Retrospect and Prospect of Magindanawn Leadership in Central Mindanao: Four Vantage Points

Mark S. Williams

In the southern Philippines, the territory containing the influence of the Magindanao Sultanate was extensive. So expansive was this territory that the Spaniards named the entire southern island “Mindanao” in their honor (McKenna 1998, 27). Through alliances, expertise, and prowess in military affairs and economic practice, the Magindanawn not only held their own against Spanish advances, but they also flourished along with many other Southeast Asian Islamic sultanates. 

This has been no less true in their establishment of social leadership and their practice of governance – before, during, and after the imperial onslaught of Spain for nearly 400 years. When the United States acquired this Southeast Asian archipelago from Spain by purchase at the turn of the twentieth century, Magindanawn leadership and governance statutes did not truly change, although they certainly adapted in order to survive the colonial impositions of the American period. This study examines four vantage points under which Magindanawn leadership adapted and how it continues to adapt to the present day. 

First Vantage Point: Magindanawn Royal Bloodline Leadership 

On the basis of genealogical records called tarsila, the record of Sharif Kabungsuwan tracing his Malay nobility back to the bloodline of the Prophet Muhammad was established (Saleeby 1976). Both the upriver laya (Buayan) and the downriver ilud (Magindanao) sultanates found legitimacy in claims to this royal bloodline. At different times in the life of each sultanate, greatness exuded from such claims. 

In the seventeenth century, the apex of the Magindanao Sultanate was reached under the leadership of the redoubtable Sultan Muhammad Dipatuan Qudarat (Saleeby 1974, 189). The legacy of Qudarat’s sultanate would be a structure that would rival and compete with the existing sultanates of Sulu, Brunei, and Ternate (Laarhoven 1989, 36ff, esp. p. 40). 

[U]nder the seventeeth-century sultan Kachil Kudrat, the divided Magindanao communities – those belonging to sa-ilud (lower valley and coastal area), of which Cotabato town was the known capital, and those in sa-raya (upper valley), of which Dulawan was the capital – were unified, leading to the establishment of the first centralized Magindanao sultanate…. (Abinales 2000, 47; italics in original)

Recounted in historical (Majul 1999; Ileto 2007, 10-12) and folklore (Kilates 1993, 4-12) accounts, the legacy of leadership under Qudarat left an indelible mark on the Magindanao Sultanate and those under its tutelage. 

More than two hundred years later would come the zenith of the Buayan Sultanate under “Sultan Anwar ud-Din Utto” (Majul 1999, 31), known more commonly as Datu Utto. While upriver/downriver division led to constant internal dissension over the many years, on the strength of ‘the descent principle,’ Utto sought to re-establish the unified sultanate again: 

In the Pulangi, many of these sub-sultanates pledged loyalty to the Sultan of Buayan, Sultan Marajanuddin, who was in turn succeeded in 1865 by his brother, Sultan Bayao of Kudarangan. In 1875, Datu Utto or Sultan Anwaruddin Utto, son of Sultan Marajanuddin, took over as Sultan of Buayan…. [He] also maneuvered to be declared jointly as Sultan of Maguindanao…. But the Spaniards opposed his inclination vehemently. They saw in Datu Utto the making of a “second Qudarat.” Datu Utto was able to unite the minor sultanates along the Pulangi, including those of Talayan, Buluan and Kabuntalan. (Jubair 1999, 52; italics in original) 

For nearly thirty years (Ileto 2007), Utto’s leadership would withstand penetration from either inside or outside attackers. Before the end of the nineteenth century, however, Spain would drive a wedge between warring factions of ilud and laya Magindanawn. This is because “…Spain could scarcely have defeated Utu without Magindanao [sultanate] help. She needed not only additional manpower, but local knowledge, particularly of how to win over Utu’s restive supporters” (Beckett 1982, 399). One contributing factor to the ability to divide-and-conquer the Magindanawn was related to their concept of maratabat

As a social mechanism to uphold bloodline nobility and enforce a class-based hierarchy, “among the Magindanaon, ‘maratabat’ primarily connotes rank and secondarily the honor due to rank. Maratabat is the quantifiable essence of status rank and is measured most commonly as a monetary valuation…” (McKenna 1998, 51). “[B]y taking into account the status of the mother as well as the father, it was possible to make fine distinctions of maratabat” (Beckett 1982, 397; italics in original). 

