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Muslim Separatists in the Southern Philippines

Publisher: University of California Press, Berkeley (1998)

Publisher: University of California Press, Berkeley (1998)

You also mention that the Muslim nationalist movement in the Philippines describes itself as both Islamic and anti-colonial. Could you explain how this self-conception emerged and whether it is shared by the different factions of the separatist movement today?

The Muslim nationalist movement is anticolonial in the same sense as any other nationalist movement in Southeast Asia, including Philippine nationalism. The difference is that Muslim separatists see Spanish and American colonialism in the Muslim Philippines as having been supplanted by colonial rule from Manila under the Philippine republic. The "Islamic" aspect is far more complicated, primarily because there are differing interpretations of what it means to be Islamic. The Muslim separatist movement is a self-consciously Islamic movement in the sense that its political fronts, to various degrees, envision that a Philippine Muslim nation (or autonomous region) will be influenced by an Islamic model of governance. To my knowledge neither the MNLF nor the MILF has articulated a detailed plan for governing an autonomous region or independent nation based on an Islamic model. There is no clear model from the history of the Muslim Philippines. None of the Philippine sultanates complied at all closely to Quranic (shariah) law in their legal codes. I have suggested in my book that statements by the leadership of the MNLF and the MILF about the "Islamic" nature of their movement should be interpreted quite generally to refer to the defense of Philippine Muslim territory and traditions, as a response to Philippine Christian chauvinism, and as a desire to strengthen social and political connections between Philippine Muslims and the Islamic world. What Abu Sayyaf means by "Islamic" is difficult for observers (or at least this observer) to ascertain.

In your book you argue that the remote causes of Muslim separatism in the Philippines may be traced to Western colonizers but the more proximate cause can be found in the policies of the post-1946, Christian-dominated Philippine state. Can you outline some of the policies and practices that may have either exacerbated or created antagonisms between the Muslim minority and the Christian majority?

Until the 1950s, Muslims formed the majority population of almost every region of the southern Philippines. Soon after the founding of the republic in 1946, the Philippine government began to sponsor large scale migration from the poor and politically troublesome regions of the north and central parts of the country to the agricultural frontiers of the lightly populated southern islands. The large, fertile, and underpopulated island of Mindanao became the primary destination for Christian migration to the southern Philippines and by the late 1960s Mindanao Muslims found themselves a relatively impoverished minority in their own homeland. While the scale of Christian immigration to Mindanao itself caused inevitable dislocations, the manner of its occurrence also produced glaring disparities between Christian settlers and Muslim farmers. From 1946 onward, the government provided steadily more opportunities and assistance to settlers from the North. By contrast, government services available to Muslims were not only meager compared to those obtained by immigrant Christians but were also fewer than they had received under the colonial regime. The new Christian communities became linked to trade centers and to one another by networks of roads while Muslim communities remained relatively isolated. The late 1960s also saw an unusually antagonistic stance toward Muslims on the part of the new national administration of Ferdinand Marcos.