So much blood has been shed in the struggle over Mindanao, Sulu and Palawan. I believe it is high time, and the reason has been more than enough, for all of us to dig into the facts of history and find out once and for all who or which group of people may claim the region as their ancestral domain.
The availability of more documents on the history of the Moro people compels us to focus our analysis on the ancestral lands of the Muslims. In the process, however, we shall eventually touch on the lands of the Lumadnon.
What Standard Do We Use for Determining the Ancestral Domain of the Muslims?
For us to say that a particular territory falls, within ancestral domain, the following factors must be present:
First, a tribe must have enjoyed prior and uninterrupted occupancy over the territory until 1898 (or even until 1939 when only a handful of settlers from Luzon and the Visayas have so far moved into the area);
Second, one sultanate or another must have reigned over this tribe, and such reign must have been uninterrupted until 1898. Brief interruptions like a Spanish take over need not bother us if they are brief and temporary in nature.
The elements of “prior and uninterrupted occupancy” are universally recognized as a legitimate basis of possession anywhere in the world, whether titled or not. And so, this would probably suffice for our purposes.
“Domain” is also interpreted here to mean not only land, but also rivers, creeks, seas, mountains, and hills, forests and natural wealth contained therein, including wild game.
We shall not include here the content of “Bangsa Moro” as defined by the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) inasmuch as this concept surfaced only with the emergence of the MNLF in 1972.
Let us now examine the territories of the Sulu and Maguindanao sultanates.
Which Territory Fell Within the Domain of the Sulu Sultanate?
Among the people of Sulu, the Sulu archipelago, Basilan, Sambongan, Palawan and North Borneo are commonly regarded as the territory of the Sulu Sultanate. For convenience, allow me to exclude North Borneo from our discussion. Samboangan probably did not mean the entirety of the Zamboanga peninsula since it is a well known fact that much of it also fell within the domain of the Maguindanao sultanate.
The Islamized tribes in the territory were the Tausug in Sulu; Sama and Badjao in Tawi-Tawi; Jama Mapun in Cagayan de Sulu and southern Palawan; Palawani and Molbog (or Melebugnon) in Southern Palawan; Yakan in Basilan, and the Kalibugan in Zamboanga. Non-Islamized tribes included the Batak and Tagbanua of southern Palawan and the Subanun of the Zamboanga peninsula. No other tribe has been known to have occupied said territories before them. Note that we have not included northern Palawan; there is no clear cut historical evidence that this portion ever fell within the territory of the Sulu sultanate. Muslim settlements in the province were located in the following areas:
And these generally correspond to that portion from Aborlan southward to Balabac.
The whole time that the Spaniards were wreaking havoc in the sultanate domain, from 1565 to 1898, the sultanate machinery generally remained intact. But certain portions of its territory went to the colonizers Samboangan or the present site of Zamboanga City was taken over in 1718 through armed might; southern Palawan was ceded to them by the Sultan of Sulu in 1705. There is one curios angle in this cession. Earlier, in 1703, the same territory was ceded by the Sultan of Maguindanao to the Spaniards.
One additional factor in the story of Zamboanga may be cited here. The chavacano speaking people were brought in by the Spaniards in 1718 and have always been colonial subjects to the end of Spanish rule. To this date, they constitute a substantial number in Zamboanga City. May the areas they occupied be considered as their ancestral domain? I am not sure, really.
After the wholesale land grabbing effected through the Treaty of Paris, the American colonial government opened Basilan to capitalist settlers and investors. Likewise with Zamboanga. But not too many settlers entered the area before 1939. Panacan in Palawan was opened to settlement in 1949.
Which Territory Fell Within the Domain of the Maguindanao Sultanate?
The territory of the Maguindanao Sultanate was most extensive in the reign of Sultan Kudararat (1619-1791), especially in the last 25 years. Following was the way Dr. Cesar Adib Majul, author of the authoritative Muslims in the Philippines, describe it (pp. 172-173):
“The coastal area from Zamboanga to the Gulf of Davao was tributary to him. He was acknowledged the paramount lord of the Pulangi. His sphere of influence extended to Iranun and Maranao territorial and even as far as Bukidnon and Butuan in the North of Mindanao. His rule held sway over Sangil and Sarangani. Except in points like Dapitan, Caraga, and the sites of the present day Butuan and Cagayan de Oro cities, and in the almost inaccessible parts of the interior of the island, practically all of the inhabitants of the Island of Mindanao had accepted him as suzerain…”
Some clarification must be made in the case of Bukidnon. Until 1948, the municipalities of Pangantukan and Talakag had a consistently high number of Muslim residents. Presumably, these Muslims were Maranao considering that these towns are located at the Lanao del Sur-Bukidnon border. We are also told that the farthest Muslim outpost in Bukidnon in the 19th century was located at the confluence of the Molita River or the present border between Bukidnon and Cotabato. Muslim traders, usually Maguindanao, went deeper into Bukidnon upstream of the Pulangi but to trade, not to collect tribute which was the common expression of subjection at that time. Dr. Majul’s account, therefore, cannot be taken wholly on the basis of the present day political subdivision of Bukidnon, if only for the simple reason that the meaning of “sphere of influence” is not so easy to comprehend from historical data.
