By: Mohd. Musib M. Buat

No. They are not ‘Filipinos’ but they are ‘Philippine Citizens’ by operation of law. And how did that happen? It’s a long story. But let me first narrate its historical antecedents before I will talk about the issue on ‘Citizenship’.

Historical Antecedents

The Moros were once free and independent people under the suzerainty of their sultanates with a definite territory or homeland as recognized under various treaties with foreign powers like Spain, Great Britain, Germany and the Netherlands. The Moro sultanates, kingdoms and principalities at the time were known as karajaan or kadatuan  (negeri in Malay), endowed with all the elements of a nation-state in the modern legal sense. They conducted foreign trade and commerce and diplomatic relations and entered into treaties of peace and amity, trade and commercial relations with their Asian neighbors as well as various European powers.

The most significant of these treaties entered into by the Moro rulers or suzerains with Spain were the Sultan Qudarat-Lopez Treaty of 1645 and 1648, and the Rajah Bungso-Lopez Treaty of 1646, defining and demarcating the respective dominions of the sultanates of Maguindanao-Buayan and Sulu and the colonial possessions of Spain over the Visayas and Luzon. These treaties were honored by Spain until the last days of their colonial rule over the Visayas and Luzon. The so-called “Moro Wars” between the Moros and Spain were better known as ‘wars of supremacy’ between the two nations over the control and collection of tributes on the native inhabitants of the Islands of Visayas and Luzon, according to the Muslim historian Dr. Cesar Adib Majul (in Muslims in the Philippines, Quezon City, 1973).

The Royal Decree of July 30, 1860 decreed by Queen Isballa II of Spain and the Royal Decree of July 15, 1896 and the Maura law of 1893 that provided organization of municipal governments excluded the Moro territories of Mindanao, Sulu and Palawan. The latter Spanish decrees merely proposed for the establishment of politico-military governments in occupied territories of Mindanao, Sulu and Palawan, excepting the territorial dominions of the Sultanates of Mindanao and Sulu. The last significant treaty entered by the Spanish colonial government and the Sultanate of Sulu was the Sulu-Spain Treaty of 1878 which was more a treaty of peace and amity between Sulu and Spain and for the Sulu Sultan recognizing the protection of Spain against any foreign aggression. It was more of a protectorate relationship between Spain and Sulu, and not a territorial possession on the part of Spain over the dominions of Sulu.

The last agreement or treaty entered between the Sultanate of Maguindanao and Rajah Buayan realms with Spain in 1888 was the ‘Act of Conciliation between Spanish sovereign King Alfonso XIII and the Royal Houses of Maguindanao and Buayan,’ represented by Rajah Putri, Queen Regent of Maguindanao (Datu Utto’s wife) and by Datu Utto himself, representing Rajah Buayan, to end the war between Spain and Buayan. Like the Sulu-Spain Treaty of 1878, it was a treaty of peace and amity and not capitulation or surrender on the part Datu Uttu of Buayan and his Moro datu allies.

But how did the Moros lost their freedom and sovereign independence? They lost it through deceit and misrepresentation and not by conquest by any foreign power, nor by capitulation or surrender. Spain shamelessly and immorally included the Bangsamoro territories in the cession of the Philippine Islands under the Treaty of Paris of December 10, 1898 to the United States. US President William McKinley who had entertained serious doubts as to the sovereignty of Spain over the Sulu Sultanate had promptly directed that a formal agreement be made with the Sulu Sultan on the basis of the Sulu-Spain treaty of 1878. The agreement entered into between Sulu Sultan Jamal ul-Kiram II and US Brig. General Bates is known as the Kiram-Bates Treaty of August 20, 1889 that later became very controversial. The Sulu Sultan and his royal datus maintained that it was a treaty of peace and friendship, the former merely accepted and acknowledged the protection of the American flag while the United States military authorities claimed that it was a tacit recognition by the Sulu ruler and his datus the sovereignty of the United States over the Sulu dominions and dependencies.