For many royal-blood families, the preferred status was known as pulna: “[Pulna is] a social status designation for those individuals able to trace direct descent through both parents from Sarip Kabungsuwan…” (McKenna 1998, 338). Since from the early years, “sultans, ideally, were distinguished by their pulna status…” (Ibid., 53; italics in original), it was thought that, in order to attain this level of nobility, the similar means of arranged marriage to high-ranking women was required to gain the desired goal. This was very important to all families claiming royal-blood since “…a man without maratabat is nobody; or a man who loses his maratabat becomes very, very small…” (McAmis 2002, 61; italics in original). 

Because maratabat is related to a “quantifiable essence” of “monetary valuation,” it is sometimes used to make payment in order to avert a blood feud (McKenna 1998, 51; cf. Stewart 1977, 282). Such family-feuding has been endemic to the history of the Magindanawn and nowadays contributes to the phenomenon of pagkontla, called rido (especially by the Maranao) in recent literature. In short, “rido refers to state of recurring hostilities between families and kinship groups characterized by a series of retaliatory acts of violence carried out to avenge a perceived affront or injustice” (Torres III 2007, 12; italics in original). Specifically: 

[an] affront to maratabat as a cause for rido may range from unintended verbal insult, perceived disrespect, slight injury, and even accident. The assessment of whether or not maratabat was offended lies entirely on the evaluation of the presumably aggrieved individual, his family or kinsmen (Matuan 2007, 80; italics in original). 

Because maratabat is such a personal thing for royal-blood families of the Maranao and Magindanawn, it is difficult to know how this will factor into current and future development initiatives given the effect it has had on Magindanawn society in the past. 

Whither Royal-Blood Leadership? 
Despite the in-fighting between ilud and laya Magindanawn, the ideal of what bloodline leadership embodies has never truly waned: 

The system of datuship has long kept the Muslims united and spiritually bound together. So deeply ingrained into the fabric of Muslim life is this institution that the faith and loyalty of the Muslims have withstood the severe vicissitudes of time and change. Down to this day, many of them still hold the datus in characteristic religious awe and adulation (Alunan Glang, quoted in McKenna 1998, 134). 

Nearly 35 years after the pronouncement of martial law, therefore, these ideals of royal bloodline leadership – and the corollary concept of maratabat to uphold the honor and the territory of the Magindanawn – continue to dominate and challenge the social, economic, and political situation in Central Mindanao. 

Second Vantage Point: Magindanawn Accommodation to the Philippine State 

The issue of state-sanctioned leadership was never addressed while Spain was in conflict with the Magindanawn up to the end of the nineteenth century. Under imperial sanction of the United States at the turn of the twentieth century, “Moroland” (as that part of Muslim Mindanao came to be known) went from one pole of the promise of autonomy and/or secession via the Bates Treaty to the other of being ushered into ‘proper civilization,’ as well as preparation to be ‘integrated’ with Luzon and the Visayas by the time of the First World War (Gowing 1983). 

Fast-forwarding through the Philippine Commonwealth period of the 1930s, World War II, and the establishment of the Philippine Republic after being granted independence in 1946, issues surrounding the dialectic of autonomy-versus-integration involved the historic tension between Magindanawn and foreign expatriates as well as religious polarization between the longer-resident Filipino Muslims and their Christian Filipino counterparts.

The Christianized and Islamized peoples of the Philippines are like these two equatorial points. Theologically, we can find unity by rising up to the North Pole of a Semitic divinity through the line of patriarchs and prophets beginning from Christ and Mohammad…. 
[W]e can also turn our eyes to the South Pole through anthropology, there to f ind an Asiatic humanity that links the Indonesians, the Malays, and the Filipinos in a common ethnic foundation (Casiño 1988, 36-37). 