Muslims tribes that may be categorized as subject of the Maguindanao sultanate included the Maguindanao, Maranao, Iranun and Sangil. The Kalagan of the Davao Gulf area apparently became Muslims only in the 19th Century. The non-Muslim tribes were the Subanun in Zamboanga, the Tiruray, Ubo, T’boli, Blaan, Manobo in the Cotabato area; the Bagobo, Blaan, Tagakaolo, Ata, Mandaya and Mansaka, and Manobo in the Davao region, and the Bukidnon and Higaunon in the Bukidnon border, as well as in Iligan. It is extremely difficult to determine from historical sources to what extent the latter group of people (the non-Muslims) were subjects of the sultanate. Also, in the specific case of Zamboanga, no study has yet been made specifying where the Sulu sultanate’s suzerainty ended and where the Maguindanao’s influence begun. Sustained Spanish onslaught upon mainland Mindanao did great damage to the Maguindanao sultanate. The great sultanate of Kudarat’s time had become splintered into the sultanates of Maguindanao, Buayan, Kabuntalan, and Ganassi. The territory, too, was greatly eroded.
In 1846, the Davao Gulf area was ceded by the Maguindanao Sultan to the Spaniards. The following year, the Governor General sent Jose Oyanguren and effected the actual conquest of the area, beginning with the defeat of Datu Bago. At around the same time, the Sibugay and Biasungan areas in Zamboanga were ceded by the same Sultan. In the First three decades of the 17th Century, Kudarat himself, or his father before him, lost to the Spaniards the control over Cagayan de Oro and Agusan. Surigao and Ilagan, too , were early casualties in the Spanish territorial expansion.
Spanish successes did not, however, mean direct rule over the lumadnon of the interior in territories which fell within their colonial control. We can, in a way, gauge the depth of their success from the following data. In 1749, they had 4,637 tributaries and 20,560 souls in Surigao and Misamis. In 1778, they had 5,164 tributaries and 30,904 souls in Bislig, Tandag, Surigao, Butuan, Camiguin, Cagayan, Iligan, Misamis, Dapitan, Lubungan, Bayug, Pinaguian and Zamboanga. In 1861, they had 26,655 ½ tributes and 125,861 souls in Davao, Bislig, Tandag, Cantilan, Higaquit, Dinagat, Surigao, Mainit, Cabuntug, Cacub, Linao, Talacogon, Butuan, Balingasag, Jasaan, Cagayan, Iponan, Iligan, Misamis, Dapitan, Gimenez, Lubungan, Mambahao, Catarman, Mahinog, Sagay, Pollock, Zamboanga and Isabela in Basilan. Most of these tributaries were Lumadnon converts.
American conquest wiped out what remained of the territory in 1898. Aside from its inclusion in the treaty of Paris, portions of Maguindanao territory were disposed of with active participation from the Maguindanao leadership. Datu Piang submitted to American sovereignty and took active part in suppressing the opposition of the gallant Datu Ali and others with him. The same datu became instrumental in the opening of the first five agricultural colonies in Pikit, Pagalungan and Glan which later paved the way for the large-scale implementation of resettlement, and this was how thousands of Christian Filipino settlers flooded the areas in Cotabato, covering the present day four provinces of North Cotabato, Maguindanao, Sultan Kudarat and South Cotabato.
Before 1939, or better still, the Second World War, the greatest bulk of foreign investors and settlers, mostly American and Japanese, flowed into Davao. The Japanese, in particular, had reached an all time high of 20,000 residents by 1941. Lanao Norte, too, the western end and the southern coasts of Zamboanga, were opened to settlers before the same date.
It is of extreme importance to stress here that the Christian Filipino settlers were unwitting tools of the American colonizers in their overall strategy to subjugate the Moro people and eventually to assimilate them into the Filipino body politics.