No agreements were entered by the US authorities with the Moro suzerains and leaders of Mindanao. The Moro leaders in the mainland, except some of the datus and sultans of the Lake Lanao region (Ranaw) who viewed with suspicion the Americans as not different from their hated enemies – the Spaniards, relied on the promises of the American officials to honor and respect the Moro culture and tradition, Islam religion and their institutions did not find the necessity of entering into formal agreements with the American authorities. The American authorities who had recognized and acknowledged the distinct identity and culture of the Moros and other natives of Mindanao from the Christian Filipinos in the Visayas and Luzon, established a separate administrative structure to govern and administer the affairs of the Moros and other non-Islamized native inhabitants, known as the Moro Province in 1903. It was a transition type of administration to last up to 1913 preparatory to the transfer of authority to the Moros after they were prepared to govern themselves in the art of modern self-government and administration. It was extended from 1914 to 1920 under a new name known as the Department of Mindanao and Sulu.

When news went around on the plan of the United States to grant Philippine independence after the passage of the Jones Law in 1916 by the US Congress and immediately after the end of the Moro Province, the Moro people of Sulu signed and sent a petition dated June 9, 1921 addressed to the President of the United States, expressing their desire and preference that the Sulu archipelago be made part of American territory instead of being incorporated with the Philippine Islands. They cited litany of grievances against the abuses of the Philippine Constabulary and Filipino officials on the Sulu Moros. In other separate petitions, other Sulu Moros longed for the return to the Moro Province administered by American officials.

On February 1, 1924, Moro leaders and datus led by Sultan Mangigin of Maguindanao gathered in Zamboanga and signed a petition popularly known as the “Zamboanga Declaration” addressed to the Congress of the United States, proposing that in the event that the US Government will grant Philippine independence, the Islands of Mindanao, Sulu archipelago and Palawan instead be made an unorganized territory of the United States; and should this be not feasible, they further proposed that 50 years after the grant of Philippine independence, a plebiscite (or referendum) be held in the proposed unorganized territory to decide by vote whether the proposed territory will be incorporated in the government of the Islands of Luzon and Visayas, remain a territory, or become independent. In the event that the United  States grant independence to the Philippine Islands without provision for the retention of the Moro territories under the American flag, the petitioners manifested  their firm intention and resolve to declare themselves an independent sultanate to be known to the world as the “Moro Nation” (Bangsa Moro).

Congressman Roger Bacon and others filed and introduced bills before the US Congress proposing either to make Mindanao and Sulu a component state of the United States or remain as an unorganized territory in preparation for the granting of separate independence. These moves were blocked by the lobby of the Filipino nationalists led by Manuel Quezon and his colleagues. When Quezon became President of the Philippine Commonwealth, his first national policy was the colonization of Mindanao and Sulu by Filipino migrant-settlers from the Visayas and Luzon with government support and backing. This was followed by the passage of land confiscatory laws passed by Philippine Legislature dispossessing the Moros and other native inhabitants of their ancestral domains and ancestral lands, a policy that started during the early American regime.

The Bangsamoro people during the American period (1898-1946) did not relent in their quest for freedom and self-determination. On March 18, 1935, during the Philippine Commonwealth, Hadji Bogabong together with prominent Moro datus and leaders of Lanao signed a petition now known as the historic  ‘Dansalan Declaration’ addressed to the President of the United States, expressing their grievances for the failure of the delegates in the 1935 Constitutional Convention to provide appropriate security and guarantee over the rights and interests of the Moros and the protection of their ancestral lands from being titled and occupied by Christian Filipino settlers. When this petition was not heeded by the US Government, Bogabong and his followers waged the famous ‘Cotta Wars’ (Moro Forts) in the Lake Lanao region which lasted shortly before the outbreak of the Pacific War in World War II.

