Bangsamoros and native Americans
|Posted by Manila Mail under Street Talk|
By Greg B. Macabenta
The conflict raging between the MILF, the Philippine government and the settlers of Mindanao brings to mind the sovereignty enjoyed by native Americans or American Indians within the territories of the United States.
What the Bangsamoros, as the MILF describes “all the indigenous peoples of Mindanao” (text of the controversial Memorandum of Agreement) aredemanding has a parallel in the rights of Indian tribes as “sovereign nations,” recognized by the U.S. Constitution.
This, on the surface, would make the issue of ancestral domain and the autonomy demanded by the MILF over large parts of Mindanao and Palawan, a just and reasonable cause. Like the Indians, the Bangsamoros were displaced by settlers from outside Mindanao, they have complained of being accorded unequal treatment by the Luzon-based government and the conflict over ancestral lands has resulted in violence and bloodshed.
The basis of the many Indian nations’ claim to sovereignty is the fact that they existed and had the power to enter into treaties with other nations long before the Europeans came to subjugate them. Article 1, Section 8 of the U.S. Constitution acknowledges this by stipulating, among others, the right of the U.S. government “To regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States, and with the Indian Tribes.”
One article on the subject explains the basis for Indian sovereignty:
“The three cases which are known as the Marshall Trilogy are Johnson v. McIntosh (1823); Cherokee Nation v. Georgia (1831); and Worcester v. Georgia (1832). In Johnson v. McIntosh (1823) the Supreme Court concluded that tribal sovereignty, although impaired by European
colonization, cannot be dismissed.
“Supreme Court Chief Justice Marshall stated, ‘In the establishment of these relations [between Europeans and Indians], the rights of the original inhabitants, were in no instance, entirely disregarded. They were admitted to be the rightful occupants of the soil, with the legal as well as just claim to retain possession of it, and to use it according to their own discretion’ (Getches, Wilkinson, and Williams, Jr. 1993, 144).
“Cherokee Nation v. Georgia (1831) ruled that Indian tribes were ‘a distinct political society, separated from others, capable of managing [their] own affairs and governing [themselves]‘ (Getches et al. 1979, 162).:
“In the 1823 ruling Johnson v. McIntosh, Marshall said, ‘The magnificent purchase of Louisiana was the purchase from France of a country almost entirely occupied by numerous tribes of Indians, who are in fact independent.’ The Great Sioux Nation and the other Plains Indian nati ons were living a free and independent life in the colony known as Louisiana….
“The Indians ‘acknowledged no obedience, or allegiance, or subordination to any foreign sovereign whatsoever; and as far as they have possessed the means, they have ever since asserted this plenary right of dominion, and yielded it up only when lost by the superior force of conquest, or
transferred by a voluntary cession.’ In other words, the Indian nations were free and independent when they made treaties with the United States.”
A parallel may be seen in the position of the MILF, as expressed in the section on “Concepts and Principles” contained in the MOA, the implementation of which the Supreme Court has temporarily restrained:
“1. It is the birthright of all Moros and all Indigenous peoples of Mindanao to identify themselves and be accepted as ‘Bangsamoros.’ The Bangsamoro people refers to those who are natives or original
inhabitants of Mindanao and its adjacent islands including Palawan and the Sulu archipelago at the time of conquest or colonization of its descendants whether mixed or of full blood. Spouses and their
descendants are classified as Bangsamoro. The freedom of choice of the Indigenous people shall be respected.
“2. It is essential to lay the foundation of the Bangsamoro homeland in order to address the Bangsamoro people’s humanitarian and economic needs as well as their political aspirations. Such territorial jurisdictions and geographic areas being the natural wealth and patrimony represent
the social, cultural and political identity and pride of all the Bangsamoro people. Ownership of the homeland is vested exclusively in them by virtue of their prior rights of occupation that had inhered in
them as sizeable bodies of people, delimited by their ancestors since time immemorial, and being the first politically organized dominant occupants.”
But even the U.S. concept of American Indian sovereignty has been open to many interpretations. One of the privileges that they enjoy is the right to operate gambling casinos in California equipped with Las Vegas-style slot machines, something that is explicity prohibited by state law.
But, in this regard, Josh Richman, staff writer of Inside Bay Area, wrote: “Amid all the talk of casinos, people keep referring to tribes as ‘sovereign nations.’ But what exactly this means is the subject of
“While stumping for her tribe’s controversial Casino San Pablo development last week, Lytton Band of Pomo Indians chairwoman Margie Mejia described sovereign nations this way: ‘We’re little countries
living within a big country.’ That’s somewhat accurate, but doesn’t tell the whole story.
“At its simplest, ‘sovereign’ means independent and self-ruled. A completely sovereign nation is an equal to all other sovereign nations in all respects, from foreign policy powers to economic self-sufficiency to citizenship.
“Tribes have some limits, though. They can’t maintain relations with foreign governments or sell their land to anyone outside the United States. On the other hand, they and their members can do some things foreign sovereign governments and their constituents can’t, such as making political contributions and voting in U.S. elections.
“Tribes do have executive, legislative and judicial governmental power over all their internal affairs, including the power to make and enforce laws for their benefit and protection. This power is considered
inherent, meaning it wasn’t granted to them by anyone.
“Tribes maintain unique nation-to-nation relationships with the U.S. government. Congress and the federal courts have some power to limit tribal jurisdiction, but case law has established that tribes reserve any rights they haven’t expressly given away.”
The fact, however, is that the Indians have had to settle for much less than the ancestral lands and the patrimony that their sovereignty suggests. They generally exercise this in their reservations but no say over the rest of the vast territory, now known as the United States of America, that they once originally occupied.
This is the reality that the MILF and the Bangsamoros must face. Like the Promised Land occupied by the Jews, led by Moses, and now the center of conflict in the Middle East, there is no way that the current occupants will give up ownership of what they now claim as their own – not without the shedding of blood.
A compromise – often referred to as the “half-a-loaf principle” – may be the only viable option. Better to have half-a-loaf than have no loaf at all.