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       The Philippine Muslims was once a dominant group in the country. They have 500 years political history, so far the longest political experience compared to other groups in the whole Philippines. Their culture is a blend of Islam and adat. Adat is the sum of both pre-Islamic culture and the philosophical interpretation of the Muslims on the teachings of Islam. It is itself the lasting contribution of the Philippine Muslims to the country’s national body politic. However, to know the Muslim history, one should understand the role of Islam in bringing about historical development. It is this Islam that actually produced heroic resistance against western colonialism. The Philippine Muslims today became known as cultural communities owing to their culture surviving foreign hegemonism to this day.

       The history of the Philippine Muslims is part of  the backbone of the historical development of the whole country. Filipino historians like Dr. Renato Constantino asserted that no Philippine history can be complete without a study of Muslim development (1990:29).

       The Philippines has two lines of historical development. The first line, which is the older, came to develop in Mindanao and Sulu. And this refers to the Muslim line of historical development . Had not this line of historical development been disturbed by western colonialism, Islam might have charted the entire destiny of the Philippine nationhood.   External factors swept into the country and brought the second line. The Hispanized Filipinos were central to the development of this second line. This is the product of the great historical experiences of the Filipino people under western rule.


       Mindanao and Sulu are the original homeland of the Philippine Muslims. These areas are now the third political subdivision of the Philippines. They are located at the southern part of the country, and lie around hundred miles north of equator. The areas occupy a strategic position at the center of shipping line between the Far East and the Malayan world. They are situated north of Sulawise and to the west is the state of Sabah. Mindanao and Sulu has a total land area of 102,000 square kilometers. It is a fertile region and known to be rich in agricultural plantation, marine and mineral resources. As reported, more than half of the country’s rain forest are found in Mindanao. While its agricultural crops include rice, corn, root crops, vegetables, cassava and fruits. Marine products like seaweed production, fish as well as gas and oil are dominant in the Sulu sea. Fifty nine percent of tuna and sardines are largely taken from the Sulu sea. Mainland Mindanao has substantial mineral deposits. Zamboanga del Sur has gold, silver, lead, zinc deposit; Davao oriental has chromite reserves; marble deposits for Davao del Norte and  oil deposit in South Cotabato. These huge resources of the southern islands have made Mindanao the land of promise.

       However, the main concentration of the Philippine Muslim population is confined largely to the western side of Mindanao down to the Sulu Archipelago. In mainland Mindanao, the Muslims are dominant only in Lanao and Maguindanao provinces. While the rest of the Muslim populations are scattered in nearby provinces such as Zamboanga peninsula, North Cotabato, Sultan Qudarat, South Cotabato, Davao Oriental, Davao del Sur and Sarangani island. In the Sulu Archipelago, the Muslims are all dominant in three island provinces of Basilan, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi.

The Muslim Etnic Groups

       Ethnic is an Italian term for nation. An ethnic community may be defined as tribal group which has its own language, hold in common a set of tradition different from others whom they are in contact. It has its own territory from which its ethnic identity is derived, and thus becomes a uniting factor for group cohesion. The Muslim ethnic groups in Mindanao and Sulu are linked by both ideological and geographical factors.

       The Muslims in the south are also culturally linked to Muslim countries in Southeast Asia such as Indonesia, Malaysia, Brunei and the Patani of southern Thailand. They are composed of eleven ethnic groups. Each group has its own language but only a few controls a political unit like a province or municipalities. Some groups speak one language with three variations like the Maranao, Iranun and Maguindanaon. The Sama people have one language with many variation such as the dialect of the Jama Mapun, and the Bangingi.

       1. The Maranao. Literally, Maranao means people of the lake. Their homeland is called Lanao which means lake. Their oldest settlement started around here, and up to this day, highly populated communities still dot the lake. Their language is similar to Maguindanaon and Iranun. One shall be confused as to which of them owns the mother tongue since the Maranao and Iranun can understand 60% of the Maguindanaon language. At any rate , these groups live in proximity. Continuous contact allows them to develop or share a common practice including language.

       The Maranao are concentrated in Lanao area. They occupy the most strategic place in Mindanao owing to their access to Iligan bay in the north and Illana bay in the south. During the colonial period, they fought against the Spaniards, usually under the flag of the Maguindanao sultanate. Like other Muslim ethnic groups, the Maranao are brave and have offered sacrifice in defense of their homeland and Islam. Throughout the colonial period, Lanao was united as one province of the Maguindanao sultanate. Seeing the importance of Lanao, the American colonial government in Manila encouraged landless Filipinos to migrate to Mindanao. Most settlers targeted Lanao as their final destination. After about 50 years, the Filipino settlers became established in the area north of Lanao. This eventually led to the division of Lanao into Del Norte and Del Sur beginning 1960s.

       Lanao is a land rich in literature. Darangan is an example of this. The existence of darangan attests to the level of civilization that the Maranao have achieved at one point.

       Potential resources like lake and agricultural land are more than enough to support to make the goal of darangan into reality. The lake in the heart of Lanao Del Sur is the biggest lake in the Philippines. It is so far the current source of energy supply – at least supplying around 80% power grid of the whole Mindanao.

       The Mindanao State University is located at Lanao’s capital, Marawi City.  Most leaders in Mindanao are in fact products of the MSU.  Sixty percent of its best professors are Christians Filipinos.

       Maranao society is a closed society. The entire municipalities of Lanao Del Sur, particularly at the vicinity of the lake are off limits to outsiders. The lifestyle of the people are in their traditional attire, the malong and the abaya. This is the only place in the Philippines whose lifestyle is not affected with the western trend. The Maranao contact to the outside comes through Iligan City and Malabang. Iligan City is 40 minutes ride from Marawi City. Malabang a coastal town of Lanao Del Sur requires more than one hour to reach. Under a long range plan of Christian movement in Mindanao, the Christians would penetrate the heart of Lanao from three areas – from Iligan in the north, Malabang in the south and Wao from the east. They in fact controlled these areas for long time already.