After the Pacific War, the United States Government hastily granted Philippine independence on July 4, 1946, incorporating the Islands of Mindanao, Sulu archipelago and Palawan, particularly the geographic areas encompassed under the Moro Province and adjacent areas, without prior consultation or plebiscitary consent of the Bangsamoro people. America therefore reneged and betrayed her unfulfilled mandate in ‘Moroland’ to prepare and train the Moros in the art of modern self-government and administration as stated under former US President William McKinley’s Instructions to the Second Taft Commission and the US Congress on April 7, 1900 on the policy to be pursued by the US Government with respect to the Moros and other native inhabitants of the Philippine Islands.  America is partly to blame of the present conflict in Mindanao and Sulu archipelago and Palawan, and adjacent islands, as ‘protector’ of the Bangsamoro people. America shall therefore be urged to fulfill its unfinished mandate to ‘decolonize’ the Bangsamoro country (or Moroland) from the neo-colonial regime of the Philippine government.

The 50 year period in the ‘Zamboanga Declaration’ reckoned from the date of the grant of Philippine independence on July 4, 1946 matured in 1996, the year that the Philippine Government (GRP) and the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) signed the Final Peace Agreement in September 1996. Finding the GRP-MNLF agreement inadequate for failure to adequately address the legitimate grievances and aspirations of the Bangsamoro people, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) opted to continue the peace negotiations with the Philippine government in the hope of finding a just, peaceful and permanent solution to the Mindanao conflict through a negotiated political settlement.

I have reviewed the above historical antecedents to have a clear perspective on the question – why the Moros are not ‘Filipinos’. With respect to this particular issue, I find it convenient to just quote excerpts from my earlier paper which aptly discussed this subject.

The Bangsamoro People are not Filipinos

The question of allegiance by the Bangsamoros to the Philippine State, remain an unsettled issue up to this day. The Bangsamoro people have never regarded themselves as Filipinos but as “Philippine Citizens” by operation of law or for political convenience since they have always maintained their uniqueness as people or nation (bangsa) with separate and distinct identity on the basis of a “two-nation theory” within the Philippine nation-state entity which they believed they have an equal right to share a portion of the national territory as their separate national homeland and over which they have the right to govern themselves free from undue interference from the Central Government on the basis of the principle of “equality of peoples” under the law of nations. Regrettably, the present Philippine Constitution still reflects a highly centralized and unitary colonial system compared with other modern constitutions.

The present Spanish Constitution has categorically recognized the identity and the right to self-governance by its historic peoples or communities. The Basques, Catalans, Galicians and Andalusians of Spain are considered “historic nationalities or communities” which have retained their distinct ethnic identity and guaranteed their rights to self-government and practically independent from interference from the Spanish Central Government. The territories and regions of these historic communities are denominated under the Spanish Constitution as “Regional Autonomous States” within a central political structure. Indeed, a former colonial power such as Spain is more politically progressive and liberal than its former colony – the Philippines Islands.

As a matter of consolation in their realization that they have become part of an artificial and imaginary national community called Filipino not of their own choice or liking but by operation of law, the Bangsamoro people tried to cushion and mitigate that reality by affixing to Filipino the term Muslim or one who is a “Muslim Filipino” to maintain their separate and distinct identity from the Christian Filipinos. With the resurgence of Moro nationalism in the early 70’s, they restored their historical identity and added to the “Moro identity” the concept of a “Nation (Bangsa)”. Thus, their preferred ethnic identity is “Bangsa Moro”, meaning “Moro Nation”.

This is however not a new ethnic configuration for it has a long history dating as far back as the 17th century when the Moros started to consider themselves a “Nation” bound by Islamic culture and ideology despite their differences as domestic communities. There is a historical and legal basis for their assertion of a separate and distinct identity from the Christian Filipinos. In the first place, they were never the subject of the Spanish Catholic monarchy. They have remained a separate and independent people until they were unjustly incorporated under Philippine territory by the United States in the grant of Philippine independence on July 4, 1946. Secondly, based on legal and historical instruments they were neither considered Filipinos.

Under the Treaty of Paris of 1898, concluded between Spain and the United States, the Moros were not listed as Philippine Citizens. The Malolos Constitution of 1899 of the First Philippine Republic did not include the Moros under Article 6 thereof as Citizens of the Philippines. What appears is that President Emilio Aguinaldo in his letter of January 18, 1899 to the Sultan of Sulu recognized the independence of the Moro people and offered them “bonds of fraternal unity” and ‘solidarity on the bases of absolute respect for the beliefs and traditions of the Moros’. (See Peter Gowing). The Philippine Bill of 1902 passed by the U.S. Congress defines Philippine Citizens as ‘all inhabitants of the Philippine Islands who were subjects of Spain, their children and descendants’. The Moros were never subjects of Spain.

