By: Nash B. Maulana
COTABATO CITY – The presence of four Muslim leaders at the inauguration of the Philippine Republic on July 4, 1946, showed the occasion’s historical significance to the Moro people: their status in a unitary government and their pursuit of self-determination.
The ceremony at Rizal Park in Manila marked the country’s independence, with the Philippine flag raised to the beat of the National Anthem. It was followed by the lowering of the American flag to the hymn of the Star-Spangled Banner, symbolizing the start of an independent Philippine republic and the end of the American administration by the Commonwealth government.
Two Muslim leaders—Sen. Salipada Pendatun and Cotabato Rep. Datu Gumbay Piang—were seen saluting both flags as both were senior officers of the US Armed Forces in the Far East.
With President Manuel L. Roxas and other officials were four elected Muslim legislators: Senators Pendatun and Sultan Alawiya Alonto, a former delegate to the 1935 Constitutional Convention and a Commonwealth-elected senator; Piang and Sulu Rep. Umbrah Amilbangsa. The fifth Mindanao legislator was Sen. Tomas Cabili of Lanao.
The names of these Moro leaders and other elected Filipino politicians were carved on a bronze tablet bolted to the plain base of the huge Luneta Park flagpole.
From the Luneta ceremonies, Amilbangsa promptly questioned in the halls of Congress the “legitimacy of the Philippine Republic established by the Treaty of Manila,” also known as the Treaty of General Relations and Protocol in UN records, signed on the same day. The treaty dissolved the Philippine Commonwealth.
Probably in a bid to delay US Senate ratification of the Treaty of Manila, Amilbangsa filed a bill seeking legislative concurrence of the Kiram-Bates Treaty, which provided for mutual recognition of the authority and powers of Sulu Sultan Jamalul Kiram I over his subjects on one hand, and the American administration’s mandate over Moroland, on the other.
Amilbangsa also wrote the US Congress to investigate the authority of Ambassador Paul McNutt to craft and sign the agreement in behalf of the American government.
The US Senate eventually ratified the Treaty of General Relations and Protocol, but it was not known whether the Philippine Senate of the First Post-Commonwealth Congress had ratified it, as provided under Article VII, Section 10 (7) of the 1935 Constitution.
Between the acts of Pendatun and Piang on one side and those of Amilbangsa on the other, the Filipino people would easily understand why Murad Ebrahim, chair of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), did not face the Philippine flag when the National Anthem was sung at the start of signing ceremonies of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) in Malacañang on March 27, 2014.
Early educated Moros, including their leaders like Alonto, Amilbangsa, Pendatun and Piang, were used to being part of the July 4 commemoration of US independence in old schools during the Commonwealth period.
But the following events have made celebrations of the Philippine independence, on either reckoning as July 4 (1946) or June 12 (1898), insignificant to Moro history:
— June 9, 1921: The people of Sulu petitioned the US government: “We are independent for 500 years. Even Spain failed to conquer us. If the United States quits the Philippines and the Filipinos attempt to govern us, we will fight.”
— Feb. 1, 1924: The Zamboanga declaration (Declaration of Rights and Purposes), forwarded to the US Congress by Maguindanao Sultan Mangiging, Hadji Panglima Nuno (Zamboanga), Datu Sacaluran (Zamboanga), Maharaja Habing (Zamboanga), Abdulah Piang (Maguindanao) and Datu Benito of Lanao, stating that:
“In the event that the US grants independence to the Philippine Islands without provision for our retention under the American flag, it is our firm intention and resolve to declare ourselves independent Constitutional Sultanate to be known to the world as Moro Nation.” (The term “bangsa” in Maguindanaon, Maranao, Yakan, Sama and Taosug, translates to the English word “nation.”)
— March 18, 1935: The Dansalan (Marawi) Declaration led by Hadji Abdulhamid Bongabong of Unayan and 189 Maranao sent a letter of appeal to the US Congress, in which they wrote: “Should the American people grant Philippine independence, the islands of Mindanao and Sulu should not be included in such independence. Our public land should not be given to other people other than the Moro Nation.”
— July 4, 1946: The Amilbangsa Concurrence Bill, though now relegated to the dustbin of legislative history.
