Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Centerstage / UPI Asia Online
Alexander Martin Remollino

Manila, Philippines, August 27 — In the debate on whether or not the Moros — the Islamized inhabitants of what are now known as the Philippine Islands — should be granted ancestral domain rights in Mindanao, there are those who have put forward the argument that Christians are the majority in the island. The implication is that since the Christians are the majority in Mindanao, there should be no talk of self-determination for the island's Islamized population.

Such an argument, which is bereft of historical validity, does not in any manner help the quest for what has been a long-elusive peace in Mindanao.

The Moros are now a majority only in a relatively small number of Mindanao provinces, but they were once the majority in the entire island. They had and continue to have a socio-political and economic system, as well as a culture, distinct from that of the regional groups who were eventually Christianized.

It is important to understand that the Moros became a minority in Mindanao through a series of historical travesties starting from the Spanish colonial era.

Though the Spaniards were never able to conquer Mindanao, they nevertheless included it in the 1898 Treaty of Paris, through which the U.S. purchased the Philippines as a colony from Spain, months after the Filipino revolutionaries had proclaimed independence. The U.S., through sheer brute force, defeated the Moro forces who resisted its colonial drive.

The inclusion of Mindanao in the U.S. annexation of the Philippines paved the way, through legislation, for large-scale non-Muslim migration to Mindanao. A number of the settlers engaged in land-grabbing.

Shortly after the U.S. granting of "independence" to the Philippines in 1946, in which Mindanao was included instead of being treated separately, the Philippine government was confronted with a communist-led, largely peasant-based armed struggle. Part of the government's attempts to defuse this struggle was the creation, in the 1950s, of a Mindanao Homestead Program — under which lands grabbed from Moros were given to former Hukbong Mapagpalaya ng Bayan (HMB or People's Liberation Army) guerrillas who had availed of amnesty.

It is through these series of historical travesties that the Moros ended up being driven to the margins in their own land. To dismiss the Moro people's claim for self-determination with the argument that Christians are now the majority in Mindanao is to deny a whole litany of historical wrongs that need to be corrected.

Recognizing the need to correct these wrongs is the key to the realization of peace in Mindanao.

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