Except for the change in the top leaderships from American to Filipino, the policies and programs of government initiated by the Americans, especially those which concerned the political status of the Muslims and the Lumadnon and their ancestral domain, remained basically the same after 1946, one more concrete proof of the neo-colonial status of the Republic.
The occupancy of the Muslim and non-Muslim tribes in their ancestral lands remained, theoretically, uninterrupted. In truth, the continuous influx of settlers into their lands led not only to their displacement but also to their minorization and marginalization in their own lands. Thus, by 1948, only Lanao and what corresponds to the present province of Maguindanao remained predominantly Muslim. Not a single territory once dominated by the Lumadnon survived the flood of settlers.
To grasp more deeply the concept of sultanate domain, we must also examine the relationship between the sultan and his subjects. The indigenous term for subject is sakop and its meaning is closer to the English vassal than subject. For greater accuracy, we shall stick to the indigenous term.
What was the Relationship of the Sultan to His Sakop, and in What Way Did This Affect the Question of Territory?
The sultan was the head of state of the sultanate. He was assisted by a hierarchy of officials and had several datus as sakop. The sultan was a datu himself and each datu and his own mini-state, complete with the four constitutive elements of a state: people, territory, government, and suzerainty. A datu became sakop of another only as result of conquest or the traditional modes of alliances.
The relationship between the sultan and his datu-sakop had a certain fluidity to it. As long as the sultan was strong, his sakop remained his sakop. But when he or his successor became weak, his sakop could easily behave independently. The sultan-sakop relationship was commonly characterized by the sultan’s obligation to protect his sakop or help him in times of need. The sakop in turn paid regular tribute and provided assistance to his sultan in times of need.
Where now comes the question of territory? The relationship of the sultan to his datu-sakop is a personal one in that it did not carry with it a transfer of right to the territory or sakop of the latter. The Datu-sakop retains his authority / suzerainty over his own followers and territory. This relationship between the Sultan and his Muslim datus is essentially the same as his relationship with non-Muslim chieftains, although in most instances, it was his datu-sakop or another who exercised dominance over the Lumadnon.
The fluidity of the sultan-sakop relationship is most important here, for it was this that reflected the see-saw of power not only between the sultan and his sakop but also between the sultanates and the Spanish colonizers. The Maguindanao sultanate expanded and contracted within the duration of the Spanish Colonial period. The extent of Kudarat’s territory was never repeated after him. So that now, for purposes of determining the boundaries of the Maguindanao ancestral domain, it becomes a messy game to try to use the history of the Maguindanao sultanate as a standard of measure. How much weight do we, for instance, give to his 25 years peak period of dominance when this dominance disappeared and was never recovered until 1898? Thus, because of the fluidity of the political fortunes of the Maguindanao and Sulu sultanates, it becomes necessary at present to fall back on the tribal domain, if our intention is to determine at least the broad boundaries of Moro and Lumadnon ancestral domain. More so, because after the American conquest, the sultanates themselves ceased to function with effect.
One more item remains to be scrutinized. How do we explain the cession of Palawan, Davao Gulf area and the regions of Sibugay and Biasungan? These were effected minus the pressure of war and did not undoubtedly partake of an arrangement that was temporary in nature. These cessions certainly implied the sultans’ exercise of direct authority over the territories of their datus-sakop. There cold be several interpretations but one plausible answer is to posit that perhaps by the time of the cessions, that stage of development similar to the present day disposition of state domain has been reached.
We come now to the most important question of our discussion. Whose ancestral domain is Mindanao, Sulu and Palawan?
Whose Ancestral Domain is Mindanao, Sulu and Palawan?
Naturally, the first occupants who have enjoyed up to the present uninterrupted occupancy of the same territory- And these are the indigenous peoples of the region: the Moro people and the Lumadnon. And certainly, not the 20th century Christian Filipino settlers. But this is rather vague, too sweeping and controversial; too simplistic for a very complex situation. Let us try to be more detailed.
For the sake of convenience, we shall divide the entirety of Mindanao, Sulu and Palawan into three broad categories, namely, (a) that portion inhabited predominantly by Muslims, and, without doubt, occupied by the 13 Islamized tribes and / or encompassed within any one of the sultanates of Sulu, Maguindanao, Buayan, Kabuntalan and Canassi until 1898, or even until 1939; (b) that portion inhabited by a mix of Islamized tribes, Lumadnon and Christian Filipino settlers, and (c) that portion inhabited solely by the Lumadnon and the Christian Filipino settlers.
