as a consequence of the defeat of Spain in the 1898 Spanish-American war. The Americans when they took over the occupation of Mindnao and Sulu, also used the term” Moros” to refer to all the inhabitants of Mindanao and Sulu. The Americans were the ones who first coined the term “Moroland.”

*By Virtue of Ancient Statehood

Before the coming of the Spaniards around 1578 according to local historians, Mindanao and Sulu were already well-established de facto and de jure sultanates; namely the Sultanates of Sulu and North Borneo and the Sultanate of Maguindanao. The Spaniards forged several treaties with the Sultan of Sulu and Maguindanao which made them claim that these two Islamic monarchies were already incorporated into the Spanish Empire. Yet, their claims had all been denied by the fact that the Spaniards never acquired de facto sovereignty over these two Sultanates whose forces were persistently fighting to repel and expel them for more than three hundred years. This fact convinced the historians to assert that Spaniards failed to conquer, colonize and Christianize the two Islamic kingdoms. Even American military officers and top civilian officials also confirmed that the Spaniards never acquired overall de facto sovereignty over the Sultanates of Sulu and Maguindanao.  As I revealed before, it was here in Zamboanga (Fort Pilar) where the last Spanish Governor-General Diego delos Rios surrendered the sovereignty of Spain over the Philippine Islands on May 18, 1899 to Gen. Vicente Solis Alvares, the Commanding General of the Zamboanga Revolutionary Army and the First President of the Zamboanga Republic, not to the Americans.

If the Americans confirmed that Sulu and Mindanao were not colonial possessions of Spain by virtue of conquest or any other mode of territorial acquisition, why were they included in the sale and cession of the Philippine Islands under Article III of the December 10, 1898 Treaty of Paris? And why were these two Sultanates occupied by the Americans when they were not parts of the Philippine Islands which was the only territorial possession of the Spanish Crown. The Americans themselves documentarily and officially admitted that the Sultanate of Sulu was independent and sovereign territory for more than 400 years until the signing of the Carpenter Memorandum of March 22, 19l5. And why did the Americans unilaterally and arbitrarily incorporate Mindanao and Sulu to the Republic of the Philippines on July 4, 1946 against the overwhelming opposition of the Muslim leaders who signed a petition to the United States Congress expressing to remain under the American Flag or a constitutional sultanate to be known to the world as the Moro Nation? Were these not explicit violations of the Law of nations, the United Nations Charter, and the US 1787 Constitution? Please give us a straightforward answer! We are gravely confused already!

So because the Americans themselves asserted that the Mindanao and Sulu were not colonial possessions of Spain as clearly stipulated in the Bates Treaty and Carpenter Memorandum, Mindanao and Sulu still up to this day remain de jure territorial realms of the Sultanates of Sulu and Maguiindanao.
So, who really own Mindanao and Sulu? You make your own decision. Certainly, it is only a de facto territory of the Republic of the Philippines.  If in doubt, kindly ask either the Spaniards or the Americans. I am sure they will give you a better answer. But if you ask me, frankly I will say:  They belong to all of us present inhabitants irrespective of religion, color, and ethnicity because we are all human brothers and sisters.

So, let stop this useless war? It’s certainly not the right path to peace. Try using the roadmap of history. The answer to all your questions may be found in “Pandora’s box.”

By Clem M. Bascar




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