       2. The Maguindanao. Originally, Maguindanaon is the name of the family or dynasty which came to rule almost the whole island of Mindanao, particularly the former Cotabato. It later refers to the Muslim people who live in the Pulangi valley which sprawls the Southwestern part of Mindanao. It is for this reason, the Maguindanaon are called people of the plain. They accepted Islam at the last quarter of 15th century. Total Islamization of the whole Pulangi area succeeded only with the arrival of Sharif Kabungsuan a prince from Johore who came to Mindanao after the fall of Malacca and nearby areas to Dutch colonialists in 1511.

       The greatest contribution of the Maguindanao to civilization in Southeast Asia were the sultanates of Maguindanao and Buayan. These sultanates rose almost simultaneously after the arrival of Sharif kabungsuan who founded the first sultanate in Mindanao. During its heyday, the sultanate of Maguindanao did bring the whole mainland of Mindanao under its control. It became the instrument of the Muslims in Mindanao in thwarting the western colonialism.

       The Cotabato had been the seat of the Maguindanao sultanate. This is the ancestral land of the Maguindanao including the hill ethnic group such as the Tiruray, Tasaday and Subanun. Because of its wide valley, Cotabato area has ever since the rice ganary of the country. The colonialists had ever since been attracted to the fertile land of Cotabato. Many times, the Spaniards made Cotabato as capital of Mindanao during their military occupation. This colonial plan, however succeeded only during the American period. It was able to organize the first Filipino settlement in 1912.

       The Maguindanao are the hardest hit of the Filipino settlement. Their political power diminished after long period of fighting and resisting colonialism and Christianization, particularly at the beginning of the 20th century. The Maguindanao fought alone without foreign support during this period.  However, by 1970s, three-fourth of their homeland were lost to Filipino settlers, mostly Ilongo and Cebuano. The Manila government created in the area the five provinces of Maguindanao, Cotabato, South Cotabato, Sultan Qudarat and Sarangani.

       3. The Iranun. These people have inhabited the area bordering between Lanao del Sur and Maguindanao province. They claimed to be the origin of these two ethnic groups. The language of the Maranao and Maguindanao is strongly rooted in the Iranun tongue. The Iranun may perhaps be the mother language and the rest are just a mere dialects. For several centuries, the Iranun formed part of the Maguindanao sultanate. Their culture received much influence from the Maguindanao rather than the Maranao. There was a case in the past the seat of the Maguindanao sultanate was situated at Lamitan and Malabang that were the strongholds of the Iranun society. They fought the western invaders under the flag of the Maguindanao sultanate. The Iranun were excellent in maritime activity. They used to ply the route connecting the Sulu sea, Moro gulf to Celebes sea, and raided  the Spanish held territories along the way.

       The Iranun have also attained a degree of social organization comparable to the Maguindanao or the Tausug. This is evidenced by the datu system of leadership where a single leadership is recognized. An Iranun datu, like a sultan, wielded central power over his people. On account of their small population, the Iranuns have been overpowered by their neighbor and prevented them from having their own sultanate. Yet ethnic consciousness has been strong as the Iranun continued to preserve their own ways of life and even to chart their own political destiny. Like other Muslim groups, the Iranuns are also advanced in the field of education. They actively participate in local development; their professionals have managed to occupy key positions in the government, run their own business entities and Islamic institutions like masjid and madrasa.

       4. The Tausug. Prof. Muhammad Nasser Matli argued that the term Tausug is a slang word and originated from two words: tau (people) and ma-isug (brave). Therefore, Tausug means brave people.

       Before the coming of Islam, the Tausug had already established a central government. When Islam came, Tausug leaders accepted Islam. They did not resist. As soon as they became Muslims they made themselves models by infusing Islamic values and politics to the government. The result was the spread of justice in the land. Seeing the beauty of Muslim leadership, the entire natives finally accepted Islam. The peaceful triumph of Islam in Sulu in the middle of the 13th century led to the Islamization of local politics. This was the process that brought about the establishment of the Sulu sultanate in 1450. Many Tausug leaders were sent outside Sulu to further strengthen the Sulu sultanate influence. This was the origin of the growth of Tausug communities in Tawi-Tawi, Palawan, Basilan, Zamboanga, and Sabah. Up to this period, these places are still the favorite destination of Tausug migrants who have been displaced by the wars and conflicts between the Muslims and the Philippine government.

       5. The Yakan. The term Yakan is a mispronunciation of the word yakal by the Spaniards. While the term Basilan has originated from two words basi (iron) and balani (magnate). In the ancient time Basilan was thickly covered by the yakal trees. Foreign people often mistook the name of the yakal trees as the native identity. During colonial period the Spaniards branded the inhabitants of Basilan as Yakan, and became carried up to the present.

       Like other Muslim provinces, Basilan has been the target of Christian penetration since the Spanish era. Her rich resources like timber and fertile agricultural land as well as her geographical proximity to Zamboanga City has made her vulnerable to present capitalist exploitation and Christian domination. There have been already a number of municipalities where the Filipino settlers have the upper hand. Isabela, Maluso, Lamitan and other communities have an overwhelming Christian population. And their population growth and community expansion are kept on continuing. Vast tract of lands which are strategic are mostly owned by the Filipino settlers. There are many areas where the Yakans become minoritized, and further displaced from their own lands. In the areas where they are already minoritized the Yakans are exposed to marginalization. In politics, there are many instances in the past, top leadership fell into the hands of the outside people.

       The culture of the Yakans is similar to the Tausugs. Its inner foundation lies on the spirit of martabat. For the outer side, religious institution like masjid and madrasa, artifacts and the vast number of Yakan professionals, ulema, politicians and fighters reinforced further the strength of the Yakan culture. These two foundations are firmly planted in the heart of the Yakans. This is their real strength. The challenge of the Yakans today is to steer their young generation to assert their rights and develop confidence in their both material and non-material culture.

