Revisiting the historic independence of the Moro nation

By Atty. Bayan G. Balt

For five hundred (500) years spanning five decades, the Moro nation has been independent, divided into several states or principalities, they managed to stand firmly against the conquering Spaniards, American and later the Japanese forces. These independent states were the Sulu sultanate first organized in 1450, the Maguindanao sultanate came into existence from the unity of two Maguindanaon principalities in 1619, (Saleeby, 1963; Majul, 1973). Likewise followed by the royal sultanate of Lanao later name as the Confederate States of Lanao (Pat a Pangampong sa Ranao), also known as the Lanao Sultanate, collective term for four states named Bayabao, Masiu, Unayan, and Baloi, (Journal of Islamic Thought and Civilization). Like the Bruneian Empire, Muslim sultanates in the Philippines have their own separate political organization and Islamic culture. the Sultanate had diplomatic relations with Ming China while the Malay kingdoms interacted, and traded with various tribes throughout the islands, governing several territories ruled by leaders called rajahdatu and sultan.

During the Spanish conquest, they tried to dismantle the independent Sultanate states, what followed were wars that lasted throughout the Spanish colonial presence – 333 years of war, punctuated by occasional peace. To the Spaniards, the wars with the Muslims, called Moros, were “guerras piraticas”, or wars against Moro pirates. To the Muslims, these were wars of self-defense to protect their political territories and those of their allies. The Spaniards conscripted and utilized thousands of Filipino Christian warriors to fight the Muslims; in return, the Muslims hit Spanish-controlled Filipino communities. The fighting between Christian and Muslim Filipinos thus resulted in deep-seated mutual animosities, distrust and dislike, which have since been carried over from generation to generation and are still felt to this day. Although the Muslims of Mindanao remained uncolonized in the face of Spanish aggression, they suffered tremendously from the incessant hostilities, (Majul 1973).

In 1898, the American colonizers took over the Philippines from the Spaniards initially through the Treaty of Paris (December 1898) for the price of twenty million dollars and subsequently through armed conquest. The treaty was the political settlement between the two colonial powers after the United States defeated Spain in the Spanish-American war (Tan, 2002; Gowing, The Moro Struggle in Southern Philippines 10 1977). It is important to stress at this point that at the time of the Treaty, the so-called subjects of the treaty were de facto states – the Philippines declared its independence from the Spanish colonizers six months earlier; in Mindanao, the Sulu and Maguindanao sultanates and the Pat a Pongampong ko Ranao were never colonized by the Spaniards; the Lumad, too, avoided contact with Spain and thus remained free – they were not owned by Spain at the time of the agreement. The American policy in Mindanao added another sordid circumstance to the life of the Moros. A public land laws which not only mandated the registration and titling of lands to private persons and corporations, a practice that was alien to the Muslim and Lumad peoples, but also pursued a land distribution scheme that was patently discriminatory against the local inhabitants. Three versions of public land laws were implemented in 1903, 1919 and 1936, the latter being an amendment of the previous one. Individual Christian homesteaders were allowed to own up to 24 hectares of land, while non-Christians could only have 10 hectares at most, which was even reduced to four hectares in 1936; the corporations were allowed 1,024 hectares throughout (Rodil, 1994).

Some pundits acknowledge that American and western policies toward conquered subjects may have contributed to the unstable world peace in our generation. The like of Palestine where the Balfour Declaration established a national home for the Jews, while the Palestinian state was dissolved and their lands occupied by Israel till this day, the situation in Kashmir whereon the British left said colony into the hands of the Indian and Pakistan regimes for annexation and the Kurds whose land was divided by four countries and leaving them stateless. The Moro nation is not an exception, the American should have given independence to the Moro and Lumads inhabitants of Mindanao, after they left the country, knowing very well that two nations with different faith and culture cannot live together in one political system.  Was the American policy in Mindanao designed to create war? your guess is as good as mine.

For comments: Email me at

         Atty. Bayan G. Balt is a past Chapter President of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP-Marawi City and Lanao del Sur, 2013-2015) and Chairman of the Ranao Federal State Movement, (RFSM)

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