Monthly Archives: November 2010

Once upon a time: Sarangany Island

Located thirteen kilometers from Tinaka Point, the southernmost tip of mainland Mindanao, is a beautiful island called Sarangany. It is accessible by ferry from Davao City or by banca from my hometown, Malita in Davao del Sur. From the Sarangany town proper, one can take another banca ride to go to Maluku (Moluccas) Beach with its white sand and clear water.

Today, Sarangany Island (I’m keeping the old spelling to distinguish it from the newly created Sarangani province) is one of the poorest and most neglected municipalities in the country. Yet once upon a time, it was the seat of a powerful Principality that held dominion over the east coast of Mindanao (up to Tandag), the Sarangani Bay, the Butuan Gulf (now Davao Gulf) and even in the Sangirese Islands in Northern Moluccas.
The natives of Sarangany and its “twin”, Balut Island, belong to the Sangil or Sangir ethnic groups. According to anthropologists, the Sangils are autochthonous to the Davao area. They speak the Sangil and/or Sangir languages. Sangir is also spoken by some 200,000 Sangirese in Moluccas.

Most Filipinos do not even know that Sarangany Island exists. Yet skimming through the pages of history, one would realize that this obscure island and its people were quite known and respected by other nations, including European powers.

In 1535 the Portuguese Governor of Ternate Tristao d’Atayde sent his trusted lieutenant, Pinto, to explore the Mindanao area. The Datu of Sarangany welcomed him and sealed their alliance with a blood compact. Pinto invited the Saranganies to come to his ship. As soon as they came on deck, the Portuguese crew threw them into the hold to take them as captives and be sold as slaves.

Luckily, one Sarangany warrior escaped. The Datu of Sarangany immediately gathered his men and gave chase to the Portuguese. The Saranganies attacked furiously, and only a heavy storm saved the Portuguese. Pinto barely escaped to Ternate in the Moluccas. The Portuguese were thus warned never to return to Mindanao.

After the debacle in Mactan in 1521, Spain’s Carlos I sent 4 more missions to conquer “Las Islas del Poniente” (i.e., the Philippines). The last mission was led by Ruy Villalobos, who landed in Sarangany island in1543. The Saranganies gave stiff resistance and laid siege to the Spanish. The Spanish were forced “to eat cats, dogs and rats, gray lizards and unknown plants” in order to survive.

Incidentally, on their way home, the Spaniards passed by Samar and Leyte. A member of the crew, Bernardo de la Torre named these two islands Las Filipinas in honor of then Crown Prince Philip.

In 1575, the powerful Sultan Bajang Ullah of Ternate made a mutual defense pact with the Datu of Sarangani / Rajah of Candahar, whose capital was in Balut Island.

With the fall of Ternate to the Dutch, Sarangany’s strategic location made its leaders the natural Moro ambassadors to the Dutch in Ternate. In 1619, the Datu of Sarangany went to Ternate in behalf of the Rajah of Buayan to ask for Dutch aid against Maguindanao. At the same time, Katchil Suleiman, the rajah muda of Maguindanao went to Ternate to ask for Dutch help against Buayan. A couple of years later, the Prime Minister of Sarangany visited Ternate. He was probably the first Ambassador of a “united Moro front”. He brought with him letters from the Rajahs of Sarangany and Buayan as well as from the Sultans of Maguindanao and Sulu. The Moros proposed a joint Moro-Dutch assault on two small Spanish settlements in Mindanao.

In 1628, the Dutch finally sent a mission to Mindanao under Fiscal Daniel Ottens. He met with Sultan Qudarat of Maguindanao, Rajah Amoncaya (Datu Maputi) of Buayan, Datu Mangada of Sarangany and other Moro rulers.

Datu Mangada claimed that he could easily muster a war force of 2000 Saranganies, 2000 alforeses ( now called lumads by some writers), 200 Badjaos plus the help of several negeris (districts/counties) under his dominion; namely, Malita, Bagobo, Canatig, Djabo, Mateau, Sommeleg and Leyne (villages along Mindanao’s southern and eastern coasts). The Sarangani datu also claimed to have a naval force of 10 fully armed caracoas ( a typical Moro war vessel).

