Two questions that had been posted online baffled me for days: What's with Duterte and his Meranao lineage? And why must one entertain the thought, parochial as it may sound for someone who was schooled in modernity that having a Meranao blood from his ancestor might influence political decisions one way or another?
We all know that President Rodrigo Roa Duterte, the first Filipino president from Mindanao, has Meranao blood from his maternal grandmother. Also, his son, the current vice mayor of Davao City, married a Meranao-Tausug girl and their children eventually embraced Islam. President Duterte’s direct lineage was from the Duranos of Cebu and his parents were devout Catholics.
Duterte’s connection with the Bangsamoro people runs deeper than just by being a fellow Mindanaoan from Davao City. This unspoken but rather accepted notion that the ‘president is from among us’ revealed a fabric of a Moro’s culture that predisposed blood relations and lineage above anything else. What the Moros perhaps saw in President Duterte’s Meranao blood was something that can be space for negotiation, a commonality that could be an opportunity for both Filipinos and Moros to come together and work to find a lasting peace in Mindanao.
In a time that the country is so divided politically and factions and their lines of defenses are being heightened to justify their respective positions, there is an undeniable need for the Philippines to look for something that will bind us together despite of our political differences. The excuse that it’s either you hate or love the President is not, as we have seen so far, effective in building a nation and to move forward as a country.
The call for unity is needed more than ever as the country is moving to a new and untried direction—and we have to be open to various means of achieving a united Philippines, even if this would entail resorting to unconventional ways on how can we keep this nation from disintegrating because of political differences. Unconventional in that we have to look beyond the usual centrist nationalist sentiments that our institutions for decades have taught us, or a shared past told in a continuous single and homogenous narrative of resistance to foreign colonial masters that served as a foundation in creating this country.
Filipinos perhaps can learn from how Moros remained to be a nation despite of several centuries of resistance and defeats from invaders. Islam is one of the factors that bind us together as the thirteen ethno-linguistic groups are geographically scattered in Mindanao, Sulu, and Palawan. After religion, kinship and lineage also played as dynamic forces that bind the Moros together from a nation, communities down to clans and families. It is cultural and deeply embedded in the consciousness of every Moro: that blood is always, in all situations, thicker than water.
It is through kinship and lineage that an heir to the throne of the sultan is chosen. And in kinship and lineage also that elders and communities will resolve rido or bloody clan wars among families. Among the various Moro ethno-linguistic groups, sarsila (or tarsila) is being kept by an elder of the clan; these are the records of family member’s history and the clan’s lineage dating back centuries even before the country was born. It was easy for some Moros to accept Duterte as one of their own as lineage and blood relations matter as legitimate cultural texts of communal bond.
One may wonder or will outright dismiss in incredulity on how the wisdom of claiming Duterte as ‘one of our own’ through his Meranao lineage. Perhaps someone from outside Mindanao, or unfamiliar on the complexity of Moro’s cultural landscape will dismiss the claim with disdain on ethnocentrism and will argue for a nationalist sentiment. A nationalism that is prevalent usually in the center: that we are all Filipinos in blood and in heritage. This outright dismissal in favor of centrist politics of homogenizing a very diverse cultures of the archipelago is obviously ignorant on how even folk beliefs, or folklore stand together in equal importance with objective historical documentation as far the several cultures in Mindanao and among the Moros are concerned.
One of the famous folk stories I encountered when I arrived in Cotabato city was that of the brothers Tabunaway and Mamalu. The legend of the brothers was passed on from one generation to another framed within the oral traditions common to the people of mainland Mindanao: that stories are meant to unite communities, a homogenizing bond that justifies a claim that we all came from one source of life, traditions, and culture in general . According to the legend, when the famous Shariff Kabungsuan arrived in mainland Mindanao he discovered that the brothers were his nephews. Kabungsuan played an important role in the history of the Philippines as he brought Islam to mainland Mindanao. Kabungsuan was able to introduce Islam to Tabunaway and the latter reverted to the religion. Tabunaway founded one of the oldest sultanates among the Moros and Mamalu, his brother, went to mountains. It was believed that Mamalu became the ancestors of lumad such as the Bagobo, Manuvu, Tiruray, Subanen, and Matigsalog. The legend of Tabunaway and Mamalu was also present in the oral literature of the T’bolis and other lumad ethno-linguistic groups in Mindanao.
The legend of the brothers Tabunaway and Mamalu became the narrative that will bind the Bangsamoro people and the indigenous peoples of Mindanao. I heard the story several times in various dialogues, in discussions related to peace and order in Mindanao, during the time of Macapagal Arroyo administration at the height of the fiasco on the Memorandum Agreement on Ancestral Domain. The story admonishes that Moros and lumad came from one ancestor, lineage. And this argument could create a community that is bound by a common past, ancestry, and that in the interplay of various traditions and cultures that’s always in constant conflict with each other like Mindanao, there is a hope for a space where negotiation is possible.
So, the next time I will a encounter a question that underlies the incongruity of the idea that Duterte and his Meranao lineage as factor that could influence national politics or probably political decisions that would be beneficial to the people of Mindanao, I will always return to my culture, on how for centuries we developed a system of binding a nation together as Moros, a system that predates even Western nationalism that is bent on homogenizing an imagination of a community no matter how diverse the cultures and people in it. I will always return to what is truly indigenous in claim and in reality: because essentially that’s what it is.
Amir Mawallil is a member of the Young Moro Professionals Network, the country's biggest organization of Muslim professionals.
Disclaimer: The views in this blog are those of the blogger and do not necessarily reflect the views of ABS-CBN Corp.