Monday, December 06, 2010

Using Hermeneutic Principles to help solve the Bangsa Moro Problem - Part 2



The Historical Conservation Society is an elite group of Filipinos and foreigners interested in Philippine history. They come from the same social stratum and generally have the same biases and prejudices. They form a close-knit interpretive community. Mr. Felix had absolutely no qualms about sharing his true feelings about the Moros and Islam.

But in the society at large, most people do not want to show their biases, not in this politically correct world. However, a survey asking innocuous questions might draw some inferences on the ignorance or non-awareness of people about something. And ignorance is usually the cause of prejudices.

A questionnaire was given to some 17 young students of the University of the Philippines (16 – 21 years old). 11 of them come from the Tagalog tribe, 2 are Visayans and the rest come from non-Tagalog areas of Luzon. The aim of the questionnaire was to gauge their awareness/non-awareness of things Moro/Muslim.


The Questionnaire was a multiple choice type so it would be easier to spot the more politically correct answer. Only 4 out of 17 answered that a Moro is a Muslim because the other choice – a Moro is a Muslim indigenous to Mindanao – looks and sounds the better answer.  If no answers were provided, most would probably say that a Moro is a Muslim. Nevertheless, in spite of the presence of the correct answer, 23% still chose the Moro is a Muslim answer. Like Mr. Felix, they believe that Moros and Muslims are actually synonymous and interchangeable.

(There is confusion among the general Philippine populace on the difference between a Muslim and a Moro. A Muslim is a follower of the Islamic religion while a Moro is indigenous to Mindanao. The Moro definition is not historically correct. The Spaniards used to call all Muslims Moros, from the Spanish Moors to the Muslim Malays and Indonesians.)

Yet even those who answered ‘the Moro is a Muslim indigenous to Mindanao’ thought that Yakans and Samals are Lumads. Actually, most of them have no idea what or who the Yakans and Samals are. Some Yakans and most Badjaos are non-Muslims but all are Moros.

A majority (59%) believes that the Moros do not like to be called Moros. It does not seem apparent to them that  the M in MNLF and MILF stand for Moro and not Muslim.

Practically every schoolchild is taught that Rajah Soliman was the last King of Manila. Why then do many Filipinos think that Soliman was either Christian or pagan? His very name is Islamic – Suleiman not Solomon -- and the reason he fought the Spanish was for Freedom and Islam. In this survey, 40% think that Soliman was non-Muslim. Does this mean that teachers and/or textbooks do not say that Soliman or Lakan-Dula were Muslims?

Around 65% think that the Abu Sayyaf Group is not just a kidnap-for ransom gang or a bunch of criminals but is a {'legitimate") separatist Moro rebel group.

Most of the respondents have no Moro friends while some had Moro friends before. From their comments and answers, one can conclude that they really do not know much about the Moros, which is really the crux of the problem.

The collective memory against the Moros (whether ‘foreign Moros’ or local Moros) as immortalized in zarzuelas and moro-moro; the depiction of Moros as uncivilized in history books by Spanish, American and Filipino writers; the constant wars against the Moros waged by various Philippine administrations – all these create huge amounts of biases and prejudices.

And this can only be remedied if there is an awareness of the Moro culture and history in the Philippine experience. To paraphrase Ben Jonson, “Peace hath an enemy, its name is Ignorance.”

Surveys, Part II

Sultan Qudarat’s speech

In order to further test hermeneutic principles, we asked a sample of students to read the speech delivered by the Maguindanaon Sultan Qudarat to the M’ranaos in 1639. In contrast to the Spanish texts, this speech is very positive for the Moros. It shows that the Sultan is quite clear on the issues at hand; i.e., liberty or subjugation by the Castillans.

If it is true that the text itself has a life of its own, and directly communicates with the reader, as alleged by hermeneutics, then this speech will have positive effects on its readers. The subject readers are all University of the Philippines (UP) students, quite young (18 / 19 years old)


The results of this small survey showed that a positive document could have positive effects on the readers. The readers hardly knew Qudarat, but after reading his speech, they seemed to have a more positive view of the Moros (brave warriors, proud heritage, etc.) The speech also clarified to them that the Moros’ enemies were the Spaniards and not the Indios or Tagalogs or Visayans.