The Jones Law of 1916 passed by the U.S. Congress similarly defined Philippine Citizens as former subjects of Spain. It, however, contained a proviso which provides that, except by law the existence of Philippine Citizenship shall be provided by the Philippine Legislature which was a legal contingency. The 1935 Constitution may have extended Philippine Citizenship to the Moros in ambiguous terms when it provided that Philippine Citizenship covers: 1) Those who are citizens of the Philippine Islands at the time of the adoption of the Constitution; 2) Those born of foreign parents who before the adoption of this Constitution were elected to public office; 3) Those whose fathers and mothers are Citizens of the Philippines; and 4) by naturalization.

Although the Bangsamoro people may have been extended Philippine Citizenship, either by implication or by operation of law, the question of allegiance has remained disputed and unsettled because the Moros until the present have been asserting their separate national identity as Bangsa Moros and they could hardly accept being identified as Filipino for not having been the subject of the Spanish Catholic monarchy, nor Moroland a colony of Spain. One of the main general concept which the Peace Negotiating Parties have reached a consensus point was the MILF Position during the 7th Exploratory Talks held in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia on April 18-20, 2005, is the general principle that:

“It is the birthright of all Moros and other indigenous peoples of Mindanao to identify themselves and be accepted as ‘Bangsa Moros’. The Bangsamoro people refers to those who have been designated as natives or are identified descendants of those original inhabitants of Mindanao and its adjacent islands including Palawan and the Sulu archipelago at the time of conquest or colonization whether mixed or of full native blood. Spouses and their descendants are classified as Bangsamoro.”

Upon suggestion by the GRP Peace Panel which the MILF Peace Panel concurred, the Indigenous peoples are given the “freedom of choice” whether or not they wish to identify themselves as “Bangsamoros”. Except for a few, majority of the Indigenous peoples accept being identified as ‘Bangsamoros’. The Bangsamoro identity is the parallel of Malaysia’s “Bumiputra” which meant ‘children of the soil’, an ethnic configuration encompassing all Malays, Sabahans and Sarawakians as owners of all Federal lands of Malaysia, excluding the Chinese migrants. On top of this, the ‘Bumis’ are granted special privileges in both economic and political life, such as education, employment, medical services, housing, award of government contracts and business opportunities over those of the Chinese migrants and Indians.

The Bangsamoro identity is based on ethnic or cultural nationalism by a group of people seeking selfhood or nationhood which was usurped from them. They have now come of age and they now assert to restore that lost freedom via decolonization and through their collective right to self-determination under international law and norms, treaties and conventions. Indeed, the usurpation of the Bangsamoro political sovereignty and territorial integrity are the two major injustices and legitimate grievances that constitute the main root causes of the Mindanao conflict and of the Bangsamoro problem. The Moros who had successfully defended and preserved their freedom and independence from the aggression of various foreign powers, have become a ‘hostage nation’ to a post-world war fabricated neo-colonial regime – the Republic of the Philippines. (cf. Joseph Fallon).

The Bangsamoro dilemma is not without a formula or solution. “Ethnic nationalism” or the “politics of sub-nationalism” is a worldwide phenomenon of the post-world war era because former colonial powers realigned the historical borders of historic nations, peoples and communities making them ‘hostage nations’ by newly fabricated post-colonial states contrary to their own free will and consent. The United Nations came up with the lists of colonized peoples for ‘decolonization’ under the ‘trusteeship program’. However, many of these hostage nations, nationalities and peoples were unlisted for decolonization, among them are the Bangsamoro people of Mindanao, Sulu Archipelago and Palawan and adjacent islands.

