(The Philippine Star) | Updated June 17, 2017 - 12:00am
Most Filipinos especially Christians are not aware that the mosque in Marawi is one of the oldest in the Philippines. When the Mautes and their foreign allies, ISIS attacked to take over the city, the origin of Islam was not in their mind.
Islam came before Christianity and it came to the Philippines by way of colonialism. The Muslims fought in vain in the wars of colonialism of the Philippines. Bangsa Moro was incorporated as part of the defeated North. I do not favor the Mautes or their ISIS allies’ rebellion and their chosen path of violence. But it will help us to understand the roots of the conflict.
Islam came to the Philippines in the 14th century with the arrival of Muslim traders from the Persian Gulf, Southern India, and their followers from several sultanate governments in the Malay Archipelago. In fact there is one in Port Area near the Philippine STAR. It is the second largest religion in the Philippines.
Most of them live in parts of Mindanao, Palawan, and the Sulu Archipelago. These make up what is called Bangsamoro or the Moro region with their own way of life, law and beliefs. In time, the colonial Philippine government encouraged Christian Northerners from Luzon to move to Moroland. So we now have a mix of Muslims and Christians living together in areas of Mindanao.
Islam was first brought over by Arab traders in the late 13th and early 14th centuries, at least 200 years before the Spanish invasion. These Muslim merchants originally came from present-day Malaysia and Indonesia to the southernmost points in the Philippines, namely the Sulu islands and Mindanao. influence of Sri Vijaya) who lived in different barangays. The Arab newcomers preached Islam to the indigenous population and built the first mosque in the Philippines in the town of Simunul in the mid-14th century. The Muslim conquest reached as far as the Kingdom of Tondo which was supplanted by Brunei’s vassal-state the Kingdom of Maynila.
When the Spanish first arrived in the mid-1500s, in Seludong (which is the Bruneian Outpost inside modern-day Manila), they were dismayed to encounter a Muslim and Buddhist-Hindu presence; they had, after all, only recently expelled the Moors from Spain after nearly 800 years of conflict. Around 1575 the Spanish started spreading Catholicism in the Philippines through the use of missionaries. Though much of the Philippines converted, the Moros were able to retain their faith in the area that covers what is now theAutonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM). (Wikipedia)
It led to economic and political but also religious conflict. Federalism would give Bangsamoro some political control of their region while staying within the nation state of the Philippines.
I was with a group of Filipino politicians in the Forum of Federations in Brussels, Belgium. There are more than 25 countries in the world today that have federal systems of government. That means more than 40 percent of the world are governed by a federal system in one form or another.
Federalism is a concept and a system of government. It means different things to different peoples. I began to accept it when federalists explained to me that as a concept it should be understood as freedom. It poses problems when it is defined as a system of government because it divides countries to ethnic, political or religious groups. Many will tell you it is not possible precisely because of these differences.
A good example is the 13 colonies in North America or the 26 cantons of Switzerland that came together to form federal government. That means ‘the smaller communities retain some powers to themselves, but pooling others with the central government.”
There are also unitary countries – such as Spain, Belgium and South Africa that have adopted federal structures. These maintain a common central government for some purposes while empowering regional governments for other purposes. It could be the solution to Muslim Mindanao and Christian Luzon that came about because of Western colonization.
Because of our globalizing world, federalism is seen as the way forward with countries and communities linked together by a common market, communications and networking.
According to political experts, federalism is emerging as the central ethos of an emerging civilization that recognizes both national and sub-national identities and promotes regional and global frameworks for better understanding, coordination and cooperation. “In this sense, the philosophy of federation is transcending much beyond the system of governance to a way of life and civilization in the new millennium.
Those who advocate federalism have formed a Forum of Federations. In Brussels the federation elected officials, civil servants and scholars. It was started by the Government of Canada in 1999, and currently has eight other partner governments: Australia, Brazil, Ethiopia, Germany, India, Mexico, Nigeria and Switzerland. The Forum builds to make it possible for experienced federalists to share their knowledge and experience with those who have just become members. As far as I know, it was the first invitation to the Philippines. It was headed by former Speaker Jose de Venecia and Senator Aquilino Pimentel. It holds international conferences every three years. Brazil hosted the sixth conference in 2013.
Today the champion of federalism in the Philippines is President Rody Duterte who is from Mindanao. He champions federalism.
He will work for the Philippines to stay as one country but with smaller communities especially in Bangsa Moro with political clout to govern their communities.
With this kind of division, it is understandable why the local authorities are unable to support themselves. The unjust division is also one of the reasons why the Muslims would rather secede. So not surprisingly federalism is the best antidote to secession feared by most Filipinos who do not understand the system.
President Rodrigo Duterte is determined to change the Constitution to structure our politics and government to parliamentary federal government. I must add that to do this we should strengthen the moderate Muslims who want political solutions against extremists like the Mautes and ISIS.
In his speech after being proclaimed the standard-bearer of PDP-Laban political party, Duterte said he has no ambition to run for president, but decided to do so when his political party’s leaders urged him to run and push for federalism.
“Kinausap ako to carry the torch of federalism,” Duterte said. “I will build a nationwide consensus for federalism.”
That single statement should have won applause from the nation, but instead his cussing made the headlines.
We may have taken too long for a peaceful solution. To bring back peace and order and start organizing for Federalism it is necessary for President Duterte to declare martial law. But we should immediately take up Federalism as the only solution to the Bangsamoro.