At Large

Survivors of the Marawi crisis

Of at least 13 ethnic groups of indigenous peoples in the Philippines, the three biggest communities are the Maguindanaon of the provinces of North Cotabato, Sultan Kudarat and Maguindanao; the Maranao of the
Lanao provinces; and the Tausug of the Sulu archipelago.

Predominantly Muslim, the people of these three groups, along with smaller groups like the Samal, the Bajau (or Badjao) and the Yakan have adopted, with some historic and cultural irony, the identity
of “Moro,” or more collectively, the “Bangsa Moro” or Moro nation.


Irony because “Moro” was a pejorative term for “Moors,” used by the Spaniards against their historical enemy, with connotations of heresy, thievery, piracy, if not outright savagery. The Muslim peoples of Mindanao rejected the term “Moro,” considering it an insult and racial slur, until the early 1970s when the Moro National Liberation Front or MNLF popularized the term as a unifying identity.

In the “Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro,” which laid the basis for the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law, the Bangsamoro are more broadly defined as “those who at the time of conquest and colonization were considered natives or original inhabitants of Mindanao and the Sulu archipelago and its adjacent islands including Palawan, and their descendants whether of mixed or of full blood.”


There is no mention of religion or religious belief, but since “Bangsamoro” was created and accepted mainly by Muslim groups, it has come to refer mainly to Mindanao’s population of Muslims.

But even though united by the “Bangsamoro” identity, divisions remain between the main Muslim ethnic groups. For instance, the MNLF is composed mainly of the Tausug, to which MNLF founder Nur Misuari belongs. The Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), which broke away from the MNLF in 1977, is mostly Maguindanaon.

While the Maranao have, by and large, skirted involvement in the Moros’ armed struggle for autonomy (if not independence) and self-determination, a large swath of the population now finds itself at the center of vicious fighting. The Maute group, allied with Abu Sayyaf and described as “IS wannabes” who are using terroristic tactics to
gain global recognition, have made the Lanao capital of Marawi the focus of its campaign that has grown increasingly bloody and destructive since it began a month ago.

The realities of war must have hit the people of Marawi and nearby areas particularly hard because, unlike people in the Maguindanao and Cotabato provinces, for instance, or in Sulu and Taw-tawi who have had decades (even generations) of experience running for their lives and uprooting their daily routines, the Maranao have mostly avoided the massive impact of armed conflict. (Clan wars, or rido, are another matter.)

Among Mindanaoans, including Muslims, the Maranao are known as skilled and intrepid traders, as well as talented artisans, particularly in their weaving, wood carving and brassware. I also get the impression that the Maranao consider themselves aristocrats, refined and better educated than most.
The Maranao penchant for entrepreneurship was highlighted, for me, in a recent article by Manman Dejeto of MindaNews, who wrote of Norania Cadalay-Bangon, a “bakwit” from Marawi staying at an evacuation center in Iligan City.

When President Duterte visited the evacuation center last June 20, wrote Dejeto, he handed out wads of cash to the evacuees, saying they should use it to “party.” With the P2,000 she and her sister got as their share of the presidential largesse, Norania, 40, bought goods in a nearby town and decided to sell these to the other evacuees. Their small sari-sari store sells “basic food items like salt, sugar, eggs, cooking oil and spices” as well as dried fish and the Maranao condiment “palapa” to the other families.

So if one were to go searching for hope and resilience in the midst of the chaos created by the crisis in Marawi, one need only look to Norania and other folk like her who are making the best of a bad situation.
They may not be heroes, but they are certainly survivors.


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TAGS: Bangsa Moro, Bangsamoro Basic Law, Maranao, Marawi crisis, Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), muslims
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