Cardinal to Christians: Moro dream 'very valid'

MANILA, Philippines – To see that the dream of Muslims “for self-determination in their own territory” is “very valid,” a cardinal urged Christians to study the history of Mindanao before Spanish colonizers arrived in the Philippines.

“I think we Christians should look at history, the history of Mindanao before Christianity, and base our ideas of peace on that history and not our own biases and prejudices,” Cotabato Archbishop Orlando Cardinal Quevedo said in an interview with MindaNews editor Carolyn Arguillas on February 2.

“Our conception of Mindanao history seems to start with the coming of the Spaniards and the Americans. That radically differs from the Muslim and Lumad conception of Mindanao history. Theirs go back to pre-Spanish times,” Quevedo added in the interview, the transcript of which he sent to Rappler. 

“We Christians in Mindanao are relatively new,” Mindanao's first cardinal explained. “And so knowing Mindanao history as it is, we Christians would then be able to recognize as very valid the profound aspiration of Muslims for self-determination in their own territory, for identity and integral development.”

Quevedo added he is thankful for Muslims like Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) chairman Murad Ebrahim, MILF founding chairman Hashim Salamat, MILF vice chairman Ghadzali Jaafar, and MILF peace panel chair Mohagher Iqbal “who say: 'We have learned our lessons from history, too. We cannot claim the whole island. We can only claim self-determination in the core territory.'”

Quevedo's comments came days after a clash in Mamasapano, Maguindanao, killed 44 members of the Philippine National Police Special Action Force, 18 Muslim rebels, and 3 civilians.

The bloodbath not only cast doubts on the peace process in Mindanao, which aims to end a 4-decade-old Muslim secessionist movement. (READ: Cardinal Quevedo: Junking BBL a 'total disaster')

It also fueled biases against Muslims in the Philippines, Asia's most predominantly Christian country.

Cayetano's 'anti-Muslim' sentiments

Critics, for instance, slammed Senator Alan Peter Cayetano for his “anti-Muslim” sentiments.

On Thursday, February 12, Cayetano drew flak for using the word “terrorist” to describe the MILF, the Muslim rebel group engaged in peace talks with the Philippine government.

The governor of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, Mujiv Hataman, held back tears when he complained about the “terrorist” label. Does the government tag the New People's Army as “terrorists,” he asked, when the communist group burns equipment?

Hataman explained: “Gusto ko lang ipakita para pareho ang application natin sa batas. Dahil alam n'yo ho ang hearing na ito, sa totoo lang, 'pag basahin n'yo lahat ng social media, 'pag merong magsalita against the Bangsamoro, lahat ng laman ng social media, parang ang kasalanan na 'to ay kasalanan ng buong mamamayang Moro.”

(I just want to show these examples so we'll have the same application of the law. Because you know, in this hearing, to tell you the truth, when you read what's on social media, when there's a comment against the Bangsamoro, on social media it seems like this tragedy is the fault of the entire Moro people.)

(Watch more in the video below)


Prompted by Cayetano's comments, MILF chief negotiator Mohagher Iqbal added that Muslims have suffered injustices through the years. 

A glaring example, Iqbal said, is the 1968 Jabidah Massacre that sparked the Moro rebellion in the 1970s. (READ: Jabidah and Merdeka: The inside story)

Quevedo – who grew up in Mindanao and served as a priest and bishop there for more than 3 decades – also detailed the injustices against Muslims in a widely quoted paper in 2003.

In this paper, Quevedo said “the root cause of insurgency in the South is injustice.” He enumerated 3 basic injustices:

Explaining the 3 injustices

On the injustice to the Moro identity, he pointed out that Islam “was introduced to the animist Indo-Malayan inhabitants of Mindanao and Sulu” in the early 14th century. A Muslim community “was already flourishing in Sulu” toward the end of that century, Quevedo said. The Muslims then also had their own leaders.

He said the “common religious bond of Islam...totally governed their social structures, their relationships, their values, their way of life.” “Such unity in diversity was already a reality long before the term 'Filipinos' came to describe the indios colonized by the Spaniards in the second half of the 16th century.” 

“The various campaigns, military and otherwise, by Spanish, American, and Filipino governments to subjugate, assimilate, and integrate the Bangsamoro into the mainstream body politic, apparently without regard to their historical and cultural make-up, is an injustice to the Bangsamoros’ religious, cultural, and political identity,” the archbishop said.

On the injustice to Moro political sovereignty, Quevedo said, “Even before the Spaniards arrived in the 16th century, the Muslim communities in Mindanao already had their own structures of political governance centered on their datus, rajahs, and sultans.”

“It is on the basis of the historical record that I come to the following conclusion: for the Bangsamoro, the gradual loss of their sovereignty to the American government and later to the Philippine government was a fundamental injustice, even though some of their leaders who served in government might have acquiesced,” he said.

On the injustice to Moro integral development, Quevedo cited “the loss of great chunks of Moro ancestral lands” that came alongside the loss of political sovereignty.

He said: “The loss of land was compounded by government neglect of the Moro right to integral development during the Commonwealth and post-independence governments. In all dimensions of human development, political, economic, educational, and cultural, the Moro population continues to lag far behind its Christian Filipino counterparts.”

Mindanao, as a whole, remains the Philippines' poorest island group.

“The central government in Manila can be justly faulted for this underdevelopment,” he added. “But one cannot escape the impression that through the years many Moro leaders who served in the government have also failed their own people.”

The cardinal called for an end to prejudice among Christians and Muslims.

Quevedo said: “Justice to the Moro identity and sovereignty must be seriously respected. But this task is far from simple. Prejudices and biases have to be overcome. Muslim and Christian religious leaders have a major role in this. Both the Koran and the Bible teach respect, understanding, reconciliation, and love.” –