Accommodation to state-sanction should have little to do with religious concerns, at least in the separation-of-church-and-state mentality of the Americans who instilled such a value into the burgeoning center of Philippine national government in Manila. Indeed, considering the religious rhetoric of Magindanawn leaders today, it is interesting to note how one young Magindanawn leader was virtually ‘co-opted’ into state-sanctioned leadership more than fifty years ago. That man was Salipada Pendatun: 

In 1957, Pendatun won the congressional seat for Cotabato, attributing his victory to the restoration of harmony between settlers and Magindanaos…. This was not the complete story. Pendatun won because he did not rely solely on his provincial base, but was backed by the Nacionalista leadership and by the Mindanao-Sulu-Palawan Association (MINSUPALA), a bloc of Mindanao political leaders whose purpose was to “get concessions from both the ruling party and the Nacionalista administration of Carlos Garcia” (Mindanao Times, 26 March 1960…). 

Amidst growing religious tension, calls to defend and preserve the “Muslim community” began to be heard in the political arena…. Pendatun helped transform the Muslim Association of the Philippines (MAP) into a bloc to fight for “Muslim interests” within MINSUPALA (Abinales 2000, 141,142; italicized phrase added). 

The remarkable thing about Pendatun, and other Magindanawn who were being led into political power via this route of state-sanction, was his ability to ‘tow both lines’ – the lines between traditional bloodline legitimacy claims and this new state-sanctioned legitimacy for Magindanawn leadership: 

Datu Pendutun’s early career was one of the most successful of any of the second-generation colonial datus. He is representative, however, of a number of other Philippine Muslim political figures of his generation…. By the founding of the Philippine republic in 1946 they were politically well established with ties to the apparatus of national rule in Manila and able to command local allegiance on the basis of traditional social relations (McKenna 1998, 112). 

A Veritable Vacuum Between Legitimacy Claims 
The fact that the state-sanctioned option for leadership had been offered and accepted by select Magindanawn began to cause an unraveling in the whole fabric of legitimacy by bloodline alone. Other pressures that created a virtual wedge were emotional and ideological, e.g., the Jabidah Massacre of the late 1960s (Vitug & Gloria 2000, 2-23). This led directly to the creation by a Magindanawn datu, Udtog Matalam, of the Muslim Independence Movement (MIM) in 1968 (Stewart 1977; Che Man 1990; McKenna 1998). 

The aggression, tension, and war that would ensue between Manila and Central Mindanao – especially during the 1970s, and then dormant on through the 1980s and early-1990s – would lead eventually to a different form of state-sanction in the establishment of RA 6743: the 1989 Organic Act for the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (Gaspar et al. 2001, 44; Tanggol 1998b, 672). While this seemed to encapsulate all that both sides were looking for, some Magindanawn would still wonder if this was working for a better Islamic situation in Muslim Mindanao or was it surreptitiously co-opting them? 

Effective Control from Manila
A case-in-point involves the nepotism and favoritism apparent under each successive Governor for the ARMM. When it was Candao, Magindanawn benefited; when it was Misuari, the Tausugs benefited. There was a shorter-lived tenure by a Maranao Governor and, to be sure, the Maranao geographic areas and interests benefited more under him. Now that it is Datu Puti Ampatuan, the Magindanawn are once again reaping more benefits from the structure and programs of the ARMM. Generally speaking, some grassroots Magindanawn have become disappointed because, rather than reflecting the power and integrity of the sultanates of old, the Magindanawn Governors (and the extended families they represent) have used the offices of the ARMM for their own purposes. Such has been the tendency in this ‘carrot’ being offered from Manila to Central Mindanao. 

Third and Fourth Vantage Points: Magindanawn Ideological and Civil Society Responses 

The spirit of an ideological movement from within the ranks of the Magindanawn had been coalescing for hundreds of years, whereas the type of non-violent response, which is termed civil-society today, is a more recent creation. 

Dialectic Catalyst for Ideological Response 
Salah Jubair (1999), a Magindanawn, has chronicled how all Filipino Muslim people groups are considered as one “distinct nationhood” (Lingga 2004a, 2) called bangsamoro. The aggression, conflict, and war, incited upon the Filipino Muslims by the Spanish, especially from the time of 1600 to 1860 (Rasul 2003, 38-39), was the primary catalyst for the ideological polarization that led to the realization and creation of the bangsamoro ideal. 

