Today (24 June) we are celebrating the 437th foundation day of Manila, the city that Spain established and enclosed within formidable walls to defend it against other invaders and define the limits of its empire in this part of the world. But, before all that came to pass, there was already a Maynila whose exact foundation day remains unknown but which historical records have described as a burgeoning center of regional trade, a stable, progressive political and social unit ruled by Rajahmuda Sulayman, perhaps assisted by a wise uncle, Rajah Matanda. They were related to the sultan of Borneo.
One of the turning points of the history of these islands ( there was no Philippines yet) was the introduction of Islam by preachers and scholars, , traders and travelers from Borneo, towards the end of the 15th century, via Sulu and Mindanao. Many of us have forgotten that Islam gained ground in Mindoro, Palawan, parts of Cebu, Batangas, Pampanga, Catanduanes, Laguna and as far north as Cagayan Valley According to Salah Jubair (“A Nation Under Endless Tyranny”) natives learnt the rudiments of the new religion, read the Qur’an, accepted Islamic practices like circumcision and the avoidance of pork, and began to use Muslim names. For the first time after the fall of Granada in 1492, the Spaniards and the Moros, met again in Manila, after each had circled half the earth, in opposite directions. It must have been a seething encounter: The Spaniards had not forgotten 800 years of Muslim domination while in their collective memory, Muslims still mourned the three million who perished during the “reconquista” of Granada by the Catholic monarchs, Ferdinand and Isabela.
Not surprisingly, the Spaniards called the Islamized natives of Manila “Moros” to differentiate them from the Taga-Ilog animists who were more easily Christianized. According to S. Jubair, the word “Moro” came from Mauritania and referred to Berbers of North Africa who conquered and dominated Spanish territory for 800 years. It was only after 1578 that Moro was used to refer to the Muslims of Mindanao and Sulu. Neither was the first Moro-Spanish War fought down south, , it exploded right here in Maynila between Martin de Goiti and Rajah Sulayman.
There could be no blood compact in that hour of reckoning. Rajah Sulaiman declared that he and the Manileños wished to be friends with all peoples but they will not tolerate any abuse and will repay with death the least affront to their honor. Probably unaccustomed to meeting strong-willed natives, Goiti was piqued by what he mistook for arrogance. Rajah Sulayman was merely making a foreign policy declaration.
The Spaniards had their own agenda and came back twice to fight Rajah Sulayman. Some historians say that he was killed during the Battle of Bangkusay, in Tondo; others say that he survived, settled somewhere in Bagumbayan and continued to be recognized as the Señor de Manila. Be that as it may, Rajah Sulayman and the Maynila he ruled deserve to be remembered by Filipinos today.