We start with the third category which encompasses the entirety of the present day Region X (Agusan del Norte & Sur, Bukidnon, Misamis Occidental & Oriental, Surigao del Norte) plus Surigao del Sur. The Lumadnon tribes are Manobo, Bukidnon, Higaunon and Talaandig in Bukidon; Manobo, Banauaon (or Barwaon), Mamanwa in the two Agusans and Two Surigaos; Higaunon in Misamis Oriental and Subanun in Misamis Occidental. With the possible exception of some Bukidnon towns bordering Lanao Sur which have had a substantial number of Muslim inhabitants, no other place within the third category have been occupied by any Islamized tribe. The few years of dominance exercised by datus of the Buayan or Maguindanao groups, separately or combined, in the late 16th century and early in the 17th over such settlements as Cagayan de Oro, Butuan, Surigao, Caraga, and Bukidnon have long been cut off and never revived. It is the Lumadnon, therefore who can claim prior and uninterrupted occupancy in the region. The conquest of some of them by the Spaniards and the successful colonization of everybody by the Americans and, later, the take over by the Philippine Republic does not detract in any way from this claim. It is the presence of the more numerous Christian Filipino settlers that has made their claim controversial.
The term “Lumadnon” must, more over, be clarified. Generically, it means “native” or “indigenous”. Now, from the early Spanish accounts we are told that the peoples of the northern and eastern coasts of Mindanao, specifically, Dapitan, Ozamis, Cagayan de Oro, Butuan, Surigao and Caraga were observed to speak a language that was basically Bisayan, akin to Cebuano; the Camigueños spoke a mixture of Manobo and Bol-anon. At the time of the Spanish contact, late in the 16th century and early in the 17th, no one else but them occupied said areas. The present understanding of “Lumadnon” to mean only those officially labeled as cultural communities or minorities must, thus, be expanded to include these Bisayan-speaking people who, incidentally have been assimilated into the majority Christian settlers.
In the second category, the territory corresponding to the present three provinces of Davao and Davao City were predominantly occupied until 1939 by the Lumadnon tribes of the Mandaya, Mansaka, Mangguwangan, Dibabawon, Ata, Bagobo, Tagakaolo, B’laan and the Islamized groups. We have scanty data on the history of the Muslim in Davao but the little we have tell us that the Muslims entered and occupied the coast of the Davao Gulf area only in the 19th century. Their converts were the Kalagans of the Tagakaolo group (ka’agan means initiator in tagakaolo). Out of more than thirty settlements in the 1870s around the gulf area, at least eleven were purely Muslim and nine more were mixed with others (three with B’laan, four with Mandaya, and two with Bagobo). These were spread out along the coastal stretch form Mayo Bay in the east coast, roughly where Mati is, westward along the coast of Davao Gulf, and southward to Sarangani in Davao del Sur. The non-Muslims were, on the whole, decidedly more numerous, The Muslims collected tributes from the Mandaya as far as Caraga; controlled the Samals of Samal Island who were of mixed Mandaya and possibly Sama ancestry but not Muslims, and were continually at war with the B’laan, Manobo, Ata and Tagakaolo. It was from this last tribe, incidentally, that the Kalagan Muslims came from.
Portions of the Provinces of South Cotabato, Sultan Kudarat and North Cotabato were without doubt encompassed within the Maguindanao sultanate. We say portions because the remainder were occupied by the T’boli, Ubo, Manobo, B’laan, Bagobo, and Tiruray, and we cannot tell to what extent they were dominated by the various datus of the sultanate. It would help to point out here that the Maguindanao, Tiruray and Manobo do recognize a common ancestry in the brothers Tabunaway and Mamalu. And although there were instances in the American period when they jointly fought the Americans, Manobo and Tiruray folklore are unmistakable in naming the Muslims as their traditional enemy.
Lanao Norte poses quite a bit of problem. The towns along the border with Lanao del Sur are predominantly Muslim and, presumably, there were before the present century; the coastal towns, Iligan in particular, have been occupied by Bisayan-speaking inhabitants we have referred to earlier; the Higaunon presently occupying the barangay towards the Bukidnon border claim that they originally inhabited, too, the coastal portions of Iligan, among others. Furthermore, Maranao tradition has it that Maranao ancestral territory extended eastward as far as Tagoloan in Misamis Oriental. One possible point of reconciliation is in the story of common ancestry among the Maranao and Higaunon. The rest is misty.
