The Federalist of Mindanao: 83 Years Ahead of His Time

Tomas Lluisma Cabili (March 7, 1903 – March 17, 1957)

It does not take a multitude of men to foresee the future and to know what is right. It only takes one.

Only one man out of 202 believed that the Unitary System of Government in the 1935 Constitution will cause years of bloodshed in Mindanao – his name is Tomas Cabili – a lawyer, journalist, educator, and statesman of caliber – out numbered.

As the world today learns that President Duterte has already signed the Bangsamoro Organic Law (Republic Act No. 11054), also known as Bangsamoro Basic Law (BOL, also BBL) eventually creating the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region  – I would like to pay tribute to this man, who stood up for our Muslim brothers, even if it meant standing alone.

After 83 years, since his objection to the 1935 Constitution as a minority of one – Senator Tomas Cabili is vindicated. His stand, despite it being a stand against the US and the  oligarchs sitting in power, is now part of history.

Here are accounts about the great man whom history has vindicated today.

In the 1935 Constitution, Iligan was the only City out of 202 delegates in the country which did not sign the said Constitution. This was largely due to the conviction of the late Senator Tomas Cabili that a Unitary government like we have now would lead Mindanao to further trouble.  He wanted a Federal form of government. His reason was very simple, if the 1935 Constitution was patterned after the U.S.A. then why is it that that Constitution was advocating a  Unitary form of government while America is a Federal form of government and that for him doesn’t really make sense. He knew that a Unitary form of government would bring “war” to Lanao and Mindanao. And we now know he was right.  He was one man against 201 other delegates-but he stood his ground and his convictions. His life is an example of one man fighting against a system of corruption and lack of respect for the culture of the people- specially the minority. Cabili is called the “Hero of the Undivided Lanao”.

He was the only delegate to the Constitutional Convention who did not sign the Constitution, which was formally ratified on February 8, 1935. He thundered his refusal on even reasons:

  1. That it carries no provision to promote the progress of the non-Christians as provided in Article XII, Section 5 of the proposed draft;
  2. That it places too much power in the Executive Department, which might inspire the establishment of a dictatorial government;
  3. That it carries no provision for municipal and provincial autonomy;
  4. That it might encourage communism because of the allowance given to the government to appropriate and substitute landed estates;
  5. That the safeguards provided against the acquisition of agricultural lands by the foreigners are not sufficient;
  6. That there is no provision made for the nationalization of the retail trade; and
  7. That there was too much intervention from outside, especially from President Quezon in the drafting of the Constitution.


Here is a beautiful story from a friend Arnold “Aji” Garbanzos, whose work was qouted by Jun Macarambon of the Moro Herald in December 2015

The Lanao Provinces: The Birthplace of Federalism in the Philippines

By Arnold “Aji” Garbanzos

In 1920, 120 Sultans and 30 Datus belonging to the Pat Pangampong Ranao (the Confederation of Sultanates of Lanao) wrote the United States President requesting that should the U.S. government eventually make the Philippines a Commonwealth and then a Republic, Lanao as a Province choses not to be part of it. They still would like to be part of the US – perhaps as a State or a Protectorate. The reason behind this strange request is very simple – the Pat Pangampong Ranao is fully aware that the eventual Philippine Republic to be formed at that time would be a Unitary set-up, something which the Confederation does not like, since the Confederation is a Federal set-up and only a Federal Government like the United State of America could understand another Federal government, hence the request.

Another option which they presented (should the US reject the first option) was that the Sultanates be considered a separate Nation from the Philippines, to be known as the Bangsamoro-again for obvious reasons-they want to be a Federal Nation not a Unitary one. This is because the Pangampong Ranao had a highly decentralized form of government unlike the Sulu and Maguindanao Sultanates.

As history will show such requests has been denied. Much to the frustration of the Lanao Confederation. The move of the Pangampong was known as the “Dansalan Declaration”.

In 1935, Iligan City, was the only city in the country which did not sign the 1935 Constitution. The reason behind this is because our Lone Delegate to the 1935 Constitutional Assembly, Senator Tomas Lluisma Cabili, wanted a Federal set-up for our country while the rest of the other 221 delegates wanted a Unitary set-up-which was largely championed by then Senate President Manuel L. Quezon.

National Defense Secretary Tomas Cabili died along with President Ramon Magsaysay and 23 others on a plane crash on March 17, 1957 at Mount Manunggal in Balamban, Cebu.


Tomas Cabili thundered his opposition to a Unitary set up-on several grounds- that it would make Malacanang very powerful and therefore become dictatorial, he knew that a Unitary set-up would dissipate the economic advantages of Iligan and the Lanao provinces-which is the source of abundant water and power and that the 1935 Constitution only protected the rights of the Christian majority but not the Muslims and the Lumads-it showed no respect for their culture and values as a people.

Tomas Cabili argued for almost half a day in the august assembly, citing that since the envisioned 1935 Constitution was patterned after America, then we should be a Federal set-up-a position which was turned down by the majority.  For him human dignity can only come when there is subsidiarity-a time honored principle of the Catholic faith.

His parting words to the assembly after he argued his case was very prophetic:

“Gentlemen of this august constitutional assembly, Mr. Senate President…. if you make this Government and this Constitution a Unitary set-up-there will be war in Mindanao!”

And that was 1935.

Tomas Cabili was a student and an honored member of the Pat Pangampong Ranao, where he was proudly enthroned by the Maranao Tribe as Sultan Dimasangkay or the Great Sultan.

Today we have proven that the wisdom of the Lone delegate from Lanao is true.

And the rest is history.

Truly the seeds of Federalism was born in Lanao. This Nation should have listened to Iligan and Lanao.


23 March 1935: Seated, left to right: George H. Dern, Secretary of War; President Franklin D. Roosevelt, signing the Constitution of the Commonwealth of the Philippines; Manuel L. Quezon, President, Philippine Senate


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