       6. The Sama. The Sama identity derived from the term sama-sama which means togetherness or collective effort. The Sama people are highly dispersed and scattered in the Sulu Archipelago. They are geographically diversified owing to their exposure to maritime activities and fishing. There are five sub-clusters that make up the Sama people. Helping each other  is recognized as norm of the Sama people.  Included in the Sama group are the Badjao known as the sea-gypsies of Sulu Archipelago and Celebes sea. The Badjao people call themselves Sama Laut. In Malaysia, they are called Orang Laut. All these descriptions point to them as being boat people. They always move from one island to another, living in their small boat for weeks or even months without mooring or coming to town to buy their needs. The Badjao do not establish a permanent community like the Arab and the Cossacks in central Asia. They have not able to develop a political institution that can advance their collective interest of their society. Their social organization do not approach even the level of a clan, in a sense, because they have no recognized community leader. Their social structure is leveled. Rich people or elitism is completely absent in Badjao society. All of them belong to the poor strata. Family structure is the only factor that makes the Badjao society possible. Roles and duties are allocated to every member from the parents down to their children, from the adult to the young ones. The father acts as leader; the mother is responsible for cooking; children collect fire woods in the coastal areas, and helps gather sea food and fetch water.  As observed, the whole Badjao family constitutes also the economic unit, which means, all of them have to work together (sama-sama) for their survival.

       Poverty and backwardness are the two basic factors that keeps every Badjao family from sending their children to school. Children are needed at home or must accompany their parents in search of their daily sustenance. This is the reason the Badjao society suffers a high illiteracy rate. Less than one percent can read the Qur’an or Roman alphabet. Their present condition has deteriorated. They are highly exposed to the oppression of Tausug warlords. They are often exploited in some economic activities. Minimal reward or compensation are given for their labor, and low price for their commodities, like lobsters and fish.

       The Sama people who inhabited Tawi-Tawi are called by their place of residence. Thus, there is the Sama Balimbing, Sama Simunul or Sama Sibutu. These groups claim to be the origin of all Sama sub-groups scattered throughout the Sulu Archipelago. They inhabited most major islands of Tawi-Tawi. While in the mainland the Sama concentration is confined to Balimbing and Sapa-Sapa. These people have a high level of literacy rate compared to other Sama sub-group. Almost every Sama barangay in the mainland has a public school. Higher institutional learning is also available such as the MSU-Tawi-Tawi and the Tawi-Tawi Regional Agricultural College (TRAC). Most top government positions are held by Sama. Like the Tausugs, the Sama are exposed to almost all fields of discipline and it is common to find them in national agencies occupying key positions.

       The Sama Bangingi are also considered major group within the Sama ethnic group. Their dialect is just a variation of the Sama language. Geographical distance being separated from other Sama groups by seas has caused the variation of their dialect from their mother tongue. But, generally all Sama people understand each other. The Bangingi have a well-developed social organization comparable to the Tausugs. Back to the sultanate period each Bangingi community had its own panglima and maharajah as the highest and influential people in their society. The tip of Zamboanga peninsula, Pilas and Tungkil island were once dominated and ruled by the Bangingi leaders. They had four strong Kuta at Zamboanga before the Spaniards occupied it. The latter took several weeks before they were able to dislodge the Bangingi from their strongholds. The Bangingi were good sailors. They were the first group in this country to reach Bengal bay and explore the Indian ocean. They discovered the connection of Sulu sea , the straits of Malacca and the Indian ocean. Most of the sultanate expeditions to Visayas and Luzon were commanded by the Bangingi warriors.

       The Bangingi unlike the Badjao are highly exposed to the Filipino society and its institution. Majority of them has studied in the Filipino school, and managed to occupy key positions in the government. Unfortunately, they failed to build their own institutions like school, political parties and businesses that are capable of effecting social changes in the society. There are only individual initiatives. The Bangingi remain far from collective social progress.

       Jama Mapun are another Sama sub-group. They call their dialect as pullun mapun which is part of the Sama language. The term mapun stands for west. They call themselves as Jama Mapun because they are situated at the distant west of Sulu. They are concentrated largely at the Turtle island, Cagayan de Tawi-Tawi an island municipality located at the border adjacent to Sabah. They are also found in southern Palawan. Like the Bangingi, the Jama Mapun adopted permanent settlement, hence they have a clear-cut social organization where the panglima is recognized as top community leader. During the Sulu sultanate period, Jama Mapun used to be of a military strategic importance to the sultanate. It used to be the sultanate’s launching base to secure the unquestioning loyalty of the panglima of Sabah and Palawan.

       The whole Cagayan de Tawi-Tawi is recognized as local government unit, a municipality under the province of Tawi-Tawi. With this the Jama Mapun have been subjected to central control from Manila since the days of the Philippine Commonwealth government in 1936. Government school and agencies were put up there and placed under the control of the local people. The island is seen as strategic place for the AFP forward force, because it is situated in the middle of  the Sulu sea and South China sea, and adjacent to Sabah. The government built  airports, which the military can use for advance troop movements in the Sulu sea.

       7. The Sangil. The  Sangil came from Sangihe an archipelago sprawling the Celebes sea just south of the Mindanao sea. Their migration to Sarangani province and to the coastal areas of Davao del Sur and South Cotabato was ahead of the coming of Islam to Southeast Asia. They embraced Islam later as a result of their continuous contact with their motherland, which became Islamized, as well as with the emerging Muslim communities in Maguindanao and Sulu in the 14th century.

       The Sangil speak a language similar to Bahasa, and in the Philippines, to Tausug. They also evolved their own social organization associated with central leadership, which enabled them to wage battle against the Dutch and Spanish colonialism. There were many instances the Sangil allied themselves to the Maguindanao sultanate. They used to contribute war paraws, fighters and arms in major expeditions to Spanish held-territories. The Sangil  have also high political and Islamic consciousness. They are active in their struggle for self-determination as part of their strategy to have their culture and social institutions preserved and developed further. They succeeded at last. In 1992, the Sarangani province was born intended to contain the clamor of the Sangil.

       8. The Kaagan. The Kaagan inhabited mostly Davao areas. They became Muslims as a result of contact with the Maguindanao sultanate, and later strengthened with the arrival of some Tausug groups who helped to organize the Kaagan society. No wonder  the Kaagan language has many bahasa sug root words. With the departure of the Tausug and Maguindanao influences at the height of the Filipinization process. Most of them have been marginalized and were helpless to improve their society because their social organization did not improve as those in Lanao and Sulu.