Whereas popular (textbook) history has dismissed any ideological movements that countered the Philippine national goal of integration in the past, the advent of voices from the opposition are now being given audience. These are, however, voices that have not always been popular in the general Filipino imagination: 

When [a bangsamoro ideologue]…talks of a nation, foremost in his mind is the ordeal the Moro people went through during the centuries of the Spanish conquest, decades of American so-called tutelage, and now nearly a century of the Indios’ [i.e., non-Muslim Filipinos] scheming and manipulation, which resulted in the destruction and mutilation of their homeland (Jubair 1999, xii). 

Since autonomy or independence for Muslim Mindanao was never an option while Spain was in colonial control, rhetoric and action for those ideals became more vocal during the American protectorate period – from the end of the Spanish American War in 1898 to the establishment of the Philippine Commonwealth in 1935. When it was apparent that autonomy or independence would not be forthcoming under the Philippine Commonwealth, pockets of “armed resistance” formed, “…ranging from full-scale battles to minor incidents…. [These] were motivated by the presence of the Americans and Filipino Christians who were considered a threat to the position of Islam and the interests of the Muslims” (Che Man 1990, 56). This, then, was the inception of a movement with ideological goals and motivation. While most Filipino Muslims would join the war effort against Japanese occupation during World War II (Ibid.), this hopeful instance of ‘brotherhood and unity with other Filipinos’ waned quickly when the war ended. Since that time, Muslims and non-Muslims have become more polarized. 

Despite promises made from the United States to Mindanao Muslims via the Bates Treaty and other government edicts, and despite the Filipino Muslim viewpoint that bangsamoro was always to be distinct from other Filipino peoples, it became apparent early on into the American administration of Mindanao that the interests of the West would best be served if the archipelago of Luzon, the Visayas and Mindanao were ‘integrated’ together under one national banner as the Philippines. The essence of what Manila – and America – wanted in this regard is as follows: 

The basic policy of the Philippine Government with regard to all of its cultural minorities, including the 2.2 million Moros [at that time], reflects the attitude of the Christian majority population of the Republic: the minorities should be integrated into the mainstream of Philippine national life, culturally, politically, economically, and in every other way. This attitude and policy spring from three sources: 1) from the Spanish ambition to Christianize and hispanize all of the people of the Archipelago; 2) from the American view that the “wild tribes” in the Philippines should be brought to the same level of “civilization” as the lowland Christian Filipinos; and 3) from a corresponding Filipino nationalist view that all Filipinos are basically one people…. (Gowing 1979, 208; italics in original). 

Galvanizing Events for Ideological Awareness 
While the Manila central government quietly went about instituting the American-spawned integration policies, Central Mindanao contended with: 1) migrations of non-Muslim Filipinos from Luzon and the Visayas up through the Philippine Commonwealth years; 2) Japanese incursions during World War II; and 3) state-sanctioned enticing of promising young Magindanawn into national government service. All the while, the royal bloodline leadership only paid lip-service to national government ideals and designs for Central Mindanao. That mutual understanding unraveled after the terrible incident of the Jabidah Massacre on Corregidor Island. As mentioned above, Governor Matalam formed the MIM and a little-known Tausug student-cum-professor at the University of the Philippines, Nur Misuari, was about to found the first politicized bangsamoro rebel movement: the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF). 

Once this consciousness had galvanized into a forward-progressing movement, the MNLF began to garner support and resources from outside of Mindanao, i.e., Libya, as well as from MINSUPALA (Mindanao, Sulu and Palawan) interests. Not only did the MIM (and therefore the MNLF) receive young recruits “from Malaysia to Cotabato,” but also Datu Udtog Matalam himself had pledged resources “to finance arms purchases” (McKenna 1998, 149). Though this is true especially for the 1970s, when hostilities erupted again in the mid- to late-1990s, similar resources and mobilization practices were still in place. 

