The nation is marking today (Tuesday) the end of a long weekend with the celebration of Eid’l Fitr, a Muslim holiday. Eid’l Fitr (the Festival of Fast-breaking) is a three-day celebration of the Muslim world commemorating the end of Ramadan, a period of dawn-to-dusk fasting. Eid is a time for giving gifts, especially to children; giving charity to the poor; and celebrating with family and friends the completion of a month of blessings and joy.
The declaration of Eid’l Fitr as a national holiday is just one of the measures the government has taken to show Muslim Filipinos that it is giving them the importance as well as the attention that they deserve. The scholar Peter Gordon Gowing said that the Muslim people of the Philippines take pride in the fact that they have an older history as an identifiable community than any of the other Filipino peoples. If the Spanish colonizers, and after them, the Americans, had not taken over the Philippines, the Philippines would have been—and would still be—a predominantly Muslim nation, like most of the countries in Southeast Asia today.
Christian Filipinos owe much to the West, principally to Spain, which brought the Roman Catholic faith and various influences in language, law, music, art, social structures, among other sectors; and to the United States, which brought the English language, democratic institutions, a Hollywood lifestyle and a taste for Coke and McDonald’s hamburgers, among other things. Gowing said that, on the other hand, the Muslims of the southern Philippines maintained their roots firmly in the Islamized Malay world and owe much to the Islamic civilization of the Middle East, particularly Arabia.
Luzon and the Visayas quickly came under the domination of Spain, and later, the United States, but a large area of Southern Philippines resisted foreign colonial domination. It has often been said that the Americans invented the .45 cal. pistol because they could not bring down the fierce Moro defenders with “ordinary” pistols and revolvers. If only for the Moros’ unstinting resolve to resist foreign colonizers, they deserve a place of honor in Philippine history.
But the Moros have been considered “second-class citizens,” discriminated against because of their religion and culture, and given minimal attention by “Imperial Manila.” The Muslim-dominated areas of southern Philippines have almost always been in a state of ferment, giving the central government a huge headache. The state of affairs in Muslim Mindanao took a turn for the worse by the late 1960s. By the early 1970s, during the Marcos administration, the situation had become critical.
Three events caused the worsening of the crisis: the so-called “Jabidah massacre” on Corregidor island, where 28 Moro recruits supposedly being trained for a secret mission in Sabah were executed in March 1968 by Philippine Army soldiers after they became restless because they were not paid for months, and after they learned that they were going to fight and kill brother Muslims in Sabah, Malaysia.
Since then Muslim Mindanao has not enjoyed stability and peace. First the Muslim (later Mindanao) Independence Movement was formed to seek to establish an Islamic Republic of Mindanao and Sulu. Then a group of Muslim intellectuals and students organized the Moro National Liberation Front which waged an armed struggle against the forces of the central government. After MNLF’s Nur Misuari was co-opted by Manila, the violence died down somewhat, but soon an alternative group, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, was formed, and it is now the MILF that central government is trying to negotiate peace with.
President Aquino recently tried to show his sincerity in his efforts to solve what has been called “the Mindanao problem” by breaking protocol and meeting with Murad Ebrahim, MILF chair, in Tokyo.
The prospects are encouraging. The government has certainly shown its sincerity and resolve to settle the Mindanao problem once and for all, and finally to bring peace, after so many decades, to a region that holds so much economic promise and that could greatly contribute to the development of the entire country. When that time comes, truly Eid’l Fitr would be an occasion for nationwide rejoicing.
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