       9. The Kolibugan. The term kolibugan is a Sama word which means “half-breed”. Originally, they are part of the Subanun ethnic group, an indigenous people inhabiting the interior of the Zamboanga peninsula. Their neighbors, particularly the Sama Bangingi and the Tausugs called these Islamized Subanun as Kolibugan because their culture has been altered by their Muslim neighbors and for years there has been  intermarriage with other groups that produced new generations, hence they are called Kolibugan. These people still speak the Subanun language and retain the Subanun type of social organization, which is limited to clan orientation with less political inclination. Today, the term Kolibugan is applied to all Subanun who moved to coastal areas and intermarried with the Muslims, and finally embraced Islam.

       10. The Palawan. The early Muslim inhabitants in mainland Palawan were the Panimusan. These people became Muslims as a result of close contact with the Sulu Sultanate. Many Tausug during the sultanate period came to Palawan in order to introduce Islam to the local people.  The Muslim concentration is mostly in the southern part of Palawan such as Batarasa, Rizal, Quezon, Brooke’s Point and Espanola. In these municipalities the Muslims are likely dominant and hold political power. Isolated Muslim communities are also found in Narra, Roxas, Taytay and Aborlan.

       Since the collapse of the Sulu sultanate, contact between the Palawani and the Tausugs was almost lost. They have been isolated to each other as there is no direct trade or cultural link between the two people.

       11. The Molbog. The Molbog are mainly confined in the Balabac islands located at the southern tip of Palawan. They received Islamic influence and later embraced Islam from Brunei Muslim missionaries. The propagation of Islam was active during the 15th century when Muslim principalities rose from the eastern side of the Malay peninsula and Borneo. At this period, the Brunei sultanate was expanding its influence to the Philippines and Palawan is not far from Brunei. The Sulu sultanate also helped to strengthen Islam among the Molbog.

Historical Gap

       Historical gap is a period between two or more events keeping the new generation detached from the old ones. The new generation can no longer determine the culture of the past, and eventually may chart its own course different from their predecessors. This is the case with the two periods of the Bangsamoro history: the sultanate era, the US colonial period up to the present. The US era in the Philippines brought historical gap distancing the sultanate era from the present. The culture of the people underwent transformation in 50 years time under US rule. 50 years thereafter, the people developed a new culture which is no longer the same orientation as what was then. The conventional approach to this problem of historical gap is the reliance of the historians on the study of artifacts, the root of civilization, and the life of the leaders in order to move their mind centuries back.

       By nature, jihad requires collective action or sufficient participation from the Muslims preferably to be led by the government under a righteous imam. This is the meaning of jihad to be known as fardhu kifaya. There must be a group of Muslims if not the entire masses who shall carry out the jihad fi sabilillah. Failure to carry jihad will make the whole community or state in a state of sin. But if there is a section of Muslim population that rises up for jihad, the entire Muslims become free from sin. Jihad becomes fardhu ‘ayn or individual obligation when the enemy sets a camp for about 300 kilometers from the population center of the Muslims. This is the opinion of Imam Shafie. Clearly, jihad is the main factor that kept the Bangsamoro society in the face of western onslaught. Jihad as fardhu ‘ayn sustains the continuity of the jihad up to the present.

Islam in the Philippines

       The rise of Islamic political institutions in Southeast Asia in the early 15th century is viewed as the culmination of Islamization after about 200 years when the Arabs   introduced Islam direct to the masses. This political development was a turning point in the history of the people because it revealed two important things: the formation of the Muslim nationalism and the birth of the first Muslim society in this country. Islam for this matter changed the political course of Mindanao and Sulu from the feudalistic as well as from colonialistic. The survival of Islam as ideological force in the south is an indication that their political course remained  in the Islamic orbit.

       Sulu was the first Muslim community in the south to establish a centralized government, the Sultanate of Sulu in 1450. The introduction of this sultanate implies that the indigenous institution became Islamized. This sultanate was a superstructure imposed   without destroying the old foundation. This was one of the reasons that made the Sulu Sultanate strong. Hashim Abubakar was the founder and the first sultan of the Sulu sultanate. His father was an Arab from Hadramaut; his mother was a princess from Johore. According to the Tausug salsila, Abubakar belongs to a sharif lineage, which is one of the descendants of Nabi Muhammad (S,.A.W.). The term sharif is a title of nobility. When Abubakar rose to power, he assumed five titles affixed to his name, thus his official name runs as follows: paduka, mawlana, mahasiri, sharif sultan Hashim Abubakar.

       The Sulu sultanate is multi-ethnic. At the height of its power in the early part of the 18th century, its territory encompassed the whole Zamboanga peninsula, Basilan, Sulu, Tawi-Tawi, Palawan and Sabah. On the same period, the sultanate began to intensify its foreign relations with neighboring Muslim principalities in Brunei, Makassar, Manila, Cebu (before Spanish era), Maguindanao, Buayan and Batavia including China. This foreign relations of the Sulu sultanate involved trade, mutual friendship and military alliance. The sultanate had in fact dispatched ambassadors to different places and also received ambassadors from other countries.

       Dr. Majul describes the history of the Sulu sultanate as had been one of war. Since 1578 up to the 1927, the Sulu sultanate was at the forefront of the struggle for freedom and national liberation. It was able to survive two major colonial waves: the Spanish and the US colonialism. Despite its political decline in the beginning of the 19th century, the Sulu sultanate maintained her status as independent sultanate from 1450 to 1936.

       The spread of Islam to Mindanao between 1450 and 1500 was part of the political goal of the Sulu sultanate. A Maranao oral report revealed that the first Tausug preachers reached the Lanao lake before the arrival of foreign Muslim missionaries, possibly the Malay preachers. This report is sufficient to establish the fact the Muslim settlements had gradually thrived in the Illana bay up to the lake area and the Pulangi valley. People from these areas were already used to come to Jolo for trade as well as for Islamic learning. It is for this account that  Sulu became  known in history as the center of Islamic learning in this country.