— The US Congress review of the July 4, 1946, Treaty of Manila, even as it summoned Ambassador McNutt, the principal author of the treaty. But nothing much had come out of this legislative review and probe.
— The US Senate ratification of the Treaty of Manila or Treaty of General Relations and Protocol.
— The Amilbangsa manifestation. Without thorough consultation with the Moro people, the Fourth Philippine Congress enacted Republic Act No. 4166 on Aug. 4, 1964, renaming the July 4 holiday as Philippine Republic Day, from Independence Day, and proclaiming June 12 as Philippine Independence Day, based on the date when Emilio Aguinaldo declared independence in Kawit, Cavite, on June 12, 1898.
In an article, Aboud Syed Lingga of the Institute of Bangsamoro Studies plotted the technical descriptions of the boundaries of Islas Filipinas sold for $20 million by Spain to the United States under the 1898 Treaty of Paris—which, he said, did not cover territories later annexed to constitute a Moro Province.
Former Maguindanao Rep. Datu Michael Mastura, an eminent Muslim scholar, said that the line of distinction of sovereignty had been drawn from the very start, and that the intent and efforts to perpetuate this distinction had been manifested both in terms of popular sentiment and high-level forums of articulation here and abroad.
Mastura also noted that the 1645 treaty between Spain and Maguindanao signed by his great, great grandfather, Sultan Muhammad Dipatuan Kudarat and Padre Melchor Lopez, delineated Maguindanao sovereignty from the Spanish-claimed territories on Islas Filipinas, and at the same time, it sought to cede Caraga and part of Tamontaka (in Cotabato) to Spain.
Less than four years after the June 12 Independence Day Act, the so-called Jabidah Massacre took place on March 18, 1968, on Corregidor Island. The story that lone survivor Jibin Arula had told the Senate in its hearings on the incident “revived the historic sense of struggle” among the young Moros.
Created by treaty
In his first privilege speech in Congress, Amilbangsa asserted in 1946 that the Moros should not be part of the Philippine republic that was merely created by the Treaty of Manila and entered into (also) on July 4, 1946, between the US government and the First Philippine Republic (under President Manuel Roxas), “creating the First Philippine Republic” and “abolishing the Philippine Commonwealth.”
To the Tausug congressman, the creation of the Philippine republic by a mere treaty (with the United States) was a political anomaly. Before this, he said, the Sulu Sultanate had opposed to be part of the Aguinaldo-established Republika ng Pilipinas, even as the Sultan declined the Filipino general’s invitation for cooperation.
In January 1899, before the Philippine War had begun, Aguinaldo, president of the newly proclaimed Philippine republic, had written a letter to his “great and powerful brother, the Sultan of Jolo,” pledging that his own government would “respect absolutely the beliefs and traditions of each island in order to establish on solid bases the bonds of fraternal unity demanded by our mutual interests.”
Aguinaldo was reaching out to the sultan for support, but making clear that he considered Sulu part of the new nation. What the Americans did not know was that the sultan never responded. (Peter Gowing in “Mandates in Moroland: The American Government of Muslim Filipinos, 1899-1920.”)
Amilbangsa argued that the mutual relations between the United States and Moroland under the Kiram-Bates Treaty of 1899 should instead be held as the status quo, and thus prevail over the establishment of a Philippine republic and the creation of the Moro Province (later the Department of Mindanao and Sulu), under the unitary republic.
The Sulu legislator’s stand was clear. “If the foundation of the Philippine republic solely rests upon a mere treaty (Treaty of Manila) authored by a US envoy (McNutt)—the Mindanao sultanates and principalities were firmer and should prevail over the American-created Moro Province or the Department of Mindanao. Therefore, they should not be left subservient to Philippine authorities or government,” he said.
The Amilbangsa position was apparently received by the US Congress as a valid sentiment.
Amilbangsa said: “In comparison (between the Treaty of Manila and the Kiram-Bates Treaty), the sultanates are a seasoned polity fortified by centuries of established international trade and economic relations, as well as political powers recognized even by European nations.”
These events, Lingga said, formed part of the bases of the “historic injustice” stated by MILF founding chair Salamat Hashim in his letter to the US State Department in January 2003.