Most of the respondents were 18-year olds which mean that they were not yet born during the MNLF wars of the 70s or even the signing of the Tripoli Agreement. They were even too young when Ramos signed the Jakarta Peace Agreement with Nur Misuari. Their concept of the Moro Problem seems to be centered on the Abu Sayyaf Group. Although the “all-out war” policy of the Estrada government was directed more against the MILF, these young students do not seem to know the difference between the Abu Sayyaf and the MILF since the media do not really bother to indicate such difference.

From the results of this survey, one can conclude that the students of today come from a different interpretive community as the generation of Mr. Felix, Jr.  The college students of today are ignorant of Moro history and even the existence of a Moro Problem. They were not born yet during the MNLF wars of the 1970s. But this ignorance can be a positive thing. Unlike the generation of Mr. Felix, these young people do not have deep suspicion or even hatred against the Moros.

The Siege of Palumpong

To test the above statements, we asked another group of UP  students to read the text of the Siege of Palumpong and answer a questionnaire. The rationale behind this survey is to test whether the old generation of Mr. Felix shares the same sentiments as the young generation of today’s college students.


Unlike Mr. Felix, the respondents thought that the text was biased and exaggerated. Almost half thought that it was not even factual. One respondent even gave an additional comment that it was “too miraculous.”
However, even if they felt that the text was biased and exaggerated, it appeared that they were affected by it. In the question on what they think of the Moros, the Sultan Qudarat speech respondents answered positively. This time, the respondents answered negatively. A very small portion (14%) gave positive remarks. Some admitted that the text influenced them.

Majority thought negatively of the authors because they did not believe the truthfulness of the article. They seemed to take it against the authors for writing an obviously exaggerated account (to their minds) that they considered almost like an insult to their intelligence. The respondents were all UP students. Would it have made a difference if the respondents were students of say, Ateneo, which is run by the Jesuits or even Miriam College, a neighboring Catholic school?

All of them answered that the Spanish were the enemies of the Moros in 1754. One respondent reiterated her answer in the Comment section but added that she will have to check it up. It is important that the Filipinos realize that the Moros’ enemies then were the Spaniards and not the Christianized natives, who were themselves subjugated by the Spaniards.

A majority thinks that there is no such thing as a Moro Problem while the others think that the Moro Problem is just the Abu Sayyaf problem. Some believe that the problem lies in some discriminatory practices of the Christians towards the Moros. Again, the ignorance of the students about the Moro Issue is quite surprising. But again, such ignorance can be a positive factor.

Most proposed Peace Talks and Better Understanding in order to solve the problem. Proposals to give the Moros independence would have been significant if the respondents knew what the Problem was all about. However, those who proposed to give the Moros what they want also answered that they didn’t know much about the Moro Issue.

As in the Qudarat speech survey, most respondents did not agree with the all-out war approach. Those who agreed seemed to have the idea that the all-out war was only waged against the Abu Sayyaf.

The Palumpong survey indicated that a) the younger generation do not share the same perception as the generation of Mr. Felix, and b) a 200-plus year old text can still affect readers as indicated by the increased number of negative descriptions of what a Moro is as well as the negative descriptions of the authors, namely, the Jesuits and c) a negative document can still have negative effects (image of the Moros) even if the readers do not fully believe the document’s truthfulness. The Palumpong survey also confirms the Qudarat speech findings that a) the students are hardly aware of the Moro Problem, b) the students equate the Moro Problem with the Abu Sayyaf kidnappings and c) the younger generation prefers Peace Talks to “all-out war.”


Hermeneutics remind us that the prejudices and biases of the perceiver must always be taken into account.  From Fisher’s reader-response theory, we see that texts get their meaning from the reader. Mr. Felix’s “interpretation” of the 1755 texts is a case in point. It can be concluded that Mr. Felix and his colleagues at the Historical Conservation Society belong to the same interpretive community. The fact that the members of that Society comprise the elites of the larger Philippine society is ominous for the Moros, who are in the minority and who appear to be the object of hatred of Mr. Felix’s group.