In comparison, Sultan Qudarat claimed he could immediately raise an army of 10,000 while the Buayan datus boasted that they could easily gather 100 fully armed caracoas, 60 of them armed and manned by Buayanens and 40 by vassal negeris.

During this time, Ternate was beset by dynastic quarrels. Sultan Mudaffar died and there were three pretenders. Hamza, who had Spanish support, eventually succeeded Mudaffar.

The Datu of Sarangany openly protested Hamza’s coronation. On the other hand, Buayan supported Hamza. To emphasize Buayan’s support of Hamza, the Buayan rajah gave the Ternatan sultan the right to appoint Buayan’s Raja Laut (Lord of the Admiralty). Maguinadanao was presumably against Hamza.

The “Hamza affair” showed quite clearly how the Mindanao and Moluccan politics were intertwined. At that time, Moro and Moluccan natives called Mindanao Maluku Besar (Great Moluccas), perhaps to distinguish it from Maluku (Moluccas proper).

A few months ago, there were reports that Indonesians (Moluccans) were residing illegally in the newly formed Sarangani province. Perhaps these Moluccans did not realize that after World War II, the idea of nation-states is considered sacrosanct and that the boundaries of the new nation-states are inviolable.

In the past, Maguindanao’s, Buayan’s, Sarangany’s, Candahar’s and Sangir’s rulers were practically one family. For example, in the latter half of the 17th century, the children of Datu Buisan of Sarangany a.k.a. the Rajah of Candahar were all over the region. His sons included Kudjamu, the Rajah of Buayan; Samsialam and Makabarat, co-rulers of Buayan who later chose to live in Ternate; and Pandjalang the Prime Minister of Tabukan in North Sangir. His daughters were married to Sultan Barahaman and Katchil Bakaal of Maguindanao, and the Sultan of Tabukan. His favorite daughter Lorolabo, who was married to the Tabukan sultan, had a son, Joannes Calambuta, whom Buisan chose to succeed him as Rajah of Candahar. Rajah Buisan was the son of Datu Buisan of Davao.

If Rajah Buisan of Candahar were alive today, I wonder what passport would he use. The Dutch considered him a Sangirese /Moluccan ruler, yet he was the son of Datu Buisan of Davao and was born and reared in Sarangany Island.

For centuries, Sarangany was an autonomous principality. Historical records show that it took part in numerous Moro expeditions against Spanish settlements in Luzon and Visayas.

The end came in the early 1900’s when Sarangany became part of the Moro Province under the Americans. In 1946, it became part of the Philippine Republic. The once proud datuship of Sarangany was reduced into a mere municipality of Davao del Sur.

Former President Ramos created a new province named Sarangani. This new province is settled and ruled by people who came from afar, even as far as China. They will now carry the name of Sarangani while the real Saranganies will be left further in oblivion.

Their days of glory may be over, but the people of Sarangany Island can take heart from the words of the great American president John Quincy Adams. He said, “Who we are is who we were.” Nobody can take away the Sarangany people’s proud history and heritage.

Published in the Philippine Post on June 3, 2000

An Open Indignation Letter Addressed to Philippine President Benigno ‘Noynoy’ Aquino III

Mr. President, in your inaugural speech at the Quirino Grandstand on June 30, 2010,
you announced before the public that you “will be sincere in dealing with all the peoples of
Mindanao”; thus, for this reason you pledged yourself to “a peaceful and just settlement of
conflict, inclusive of the interests of all – may they be Lumads, Bangsamoro or Christian”.
You also emphatically declared: “You (the people) are the boss so I cannot ignore
your orders.” In Tagalog: “Kayo ang boss ko.”

These pronouncements renewed in us that spirit of optimism oozing with hope that a
peaceful and just political settlement of the conflict in the Bangsamoro will finally be
resolved under your watch.Align Center
At that moment, we thought that at last here was a Filipino president who meant
serious business; a president who could empathize with the plight of the long-oppressed
Bangsamoro people because he, too, experienced the trauma of state oppression and
persecution; a president who, like many among our brethren, had lost his own father to the
forces of evil that once governed this country.

Mr. President, we feasted on your words of promise like starving men marooned on a
desert of despair.

