The Explainer: The perils of partition




Chances re, if you visit this blog:

You’ll get a shock. Prominently displayed on the blog, a map which carves out the entirety of Mindanao, plus Palawan, as what the blog and the map calls “Moroland.”

If you were to visit Wikipedia, on the other hand, you would encounter this map which shows the present-day Muslim provinces of the Philippines in red, and the territory considered their ancestral domain, in yellow.

For the past few weeks, of course, a public debate has erupted over an altogether different, because official, map.


Here it is, again, to refresh your memory. It’s from Bong Montesa’s blog.

And here, it shows, in red, the present-day extent of the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao. And it shows, in Green, territories our government intends to commit to submitting to a plebiscite by August next year.

But this map only tells part of the story. The Philippine Daily Inquirer recently published the same map, but this time, showing three colors.

The area in red is today’s ARMM. The areas in Green, in Mindanao and Palawan, are the areas to undergo a plebiscite in August, 2009.

And the areas in yellow, not in Montesa’s map, are areas the government commits to “special economic and cultural affirmative action implement by the Central Government,” and which would undergo their own plebiscite in 25 years.

Now last week we saw that the MILF didn’t invent the territories they desire, for this map, among others dating to the end of the Spanish era, shows that indeed, at least one Muslim political entity survived and received recognition as such:

The Sultanate of Sulu.

Now until now, I’ve been talking about Mindanao in two terms: Muslim and Christian.

But as blogger “A Day in the Life of RJ” pointed out, in the Inquirer Current blog that I co-write with John Nery, a touching comment appeared.

It was written by someone by the name of “lumad” and here is the comment:

lumad Says:?August 7th, 2008 at 9:01 pm ?Bilang isang lumad ng mindanao, matuloy man ang kasunduang GRP-MILF o hindi, magkaruon man ng digmaang sibil o hindi or magkaroon man ng hiwalay na istado ang muslim at kristyano sa mindanao ang talo sa lahat ang mga lumad. Nananatilli sa kabundukan, nanatiling walang pinag aralan, nanatiling walang boses o representasyon sa ano mang larangan, nanatiling walang lakas o pagdepensa sa sarili sa anu mang digmaang magaganap. Ang lahat ay malinaw at kahit sa anong panig sa gobyerno, krisyanong mindanao o moro ang lumad ng mindanao ay baliwala sa lahat.

I’d like to spend a moment on this comment, and introduce another map.

In 1890, the year San Miguel Beer made its debut, the Spanish government published a map. It was based on the work of an Austrian by the name of Ferdinand Blumentritt, who was, of course, Rizal’s great and good friend.

Here is the map, and I’d like you to take a good look at it.


It’s what’s called an ethnographic map. That is, it’s objective is to portray the distribution of the various kinds of peoples inhabiting the territory known as the Philippines.

The names of the various peoples are listed over here. But tha map itself is color coded in three main colors.

Red represents Christian areas of the Philippines.

Yellow represents what the Spaniards called Pagans and we today call Indigenous Peoples, including the various Lumad peoples of Mindanao.

And green represents the areas inhabited by Muslims.

Again, first of all, this map reinforces the information we learned from other 19th century maps last week: the areas of Muslim settlements did correspond, pretty much, to the old Sultanate of Sulu and included part of Palawan.

But you will see, as well, from this map, that entire chunks of our present-day country were considered the habitation of Indigenous Peoples: large swathes of Mindanao; large swathes of Northern Luzon.

This website:

Tells us that in 1890, the year Blumentritt’s ethnographic  data was published as a map, the population of what we now know as the Philippines totaled 6.6 million. It had doubled by 1927 and doubled again by 1956 to 24 million. By the 1970s, when open fighting broke out in Mindanao, our national population had reached 36 million and of course, since the year I was born, 1970, our population has almost tripled, to today’s 90 million plus.

Is it no wonder then, that first of all, fighting is so prevalent, and second of all, that we now think of our Indigenous Peoples as tiny tribes hiding in remote mountains?

And yet for Muslim, Christian, or Indigenous Person alike, for thousands of years and within living memory for some Filipinos, the reality was that people lived and roamed arouned in fairly underpopulated areas.

Indeed, if today, it’s lack of space that has us ready to kill each other, it’s the wide open spaces of the past, that also led to the same thing.

This book:,M1

“Raiding, Trading, Feasting: The Political Economy of Philippine Chiefdoms” by Laura Lee Junker explains why slave raiding expeditions were such a fixture for centuries:

Because of the relative abundance of productive land relative to labor in the prehispanic Philippines and other parts of Southeast Asia, seizure of slaves (but also agricultural stores, metal weaponry, and elite paraphernalia), rather than territories, was a primary motivating factor in interpolity raiding.

-Laura Lee Junker

Returning to Blumentritt’s map:

You then get a sense of how life must have been like for centuries. Before Christianity even entered the picture, the ancestors of today’s, Pangasinenses, Ilocanos, Tagalogs, Cebuanos, and Ilongos and so on, lived by the shore, engaged, as Junker puts it, in raiding, trading, and feasting.

But after Spain conquered and converted this part, down South, the old ways continued: and now, the question of religion entered the picture.