Fast-forwarding to the time when the MNLF laid down their arms and co-opted into the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) under the 1996 agreement, the MILF did no such thing; rather, they escalated the tension with a renewed sense of championing the bangsamoro cause. Their camps in Buldon and Pikit were accepting and training recruits in large numbers throughout the last half of the 1990s, leading up to President Estrada’s pronouncement of an “All-Out War” (Gaspar et al. 2001, 59f). The war was intense and devastating for many Magindanao regions of Central Mindanao and, since the ceasing of this war effort in 2000, there have still been sporadic skirmishes in areas such as Pikit and Talayan for four years hence. In 2004, therefore, a report about the strength and transitory nature of MILF recruits was published: 

Based on reports from field commanders, Adan estimated that there are now more than 4,000 new recruits in the MILF, which has an estimated strength of 10,000. 
The presence of military camps of MILF training recruits in explosive- making, demolition and ‘jihad tactics’ are violations of trust and confidence- building. They are talking peace but preparing for war and, certainly, this is not for any peace-building,” Adan said. 
“We are supportive of the peace process of the government. We hope these things will work. But words must be backed by actions and the ceasefire agreement is premised on trust and confidence. But if they (MILF) are preparing for war, this runs counter to the peace process.” 
Adan said the IMT [International Monitoring Team] is unlikely to find any MILF training camps because they are constantly being moved to avoid detection. The military is currently searching for terrorist training camps run by al-Qaeda’s regional arm, Jemaah Islamiyah, which was linked to the MILF in the past (Villanueva 2004, 2-3). 

Especially because of links to al-Qaeda, resources were thought to be inexhaustible, while mobilizing recruits occurred either voluntarily or by conscription. 

The Banner of Self-Determination 
Whereas Magindanawn men had initially joined the MNLF as the expression of the bangsamoro ideal, by the early 1980s some Magindanawn were wary of national liberation and were swayed by their religious leaders, the imams and the ustadzes, to champion a break-away movement for Islamic liberation – hence, the founding of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). A cause and a significant clarion for inspiring religious zeal among grassroots Magindanao of Central Mindanao was an aspect found in the sixth premise of a veritable “Moro people’s secessionist movement” charter: “…Muslim inhabitants have the duty and the obligation to wage jihad (holy war) physically and spiritually to change the Moro homeland to Dar al-Islam” (Mercado 1992, 161; italics in original). 

The Dogma of Dar-ul Islam 
Gowing (1979, 202) summarizes the import of this concept for bangsamoro: “In the past, the region inhabited by Moros in the southern Philippines was clearly dar al-Islam, that is, territorially part of the ‘Abode of Islam.’ But its conquest by non-Muslims put that region in an ambiguous position from the standpoint of Islamic law (Shari’a).” If territorial understanding leads to the view that the purity of dar-ul Islam has been defiled, the following holds true: “In a traditionalist view of Islamic law, if a Muslim country is conquered by non-Muslims, who then by their policies and actions turn it into dar al-Harb [the territory of nonbelievers], it becomes lawful for the Muslim ‘prisoners’ to oppose the non-Muslims and fight them in every possible way” (Ibid.). 

Since the influence of the MNLF as the mouthpiece of bangsamoro is still in dispute due to their 1996 accord with the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP), it falls to the Magindanao-controlled MILF to uphold the Islamic ideal for dar-ul Islam in Central Mindanao. True Islam, so it is said, can only be upheld by Muslims when the whole world becomes dar-ul Islam – only when there are no longer any vestiges of dar-ul Harb. This is certainly what motivates the fighting and the struggle by those politicized Magindanawn in parts of Central Mindanao. 

‘Bangsamoro’ + ‘Civil Society’ = ‘Bangsamoro Civil Society’ 
Above in this article, previous discussion indicated diametric opposition of bangsamoro interests to that of non-Muslims, whether expatriate or Filipino, expressed normally in fierce, intense and violent means. The very nature of civil-society, on the other hand, is to find nonviolent means to resolve conflict and encourage cooperation and peaceful co-existence between two polarized factions. While some Jesuit priests (like Father Pablo Pastells in the late nineteenth century) worked in the ilud township of Tamontaka to foster an environment of peace and harmony between the Magindanawn and surrounding lumad tribes (Schreurs 1994), the foundation for potential civil-society responses would not truly come until the arrival of the so-called American “mandate in Moroland” (Gowing 1983). 

