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marawi troopsRegion of world’s oldest and longest freedom struggle

Since 23 May 2017, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte  has  been bombing Marawi, the largest city in the country in the predominantly Muslim Mindanao in Southern Philippine,  destroying residential, commercial and industrial areas besides killing civilians.

The reason given for this latest military onslaught has been  to liberate the city from  the Maute Group, a Filipino Muslim  militant organization that laid siege to the city on May 23.

History

The Mindanao island group is a grouping of islands in southern Philippines .The Muslim Bruneian Empire under the rule of Sultan Bolkiah, who is an ancestor of the current Sultan of Brunei, was the first to enter these island in the 13th and 14th  century.

Historians claim that Muslims from Malaysia came to Mindanao in the 14th century through the southern islands, Jolo, Tawi-tawi and Basilan. This migration resulted to welding its small tribal units into several sultanates. Jolo, located in the southeastern tip of Mindanao, became the center of an extensive training network from Java in the west to China in the north, and the Mindanao sultanates were linked politically to Muslims states in Borneo to the Moluccas.

For many years the sultanate of Sulu ruled much of the Philippines and Borneo. These political and economic relations were believed to have continued even long after the arrival of the Spaniards in the 16th century. During this time, the Spaniards attempted but didn’t achieve its goal to fully convert the Mindanao Muslims to Christianity. It started as  a Muslim region and stayed unchanged since then. 

Islam in Philippines

Islam , the oldest recorded monotheistic religion in the Philippines,  was first brought over by Muslim traders from the Persian Gulf, Southern India and their followers from several sultanate governments in the Malay Archipelago.

marawi muslims

 

In 1380 Karim ul  Makhdum, the first Arabian trader reached the Sulu Archipelago and Jolo in the Philippines ,established Islam in the country. In 1390 the Minangkabau's Prince Rajah Baguinda and his followers preached Islam   and Sheik Karimal Makdum Mosque was the first mosque established in the Philippines on Simunul in Mindanao in the 14th century.

Arrival of western colonial powers

Two hundred years later Spanish colonial power invaded the country. Spanish who managed to end 800-year-old Muslim rule in their country were shocked to see that Islam was flourishing in the far east. Their mission to the east, like Portuguese colonial power then, was to plunder resources and spread Catholicism.  Their new colony was named after the Spanish king Philip as Philip-pines. 

Thus, began the Christian-Muslim struggle which continues to date.

In 1898 the US took over as the colonial power and committed one of the worst massacres called   the “Moro Crater Massacre” in 1906. They killed around 1000 men, women, and children and practiced worst forms of torture, as they are doing in the Middle East during the past few decades.

The US, and later the newly independent Government in Manila, promoted the settlement of Christians from the rest of the Philippines to the fertile lands of Mindanao. This displaced local populations-Muslim and non- Muslims indigenous people alike  in  disadvantageous position.

One historian pointed out that :For the most part of Philippines' history, the region and most of Mindanao have been a separate territory, which enabled it to develop its own culture and identity. The region has been the traditional homeland of Muslim Filipinos since the 15th century, even before the arrival of the Spanish who began to colonize most of the Philippines in1565.

Commenting on this an independent columnist had this to state;  migration of settlers from Luzon and the Visayas regions created conflict between Muslim and Christian inhabitants. Despite the strong resistance of indigenous residents who claimed to have owned the lands by rights of inheritance, Christian settlers registered the lands they found as their own.

Tribal inhabitants particularly Muslims feel unjustifiably bitter about the loss of their lands while Christian settlers feel they and their descendants can claim legitimate to the property. This unsolvable conflict resulted in many bitter wars and never-ending hostility between Muslims and Christians who rule Philippines from Manila.

By the 1960s the local population was  minority in their own homeland. Some Muslim groups felt that law will not work for them and created organizations to defend their people or claim power for themselves. 

Thus began the Mindanao Muslims struggle for freedom which has emerged as  the longest and oldest freedom struggle in the world today. Their grievances have been historic.

The armed struggle for an independent state began in 1969, sparked by discrimination, Islamic revivalism, opposition to the Marcos dictatorship and the Jabidah massacre of Muslim soldiers during their military service. This struggle was first against the dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos and continued when democracy was reinstated in 1986.

The violent armed struggle against the Japanese, Filipinos, Spanish, and Americans is considered by current Moro Muslim leaders as part of the four centuries long "national liberation movement" of the Bangsamoro (Moro Nation). The  long resistance  persisted and morphed into their current war for independence against the Philippine state.

 On the road to peace

In 1996 the Government and the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) signed a Final Peace Agreement, which granted the Muslim majority areas autonomy. However, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) – which split from the MNLF in 1984 ¬–¬ vowed to continue the struggle for independence. They nevertheless focused on a negotiated solution and signed a ceasefire agreement with the Government as early as 1997, signaling the start of peace negotiations.

fighters mindanao

 Mindanao Muslim freedom fighters in the last century

On 7 October 2012, there was a historic peace breakthrough in the form of a Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro. This agreement set the road map for a transition, envisioning the creation of a new self-governing region in Muslim-dominated areas of Western Mindanao, called the Bangsamoro. The Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro was signed between the Government of the Philippines and the MILF in March 2014. The focus now is on transition – implementing the peace agreement and creating the new Bangsamoro. This new process is at least as challenging as the peace negotiations, and will take several years to be completed.