The area of the two Zamboangas and Zamboanga City, too, provides a puzzle. Samboangan in Tausug or Sama is a word that means “place of flowers”. But territorially speaking, does it mean the entire peninsula or merely the present site of Zamboanga City? At least one Tausug scholar has specifically stated that the Sulu sultanate included only the southern tip of the peninsula. Aside from the actual occupation by the Kalibugan or those of the Subanun tribe who were Islamized, to what extent did the Subanun feel the Sulu sultanate’s dominance? Likewise, to what extent did these same people experience the authority of the Maguindanao sultanate? The answers are not clear, but it would help to note that the Subanun of Lapuyan, Zamboanga del Sur at least, acknowledge a shared ancestry with other tribes. Gumabon-gabon, they say, was the ancestor of the Subanun; Mili-rilid of the Tiruray; Bumalandan of the Maranaw; and Tabunaway of the Maguindanao. These four were brothers. But their tradition also mentions Muslims as old time enemies.
Palawan, form the very start, has been inhabited by the Batak, Tagbanua, Molbog and Palawani. We need not mention the others who occupy the northern portion. The Muslims have always lived in the southern coasts corresponding to the general area of Aborlan southward to Balabac. Christian Filipino settlers did not come in large numbers until after the Second World War.
Covering the provinces of Maguindanao, Lanao del Sur, Basilan, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi, the first category can easily and indisputably be identified as the ancestral domain of Muslims belonging to the various tribes of the Maguindanao, Iranun, Maranao, Yakan, Tausug, Sama, Jama Mapun and Badjao. All the fundamental requirements are present: prior and uninterrupted occupation, and encompassed with in any one of the various sultanates that emerged in history. The only possible problem areas are the towns of Dinaig, Upi and South Upi in the province of Maguindanao, where the greatest concentrantion of Tiruray have lived since time immemorial. They of course share a common ancestry with the neighboring Maguindanao with brothers Tabunaway and Mamalu.
Further, some eleven towns in other provinces must also be included in this category, namely, Pikit in North Cotabato; Balo-I, Pantao-Ragat, Tangkal, Nunungan, Matungao, Munai and Tagoloan in Lanao del Norte; Sibuco and Siraway in Zamboanga del Norte, and Balabac in Palawan. Muslims predominate in hese towns and they, too, were encompassed in any one of the various sultanates.
Whose ancestral domain, therefore, is Mindanao, Sulu and Palawan? There are generally three main groups of people who can make the claim on the basis of the yardstick we have outlined earlier. These are the 13 Islamized ethno linguistic communities; the more than 20 Lumadnon tribes who have been classified as cultural communities by the government, and those Bisayan-speaking Lumadnon inhabitants of northern and eastern Mindanao who have been assimilated into the majority culture.
What Now Happens to Christian Filipino Settlers?
Numbering several million, these Christian Filipino settlers enjoy the numerical majority in most provinces of Mindanao and Palawan. Most of them came in the 20th century. Particularly after the Second World War. Normally, these people justify their claims to land with statements like: they bought their lands from the natives of the area; there were no actual occupants in the lands they applied for; it was the government which granted them their homesteads; it was the government that issued them their licenses to concessions; it was the government that gave them leasehold rights.
In other words they are all leaning on the legitimacy of the state's authority to dispose of public lands; on the legitimacy of the state's claim to ancestral domain as state domain. And for this reason and as Filipinos who moved into Philippine lands, they do not see themselves as alien in Mindanao, Sulu and Palawan. The most that can be said at this point is that they have proprietary, not ancestral rights over the lands they occupy. Apparently, Chairman Nur Misuari recognizes this when he gave the assurance that property rights of bona fide residents in the Bangsa Moro homeland will be guaranteed.
It is a matter of utmost importance that the basis of the Philippine claim to Mindanao, Sulu and Palawan as state domain be clarified.
What is the Basis of the Philippine Claim to Mindanao, Sulu and Palawan as State Domain?
Nothing but the obviously acknowledged legitimacy of the transfer of supposed Spanish possession to the Americans by the Treaty of Paris and the further transfer of the same by the Americans to the Republic of the Philippines. This is an exercise of the Regalian doctrine, plain and simple.
What is the Regalian doctrine?
When Magellan planted the cross of Christianity at Limasawa, the act also symbolized his taking possession of the entire archipelago in the name of the king of Spain, And by virtue of this possession, lands were distributed in the beginning as encomiendas, then later, laws were passed requiring landowners to document or have a title to their ownership. Royal possession or state possession included the sole authority to dispose of the land to its citizens.
