Sultan Amai Manabilang of Lanao: Pioneer Moro Leader to Advocate Mindanao Independence

The historic Dansalan Declaration of March 18, 1935, provides the first indication of the Moros’ (Philippine Muslims) desire for an independent Mindanao, that’s some 79 years ago.

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By EDD K. USMAN | @edd1819 | @bluestar091 | SDN — Science & Digital News

(SDN) — Muslims of the Philippines, the Moros, had advocated and fought for the independence of Mindanao starting 79 years ago.

Unofficial count of the dead arising from the separatist (the government dubbed it secessionist) struggle of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) is placed at an indeterminate over 120,000 people. Government soldiers, Moro rebels, civilians, and other non-combatants perished in the war for independence, which both the two Moro fronts dubbed “struggle for self-determination”.

Filipinos who are brothers fought viciously in an internecine war from the late 1960s/early 1970s until the signing of the Final Peace Agreement (FPA) on September 2, 1996, between the government and the MNLF and the signing of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) on March 27, 2014, between the government and the MILF.

And let’s not forget the, some say, ill-fated 1976 Tripoli Agreement of the government of the MNLF, the mother of the FPA and to some extent the CAB.

Perhaps, not to exclude are the Abu Sayyaf Group (originally its goal was an independent Islamic state before it descended into pure banditry and murderous rampage), and the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Movement (BIFM) and its armed wing the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), a breakaway of the MILF, which itself broke up into a few groupings is also a seeker of what its leaders called “pure Islamic state”, whatever that means.

Not to forget is that the MILF is a breakaway of the MNLF. It is said that what triggered MILF Founder and Chairman Ustadhz Salamat Hashim splitting from the MNLF headed by Founding Chairman Nur P. Misuari was the latter’s signing of the 1976 Tripoli Agreement, which effectively turned the MNLF’s struggle for independence into a mere autonomy for a few Mindanao provinces.

The MNLF placed the group’s founding on the date of the Jabidah Massacre on March 18, 1969 on Corregidor Island; the MILF was founded in 1977. Thus, it can be said the MNLF started its quest for independence in 1969 and the MILF in 1977.

But who was the first Moro leader to formally advocate the independence of the local Muslims (political or violent means)? Was it Misuari or Hashim?

A few clicks in the internet would show that Datu Udtog Matalam of Pagalungan, Maguindanao, then newly retired governor of the undivided Empire of Cotabato, issued a manifesto in May 1968 for a Muslim Independence Movement but latter changed to Mindanao Independence Movement (MIM). The MIM was the first to seek an independent Islamic state, it appeared.

With both the MNLF and the MILF convinced by the Philippine government to accept autonomy, which Arab Muslim leaders have also supported (of course, they don’t want their people seeking independence) — instead of continuing the bloodshed in a struggle for independence, has the embers that lit the struggle for independence of Muslim Filipinos put out forever? (That’s counting out the BIFF which is not taken seriously re: its fight for so-called independent Islamic state.)

So, was Matalam, one of the most revered Moro leaders especially among the Maguindanaon tribe, the first to sound off the separation (or secession, depending on what side of the fence you are) of Mindanao from the Philippines?

It appears not.

Sultan Didato Amai Manabilang was actually the pioneer to fire the first bullet for the independence of Southern Philippines, or Mindanao, the Land of Promise, through the historically significant the Dansalan Declaration of 1935. The Sultan preferred the declaration which he and several sultans and datos signed.

Sultan Mastura Cosain Amai Manabilang, the current Sultan of Ranao (Lanao), and the foremost surviving leader of the Pangarungan and Amai Manabilang Clans.

Datu Nata Tahir Amai Manabilang Malomalo Pangarungan and National Commission on Muslim Filipinos (NCMF) Secretary Sultan sa Madaya Saidamen B. Pangarungan, along with Datu Omar Pangarungan, are three of the two clans’ present day leaders. They are nephews of the incumbent Sultan of Lanao.

Of course, the old Dansalan is now the Islamic City of Marawi, the capital of Lanao del Sur.

Datu Omar Malomalo Tahir Pangarungan, nephew of Sultan Mastura Manabilang, current Sultan of Lanao and father of the current mayor of Amai Manabilang municipality, Lanao del Sur, narrated in an interview with SDN — Science and Digital News that the Declaration was a strongly-worded letter to United States President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and the U.S. Congress, stating that in the American government’s grant of independence to the Philippines, Mindanao and its Muslim inhabitants should be excluded and should remain under American rule to be granted separate independence at the right time.

Pangarungan, a former diplomat at the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA), Moro chronicler, and savior of many Filipino migrant workers, said Democrat Congressman Robert Bacon of Ohio, Illinois, introduced the Dansalan Declaration as an amendment to the bill on Philippine independence. Unfortunately, Bacon’s amendment was quashed by the lobby of pro-Philippine independence leaders led by President Manuel Luis Quezon.

Thus, it was clear who the first Moro was to advocate the independence of Mindanao, which Matalam and his MIM, and the MNLF and the MILF revived, or followed through. But as history and fate would have it, Matalam, the MNLF and the MILF failed in their quest, with the latter revolutionary groups scaling their struggle for independence to autonomy.

Datu Omar Pangarungan said Moro scholars said that had the U.S. Congress adopted the Dansalan Declaration the secessionist wars for an independent Mindanao state waged by the MNLF and the MILF and some extremist groups would have been prevented. The secessionist wars which continued to this day, now only waged by the ISIS-affiliated BIFF and Abu Sayyaf Group have claimed the lives of more than 100,000 mostly Muslim lives and 10,000 soldiers and policemen.

