Manila imposes Martial Law in Muslim South

Filipino President Rodrigo Duterte. Photo: EPA

On Tuesday, Philippines president Rodrigo Duterte imposed martial law in Muslim majority Mindanao state in South Philippines after a fierce bout of fighting erupted between Philippine army and the US proxy Abu Sayyaf which allegedly supports the ISIS and Al-Qaeda fighting Syrian army.

Two soldiers and a policeman were killed and 12 wounded amid chaos in Marawi, a predominantly Muslim city of about 200,000 people, where members of the Maute resistance group (composed of former Moro Islamic Liberation Front) took control of several buildings.

The military setback forced Rodrigo Duterte to cut short his visit to Russia. Duterete was born in Mindanao to a Pilipino Christian settler family. Duterte is former Mayor of Davao City on Mindanao island with 20% Muslim population.

Islam was introduced to the Sulu Archipelago and Jolo, what’s Philippines now, by Arab, Malaysian, and Indonesian traders in the late 14th century. No Muslim army had ever entered in Filipino, Malaysian, and Indonesian islands. As Islam spread among the native people – they established Sultanates of Maguindanao and Sulu.

Two century before the coming of Western colonizers to the Philippines, the Muslim enjoyed full independence, and had a well-organized government, the sultanate, which attained various achievements at the height of its power. The sultan served as both political and religious leaders, protector and defender of Islam, following the Islamic political system of no separation between church and state.

Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) is composed of the provinces of Basilan, Lanao del Sur, Maguindanao, Sulu, and Tawi-Tawi, but excluding Isabela City in Basilan and Cotabato City in Maguindanao.

Islam is the dominant religion in only the 5 ARMM provinces, with Sulu and Tawi-Tawi having the biggest percentage of Muslims composing their respective populations.

After the fall of the last Sultanate of Spain in 1492 – the Christian crusaders invaded  Sulu Archipelago and Jolo to control spice route from India. They coined the name Moro for the Muslim islands assuming they’re Moors from Spain. After defeating the Sultanates – the crusaders named the islands after King Philip II (died 1598) of Spain, Portugal and Sicily. All these three countries had been ruled by Muslims for centuries in the past.

Filipino Muslims has a long history of armed resistance against the European and American colonists.

The history of Christian occupied Muslim islands is no different than the Jewish occupation of Palestine. Until fairly recently Mindanao and other islands in the south were inhibited almost completely by Muslims. After World War II, the Muslim-majority areas of Mindanao were viewed as a frontier that could be settled by Christians from the northern islands. After independence in 1946, Christian settlers from the northern and central islands began migrating to Mindanao. The newly-arrived Christians generally settled where the land was most fertile and became richer while Muslim remained poor.

To end the Muslim Huk uprising in the 1950s, President Magsaysay resettled some of the Philippines’ non-Muslim poor on Mindanao and gave them title to the land they settled on. Later more people from the overcrowded islands in the north were resettled on the so-called unused jungle in Mindanao – a move that eventually tipped the balance of landownership and political power in favor of the Christians. Muslims were denied title to land they had lived on for generations. By 1970, immigrants outnumbered local Muslim groups.

Professor Hannbal Bara’s History of Muslims in Philippines is worth studying.

Muslims make the largest religious minority (11 million) among 100 million Filipinos who are mostly Roman Catholics.

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