In the early twentieth century, when the Americans acquired the Philippines as victors of the Spanish-American War, the American emphasis on democracy and “liberty and justice for all” created a hopeful atmosphere for any and all future civil-society responses. Even the more beneficent Americans, however, eventually gave into the primary directive of ensuring integration of all Filipinos into a nation called the Philippines; this sometimes at the expense of touted democratic ideals. Therefore, a two-pronged polarization of grassroots Filipino movements against Manila-based Americanized policies emerged: 1) Marxist-socialist and communist reaction in the expression of the Huk rebellion and ultimately the creation of the New People’s Army (NPA); and, 2) Muslim rebellion and secessionist activities eventually crystallized in the MNLF and MILF of the 1970s and 1980s.

As these two polarized fronts represented the extreme of discontent with the system as it was imposed upon the young Philippine nation-state, the post-World War II government in Manila was slowly coming into its own, as was its grassroots popular counterpart, influencing responses akin to (American) democracy. This did not reach full political maturation until the ouster of Ferdinand Marcos via the EDSA movement of the mid-1980s. By this time, then, not only was the Catholic Church a champion for democracy, freedom and justice, but other non-sectarian groups and non-government organizations (NGO) joined in the movement. This was true mostly in Luzon within metro-Manila, but some measure of this type of civil-society had also found its way southward, especially regarding the plight and struggle of settler- and lumad-peasants against the seemingly intractable machinery of Manila-led development. In a lesser degree, then, civil-society began engaging with the conflict-affected areas of Muslim Mindanao. 

It is in this context, then, that the progression and formation of Mindanao civil-society organizations (CSO), emanating from outside the influence of Islam, is chronicled: 

Figure 1 (below) shows Mindanao civil society as a political spectrum. It is by no means exhaustive but it does include important sectors and sectoral organizations that have established a name in civil society circles. To one side are groups perceived as either ‘legitimate’ or ‘conservative’, (because of their politics or their institutional connection) and on the other are networks, service providers, people’s organizations, campaign groups and the political organizations they are linked with. Public perceptions of these groups range from politically ‘progressive’ or liberal to ‘subversive’. Civil society groups of divergent political orientations quite often form broad-based alliances based on tactical or pragmatic goals. 


NGO Networks
Service providers
Community Organizing

Research Advocacy
Social Development Cooperatives/
Cultural Groups

Peoples organizations/
Coalitions Networks,
eg. Women’s organizations
Trade Unions
Peasant’s Associations
Urban and Rural Community

Campaign Groups/
Sectoral and issue-based 
campaigns, eg. foreign debt

Ideological forces
Political Parties including
armed political movements


Inter-faith Dialogue Groups
Roman Catholic, Protestant
UMMAH Groups

Print – 
Mindanao bureaus of national daily
Local weeklies/dailies
Broadcast – Local TV radio relay
stations – Broadcast networks

Institute of Higher Learning
Denominational State Universities/
Non-Denominational Private Universities/

Local Chambers of 
Banks, Multinationals
Foreign Civic Clubs

People’s organizations, non-governmental and civic organizations exist in almost all provinces in Mindanao, but compared to Christian-led organizations, Moro civil society groups are still relatively few. (Cagoco-Guiam 1999, 2; ‘Figure 1’ chart in original) 

Advent of the Consortium of Bangsamoro Civil Society (CBCS) 
Leading up to the escalation of military forces on both sides (bangsamoro and Armed Forces of the Philippines [AFP]), there was one concerted effort by like-minded agencies to convene a consultation that led to a resolution to form the “Consortium of BangsaMoro NGOs and POs in Mindanao” (Philsol 1998). It would not be until after the culmination of the All-Out War under Estrada, however, that the atmosphere of common Magindanao people and their leaders would be such that for them to consider other ways to resolve the deteriorating peace and order situation in Central Mindanao. Hence, the formation of the CBCS: 

It was only in 2002 that a Consortium of Bangsamoro Civil Society was formed among over 40 Muslim civil society organizations with Kadtuntaya Foundation, Inc. in Cotabato City as its secretariat. These organizations have realized the need to bond together and be in the forefront of peace and development work. Their programs in this regard focus on capacity building, research and advocacy (Santos 2005, 72; italics in original). 

