Philippine Rebels and Moro People

Philippine islands are inhabited by number of different ethnic groups, most of which have been converted to Christianity, and adopted many foreign elements of culture. These ethnic groups include the Cebuano, Ilocano, Pangasinense, Kapampangan, Tagalog, Bicolano, and Waray. Then, there are indigenous groups who practice Islam, who were called Moros by the Spanish.

The Moro people are the indigenous Muslims in the Philippines, forming the largest non-Christian group there, and comprising about 5% of the total Philippine population. The Moro people mostly live in Mindanao and other parts of the southern Philippines. The area where settlements of Moro people (Muslim Filipinos) existed is called the Bangsamoro region.

They have been subject to continous migration and that is why they are found in all cities of Philippines such as Manila, Cebu and Davao City. In the last half of the 20th century, many Moros have emigrated to Malaysia, Indonesia and Brunei.

Prior to the coming of Spaniards in 1521, Islam flourished for two centuries when the Muslim missionaries started arriving there from the 13th century onwards. Islam was introduced in 1457 and this led to creation of sultanates over there. Philippines became part of the Spanish Empire in 1565. The Spanish invaders were actively resisted by the sultanates. They kept themselves relatively independent and were able to develop an Islamic culture and identity, different from the rest of the Christianized natives which the Spaniards called “Indios” (Indians).

The conflict was inevitable between the Spaniards and Moros, and the later decided to challenge the Spanish government, by violent methods. They began conducting raids on Christian coastal towns .The Spanish-Moro Conflict lasted over several hundred years and included multiple wars between the Moros and Spanish.

After the Spanish–American War in 1898, under the Treaty of Paris, Spain gave the Philippine Islands to United States and this was followed by the conflict between the Moro revolutionary groups and the United States military.

After gaining independence from the United States, the Moro population, which was isolated from the mainstream by their leaders, experienced discrimination by the Philippine government, including the notion at the Philippine government was a de facto Roman Catholic state, which gave rise to armed secession movements.

Modern day Islamic Insurgency in the Philippines

The Government had made some efforts between 1960s and 1980s, whereby it envisioned a new country in which Christians and Muslims would be assimilated into the dominant culture. This vision, however, was generally rejected by both the groups.

Because of this, the government realized that there was a need for a specialized agency to deal with the Muslim community, so they set up the Commission for National Integration in the 1960s, which was later replaced by the Office of Muslim Affairs, and Cultural Communities.

The Government made some concessions to the Muslims after the creation of these agencies, with the Moro population receiving exemptions from national laws prohibiting polygamy and divorce. I

n 1977, the Philippine government attempted to move a step further by harmonizing Muslim customary law with the national law. Unfortunately, most of these achievements were seen as superficial. The Muslims, still dissatisfied with the past Philippine governments’ corrupt policies and mis-understanding established the Moro National Liberation Front led by Nur Misuari with the intention of creating their independent homeland. This initiated the Islamic Insurgency in the Philippines.

Rise of MNLF and MILF

The Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) was formed in the 1960s following the Jabidah massacre to achieve greater Bangsamoro autonomy in the southern Philippines. The MNLF took part in terrorist attacks and assassinations to achieve their goals. The government in Manila sent troops into the southern Philippines to control the insurgency.

In 1976, Libyan politician Muammar Gaddafi had brokered a negotiation between the Philippine government and MNLF Leader Nur Misuari which led to the signing of the MNLF-GRPH Tripoli Agreement of 1976 wherein the MNLF accepted the Philippine government’s offer of semi-autonomy of the regions in dispute. However, this agreement brought a serious rift in MNLF leadership, leading to the formation of a breakaway group in 1977 by Hashim Salamat and 57 MNLF officers.

The group was initially known as “The New Leadership”. Misuari expelled Salamat in December 1977, after which Salamat moved his new organization first to Cairo Egypt and then, in 1980, to Lahore, Pakistan, where it engaged in diplomatic activities. This organization was formally established in 1984 as the Moro Islamic Liberation Front(MILF).

Muammar Gaddafi became a longstanding supporter of the MILF after its emergence. In January 1987, the MNLF accepted the Philippine government’s offer of semi-autonomy of the regions in dispute, subsequently leading to the establishment of the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao. The MILF, however, refused to accept this offer and continued their insurgency operations.

A general cessation of hostilities between the government in Manila and the MILF was signed in July 1997 but this agreement was abolished in 2000 by the Philippine Army under the administration of Philippine President Joseph Estrada.

In response, the MILF declared a jihad (strived and struggled) against the government, its citizens and supporters. Under President Gloria Arroyo, the government entered into a cease-fire agreement with the MILF and resumed peace talks. Despite peace negotiations and the cease-fire agreement, the MILF attacked government troops in Maguindanao province in 2005.

In March 2007, the Philippine government offered to recognize the right of self-determination for the Moro people which it had never done in three decades of conflict. In spite of this, numerous clashes erupted between the Philippine Army and the rebel groups.

Since 2001, the Philippines and the United States have been on a campaign to battle this insurgency, known as War on Terror. To combat the insurgency, the United States and the Philippines conducted the Operation Enduring Freedom – Philippines, a part of the worldwide campaign against terrorism known as Operation Enduring Freedom.

During the term of present President Benigno Aquino III from 2010, a series of peace talks for the cessation of hostilities was held, including the meeting of MILF Chair Al Haj Murad Ebrahim in Tokyo, Japan which was lauded on both sides.

Current Status

Recently in October 2012, Philippines government signed a historic pact with MILF. President Benigno Aquino and Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) chief Murad Ebrahim witnessed the signing of the accord, which aims for a final peace pact by 2016, in a landmark ceremony at the presidential palace in Manila.

Under the plan, the 12,000-strong MILF would give up its quest for an independent homeland in the southern Philippine region of Mindanao in return for significant power and wealth sharing in a new autonomous region there. The new autonomous region would be named Bangsamoro.

The draft agreement would give the leaders of Bangsamoro more political and economic powers, and provides for the gradual transfer of law enforcement from the army to the Bangsamoro police in a “phased and gradual manner”. The framework also promises the people a “just and equitable share” of the region’s abundant natural resources, and pledges to address the needs of poverty-stricken communities.