The Christian majority, specially the Christian settlers in Mindanao, decries the fact that the Moros tend to always refer to the historical past. The Christians maintain that any dialogue between the Moros and Indios must necessarily be grounded in present-day realities. But Mr. Felix’s reaction to the 1755 texts clearly shows that Christians, as exemplified by Mr. Felix, are very much affected by the past. As the great American President John Quincy Adams once declared, “Who we are is who we were.”

The two surveys also show that centuries-old texts can and do influence today’s readers. Considering that most history (text)books in the Philippines have very disparaging accounts of the Moro, and present mass media coverage are very biased against the Moros, tearing away prejudices and biases would be an Herculean task.

The surveys of a small sampling of students do not give encouragement either. Most of them admit ignorance of Moros / Muslims and their ways. They get their impressions of Moros mostly from the mass media. But as Littlejohn says “if literary texts always get their meaning from the reader, media depictions must also derive meaning from the interpretive community.”(Littlejohn, p.210)

Since the mass media derive meaning from the interpretive community, then the plight of the Moros would certainly go for the worse. The mass media organizations are owned by non-Moros. Unlike the Chinese and the Iglesia ni Cristo, the Moros do not own any mass media organization. They have absolutely no influence in the mass media as no mass media outfit targets them as the audience.

In hermeneutics, the negatives can be used positively. The ignorance of the younger generation about the Moros can be regarded positively. Since this generation is not full of mental baggage about the Moros, i.e., there is much less prejudice and bias against the Moros, they can be made to have a better understanding of Moro history, culture and traditions so that in the future, when the leaders will come from this generation, they can help promote a lasting peace with the Moros.

The survey respondents (3 samplings) are young university undergraduate students. The fact that they don’t know much about the Moro Problem may indicate that the general population may also not know much about the Moro Problem. If UP students are ignorant of the real causes of the Moro Problem, could we expect the average Filipino to be better informed? Perhaps it is actually ignorance of the real causes of the problem that is the stumbling block to its eventual solution. (It is the habit of the government never to admit publicly its ignorance on any subject.)

Combating ignorance is a long process. It would need an overhaul of educational materials about the Moros as well as better portrayal of Moros in the mass media. And most importantly, there must be a strong resolve by the government to truly help the Moros by empowering them; i.e., appointing qualified and competent Moros (not only those subservient to them) to high government posts, giving educational and economic opportunities to Moros (including those who are not Malacanang lackeys), refraining from interference in local politics (rigging the elections), and giving sufficient budget (actually not technically) to local government units in the Moro region.

In the 1970s, at the height of the fighting, the government spent millions of dollars (one million dollars a day according to some reports) and lost at least 50,000 lives including thousands of young Filipino soldiers. Both sides claim victory in the MNLF war, which ended because of Marcos’s urgent plea to Libya’s Qadaffi to call for a Ceasefire Agreement which eventually led to the Tripoli Agreement.

The MILF fight has been costing the country quite a sum, too, especially Mr. Estrada’s “all-out war” campaign. Mr. Estrada declared a smashing victory over the MILF, which made his popularity rise sky-high. Yet it appears that MILF is still as strong as ever. Mr. Estrada also declared complete victory over the Abu Sayyaf Group.  But as everybody knows, it’s still business-as-usual for the Group.

The Abu Sayyaf, which the government equates with the Moro Problem, is creating black propaganda not only for the Moro Cause but also for the Philippine government. Tourism and Business in Mindanao have suffered greatly. The only thriving industry there is the kidnapping industry run by the Abu Sayyaf Group whose members, according to the grapevine, are mere “industrial partners” whose real financiers (non-Moros) are in the higher echelons of government.

From the 15th century, the Moros were masters of their destinies while the Indios were a subjugated people under the Spanish. It was only in the 20th century when the Moros finally accepted foreign (American) domination in exchange for the right to practice their religion and way of life. Later, they agreed to be part of a Republic to be shared with the Indios, now called Filipinos. Some thirty years after their experiment with co-habitation with Filipinos in a republican setting, the Moros rose again, only to be foiled by Marcos’s diplomatic and political genius.