Our spirits were further buoyed, thus, when you announced that the GRP Peace Panel
negotiating with the MILF had been reconstituted with a new set of members under a law
professor meticulously selected by you on the basis of their competence, knowledge,
experience and sympathy for Mindanao.

And when you likewise announced that peace talks would immediately resume after
Ramadhan, we went ballistic with joy. We were beginning to see the light at the end of the
dark tunnel. The pervasive darkness of war and conflict that blighted our Moro homeland,
at last, was about to be dissipated by the light of freedom and justice. Elusive peace seemed
no longer elusive.

Or so we thought.

For, suddenly things have changed. In the 100 days that you’ve assumed office, the
feeling of the people on the ground has progressively turned from hope to disenchantment
to anger. For, like an automobile on reverse gear, instead of moving forward the quest for
peace and justice, your government has begun to move backwards at a faster acceleration
than what it promised to fulfill at the beginning of your administration.

You have closed the door to constitutional amendment that would have
accommodated any final political compact agreement with the MILF, which, for your
information in case you’ve not yet realized it, has already conceded to constitutional
remedy to allow the restoration of peace in our troubled land. Hence, by the very
pronouncement of your government shutting down the avenues to constitutional
amendment even before the resumption of talks could begin, you have already dealt the
death blow to any prospective peace agreement with the MILF by consigning it beforehand
to the same fate as the Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain (MOA-AD) in

Not satisfied with that, you have created conditions which lead to the nullification of
the gains of the peace process. Your Department of Foreign Affairs has issued new orders to
foreign governments, institutions and NGOs, including those actively providing assistance to
our poverty-stricken people and our refugees, to seek prior clearance and approval from
your government before engaging the MILF in dialogues or launching humanitarian
activities in the conflict-affected areas of Mindanao and Sulu.

You have also insisted that peace talks with the MILF should be in the Philippines, not
in Malaysia or, for that matter, in any other neutral foreign venue as had been agreed upon
by the MILF and the Philippine government in 2001.

Alas, Mr. President, now we are beginning to realize that when you mentioned in
your speech before the joint Houses of Congress that the conflict in Mindanao is merely “a
situation”, you really meant what you said. The hundreds of thousands of refugees
dislocated and the thousands of lives lost every time war breaks out in Mindanao and Sulu
are as trivial a “situation” to you as the bungled Manila hostage-taking incident.

This sinister move that intends to isolate the MILF from the international community
and in the process control if not prevent the flow of humanitarian aid to the victims of war
is an unconscionable act that makes you no different from your predecessors. It is sheer
hambug on your part and your government to presume you can resolve and handle alone
the Internally Displaced People (IDP) problem in our homeland without foreign
humanitarian assistance. In case you have not read the papers, the World Food Program of
the UN has just issued a public statement as posted in the Philippine Daily Inquirer dated
October 12, 2010 that 250,000 people in Mindanao still displaced by war and natural
disasters are starving and would need $26 million in food and other kinds of assistance. This
assistance you cannot provide -nor were your predecessors able to – not only because of
entrenched corruption in government but more significantly because in your word the
Mindanao conflict is “a situation” which implies it is nothing to worry about. The truth is:
the IDPs or the resolution of the conflict is not in the list of your national priorities.

And now you want the international community to stop its humanitarian activities in
Mindanao and Sulu without your prior approval? Not only would this drive our people
further into the deep bowels of poverty, misery and hopelessness, you are forcing them to
abandon the ways of peace to redress legitimate grievances.

Which means, Mr. President, that you are rekindling the embers of the armed conflict
whose flames had been reduced to a flicker by the peace negotiation and its promise of a
just peace in our homeland.

Are the bottomless pockets of your so-called peace advisers, who, we know, have
earned the infamous reputation for making fast bucks out of foreign aid assistance to the
refugees in Mindanao and Sulu, more important to you than the welfare of the IDPs or the
future of peace in Mindanao?

