What if Moros acted like Catalans?

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A recent electoral event in Europe could influence the course of the political history of Philippine Morolandia. The Catalans of Spain defied the national authority and, invoking their right to self-determination, held a referendum on Oct. 1 that they hoped would stamp legitimacy on their bid for independence.

Earlier, the Regional Parliament of Catalonia passed a law calling for a referendum on whether citizens want an independent republic or remain with Spain. The Madrid government, including Spain’s Constitutional Court, decreed the move illegal and sent in the National Police Corps and the Guardia Civil to stop it. The Catalans were unfazed and proceeded with the referendum. According to reports, the “yes” side garnered 91.96 percent of the vote. But the violence resulted in injuries to hundreds.

The separatists had been trying to court the European Union to its side, but in what could be a fatal blow to their aspiration, the European Commission declared the electoral exercise illegal and called on parties to “move swiftly from confrontation to dialogue.” What now, Catalonia?

Filipino Moros are keenly observing the aftermath and the political moves of the protagonists, hoping to pick up a lesson or two.

Catalonia, in the northeast of Spain with a population of 7.5 million, had an established political and cultural identity before the Spanish Civil War and the repressive regime of the dictator Francisco Franco, much like the Moros did before the coming of the colonizers and their “annexation” to the Philippine territory by the Treaty of Paris. Also like the Moros, the Catalans have a distinct culture and language although religion is the compelling factor for the Moro to fight for a homeland. Catalonia enjoys substantial political and administrative autonomy, much greater than that enjoyed by the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao. But the Catalans feel that although they contribute much to Spain’s economy, they are being shortchanged and are not given a proportionate share in the national budget. They feel they have suffered from the neglect of the central authority - an echo of the Moro complaint.

This brings us to an academic discussion: What if out of desperation and exasperation the Moros decide to hold a referendum similar to what the people of Catalonia did? What if the Regional Legislative Assembly of the ARMM takes a leaf from the Regional Parliament of Catalonia and passes a law calling for a referendum on whether Moros favor the establishment of a Bangsamoro homeland? It has no such power, but it can always invoke the internationally accepted principle of the people’s right to self-determination and the general-welfare clause in the ARMM law to justify it. How will the central government deal with such treason? Put the multitudes in jail? What if the United Nations, the United States, Australia and other superpowers express support for this cause?

The Moro mujahideen once attempted to bring their cause to the United Nations, but the zeitgeist was unfavorable to such a move. But with the war in Marawi getting global attention, a war that has brought to the fore the historical injustice suffered by the Moros, the discrimination and government neglect of their complaints, the time may be ripe for it. This is a move more prudent than armed struggle. A Moro with an errant mind may ask: What if all the dissident mujahideen unite to fight for the liberation of Morolandia from the clutches of the Kafir-run government? This is not far-fetched, because a desperate mind is irrational.

To the mujahideen-autonomists: Armed struggle is not the only means to achieve your dream of a Moro homeland. The alternatives are varied.


Macabangkit B. Lanto ( This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. ), UP Law 1967, was a Fulbright fellow in New York University for his postgraduate studies. He has served the government as congressman, ambassador, and undersecretary, among other positions.