Today, the CBCS boasts “…a network of 164 Moro civil society organizations in Mindanao” (Maulana 2008). How then does this network interact with the Magindanawn bloodline leadership of old? 

Datus and Filipino Muslim Sultanates 
Norms of historic Magindanawn society include the acceptance of, and obedience to, the time-honored “datu system” (Ho & King 2003, 75; italics in original). Because of the hierarchical nature of the Filipino Muslim sultanate structure, “…the Sultan’s or the datu’s claim to power and prestige was not merely his birth into the nobility and control over real estate, but also his active leadership or control over a large group of followers” (Stewart 1977, 276-283). One of the guiding principles for CSO involvement is to have respect for the culture and customs of the people receiving the assistance. Therefore, one recent World Bank report on conflict-affected Central Mindanao asserts: “Because the traditional leaders of a community have always played an important role in regulating the relationship of the members of the community with the outside world, prerogatives claimed by traditional leaders can be expected to exert an important influence on project outcomes” (Judd & Adriano 2003, 26). 

This directive resonates with certain civil-society NGOs in Central Mindanao, but history shows that this is not the mandate that the GRP abides by. The words of the late Dr. Peter Gowing continue to ring true: 

It is in the light of this dar al-Islam / dar al-Harb dichotomy that many of the issues which Moros raise with the National Government should be seen. Their past and present anxieties over such matters as official recognition of the dignities and authority of their traditional leaders (sultans and datus),…respect for their religious customs, and official cognizance of Islamic and adat law (particularly in domestic and inheritance affairs), should be understood as part of their general concern…. Many Muslim Filipinos feel that their region is in great danger of slipping fully into dar al-Harb, and that Government policies and actions are having that effect (Gowing 1979, 203-204; italics in original). 

Without question, it is Gowing’s last statement that speaks as loudly today as it did thirty years ago. If events and activities in and around the Muslim world have caused any stir in Central Mindanao in the last ten to twenty years, it has been to awaken an “Islamic consciousness” (Che Man 1990, 57) concerning what is best for the Magindanawn people and what serves to preserve their ummah (community of faith) as they continue to work towards dar-ul Islam. This then is the driving force of bangsamoro civil society, as represented by the CBCS, to champion solutions for peace and development initiatives in Central Mindanao that synchronize with the ethos of Islam. 


The Magindanawn people have lived especially in the region of Central Mindanao for countless centuries. Their attachment to, and love for, the land – their ancestral domain – embeds deeply into the Magindanawn psyche and worldview. Despite colonial incursions and imperialist advances against them and their land, by Europeans (especially the Spanish) and the Americans, their manoeuvres ‘within’ American and Manila-imposed political structures by accommodation-politics, and ‘without’ through rebel social movements, have always been done with the goal in mind to keep the Magindanao homeland for the benefit of the Magindanawn people alone. 

While there is a notion of “dar al-Aman,” in which the land can be shared in some semblance of co-existence with non-Muslims (Gowing 1979:203; italics in original), the concept of dar-ul Islam, especially within the context of their Malay Muslim neighbors in Malaysia and Indonesia (McAmis 2002), is a stronger driving-force which guides the direction of the GRP-MILF peace-talks to the present day, i.e., the “Memorandum of Agreement” (MOA), especially with the stipulation of the MOA-AD (ancestral domain). In the fourth quarter of 2008, the AD stipulation was ‘off the table,’ especially since the Philippine Supreme Court ruled it as unconstitutional. While this is still an insurmountable problem for continuing the peace-talks, the Magindanawn will continue to move forward in their desire to see, once again, a homeland of their ancestral domain for the future prosperity of their people.

Mark S. Williams 
Ph.D. candidate, Development Studies, 
Ateneo de Davao University in Davao City, Philippines. 

Kyoto Review of Southeast Asia Issue 11 (December 2009)