This may be well for portions of the archipelago which indisputably fell within the direct control of Spanish colonialism. But we are all aware by this time that there were territories within the archipelago, chief among them were the lands of the sultanates and the Igorots and those inhabitants of the interior, which enjoyed freedom, although beleaguered, from colonial subjection. So that in the cession of the entire archipelago in the Treaty of Paris. The Spaniards were disposing of lands which never became their possession and the Americans were paying 20 million dollars for lands which they thought were owned by Spain at the time of the Treaty. There was already a free though newly born Republic of the Philippines, there were the free Muslim sultanates, all five of them, and those of others which never fell within Spanish sovereignty.
It is true that the entire Philippine archipelago and all the peoples, of the same territory were conquered by the Americans, which is another story. But for the Republic of the Philippines to accept the transfer of possessory rights from the Americans in complete disregard of the historical realities before them is to sustain the legitimacy of the regalian doctrine and uphold colonialism. Worse, this has been enshrined in the Constitutions of 1935, 1973 and 1986. Granted that the U.S. prevailed upon the Filipino leaders, which is an incontrovertible and still continuing reality. The Philippine government of the present can at least go through the motions of indigenizing its legal system, particularly that aspect which concerns land laws.
Even the grant of autonomy to "Muslim Mindanao" and in the Cordillera had to be squeezed out of the Constitutional Commission. And the provisions that emerged do not quite reflect an in-depth study of historical realities.
Finally, it should be pointed out that the regalian doctrine as presently practiced by the Philippine government indicates little, if any, recognition of the legitimacy of the ancestral land claims of the Lumadnon and the Moro people.
What Must We Do Now?
The contradiction between the Philippine government claim to state domain and the claim to ancestral domain of the Lumadnon and the Moro people has not only remained alive; it has in fact intensified within the oppressive conditions of the Maros dictatorship. Fueling the intensification were the infrastructure projects running rough shed over the rights of the people; the Chico dam project, the hydro-electric constructions at Agus in Lanao, at Pulangi in Bukidnon and at T'boli in South Cotabato. Most earthshaking in magnitude was the struggle for self-determination launched by the MNLF.
Those who have been labelled officially as cultural minorities have awakened and are no longer unquestioning recipients of their oppressed and exploited status. The MNLF has bannered the Bangsa Moro political identity; there are indications that Lumad nationality is fast taking shape; more and more Christian Filipinos of differing political persuasions have come to accept and advocate state recognition of the right to self-determination of the Bangsa Moro and the Lumadnon, along with the recognition of their ancestral lands claim.
More and more people are questioning the colonial foundations of the Philippine state. They have come to realize that the present problems confronting Mindanao, Sulu and Palawan are rooted in colonialism, and the perpetuation of the colonial order. It is not a simple case of colonial mentality. It runs in the veins of our entire legal system; it is found in the U.S. made democracy that we are using, it is enshrined in the fundamental law of the land. The subtlety with which the forces of colonialism affect us is itself serving as the blinder that hoodwinks us from perceiving our own mistakes, and from recognizing the fundamental rights to self-determination of our brothers Moro and Lumadnon.
Most of us presumably believe in the sanctity of democracy, in "majority rule." But when applied indisciminately to Mindanao, Sulu and Palawan, in complete disregard of historical realities, this can easily be translated into the "rule of the mighty" or the "democracy of colonialism." For instance, the government is aware of the predominance of Christian Filipinos in most provinces of Mindanao and Palawan. And now it insists on submitting the issue of Muslim autonomy to a referendum. So, what happens next? The fundamental right of the Moro people to self-determination is being subjected to what is euphemistically described as '''democratic processes" but which, in effect, is designed to make a mockery of this very right.
What do we do now? Moros, Lumadnon and Christian Filipinos are presently bound to the same land of Mindanao, Sulu and Palawan as a result of colonial design; they are bound by common interests of survival but set apart by deep-rooted contradictions not of their own making. Do we want war? Or peace? War is so easy to make but extremely costly.
I would like to suggest a way to peace. Sandugo was used by Magellan to enter into and cause the Spanish possession of our lands. We can use it again to bring peace to ourselves.
In our tradition, sandugo symbolizes mutual acceptance by the parties involved of each other as blood brothers; it is an oath not to oppress or exploit one another; it is a commitment of mutual help. But preceeding the actual ritual are protracted discussions to determine matters of mutual concern, to arrive at a mutual understanding.
Shall we then begin talking?