Ateneo de Davao University

Ateneo de Davao

Why Bangsamoro

Some of us base the start of our history on the year 1521. This was the recorded year when Christianity arrived in our country through the Spanish colonization. Our old history books mainly use this as the starting point of our civilization. Thus, they recognize anything before than this as uncivilized and barbaric.

On the other side, some of us base the start of our history when Islam arrived in Mindanao sometime in the 13th Century. This is what most of us think as the start of the “moro” nation or the Bangsamoro.

Sad to say, with this terminologies is actually the start of the conflict in Mindanao. Some Muslims call themselves as Bangsamoro, while most Christians are the Filipinos.

With the recent incident in Zamboanga City that started last September 9, 2013 we would like to ask ourselves, “why Bangsamoro?”

Most people in Mindanao and the whole country as well, ask this question, “what is the reason or, what are the reasons for the conflict in Mindanao?” Until now no one seems to know the answer. Even the antagonists are at a loss. Some of the ready answers usually given are lack of economic opportunities, land conflict, religious persecution, lack of self-government, and so forth.

Muslims in the whole country is not a monolithic entity. Nor is the entire Islamized ethno-linguistic groups.

To proceed further in the discussion, let us see how the word “moro” evolved. In a research work I conducted last 2007, this is what I have found about the word “moro”.


“To have a better outlook in the Mindanao problem scholars, academicians, and government  officials must  look beyond  the  supposedly hegemonic  Moro  identity of Muslim Filipinos. The so-called Moro  identity is a myth, and a myth created by the Americans,  specifically by Najeeb  Saleeby,  during the  period  of  American  colonial occupation beginning in the early 1900s.


Najeeb Saleeby, a Syrian born Christian physician came to the Philippines as a U.S. Army doctor in  1900 and was assigned to Mindanao. He became fascinated with its Muslim inhabitants and wrote some of the first accounts published in English.

Saleeby outlines nothing less than the colonial genesis of Morohood. Saleeby was more knowledgeable about the history, culture, and contemporary political culture of the separate Muslim  peoples of the Philippines than any other colonial administrator. He knew that the various Muslim  ethnolinguistic groups were in no sense united, nor did they           possess—jointly          or         individually—a           politically        potent  oppositional     Islamic onsciousness. He urged the promotion of Muslim unity, not through the preservation or restoration of  individual traditional polities (i.e., by means of straightforward indirect rule),  but  through  the  formation  of  a  new  transcendent  Philippine Muslim  identity: through the development of Morohood.

In his essay, Saleeby proposes the creation of Muslim unity for the sole purpose of propelling Philippine Muslims along a path of development parallel to that of Christian Filipinos in order to  prepare  their eventual integration into an inevitable postcolonial Philippine nation. They should be  led  on  that path by members  of  their  traditional nobility  because,  regardless  of  American  attitudes  toward  aristocracies,  the  Muslim populace affirms their indefeasible right to rule by fact of their hallowed ancestry.

Saleeby’s morohood then set in motion a process of erosion of Muslim identity. It began with the lumping together of all the Muslim Filipinos under American colonial rule under the derisive moniker  “Moro” – a terminology formerly used by the Spanish and the Portuguese to denote all peoples and nations that show even a little similarity of practice with that of the Moors of Morocco and Mauritania.

In the final analysis, the word “moro” has no historical nor empirical basis to stand on its own. Maguindanao Sultanate is far different from the Sulu Sultanate. Both are “states” of their own strong historical ground.

Hence, “Bangsamoro idea and the revised version of the word Moro are both modern concepts put forward by the leadership group of both the MNLF and the MILF to gain political traction for the insurgency in Mindanao”.(Yusingco, 2013)

How long do we allow this to happen? How many lives must suffer for this political imagination that is limited by time? Why don’t we transcend beyond 1521 and 13th century of our historical beginnings and accept our own humanity as one. Our civilization goes far beyond these two eras. Our blood goes beyond our religious and political differences.