       The full Islamization of the west coast of Mindanao was accelerated with the arrival of Muhammad Sharif Kabungsuwan. Like Abubakar, the first sultan of Sulu, Sharif Kabungsuwan is also an Arab and a descendant of Nabi Muhammad (S.A.W.). His Malay sounding name attests  his forefathers had settled long time in Johore. Kabungsuwan and his followers arrived Malabang in 1515. He was accompanied by large group of Sama people who according to Dr. Kurais, a Sama scholar Kabungsuwan had passed by Tawi-Tawi and picked up some Sama people to accompany him in his journey to Mindanao. This means that the coming of Kabungsuwan to Mindanao was not accidental. It was the Sama people who guided him to Mindanao. During this period, inter-island contact was already in place. Both the Sama and the Iranun had already explored the many sea routes in the Sulu archipelago.

       It was not long after his arrival that Sharif kabungsuwan established the Sultanate of Maguindanao, possibly in 1516. The rise of this sultanate is almost similar to that of Sulu, should be viewed as the culmination of Islamization in Mindanao. It was actually a political necessity. Clearly, the sultanate was adopted as an instrument to consolidate the emerging Muslim communities.

       The first seat of the political power of Maguindanao was Slangan and Maguindanao. Originally, these areas were the bastions of Iranun political activities. When the sultanate passed into the Maguindanao family and dynasty, the seat of power was moved to Pulangi valley. The term Maguindanao actually referred to a family. It was the royal family with which Sharif Kabungsuwan was linked through affinity. Since Maguindanao family became a symbol of Muslim power in Mindanao, their name became the official designation of Muslims throughout the Pulangi valley.

       In the upper Pulangi valley the ruling datus were the Buayan family. Because of their influence, the whole areas were called Buayan. The political institution of the Buayans became Islamized as a result of the marriage of the Buayan prince to the daughter of Sultan Sharif Muhammad Kabungsuwan. After the death of Kabungsuwan, the Buayan family founded the Sultanate of Buayan as independent entity from the Maguindanao sultanate. The existence of two sultanates in mainland Mindanao strengthened Islam but often the source of friction between the Buayan group and the Maguindanao. In lull times, these sultanates fought each other for political supremacy over Mindanao. They also fought together against their common enemy in the face of foreign aggression.

       One of the best Maguindanao rulers was Rajah Buisan who was the leading commander during the third stage of the Moro wars. He was remembered for his famous speech at Dulag, Leyte where he delivered his message inspiring the datus of Leyte to rise against the Spaniards. In his battle against the Spaniards, he aligned himself with Rajah Sirungan the ruler of the Buayan sultanate. Both leaders had for several times joined forces in their expedition to the north. The Buayan leaders managed to gain supremacy in the Pulangi valley only after the death of Rajah Buisan. The latter was succeeded by his son Sultan Qudarat. During his ascension to power, Qudarat was too young. It was for this reason the Maguindanao sultanate became overwhelmed. It took more than ten years for Sultan Qudarat to build his political power over the whole of Mindanao. He is remembered for his political prowess in uniting the two sultanates and the rest of the people in Mindanao under his strong leadership. Sultan Qudarat is also remembered for his famous speech challenging the Maranao datus to oppose the Spanish encroachment in Lanao lake.

       The political hold of the Maguindanao sultanate over Mindanao however did not last long. Dynastic quarrels often broke out among the Muslim leaders. In the later part of the 18th century, the Maguindanao sultanate loosened its hold upon the Buayan (Majul, 1997:31). Its steady decline continued up to the arrival of the American colonialists in 1900. This decline created a vacuum of leadership and finally led to the rise of small principalities in Mindanao, while others proclaimed their own sultanates as in the case of the 18 royal houses in Lanao area. The rise of Lanao royal houses in the face of  the decline of the Maguindanao sultanate signaled the disintegration and break-up of asabiyah (tribal solidarity) among the Muslims in mainland Mindanao.

       The current continued political assertion of the Maranao people should beviewed from the political development on the part of their society, which began to evolve as a political institution towards the later part of the 18th century. This development did not move further.The struggle of Amai Pakpak, a great Maranao fighter, was short-lived. While building his own political clout, he suffered defeat in the hands of the Spanish invading forces in March 10, 1895. His dream of  a strong political organization was not realized and was further arrested with the introduction of US imperialism in 1900. Although the Lanao royal houses still exist, they are no longer viewed as political force of the society.

Muslims’ Contribution to National Struggle

       The Muslim resistance in the Philippines is viewed as an extension of the crusade, only the fight was no longer between the Europeans and the Arabs but between the Spaniards and the Moros. Dr. Cesar Adib Majul described this resistance as the Moro wars. In his analysis Majul divided the Moro wars into six stages. The first phase of this war began with the arrival of Legaspi who led the invasion of Muslim settlement in Manila under Rajah Sulayman in 1571. It ended with the invasion of Brunei in order to destroy its sphere of influence in the northern part of the Philippines, and also to isolate the Sulu sultanate in the south. Before the hostilities began, the Spanish general Francisco de Sande sent a letter first to the Brunei sultan. The important part of the letter was that the Brunei sultanate has to stop the sending of Muslim missionaries to any place in the Philippines. This letter could be a concrete evidence revealing the bottom line of the Spanish colonialism – Christianization and imperial conquest of the whole Southeast Asia.

       With the Spanish victory in Luzon and also in the Brunei expedition, the Spaniards moved to the second phase of their colonial ambition – the need to make vassals of the chiefs of Sulu and Maguindanao. In June 1578, the Spaniards explored the Sulu Archipelago and even threatened to attack Sulu. They did not however stay for long, and withdrew after a compromise negotiation was reached with the Sulu leaders. From here, the Spaniards proceeded to Maguindanao but failed to establish contact with the Muslim leaders. The following year the Spaniards under Capt. Gabriel de Rivera conducted another military mission to the Cotabato area. Their main intentions were to make the Muslims pay tribute; induce them not to allow foreign missionaries; inform the Maguindanao about the Spanish victory in Brunei, gather information about the Muslims and their strength and to know the relationship between the Maguindanao and the Ternatans and other people in Indonesia.