The new century / millennium started with an American War Against Terrorism, which many Muslims the world over see as the War against Islam. (The lapsus lingue of US President Bush when he declared a “Crusade” against his enemies did not escape the Muslims’ attention.) The presence of US Marines in Mindanao purportedly to help the Philippine Army fight “terrorists” makes the prospect of a renewed Moro War quite bright.

Recently, the GRP signed a peace agreement with the MILF in Kuala Lumpur. At the same time, the Philippine government signed another agreement with members of the Malaysian and Indonesian governments labeling the MILF as a “terrorist” organization. No less than the Philippine Vice President and concurrent

Foreign Affairs Secretary, Teofisto Guingona, expressed surprise at such equivocation.
It appears that the present Philippine administration is still deciding whether to pursue peace or wage war against the MILF. There is also equivocation with regards to MNLF chief Nur Miuari. Will he be tried in Philippine courts like a common criminal or be sent to exile?

America has a war economy. Its economy will only expand during wartime, as it did during the two world wars. The Philippines will be devastated if another war in the magnitude of the 1970s MNLF war will erupt.
But there is no need for war. Peace is always the better alternative. Understanding the issues by re-reading and re-interpreting Moro and Filipino history and understanding the protagonists’ culture, traditions, biases and prejudices may be the key to eventual peace in the country.

Filipinos, in whatever capacity, should not leave the solution to the government alone.  Everyone should give its contribution to the solution. Spending billions of pesos on the military will simply create more poverty, more gaping mouths with no food to eat, more women and men having to prostitute themselves here and abroad just to earn a living, more workers forced to separate with kith and kin to work abroad and suffer so much indignities.

Peace in Mindanao does not necessarily mean capitulation of one side to the other. Peace in Mindanao means peace for the whole country. It means less military spending, more money for more useful purposes, more foreign and local investments which would mean more jobs and more money to spend.

From these little surveys and Mr. Felix’s interpretation of a text written some 250 years ago, we saw that texts can have positive and negative effects. The surveys also showed the ignorance of the Indios about the Moro Issue. An avenue for Peace that is opened for us is the Information path. Moro history (Majul’s Muslims in the Philippines book can be the start) should be taught in schools and universities with special emphasis on incidents portraying Moro-Indio cooperation such as the time when Moro datus sealed a pact with Bohol Indio leaders against the Spanish conquistadors. Islamic history should also be studied, as part of World History, without its distortions. It must be emphasized too that during the Crusades when Europeans invaded Palestine and the Middle East in the name of Christianity, the Christian Arabs fought side by side with their Muslim brethren against the foreign invaders.  In the same vein, Lapu-Lapu (allegedly a pagan), Rajah Humabon (allegedly a Christianized indio) and Rajah Suleiman (a Moro) all fought the Spanish/European invaders.

The government should promote the culture and interests of the Moros through films and TV programs as well as in other media like the periodicals and the Web. Only through a better understanding of the Moros would the Indios be inclined to make real and sincere peace with them.

The surveys have proved that texts do have an impact on its readers. If the government and the mass media will continue producing texts of all kinds that depict the Moros in a bad light, then no peace can come to Mindanao.  (end)


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Carr, Edward Hallett  (1961) What is History? Vintage Books: New York
Dery, Luis Camara (1997), The Kris in Philippine History: A Study of the Impact of Moro
Anti-Colonial Resistance, 1571-1896
Jubair, Salah,  (1997) A Nation Under Endless Tyranny, 2nd ed., Lahore
Krippendorf, Klaus (1995) Undoing Power,  Critical Studies in Mass Communication               June 1995
_______________(1989) The Power Of Communication And The Communication Of
Power: Toward An Ethical Theory Of Communication The Annenberg School of Communication University of Pennsylvania
Littlejohn, Stephen (1979) Theories of Human Communication Wadsworth Publishing: Belmont CA
Majul, C. Adib (1973),  Muslims in the Philippines, UP Press: Quezon City
Ricoeur, Paul,  Hermeneutics and the Human Sciences: Essays on Language, Action and Interpretation, trans. and ed. J. B. Thomson, Cambridge Univ. Press : 1981, pp. 64-80

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