Understanding Moro history | Inquirer Opinion
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Understanding Moro history

Ligaya Fernando Amilbangsa is the only Filipino to be recognized in this year’s edition of the Ramon Magsaysay Award, often cited as “Asia’s equivalent of the Nobel Prize.”

Amilbangsa was cited for her efforts to document, promote and preserve the artistic traditions of her adopted Mindanao, specifically dance forms that were in danger of being forgotten by younger generations and thus disappearing altogether. As cited by the RM Award jury, Amilbangsa’s “signature contribution”  was “the study, conservation, practice and promotion of the dance style called  pangalay  (gift offering), a pre-Islamic dance tradition among the Samal,


Badjao, Jama, Mapun and Tausug peoples of Sulu and Tawi-Tawi provinces.”

I saw a version of the “pangalay” at the Tausug “village” that was part of a history and lifestyle exhibition called “Discover ARMM in 100 Days Journey” in the ARMM compound in Cotabato City. The exhibition and festival, launched to mark the Eid-al-Fitr or the close of Ramadan, is also meant to showcase the seven peoples that constitute the ARMM’s Muslim populace: the Maguindanaon, Tausug, Sama, Maranao, Yakan, Iranon and Teduray.


At the Iranon village, we participants in the media seminar on the coverage of the peace process were called to partake of the feast laid out on a mat featuring dishes, sweets and fruits typical of Iranon gatherings.

Even more enriching and satisfying than the food were the stories about the history and culture of the Iranon, a little-known people because, explained our gracious lady host, “we are often assumed to be part of the Maguindanaon.”

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But a brief review of background documents will show that in fact the Iranon enjoy equal stature with other Muslim peoples. Indeed, many of them are descended from Shariff Kabunsuan, the first Sultan of Maguindanao, who brought Islam to the natives. Marrying a local princess, Shariff Kabunsuan eventually established control over much of central Mindanao. Out of his lineage sprang Sultan Kudarat, another noted Iranon leader after whom a province, carved out of Cotabato, was named.

In history, said our hosts, the Iranon are legendary as seafaring warriors (the colonial powers and Christians called them pirates) who raided settlements along the coasts not just of the Visayas and Luzon but even Sulu and Borneo. They were also at times hired as mercenaries by other sultanates who

arranged (and paid) for them to supplement the native troops when uprisings took place.

Over at the Tausug village, we were guided through a photo exhibit (in a miniature recreation of a Tausug bamboo palace) that showed their sultans entertaining Spanish, American and even British dignitaries who sought to forge trade and diplomatic agreements with them. Of note were portraits of several remarkable Tausug women who broke stereotypes when they were sent to study abroad and returned to teach in local schools and served to inspire several generations of Moro women.


All these, particularly the role of Moro royalty and intelligentsia in establishing and maintaining ties with our neighbors in the region, are little known. Filipinos, educated in a largely Western-oriented curriculum and absorbing a lot of anti-Moro biases, know very little about Mindanao history. But without even the most elemental knowledge, how can we expect the nation to appreciate the deep-seated feelings of exclusion and injustice among our Moro brethren? Teachers would do well to use occasions like Ramadan and Eid-al-Fitr to explore the little-known aspects of Moro history and culture, the better to explain the yearning for identity and respect that to this day our Moro brothers and sisters feel deeply.

* * *

Tomorrow marks the sixth anniversary of the death of Cory Aquino, the late former president and mother of our present leader, President Noynoy Aquino.

Cory’s daughters Ballsy Cruz and Pinky Abellada were at the Bulong Pulungan sa Sofitel the other day where a new series of stamps, featuring floral paintings made by “Tita” Cory herself, was launched by PhilPost.

The occasion may have made the news mainly because of the sisters’ statement that, while they consider Vice President Jejomar Binay and his family their friends, now that Binay and his politician-daughters have been hurling brickbats at their brother, they are distancing themselves from them. They also denied supporting Binay in 2010 and abandoning their brother’s running mate (and presumptive presidential candidate in 2016), Mar Roxas.

But front and center at the occasion were Cory’s paintings, which she had all given to her daughters. The art works, said Ballsy, were a source of solace and relaxation to her mother after leaving Malacañang. The stamps, printed with scented ink, are composed of five Cory paintings featured in souvenir sheets and “first day” covers. Last year’s edition of Cory floral stamps quickly sold out in a few days, so for this year’s edition PhilPost has doubled the print order. So get them while they last!

* * *

Lastly, a word about Neal Cruz, fellow Inquirer columnist and ardent advocate of, among many other things, animal welfare, environmental conservation, and press freedom.

I knew him only through brief encounters when we bumped into each other at the Inquirer offices or at press events. But his reputation as a hard-nosed journalist and mentor to younger colleagues preceded him.

In a conversation, his daughter-in-law Desiree described him as nimble of mind and endlessly interested in the world around him. Though ailing in his final years, he still found the strength to host press forums and go after his favorite targets. He was, in short, a journalist to the end.

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