       Since this second expedition, the Spaniards had been focusing their goal on the conquest of Mindanao and Sulu. After eleven years, in 1591 the Spaniards went through with their military expedition to Maguindanao the seat of Muslim power in Mindanao. They assumed that once Mindanao is toppled it would be easier to extend their influence to Sulu and Brunei. The Spaniards, however, found a fierce armed Muslim resistance. It took them five years to finally establish military garrison at Tampakan in 1596. But this too was short-lived. The Maguindanao applied more armed pressure by carrying out a series of offensives against the Spanish fort at Tampakan. Seeing the Muslims had the political power to oppose, the Spaniards abandoned Tampakan in 1597 and repositioned themselves at La Caldera in Zamboanga peninsula.

       In the third stage of the Moro war, the Muslims changed their military strategy from defensive to offensive. They now brought the war to the enemy’s territory. In 1599, Datu Salikula and Datu Sirungan the chiefs of Maguindanao and Buayan respectively launched a joint force attacking a major Spanish base in central Visayas. They were able to mobilize 3,000 warriors with 50 paraws. In 1602, another offensive was carried out by the Muslims and this was so far the biggest offensive ever organized. The Muslims gathered 145 paraws – 50 vessels manned by the Ternatans, Sangil and Tagolanda; 60 by the Maguindanao and 35 by the Yakans of Basilan. These forces were commanded by Datu Buisan, the successor of Datu Salikula, and Datu Sirungan. Because the Spaniards were too weak to attack Maguindanao, they instead attacked the Sulu sultanate. They thought that Sulu was easy to defeat. They laid siege to  Jolo for three months but the sultanate forces were able to repulse them.

       When the news reached the Maguindanao on October 29, 1603, Rajah Buisan together with his allies from Sangil and Ternate led another invasion of Central Visayas. They invaded Dulag, Leyte a place where Rajah Buisan delivered his historic speech calling the Leyte Datus to fight the Spaniards. Aware of the political implication of Buisan’s speech as well as the continuous surge of Muslim raids in Visayas, the Spaniards opted for good relationship. They sent a special envoy for peace negotiations. This peaceful overture of the Spaniards led to the signing of peace treaty on September 8, 1605. This treaty, however, did not hold for long because of the Spanish invasion of Ternate in April 1608. The Maguindanao chief construed this action as violation of the treaty. He ordered, therefore, the resumption of military raid of Spanish garrison in Central Visayas. This in turn forced the Spaniards to sign another peace treaty in March 1609. This treaty put the war to rest for at least 25 years.

       The war resumed between the Spaniards and the Muslims in 1627 but by this time the war was now with the Sulu sultanate. This was triggered by a  maltreatment suffered by   Sulu envoy, Datu Ache. On his way home from Manila,  his ships were intercepted by the Spaniards, and all of them were brought back to Manila and humiliated. This incident  angered the sultanate leadership. Rajah Bungsu the sultan of Sulu led 2,000 warriors, and attacked the Spanish base and ship yard in Camarines Sur and Central Visayas.

       In 1628, the Spaniards retaliated against this Sulu attack. They organized an expedition composed of 200 Spanish officers and 1,600 native allies. They were able to defeat the Sulu forces, but withdrew immediately for fear of a counter-attack. Despite this setback, the Sulu sultanate still managed to send another expedition in 1629. By this time the Sulu forces were now commanded by Datu Ache. They attacked the Spanish settlements in Camarines, Samar, Leyte and Bohol. The Spaniards, likewise, invaded Sulu again in March 17, 1630. They almost doubled their forces from 1,600 to 2,500. But at the time they landed in Sulu, the sultanate forces were slready highly prepared for battle. In the ensuing war, the Spanish commander Lorenzo de Olaso was wounded, which prompted his forces to withdraw. The following year 1631, the Sulu warriors launched another invasion aimed at Leyte, the seat of Spanish power in Visayas.

       In Maguindanao, Sultan Qudarat continued to consolidate his power throughout Mindanao in preparation for new invasions. The Buayan and the Sangil leaders were brought under his control. He also established contact with the Sulu sultante. In order to concretize this contact, Sultan Qudarat made a marriage alliance by marrying the daughter of Rajah Bungsu, the sultan of Sulu in 1632. This paved the political alliance between the two sultanates of Mindanao and Sulu.  These two sultanates mustered a coordinated military attack and joint invasion of Central Visayas. Their first joint invasion was in 1634 when they mobilized 1,500 warriors who landed at Dapitan, Leyte and Bohol.

       The challenge now before the Spanish colonial regime in Manila was how to stop the Muslim invasion of its held-territories. After drawing lessons on the military behavior of the Muslims, the Spaniards changed their approach by establishing a forward force at the enemy’s territory so that the war’s trend could be reversed. This was the focus of the fourth stage of the Moro wars. The Spaniards captured Zamboanga and established a military base on April 6, 1635. This lasted for 29 years until the Sulu warriors drove them out of their stronghold. This was so far one of the greatest achievements of Rajah Bungsu, the sultan of Sulu at this period.

       This Spanish base at Zamboanga became the lunching pad for attacking Muslim settlements as well as the sultanate’s capital of Jolo and Lamitan in the Maguindanao area. Lamitan the seat of the Maguindanao sultanate was captured by the Spaniards on March 13, 1637. Qudarat’s forces of about 2,000 suffered defeat and was forced to move to the interior. Seventy-two Muslims were decapitated and the Spaniards put their heads on spikes for display (Majul, 1996:135). The Spaniards did this to instill fear. But two years later,  in 1639, Sultan Qudarat re-established his forces and held his court at Pulangi. In Sulu, the Spanish attack continued until Jolo, the sultanate capital fell after a three-month battle in January 1, 1638. This was the period when the Spaniards occupied Jolo and the sultanate court was moved to Dungun, Tawi-Tawi. The sultanate reorganized its forces and even secured the support of the Dutch in Batavia, Indonesia. On March 25, 1644, Rajah Bungsu dispatched his son, Pangiran Salikala for this purpose. Having prepared the logistics, the sultanate ordered a final offensive against the Spaniards with the Dutch navy which bombarded the Spanish garrison at Jolo. After about a year of military confrontation, the Spaniards opted to stop the war and signed a peace treaty and evacuated all their forces from  Zamboanga to Manila because of an   impending Chinese attack of Manila.

