Professor traces historical roots of Muslim struggle in the Philippines
Vol.27, Number 2
Prof. Julkipli Wadi of the UP Institute of Islamic Studies covered almost a millennium of Muslim history in the Philippines in a lecture before participants of the ASEAN-Uninet, putting into perspective the rise of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), and the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG).
Wadi, a public intellectual on Islamic issues, noted that the three movements were one in objective – Muslim liberation – but differed in the strategy. He also noted that among the lines dividing the MNLF and the MILF were tribal issues and secularism, with the MNLF being associated with the Tausugs and a political agenda and the MILF with Maguindanaos and religious advocacy. Both follow conventional rules of engagement in contrast to the ASG, which has been listed by the US State Department as one of the terrorist groups of the world.
Wadi noted that the MNLF and the MILF could be considered offshoots of the two sultanates that prevailed in Mindanao from pre-Hispanic times to the early 20th – the Sultanate of Sulu and the Sultanate of Maguindanao. Both lost political power only recently with American colonization and America’s subsequent unification of the Philippine islands as one republic.
The Sulu sultanate was established in 1450; the Maguindano sultanate, seven years later. Some 200 years before this, Islam had gained a foothold on the islands through Arab merchants. Wadi noted that unlike the spread of Islam in Africa, the Balkans, and Spain, and the imposition of Christianity in the Philippines, which were characterized by violence, Islam spread in the Philippines through “simple sharing of faith.” The sultanates that came out of this situation successfully resisted Spanish subjugation throughout the entire 333 years of Spanish rule.
Wadi also made some observations on the topic of the Sabah claim, the Jabidah Massacre, the significant role of UP as the source of brains behind the rise of the MNLF, the peace talks with the MNLF and the MILF, and the current American military presence in the South, which he called America’s “second coming” to Sulu. He said this coming—on the pretext of Balikatan exercises—reminded Muslims of the past atrocities of America. Wadi said that in 1915, the US cut diplomatic recognition of the Sultanate of Sulu and had, since the turn of the century, already massacred around 8,000 Moro men, women, and children in the Sulu area.
The Philippine government committed similar atrocities such as the massacre early in the Marcos era of more than 20 young Muslims by the Philippine military. They were part of a larger group who were being trained by the military as a paramilitary group, but who allegedly resisted orders “to grab Sabah by force.” The Philippine claim over Sabah was adopted by the administration of President Diosdado Macapagal, when the Sultan of Sulu sought the government’s help in his claim over Sabah.
According to Wadi, more than a hundred thousand Moros were killed in wars between MNLF and the government between 1968 and 1974. Eventually, in 1978, the MILF was established. The ASG rose only in the early 1990s as a result of the Muslim youth’s alleged disenchantment with MNLF, its leader, and the government; but its ideology got muddled with the death of its founder Abdujarak Abubakar in 1998. Wadi described the alleged relationship between ASG and Al Qaeda as “hazy,” saying Abubakar did not make any reference on Al Qaeda.
Nur Misuari, who went back to the mountains expressing discontent at how the government carried out the peace agreement, is now in jail. The government is currently holding out the peace agreement, is now in jail. The government is currently holding peace talks with MILF. Wadi said the ASG, in turn, had been reduced to less than 30 people. Meanwhile, Muslims in the country continue to be a diverse lot, composed of 13 ethno-linguistic groups. The latest census placed the number of Muslims in the country at 3.3 million or 5.1 percent of the population, but the Office of Muslim Affairs pegs it at 8 million. The MNLF estimates the number at 10 million to 15 million.