By Noralyn Mustafa
Philippine Daily InquirerFirst Posted 01:13:00 08/11/2008
MANILA, Philippines – In one of the last few scenes of Eddie Romero’s unforgettable “Ganito Kami Noon, Paano Kayo Ngayon?,” when the Spaniards were packing up and the Americans were already running all over the place as the new colonizers, Kulas or Everyman (or Juan dela Cruz), played by Christopher de Leon, wanders into a group of young boys and asks them “Pilipino ba kayo?” The boys simply looked at him, the expression on their faces eloquently wondering what he was talking about.
It was ridiculous, I know, but after I watched the movie I asked the same question among a random sample—market vendors, fisherfolk, people in the countryside. I got the same reaction. That was in the late ’70s.
Then I tried the same survey with the term “Moro.” Some were visibly amused, some asked what it meant, some said that they heard the word in “Tagalog” movies, especially when a “juramentado,” properly swinging a kris dripping with blood, was featured.
When the Moro National Liberation Front (of which the Moro Islamic Liberation Front is supposedly a “splinter group”) concocted the term “bangsamoro,” ostensibly to unite the different ethnic tribes that were members of the MNLF, as well as the population of Mindanao and Sulu, I thought it wise to first ask my mother, through force of habit actually.
Unfortunately my timing was terribly off, as she happened to be lost in her latest Barbara Caldwell romance (which she usually finished in a day or two, with time to spare for cooking and micro-managing the household); she just threw a side glance at me, asked what it was all about, and gave a wild guffaw, which was her usual reaction to anything ludicrous, outrageous or simply funny, and went back to her romance.
But perhaps a little scrutiny of her biological and racial background will hopefully explain this very unpatriotic behavior.
She was the daughter of a Meccan Arab of the Quraish tribe, belonging to a clan that reportedly proudly traces its genealogy right to a daughter of the Prophet, and her maternal grandfather was a Yemeni, a scholar who at the age of 12—according to my grandmother, his daughter—was turned over by his parents, along with other selected boys, to the clerical hierarchy to study Islamic scripture in the caves of Hadramaut, never to be with their families until they “graduated.”
Both came with the last batch of Arabs who came to the Sultanate of Sulu (which included then the provinces of Tawi-Tawi, Basilan, Palawan and the Zamboanga peninsula) and Mindanao. If I remember correctly, in this last batch were the great-grandfather of university president and lawyer Adel Tamano, and the patriarch of the Bajuneid clan whose better known member is MSU professor and former chancellor Monir Bajuneid, who was very much involved in the earlier stages of the GRP-MILF peace negotiations.
Why did these Arabs keep on coming to these southern islands up until the turn of the 20th century, a country so strange and so topographically different from their rocky and desert lands? One thing was certain, they did not come for livelihood projects because almost all never had to work a day in their lives here.
I have knowledge—through family lore—of my grandfather at least, and I believe he was typical of them. The youngest of seven brothers, he asked for his entire inheritance in gold so he could travel light and set off on his mission to preach Islam and teach Arabic to children.
I would like to think that he established the first madrasah in the country (there are pictures of him in his Arabic class in the old history and geography grade school textbooks, one of them with my uncle, his only son, as model for the photo shoot) in Sulu, Zamboanga and Basilan.
This madrasah was integrated into the public school system of the American government as part of its “pacification” drive. My grandfather was appointed “supervisor” of these schools, but he declined a single dollar in salaries, although he had one demand—a PX privilege card so he could regularly purchase his supply of butter, honey, etc.
I could write a book about my Arab grandfather—and maybe someday I will—but it is my mother’s “background” that is the present topic and the question: Would she have agreed to being called “bangsamoro”?
I don’t think so. Although she had lived in Jolo from her 17th birthday up to the day she passed away in October 1996, she insisted she was a “Zamboangueña.” She was born and raised in what is now Zamboanga City, in the ancestral home in Magay, the only “Muslim” house in a Christian neighborhood referred to as the “brick house” because of its brick tile roof.
She went to school in what was formerly known as the “Moro Settlement School,” later named St. Albans School, managed by the Episcopalian (Anglican) church, affiliated with the Brent School system, where she was a member of the tennis and basketball teams, and was placed in the soprano section of the school and church choir.
Although she worked as a teacher in Sulu until she retired, it was a must for her to go “home” to Zamboanga whenever possible, and years of speaking Bahasa Sug never diminished the fluency of her Chabacano (it is spelled with a “b” in the Spanish dictionary).
Now, would she have agreed to having some barangays in Zamboanga City included in the Bangsamoro Juridical Entity? I certainly don’t think so.
The Spanish authorities requested my grandfather to be the wazir of Sultan Haroun Al-Rashid of the Palawan royalty, probably to make him more acceptable to the Tausugs, in order to settle a bitter rivalry in succession between the more popular Datu Amirul Muhminin (who would be proclaimed Sultan Jamalul Kiram II, the last sultan of Sulu) and his brother.
In Palawan is a town called Batarasa. It is named after a sultan of Sulu.
Would I agree to having Palawan included in the BJE?
I don’t think so. It is Tausug ancestral domain. And I am a Tausug.