       The 5th stage of the Moro war commenced in 1718 when the Spaniards reoccupied Zamboanga. A huge military base known as Fort Pillar was built, and thus provoked the Sultanate of Sulu. Immediate reprisal was made but this failed to dislodge the Spaniards. The Sulu sultanate under Sultan Badar-uddin asked the support of Maguindanao sultanate and the Dutch at Batavia. Sultan Badar-uddin sent his Datu Bandahara and the Nakhuda to Batavia in order to appeal for military assistance as well as to strengthen the relationship which was established in 1644. Finally, the Sulu sultanate and the Maguindanao sultanate agreed to field 104 paraws with combined force of 3,000 warriors who made a new offensive on Zamboanga at the end of December 1720. This offensive however did not succeed. But, the Sulu sultanate was still firm in its struggle to push out the Spaniards from Zamboanga. Both powers adopted a mixed policy of diplomacy and military. This showed that neither of them can be easily extinguished. It was through exchanges of envoys, despite the existence of war, that a peace treaty was signed in December 11, 1726 between the Sulu sultanate and the Spanish colonial government in Manila.

       Duringt this period, the Sulu sultanate expanded its foreign relations to China. Sultan Badar-uddin sent ambassador to China in 1717; and again in 1733. The objective of China policy is to inform the Chinese leaders about the long war between Sulu and Manila. The sultanate wanted to enlist the military support of the Chinese government. It probably secured some help. The peace treaty deteriorated when Sultan Badar-uddin attempted to capture Zamboanga in December 6, 1734 while some Sulu warriors attacked Taytay in northern Palawan. In response, the Spaniards invaded Jolo in 1735 and drove out the sultanate court for second time, which then transferred to Dungun, Tawi-Tawi. The war came to stop when the two powers signed another peace treaty in February 1, 1737.

       While the power of the Sulu sultanate and Maguindanao approached a steady decline, the military power of the Spaniards grew faster when the steam boat was introduced to the Spanish naval force. The Muslim fleets were no longer a match with the Spanish modern fleets. The Spaniards had already foreseen a major invasion when the right time comes.They assured themselves that the final conquest of Mindanao and Sulu is just a matter of time.

       The 6th stage of the Moro war is the Spaniards’ dream of Mindanao conquest. It commenced with the 1851 Spanish invasion of Sulu and ended towards the end of the Spanish rule in the Philippines. As a matter of strategy the Sulu sultanate under Sultan Pulalun upon realizing the invulnerability of the Spanish forces, negotiated a peace treaty with the enemy. The treaty was signed in April 30, 1851. But just like other treaties in the past, this treaty failed to hold peace for long. The Spaniards had   already calculated that the sultanates of Mindanao and Sulu were weak to resist the Spanish conquest. In Manila, the Catholic hierarchy intensified its propaganda to win the support of  the people about the possible war  in the south. Roman Martinez Vigil a Spanish priest wrote the theory of a just war. He exhorted the war against Jolo as a just war, a holy war in the name of Christianity. Rich people and Chinese capitalists in Manila responded enthusiastically to this call. They were able to raise P 20 million for the Spaniards.

       Anchored on a just war principle, the Spaniards organized 9,000 troops led by Governor-General Jose Malcampo. These troops were sent to Sulu accompanied with hundreds of priests and sisters. They secured 11 transports, 11 gunboats, and 10 steamboats. They landed at Jolo in February 21, 1876. Aware of the Spaniards grand design, the Sulu Sultan Jamalul Azam assembled his military leaders for discussion on how to contain if not frustrate the Spanish invasion. The sultan proclaimed the jihad and ordered the use of the concept of parrang sabil as last recourse. The wise plan of the sultan was proven correct and effective. The sultanate managed to negotiate another treaty in July 22, 1878, thus saved his people from further destruction.

       At the Mindanao front, the Spaniards were already successful in destroying the power of the Maguindanao sultanate. The Maranao, Iranun and other ethnic groups began to wield their respective powers independently. These people launched their own wars separately. They parted from each other  to the extent that the Maranao put up their own sultanate since the Maguindanao sultanate could no longer exercise a central rule over Mindanao. For centuries these Maranao people were overshadowed by the Maguindanao. They fought wars against Spain under the flag of Maguindanao sultanate or sometime under Sulu sultanate as in the case of the Iranun. One of the best wars led by the Maranao was the heroic stand of Datu Amai Pakpak in defense of Marawi in 1891 and 1895. Generally, all Muslim ethnic groups in Mindanao and Sulu supported the war against colonialism. They were the people behind the survival of the two sultanates of Sulu and Maguindanao in the face of foreign aggression.

       The Moro war actually did not end with the destruction of the Spanish colonialism in the Philippines. The Spaniards left but the American colonial forces came in and continued the same colonial goals under the pretext of civilizing the natives. Since the orientation of the Moro war is the same as that of the Spanish time, the Moro-American war should be viewed as the 7th stage of the Moro war. In Sulu despite the declining power of the Sulu sultanate, the Tausug warriors who opposed the continued presence of another white colonialists, waged a series of battles against the Americans. Panglima Imam Hassan who held the post of district commander from Luuk, Sulu under the Sulu sultanate was the first Tausug leader to defy the sultan’s order to work with the Americans for common good. He could not be convinced with the overall mission of the US colonialism in the country. As an Imam, Panglima Hassan looked at the presence of the US forces a threat to Islam and the Muslim society. He instead proceeded with his military plan leading his 3,000 warriors who fought the American forces in Jolo in early November 1903. Armed only with kris and some rifles, these Tausug warriors attacked the enemy’s garrison which was equipped with modern weapons. After a week of siege,   the enemy were finally able to break their lines and forced the panglima’s followers to withdraw.