Legal scholars and political authorities point out that “[Until] recently, most efforts to resolve sovereignty-based conflicts have faltered due to the limited legal and political tools available to policy makers. The two most applicable principles, sovereignty and self-determination have been reduced to little more than legal and political shields behind which states and sub-state entities justify their actions.” However, “[While] these two basic principles of international law may sometimes be reconciled to create a lasting settlement of a sovereignty-based conflict, more frequently they are a recipe for political gridlock and violence.” In view of this dilemma, recent state practice developed as ‘evidenced by a growing creativity among states and policy makers which has led to the emergence of a more elastic approach to resolving sovereignty-based conflicts…the seeds of which can be found in a number of recent peace proposals and peace agreements, can be termed ‘earned sovereignty’.” (cf. Paul R. Williams, et. al.).

For a group entitled to a right to collectively determine its political destiny, the Bangsamoro people appropriately falls within the UNESCO Experts’ definition of  “people” ‘as individuals who relate to one another and not just on the level of individual association but also based upon a shared consciousness, and possibly with institutions that express their identity. The indicative characteristics in defining ‘people’ according to the UNESCO are: “(a) a common historical tradition; (b) religious or ethnic identity; (c) cultural homogeneity; (d) linguistic unity; (e)  religious or ideological affinity; (f) territorial connection; and (g) common economic life.” (See Scharf). The Bangsamoro people possess sufficient or most if not all of the above distinctive identity or characteristics as a ‘people’ endowed with the collective right to self-determination.”

In order to reconcile the opposing principles of state sovereignty and the equally recognized principle of the right to self-determination, the government and the MILF Peace negotiating panels came up with a new and novel formula. And what is this new formula?

The MOA-AD is a New Formula in Conflict Resolution

The Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain (MOA-AD) is an elegant document and a new formula designed to resolve historical injustices, one of which is ‘injustice to the ‘Moro identity’. The Bangsamoro struggle for freedom and defense of homeland for more than 300 years against colonial Spain is not well recognized and acknowledged by the dominant Christian majority. The Moros equally deserve recognition of their separate and distinct identity as ‘Bangsamoro’, not that they wish to secede or establish a separate independent state. They equally fought for this land known as Philippine Islands. They are simply invoking a ‘two-nation’ theory which means two or more nations may co-exist in the same territory and as in other plural societies.

This is precisely, why the MOA-AD has contained the concept of ‘associative relations’ between the proposed Bangsamoro Juridical Entity (BJE) and the Central Government or akin to that of ‘federacy’ under a unitary system. The proposed BJE as a political entity is ‘in-between’ the range more advanced than ‘enhanced autonomy’ but short of being a full ‘free associated state’ as understood in current political theory and practice. At most, it has the status of a ‘sub-state’, (or a ‘conditional state’, or at least a ‘quasi-state’). It could later become a component federal state with residual powers, if ever the Philippines decides to amend or revise the Philippine Constitution and shifts to a federal form of government.

The ‘associative relationship’ between the proposed BJE and the Central government is a concept not the same as the ‘Free Associated State’ similar to those of Marshall Islands, Mariana and Pulau who are in ‘free association’ with the United States as the latter’s former trust territories. The BJE may be designed to have some features with that of Cook Island or even Puerto Rico but not exactly parallel and its final configuration or designation is still subject to further discussion during the formal negotiation of the Comprehensive Peace Compact, and may not be immediately fully implemented but will still undergo a transition period for capacity and institution building preparatory to its exercise of self-governance while being gradually devolved with ‘shared powers and authority ‘ from the parent state (Central government) under the concept of ‘shared sovereignty’.

On top of this, it is still further subject to any necessary changes in the legal framework to make it fully operational as a juridical entity. The objections to this concept are all speculative and unfounded for fear of the ‘unknown’ and an obvious manifestation of an ‘anti-Moro bias and prejudice’.  If the Filipinos don’t like and care for the Moros, why not allow them to chart their own separate ways to become independent? But if, indeed, the dominant Filipino majority do care and love the Moros, give them what they deserve!  With the declaration of the MOA-AD as unconstitutional by the Supreme Court, the Bangsamoro people are compelled to seek redress from other international forums or revert to their original position of aspiring for independence by whatever means, including under international law and diplomacy.