Lest you forget, Mr. President, you announced in Ramadhan 2010 that the immediate
resumption of peace talks with the MILF shall commence after the holy month.
With great anticipation and eagerness, we waited for your words to come true. Then
suddenly, the news of the arrest of Brother Edward Guerra, a senior member of the Central
Committee of the MILF in charge of foreign affairs, who was arrested by agents of the CIDGPNP
at the Davao International Airport in September 22 to attend a UN conference on
human rights in Geneva, hit us like a thunderbolt. We also learned from his family and
lawyer that he was tortured while in maximum security detention at Fort Bonifacio. Brother
Edward Guerra’s health is in a precarious state given his heart ailment, diabetes and

Your late father, for reasons that need not be explained, would have created havoc in
his grave if he were to learn that your government still uses torture on helpless political
prisoners, especially on those afflicted by heart ailments.

The depression that we felt upon learning this morphed into extreme apprehension
when news also brought to us the information that MILF members involved in peace
monitoring were arrested by your military and police in Maguindanao.

We also learned that the arrest warrant for Brother Edward Guerra was issued by the
court on September 1, 2010. This was well within the timeframe of your invitation, Mr.
President, to the MILF to resume talks with your government!

What game of grand deception are you trying to play on us, Mr. President?

The reaction of your Chief Negotiator, Prof. Marvic Leonen, to the protest filed by the
MILF on this matter is quite revealing. Leonen said that Brother Edward Guerra is not in the
list of the MILF Peace Negotiating Panel. What he infers, therefore, is that his arrest and
subsequent torture in the hands of his captors are justified.

Even then, the deafening silence of your Presidential Peace Adviser, Secretary Ging
Deles, on this matter that is crucial to the fate of the negotiations, is, to say the least,
strange. So strange that we wonder whether a presidential peace adviser does really exist in
fact or just in the imagination of Ms. Deles.

At any rate, does this mean, Mr. President, that any member of the MILF from the
rank and file who is not a member of the MILF Peace Negotiating Panel is an open prey?
Following this argument, even Brother Al Haj Murad Ebrahim, the MILF Chairman who is not
among the listed six members of the MILF Panel, can be arrested anytime by your state
police and military!

The convoluted logic of your Chief Negotiator, Mr. President, deliberately leaves out
the fact that the principal of the MILF Peace Negotiating Panel is the MILF Central
Committee of which Brother Edward Guerra is a senior member, being chair of its Foreign
Affairs Committee. Technically, in view of the peace talks being held in foreign venues,
principally Malaysia, the negotiations are within the jurisdiction of the Foreign Affairs
Committee he currently chairs.

For all intents and purposes, Mr. President, Bro. Edward Guerra is as much an
important principal of the MILF Peace Negotiating Panel as MILF Chairman Al Haj Murad
Ebrahim, the two vice-chairmen, and all the other members of the Central Committee of the

Mr. President, in case you still miss the dire implication of the arrests of Brother
Edward Guerra and other MILF members similarly abducted by your state police and
military, allow us to inform you now that this is tantamount to a declaration of a new war
against the MILF and the Bangsamoro people.

It is in this context, Mr. President, that we hold you and your government responsible
for any outbreak of hostilities in the Bangsamoro.

We are no longer afraid of war. The long-running conflict in our homeland has
drained the last drop of fear from us. What is left are desperation and hopelessness; a
permanent and pervasive feeling of insecurity under the Philippine state. And if indeed fear
remains, it is the fear that peace will remain as elusive as ever.

We are afraid that in the event peace and justice are not realized in our time through
peaceful negotiations, the argument that only though the barrel of the gun can such peace
and justice be achieved will rule the day and the days yet to come.

Do not squander the remaining years of your presidency, Mr. President, and leave the
future of peace in Mindanao and Sulu to be shipwrecked on the barren rocks of war and
conflict. This is what your predecessors did.

You promised that you will be different from them.
So prove it, Mr. President, not merely by uttering empty rhetorical and meaningless
statements but by sincerity emanating from the heart and animated by affirmative action.

Prove it, Mr. President, before you are overtaken by time.

Prove it, Mr. President that we, the people of the Bangsamoro and not only the
people of Luzon and Visayas and the settlers in Mindanao, are also your “boss”.

If you think that we do not deserve to be in the same category as your constituents in
Luzon, Visayas and the Christian-dominated areas in Mindanao, then leave us Moros alone
in peace so we can forge our own future in freedom as a people and as a nation.

October 15, 2010

Category: Uncategorized