       Despite his defeat, Hassan’s military action won wider sympathy from the masses. He toured the island of Sulu promoting his cause inspiring the local leaders to resist the US colonialism. Within a short period Hassan’s propaganda bore a positive effect upon the Muslim masses. The Americans were portrayed as the enemy of Islam; that they came to the Muslim land in order to continue the unfinished goal of the Spanish colonialism. More so, the Muslims became apprehensive when the US forces hoisted their flag in major centers and  further required the Muslims to fly the US flag in their ships. At the same time, they  introduced  a new land system in order to facilitate the collection of land taxes from the Muslims. These policies invited antagonism from the people.

       In January 1906, three prominent Tausug leaders took a bold opposition to the American policies and their occupation of the Muslim land. These were Imam Sahirun, Ma’as Abdullatif, and Panglima Sawadjaan. These leaders assembled their 1,000 followers and put up their camp at Bud Dahu about six kilometers from Jolo, the capital of Sulu. From here a small group was organized and sent to raid military outposts and villages that tended to support the enemy. The Americans became apprehensive that the growing opposition of the Tausug might go out of hand. At first, they sent civilian negotiators to convince the defiant  leaders to surrender to the US colonial government. The negotiators attempted several time to convey the message of the Americans officials but the defying leaders stood firmly with their stand of non-recognition of the US colonial government. The Americans therefore decided to take Bud Dahu by force.

       On March 6, 1906, Gen. Leonard Wood the governor of the Moro province, ordered the assault of Bud Dahu. His forces were composed of 790 men and divided into three groups; each group was charged to attack from only three narrow passages leading to the camp of the Muslims. Using high powered guns, the US army stormed the Muslim strongholds with mortar throughout the afternoon and gradually took a closer move in the evening. The Muslims armed only with kris used an indigenous approach of warfare by using   logs rolled off from the top intended to hit the advancing US troops who tried to approach the narrow passage from the slopes of the mountain. From the Muslim accounts, a great number of US forces were killed as the logs fell down one after the other from the mountain tops. The US army, however, succeeded in getting to the mountain top. In the early morning of March 7, 1906, the US army fired upon the Muslim camps at close range. The Muslims rushed in and fought decisively in the open field. Only six survived who managed to retreat and report the news of what transpired in the so called battle of Bud Dahu.

       The cause of the Bud Dahu heroes did not end, however with their martyrdom. Just months from the Bud Dahu battle, Ma’as Jikiri led a small group in attacking the American military outposts. He fought for about three years until his martyrdom during the fight against the US army in 1909. Ma’as Jikiri’s heroic stand inspired his countrymen up to the present. He was the only Tausug leader who in the course of war never retreated or ran away before the enemy even when outnumbered or overwhelmed. Even the American army commended his valor. Ma’as Jikiri is the only foreign enemy of the Americans whose statue now stands at the Washington museum.

       The spirit of the war never subsided. It continued to unleash nationalistic fervor until another major battle erupted – the battle of Bud Bagsak in 1913. Bud Bagsak is a medium sized mountain and located about 50 kilometers east of Jolo. This battle was led by Panglima Amil the leader of the 500 forces that holed up at Bud Bagsak. The war began in June 9 and ended in June 14, 1913. All  Muslim warriors met their martyrdom in the five day battle against the well-equipped US army. Their defeat marked the end of organized Muslim resistance during the first 10 years of the US colonialism in the Philippines. The so called episode of “kris versus krag” came virtually to an end. There were a few more minor battles, but never again did the Moros place a formidable force in the field against the Americans. The Muslims fought a grand fight at Bud Bagsak against superior weapons (Hurley,1985:30). This decline paved the way for the signing of the Kiram-Carpenter Agreement in August 20, 1915 where the sovereignty of the Sulu sultanate was  taken over by the US colonial government. The collapse of the Sulu sultanate, in turn, led to the integration of Mindanao and Sulu into the colonial politics. Since then, the opposition of the Muslims in Mindanao and Sulu shifted from armed confrontation to peaceful movement in the form of protest and demonstration. It took about 14 years for the Tausug fighters led by Laksamana Usab to carry out armed fighting when they fought the US army at the Bud Langkuwasan adjacent to Bud Bagsak in 1927. Usab was appointed laksamana (runner) by the Sulu sultan. He parted ways with the sultan because he did not want the US policy in the Muslim land. He took the leadership for fighting the US colonialism. He called a summit meeting of Tausug leaders at Likup, Indanan, Sulu in early 1927. In the meeting, all leaders agreed to contribute fighters who come from different parts of Sulu and its islands. Usab’s struggle culminated with the battle of Bud Langkuwasan where most of his forces including himself embraced martyrdom.

Muslim Legacy

       Just like other Muslim nations in Southeast Asia, national identity of the Philippine Muslims was shaped by Islam and further developed in the course of their heroic struggle against western colonialism. Right after the first encounter with foreign aggressors in 1570 at Manila, the Philippine Muslims won a distinct honor as “Moro”, an identity put forward by the aggressors after the Moors of Spain. They were called Moros only on account of their Islamic ideology and their culture being similar to the Moors who conquered Spain for 785 years. To the Spaniards, the term Moro would also mean Muslim. Since then, the Muslims in this country have been identified in Southeast Asia and across the Muslim world as the Bangsamoro people. This identity is officially recognized by the Organization of Islamic Countries. This is the reference by which the historians and government legislators recognized the official designation of the Muslims in the country and is now enshrined in the Muslim Organic Act of 1989.

       The history of the Bangsamoro people is no doubt ranked as the first line of historical development of the Philippines. The Muslims’ sultanate institution, the religious legacy of Islam and the Muslim adat have nurtured the doctrine of Bangsamoro nationalism. The cohesiveness of the 11 Muslim groups under the spirit of Islamic brotherhood is a living reality of Bangsamoro nationalism. This should form part of the Philippines’ political foundation. It is within this context by which the struggle of the Bangsamoro people finds a just treatment in Philippine history.

About the Author:
Hannbal Bara is an Associate Professor V at the Mindanao State University-Sulu where he also serves as Dean of its Graduate School. He is an ExeCom member of the National Commission for Culture and the Arts.