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ANGAY-ANGAY LANG: The Minoritization of the Indigenous Communities of Mindanaw and Sulu (8)

mindaviews rodil8th of 16 parts

(Done in 1992 at Iligan City, published initially as two versions. First as the abbreviated edition published by The Minority Rights Group, London entitled The Lumad and Moro of Mindanaw, July 1993. The Philippine edition carrying the full draft was printed by AFRIM in Davao City, 1994. This was later updated in 2003, summarized in an epilogue. This is the third revision, now with an expanded epilogue.)



Aside from their being Muslims, the Moro people are especially proud of two other accomplishments in history. First, long before the Spanish colonizers arrived in the Philippine archipelago, they have enjoyed a high level of centralized social system as exemplified by the Sulu Sultanate which dated back to 1450, and the Magindanaw Sultanate which although born only in 1619 was preceded by the two powerful principalities of Magindanaw and Buayan at the Pulangi valley. And two, by their singular success in maintaining their freedom against repeated Spanish attempts to subjugate them for three hundred thirty-three years.

Triumph of Western Colonialism

But like the rest of the inhabitants of the archipelago, they, too, became victims of the machinations of two colonial powers at the turn of the century. With the signing of the Treaty of Paris, or, with one stroke of the pen, figuratively speaking, all inhabitants of the islands without exception — the Moros no less — became colonial subjects of the United States of America. Subsequent American moves were designed to clear away all forms of opposition to the assertion of American rights of possession and the establishment of American colonial rule. In the case of the Moro people, the direction was towards assimilation with the general body politic which in this instance was oriented around the Filipino identity.

Thus began a radical turn in Moro life which quickly cleared the way for their minoritization. Moro leaders’ recognition and acknowledgement of American sovereignty shifted centers of authority from them to American officials and institutions. Control over land and its disposition became the sole prerogative of the state authority. Private property prevailed over communal ownership, and usufruct lost its institutional base. Police power became the exclusive domain of police institutions, more specifically the Philippine Constabulary.

Moro Resistance

There was widespread armed resistance against the American presence during the first fifteen years, despite compromises by their leaders, notably the Sultan of Sulu, Datu Piang of Maguindanaw and Datu Mandi of Zamboanga. Between 1903 and 1936, Moro lives lost from the fighting were estimated by the Americans to be between 15,000 to 20,000 dead. In the words of an American officer, “no one dreamed that the Constabulary was to engage in hundreds of “cotta” (fort) fights and to quell twenty-six uprisings of sufficient seriousness to be listed as `campaigns’ before it turned over the task of establishing law and order, still uncompleted, to the Philippine Army in 1936.” Most notorious or most famous of the encounters, depending on one’s point of view, were the battles of Bud Dajo and Bud Bagsak in Sulu; the struggle of Datu Ali in Magindanaw, and the Lake town campaigns in Lanao.

American success in arms were effectively balanced with equally determined efforts in civil affairs, more specifically, tapping the datus for key roles in colonial government, educating their children, and exposure programs for the more obstinate datus to make them more cooperative in the more subtle ways.

Datu Participation in Colonial Government

Formerly prime minister to the Sultan of Sulu, Hadji Butu was chosen Special Assistant to the American Governor of the Moro Province in 1904. He was Senator representing Mindanaw and Sulu from 1915 to 1920. Acknowledged as a top leader of the  Maguindanawons in the Cotabato Valley, Datu Piang started his service as third member of the Provincial Board of Cotabato in 1915, then became a member of the House of Representatives in 1916 representing Cotabato. A ranking datu in Lanao, Datu Benito represented Lanao in the same House. Other datus served in various capacities a good number of them starting as third member of their respective provincial boards. These personalities all actively supported the educational program of the Americans.

Education, A Tool of Pacification

American officials never underestimated the efficacy of education as a tool of conquest. A military veteran of the Mindanaw campaigns, Col. Harold H. Elarth, made this observation: “With the older generation held in check by armed force and the younger being trained in these schools, civilization and a semblance of law and order began to spread over Moroland.” General Arthur McArthur who for a while in 1901  headed American troops in the Philippines felt that there was “nothing in the department of administration that can contribute more in behalf of pacification than the immediate institutions of a comprehensive system of education  and saw education as “so closely allied to the exercise of military force in these islands”. Thus, while tapping Moro leaders for important roles in the colonial government, special arrangements were made to enable sons and daughters of these leaders to obtain education.

The case of Sulu was instructive. A girls’ dormitory managed by a Christian Filipino matron and financed by American ladies in New York was established in 1916 in Jolo. This contributed substantially in breaking down Moro prejudice against sending their daughters to school. The pupils were selected from the leading Tausug families, among them Princess Indataas, the daughter of Datu Tambuyong, one of the principal datus of the Sulu Sultanate; Princess Intan, the sister of Datu Tahil. Even then, Datu Tambuyong played safe; he required the American authorities to sign a long document which promised that his daughter would not be allowed to dance or talk with men, among others. The support given by the leading datus certainly made the dormitory a great success. At the same time, it inspired some of the girls to become teachers.

American success among the general Moro population may be gauged from the enrolment figures themselves. In 1900, we are told that “in the Moro areas of Mindanaw some 25 schools were opened the first year with more than 2,000 pupils attending.” In the school at Jolo, very few of the 200 pupils were Moros because their parents suspected that “American schools would try to convert their children from Islam to Christianity.”

Three years after, “52 schools are now in operation in the Moro province… with a total enrollment of 2,114, of which number 1,289 are boys and 825 are girls. One thousand seven hundred and sixty-four of the students enrolled are Christians, 240 are Mohammedans and 110 pagan Bagobos.

In 1906, Act No. 167 (20 June 1906) on compulsory education for children of school age, not less than 7 and not older than 13, was implemented in the Moro Province.

In 1913, 1,825 Moros and 525 pagans were enrolled in the public schools of the Moro Province. In 1918 the enrollment of the Moros in the five provinces (of Sulu, Zamboanga, Cotabato, Lanao, Davao) had increased to 8,421 and pagan pupils to 3,129.

By 1919 the Director of Public Education boasted that “six of the highest ranking Mohammedan princesses of the Sultanate of Sulu were teaching in the public schools, one of them a niece of the Sultan.”

Exposure Tours

Inviting independent-minded Moro leaders into exposing themselves to “high civilization” was called education trips designed to soften resistance to colonial policy. Usually selected to receive these invitations were Moro datus and other headmen who were loud in their objections to political and or social union with Christian Filipinos. Datu Alamada and Datu Ampatuan of Cotabato were two of those datus who as a result of these trips were transformed into avid supporters of colonial policy. Datu Alamada, in particular, was reportedly insistent in his requests for schools, homestead surveys, and colony organization for his people.

These devices, among others, proved to be most effective in redirecting the proud Moro spirit from active armed resistance to acquiescence. Like all others in the same category throughout the islands, Moro loss is twofold. They lost control of their own destiny and resources. They became a people, neatly labeled, first as wild or non-Christian Tribes in American times, then through R.A. 1888 in 1957 as national cultural minorities who were to be prepared towards eventual integration with the mainstream of the Philippine body politic. They ceased to exercise their right to self-determination. How did they feel about this situation?


Part IX: Early Moves Towards Recovery of Self-Determination

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