And meanwhile, in the interior, in the forests and outside the great plains, the Indigenous Peoples, neither Christian nor Muslim, lived as they had.

By 1890, a technological advance had finally settled the question of who would dominate the Philippines. The invention of the steamship finally allowed Spanish vessels to outrun the Moro vinta; and with that technological advance, centuries of raids by Moros on Christian settlements in the Visayas and Luzon came to an end.

So too, did the claims to independence of the last surviving Moro sultanate, the Sultanate of Sulu, which accepted protectorate status under Spain in the 1870s.

Since human history began, the societies that can stop focusing on raiding and concentrate on trading and farming, do better. When they do better, their populations grow.

The introduction of modern farming and trade with the wider world, led to an explosion of growth in the Visayas and in Luzon. Among Christians.

And, having many more babies and having many more of those babies survive-

Particularly in the modern era, as documented by the National Statistics Office:

And you have what we have today, which is this:

[Philippine ethnic groups per province.png]

This is a Wikipedia map of ethnic groups, per province. You will see that what were once areas described as places where the Indigenous Peoples lived, down here, are now filled with:

Cebuanos, in dark blue, and Bisaya in royal blue; and Ilonggos in cornflower blue.

What does all these maps tell us?

In reality, there’s no contradiction between Blumentritt’s map, which showed where Moros actually lived-

And today’s claims by the Moros of what constitutes their ancestral domain.

Because the Moros look back, not just at their historic living rooms, so to speak, but what they considered their historical backyards.

Except today, those backywards are occupied in many places, by Christians; and there are the lumads, too, whose cultures look back to a time when there wasn’t even such a thing as a living room or a backyard.

When we return, the threat of partition.




Three years after this 1944 newsreel, the last chance to keep India unified, failed. Jawaharlal Nehru, leader of the Congress Party, and Mohammed Ali Jinnah, leader of the Muslim League decided to part ways, despite the continuing efforts of Mahatma Gandhi to find some sort of unity.

So let’s put together the information we learned before our break. We’re now going to use maps we made, based on the maps you saw previously.

If we start with our present ARMM, like so:

And if we then expanding showing possible expansion in one year, the controversial plebiscite areas;

And if we then add other areas that would be subjected to another plebiscite in 25 years, we get the MILF’s vision of what constitutes their future BJE and possibly, a Bangsamoro State.

Let’s compare their vision, with what Blumentritt had mapped out, as the Muslim area in the twilight of the Sultanate of Sulu.

And let us compare that, to the other map we showed, showing the demarcation line between the Sulu Sultanate and Spanish territory in 1892.

And finally, let us compare that territory with the current demographics in Mindanao.

You can literally see how the modern era’s Christian settlements get in the way of the fairly neat and tidy historical real estate the Moros want.

I don’t know if anyone could have realized just how quickly our landscape would fill up. In 1934, a Sultan, the Sultan Sa Ramain, known to everyone else as Domocao Alonto, then a delegate to the Constitutional Convention and a future Senator of the Republic, brought up two points.

First, if Manila ignored Mindanao and Sulu, there would be consequences:

The Government has not been expending much money on the islands of Mindanao and Sulu, but if the Government will spend money on these islands, the returns will be great, because you are aware of the fact that the natural resources of Mindanao have not been developed; and if these natural resources are developed, they will be sufficient to support the whole Philippine Islands.

And second, that there was land aplenty for everybody:

I am also, in behalf of Mindanao and Sulu, inviting our Christian brothers in Luzon and the Visayas to migrate to Mindanao and Sulu, if they have no lands of their own. In these most trying days in our history, we must advocate national unity among the Christian and the Mohammedan Filipinos, especially during the transition period, because if there is going to be trouble, that will be interpreted in America that we are not yet capable of independent existence.

The full speech of the Sultan Sa Ramain is up on my blog, I invite you to read it. He stated for his people and for all time, the basis for peace and harmony between Christians and Muslims.

And let me bring up, finally, two points the Christian majority ought to consider, as we look at what’s going on in Mindanao. Both come from our political history.

First, let me take you to an article from Time magazine, circa 1923.,9171,727446,00.html

That was the year this photograph was taken:

The man looking bored and sleepy on your right, was quoted with reference to the American you see standing there, delivering a speech.

This is what Speaker Manuel Roxas said:

We have encroached upon the rights of the Governor General because in that guise liberties are won.

-Manuel Roxas, quoted in Time, Sep. 24, 1923


And it is an eternal, and immutable, principle, of how self-determination is achieved.

Second, on the website of Rep. Rufus Rodriguez:


You’ll see, clearly spelled out, how Christian politicians in Mindanao –some of them issuing fire-breathing statements, today, about the sacredness of our territorial integrity- themselves seriously studied, and even proposed, secession from the Republic.

When we return, having considered the just claims of the Moros, the pleas of the Lumads, and the history of Christian Filipinos, we’ll talk to someone who says now, more than ever, the idea of a unified country has to unite public opinion.


My view


There has never been a good and convenient time for independence; there has never been a tidy separation of peoples. The story of India, for one, serves as a warning that partitioning a country can cost millions of lives.



Manuel L. Quezon III.

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