To learn more about who Sultan Manabilang was, here’s the narration of Datu Omar Pangarungan:

Attorney Mark “Omar” Pangarungan, former diplomat at Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA). Disclosure: He is a grandchild of Sultan Amai Manabilang.

The ‘Forbidden Kingdom’ — the Moros:

Forging friendship with Sultan Amai Manabilang, the leader of Moro Sultans and Datos — was a key to opening the doors of his fortress to the world: First to the Americans, using American policy of attraction to tackle Moro problems, educate the people, and build a modern city called Dansalan; and 2nd, to welcome the visiting three former Presidents of Philippine Commonwealth regime and Philippine Republic, seeking the Sultan and his people to support the campaign for Philippine Independence which was not granted by the United States Congress because of the letter of the Sultan and the many Moro Sultans and Datos.

Amai Manabilang’s fortress called the “Forbidden Kingdom” was never successfully conquered by the Spaniards, the Japanese, and the Americans.

In November 1901, American officer Capt. John J. Pershing together with his assistant, 1st Sergeant Bill Hefner, were sent to Iligan to restore discipline in the American Command Post and convince these suspicious and fierce-fighting people that he was their friend. His ultimate goal was to reach the Moros of Lake Lanao in the interior, and enter “The Forbidden Kingdom.” Pershing could fight his way in, but that was costly and a last resort. His job was to make friends out of enemies. It was not a military problem. “It was a human problem,” Pershing told Frederick Palmer, telling him he had a solution for the problem, which was to treat the Moros as human beings.

Every Saturday in Iligan Pershing made it a practice to visit the market and move about among the Moros, asking through an interpreter about their crops, their carabaos (water buffalos), their government, and their leaders. Theirs was a tribal society. Win over their leaders —- their Sultans, their datos, their panditas —- and you won over all the Moros. Win over the leaders of the Malanos (the Lake Lanao Moros) and you made the interior relatively safe for Americans. But first you had to get them to come to Iligan. And then you had to get them to invite you to the Interior, to Lake Lanao.

Establishing friendship with the rich and powerful Sultan Amai Manabilang:

Pershing planned to meet the Number One Moro on the north side of Lake Lanao — Sultan Manabilang who had abdicated his royal title as Sultan in favor of his son, Manabilang, but was still the power among his people. He had visited Iligan only once, when the Spanish controlled the country. He was remote and aloof and never had an encounter with the Spaniards who never succeeded penetrating his strong fortress. This challenged Pershing that he kept thinking how to get to him and worked at it by getting to the son, the reigning Sultan.

Persistent as he was, Pershing succeeded. The Sultan liked to talk; all Moros did. Pershing indulged his liking, listened to him, made him feel important. When the Sultan left Iligan, he carried away a good impression of the new captain —- and also an invitation to his father, Manabilang. Letters were exchanged. Then Manabilang said he would come.

When Amai Manabilang arrived in Iligan, he came in style. A tall, swarthy Moro, well-built, clean shaven as most Moros were, Manabilang entered with a personal retinue of 30 men. He sat astride a fine looking stallion, beside which trotted slaves, carrying red and white umbrellas. Another slave carried Manabilang’s gold-mounted Kris (a jagged sword now in the hands of one of his surviving grandsons), a fierce-looking Moro weapon which did not have to be unsheathed because in combat it cut right through the thin cords that bound it in its two-part scabbard. Bodyguards surrounded the dignitary; each carried a “kampilan”, a two-handed Moro sword about three-and-a-half feet long. One slave carried a highly polished brass box containing betel nut, the favorite Moro “chaw,” which left the inside of the mouth a hideous red. In the entourage were minor chiefs, relatives, and slaves —- all bedecked as if for a pompous parade.

Obviously, Manabilang was a person of quality, a prince and Pershing treated him as such. His instructions were that Manabilang should receive “every attention.” Pershing lodged the potentate in one of the rooms of his own quarters, furnishing other quarters for the retinue nearby.

Perceived as a man of stature, Pershing and Manabilang sat down for a formal conference, Manabilang was very diplomatic. He was a Moro viewed as protocol-conscious and so it was impolite to come immediately to what was on one’s mind. Pershing understood and let his guest take his time.

Hollywood and Italian superstar Gina Lollobrigida, standing, right, joins the Pangarungan clan with the daughters and a son of the Sultans of the Islamic City of Marawi. Seated, front, are then 18-year-old Datu Omar Pangarungan, his sisters Bai-Alabi Hanneya Pangarungan-Sacar and Bai-Alabi and the late Hadja Jawhara Pangarungan-Dianalan (second and right side the Italian celebrity), Bai Amic Tamano(seated, center), daughter of the late Senator Mamintal Tamano. Photo was captured during an exclusive dinner dubbed ‘Maranao Dulang’ in honor of Ms. Lollobrigida held at the residence of the late Mindanao State University (MSU) President and Ambassador Mauyag Tamano. Ms. Lollobrigida was a guest of then First Lady Imelda R. Marcos in 1975.

I was privileged and honored my father the late Sultan Salic Manalusug Amai Manabilang Pangarungan authorized me to use Amai Manabilang’s “solid gold ‘kandit’ belt” as shown in the picture during the visit of Hollywood actress and later journalist Ms. Gina Lollobrigida” as special guest of the then Former First Lady Imelda Romualdez Marcos!



Featured image is a view of the busy port of Dansalan (now Marawi City) courtesy of Hassan Moti.

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