We All Belong to the Same Race
…why hate one another, then?
(this is about the Muslim/Christian conflict in Mindanao, Philippines)
By Apolinario Villalobos
The inhabitants of the archipelago that Ruy Lopez de Villalobos (not related to the author), named “Las Islas de Filipinas” in honor of his king, Philip II, all belong to one race. There is no reason therefore for an inhabitant to assert his being different just because he is a Muslim and lives in Mindanao. Along this line, there is no reason also, for another inhabitant to assert his being a Christian who lives either in Visayas or Luzon. The “Filipino” that we know today, regardless of his region, is the result of cultural impregnations by the different races that came to the archipelago, either to trade or colonize. Most importantly and very clearly, too, our ancestors were not born Christians and Muslims. They were converted by missionaries who were converts, themselves!!! How can we be proud then, of such imposed faith and culture???
Before Mohammed became a prophet, his people were practicing a different religion. He even went through persecutions before he finally succeeded in converting his people and such effort that took a route is the one being followed by those who undertake the “haj”. On the other hand, the Romans were pagans and it was only through the diligence of St. Paul that Christianity took a foothold in that city, but still, only after a series of persecution of Christian missionaries. And, that is how the Roman Catholic religion was developed, spread to as far as Spain, and finally, brought by the Spanish friars to the islands of Visayas and Luzon, as well as, a small portion in Mindanao, particularly, Zamboanga.
The natives of Luzon and Visayas were formerly animists – worshippers of nature. But, long before the Spaniards came, Islam as a religion was already widely practiced in the archipelago. When they set foot on the shores of Manila and Visayas, they already found Mohammedan inhabitants, some of whom they successfully converted into Christianity. Those from Mindanao, who pestered them with piratical raids, they called “Moros”, with barbaric connotation, as it was derived from the “Moors” who were driven out of Spain by Christian Crusaders. This shows then, that the “Moro” which was originally used by the Spaniards with reference to the Muslim pirates from Mindanao does not even have the slightest “native” hint in it. The Spaniards used the reference to show their disgust at the barbaric ways of those from Mindanao, all of whom they thought were pirates, robbers, and uncivilized. In other words, such reference was not concocted by the Mindanao Muslims. So, how can pride emanate from such Spanish-given name with horrible connotation?
Our ancestors were never referred to as “Filipinos” during the Hispanic regime. During the time, the “Filipinos” referred to, were actually the indolent Spanish settlers who lived comfortably in Manila out of the revenue derived from the galleon trade. When the trade faltered, the Spanish king was even forced to send financial replenishment for their sustenance, resulting to the clamor to abandon Manila. These colonists occupied the minuscule stronghold and walled city of Intramuros – the Manila of the old.
The affluent natives were called “Indios”. Those who lived far from the moot-ringed walled city were the Chinese who were forcibly clustered in Parian by the Spaniards with an objective to control their movement. The Parian eventually became the present-day Chinatown, reputed as the oldest in the world. The non-converted Mohammedan natives dwelt along the length of the Pasig River, and as far as Tondo. The friars even called the natives ugly “chonggos” (monkeys)! So how can we be proud of our so-called Hispanic past, when our ancestors were also treated as serfs who provided forced labor in building galleons?
The only time the natives were called “Filipinos” was when the Americans took over the reins of colonization. But, still in the eyes of the new colonists, the natives were still a helpless lot who need succor and further conversion as if Catholicism was not enough, that is why they brought in their own Protestant missionaries and teachers who forced the natives to sing “The Star Spangled Banner”.
That is how we were pitifully victimized as a race and treated as ignoramus, when in fact, before the two colonizers came, the natives were already enjoying a brisk trade with the neighboring southeast Asian states and kingdoms, even Japan and China. Mindanao had its own “royal houses”, too. Our ancestors were already weaving fabrics, manufacturing cannons, and mining for gold. The primary reason why the Spaniards came was to take over the wealth of the natives and bring them back to Spain. And, history books are clear on that. The natives of the archipelago were never helpless. The conversion into Christianity was just secondary and even still with questionable sincerity.
On the other hand, had there been a reversal of events, in which the Arab missionaries concentrated their evangelization effort in Luzon and Visayas, those who are living in these islands would be clinging to the Islamic faith. And, had the Spaniards decided to drop anchor in Sulu or Zamboanga, to put up permanent colonial outposts, those who are living in the whole of Mindanao including Sulu, Tawi-tawi, and Sabah groups of islands would have been embracing Roman Catholicism.
The Filipinos as a race are victims of historic events that dwelt on the scramble for overseas colonization by former western powers such as Spain, Portugal, Holland, and England. We are now suffering from identity crisis due to imposed faiths and cultures. Worse, this dilemma threatens the unity of the whole archipelago. And still worst, the effort to unite is greatly hampered by an inutile and deteriorating government due to incorrigible corruption.
The mistake of the early political leaders was their failure to change the name of the archipelago into something more nationalistic and encompassing when “Commonwealth” status was granted by the United States. The early leaders’ minds were focused on the imposed erudite Hispanic and American cultures. They forgot that somewhere down south, there were other inhabitants, albeit, with different faiths and dialects – the Muslims and Lumads.
The so-called “Filipino” historic leaders whose questionable reputations are beginning to be exposed today had a short-ranged view. They did not consider the geographical situation of the country when they came up with a governing system, such that control may pose a problem in time due to its fragmented situation, which is happening right now. They adopted the unicameral system of other countries, but in framing the Constitution, they followed the “structure and formal appearance” of America’s own. Curiously, they did not copy the Federal system of the Americans who introduced “democracy”. Is it because they did not want to share the authority with those living in the far south? Does this show that greed for power has prevailed as early as that time to benefit a handful pretentious “Filipinos” who framed the hybrid Basic Law of the country, but which proved to be a flop today, despite two revisions?
As a native of this archipelago, I ask: why do we have to begrudge one another today, just because we differ in faith and dialect? Is it the fault of those living in Luzon and Visayas that Mindanao is being neglected by the dysfunctional government? The “enemies” are the faulty government system and corrupt officials. The solution to the problem is not the separation from the organic homogenous system to become a separate state or annexation to another country. There are options that can put an end to the problem on unity, among which could be the federal system, relocation of the seat of the central government somewhere at the midpoint of the archipelago, or review of the current Autonomous Region for Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) to make it more service-oriented. But the eventual solution could be the 24-degree turnaround in our attitude as inhabitants of this archipelago, specifically in the way officials are chosen that is shamelessly hinged on vote-buying!
It is a disgrace, indeed, that we, as a people who came from the same stock should hate one another based on what were imposed on us to become what we are now – Christians and Muslims. We should, instead, fight for our real identity, to enable us to maintain our unity!