Moro insurgency in the Philippines

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This article is about the insurgency of 1969–2015. For the insurgency of 1899–1913, see Moro Rebellion. For the pre-1899 conflict, see Spanish–Moro conflict.
Moro insurgency in the Philippines
Part of the Cold War, the War on Terror, and
the Civil conflict in the Philippines
PMC BAlikatan Exercise.jpg
MILF militant lying prone.jpg
Above: Filipino and US Troops during the PMC Balikatan Exercise
Below: A member of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front training with a light machine gun.
Date March 29, 1969 (1969-03-29) – ongoing
Location Philippines (mainly in Mindanao)
Status Ongoing
Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao formed in August 1, 1989


Supported by:
 United States (advisors)[1]
 Malaysia (since 2001)[3][4][5][6]

Moro National Liberation Front[8]
Moro Islamic Liberation Front (until 2014)
Ampatuan militias[9]

Former support:
 Egypt (to MILF)[7]
Libya Libya (to MNLF)[10][11][12][13]
 Malaysia (to MNLF and MILF)[14][15]
Free Aceh Movement

Rajah Sulaiman Movement
Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant Khalifa Islamiyah Mindanao[16]

Other MILF rogue factions

  • Justice for Islamic Movement

 Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant[18]

Supported by:
  14K Triad (to ASG)[22][23]
Commanders and leaders
Philippines Ferdinand Marcos (1969–1986)
Philippines Corazon Aquino (1986–1992)
Philippines Fidel V. Ramos (1992–1998)
Philippines Joseph Estrada (1998–2001)
Philippines Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo (2001–2010)
Philippines Benigno Aquino III (2010–present)
Nur Misuari
Habier Malik
Muslimin Sema
Habib Mujahab Hashim
Abul Khayr Alonto
Murad Ibrahim
Hashim Salamat

Khadaffy Janjalani
Galib Andang
Ameril Umbra Kato

Isnilon Totoni Hapilon [19][24]
125,000 soldiers[25](2012) Unknown
  • Abu Sayyaf: 300[26] (2014)
Casualties and losses
Casualties for Operation Enduring Freedom: 2002–2010: 572 Filipino soldiers[27]
18 American soldiers[28]
(since 2002)
Unknown Unknown
Special Action Force was establishes 1983, "operators undergo CQB training wearing respirators".

The Moro Insurgency in the Philippines is an ongoing insurgency in the predominantly-Muslim Southern Philippines. In 1969, political tensions and open hostilities developed between the Government of the Philippines and Moro Muslim rebel groups.[29] The Moro Insurgency was triggered by the Jabidah massacre, which saw the killing of 60 Filipino Muslim commandos who were to be used for a planned operation to reclaim the Malaysian state of Sabah. In response, the University of the Philippines professor Nur Misuari established the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), an armed insurgent group that was committed to establishing an independent Mindanao. Over the successive years, the MNLF splintered into several different groups including the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), which wanted to establish an Islamic state within the Philippines. The Moro Insurgency is rooted in a long history of resistance by the Bangsamoro people against foreign rule, dating back to the American annexation of the Philippines in 1899. Since then, Moro resistance has persisted against the Philippines central government in Manila.

Casualty statistics vary for the conflict however the conservative estimates of the Uppsala Conflict Data Program indicate that at least 6,015 people were killed in armed conflict between the Government of Philippines and ASG, BIFM, MILF, and MNLF factions between 1989 and 2012.[30]


The Moros had a history of resistance against Spanish, American, and Japanese rule for 400 years. The origin of the war between the Moros and Filipinos started during the Spanish colonization of the Philippines. During the Spanish–Moro conflict, Spain repeatedly tried to conquer the Moro Sultanate of Sulu, Sultanate of Maguindanao, and the Confederation of sultanates in Lanao. The violent armed struggle against the Japanese, Filipinos, Spanish, and Americans is considered by current Moro Muslim leaders as part of the four centuries long "national liberation movement" of the Bangsamoro (Moro Nation).[31] The 400-year-long resistance against the Japanese, Americans, and Spanish by the Moro Muslims persisted and morphed into their current war for independence against the Philippine state.[32]

Following the Spanish-American War in 1898, another conflict sparked in southern Philippines between the revolutionary Muslims in the Philippines and the United States Military that took place between 1899 and 1913. Filipinos opposed foreign rule from the United States that claimed the Philippines as their territory. On August 14, 1898, after defeating Spanish forces, the United States had established a military government in the Philippines under General Wesley Merritt as Military Governor.[33] American forces took control from the Spanish government in Jolo on May 18, 1899, and at Zamboanga in December 1899.[34] Brigadier General John C. Bates was sent to negotiate a treaty with the Sultan of Sulu, Jamalul Kiram II. Kiram was disappointed knowing that the American forces would take over since he expected to regain sovereignty after the defeat of Spanish forces in the archipelago. Bates' main goal was to guarantee Moro neutrality in the Philippine-American War, and to establish order in the southern Philippines. After some negotiation, the Bates Treaty was signed which was based on an earlier Spanish treaty. The Bates Treaty did ensure the neutrality of the Muslims in the south but it was actually set up to buy time for the Americans until the war in the north ended.

On March 20, 1900, General Bates was replaced by Brigadier General William August Kobbé and the District of Mindanao-Jolo was upgraded to a full department. American forces in Mindanao were reinforced and hostilities with the Moro people lessened although there are reports of Americans and other civilians being attacked and slain by Moros.

Insurrection began in 1900 and lasted for a year. The American forces then move push inside the settles of Moro people. Kobbé was replaced by George Whitefield Davis as the commander of the Department of Mindanao-Jolo and put up better relationships with the Moro people.

It continued for more than three decades which resulted in significant loss of life.[citation needed] Military governors were appointed by the United States to ensure peace and stability within the region. The conflict ended at the term of Major General John J. Pershing, the third and final military governor of Moro Province, although major resistance continued in Bud Dajo and Mount Bagsak in Jolo.

Repeated rebellions by the Moros against American rule continued to break out even after the main Moro Rebellion ended, right up to the Japanese occupation of the Philippines during World War II. During the Japanese invasion of the Philippines, the Moros waged an insurgency against the Japanese on Mindanao and Sulu until the Japanese were defeated and driven out.


Marcos (1969–1986)[edit]

Under President Ferdinand Marcos, 68 Filipino Muslim military trainees were murdered in Corregidor allegedly by soldiers of the Armed Forces of the Philippines.[35][36] The trainees were believed to be a part of an upcoming rebellion.[36] By then, University of the Philippines professor Nur Misuari formed the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) to condemn the killings of the 68 Filipino Muslims and to seek the establishment of a Bangsamoro nation through force of arms.[36]

Mindanao, the home of the Moro Muslims, is rich in natural resources and minerals. The American colonial government and subsequently the Philippine government followed a policy of demographic swamping by settling massive amounts of Filipino Christian settlers from the Visayan islands and Luzon onto Moro Muslim lands in Mindanao. The policy resulted in a massive wave of Filipino Christians settling on Mindanao where the population of Filipino Christian settlers now outnumbers the native Moro Muslims by the millions. This was an additional factor in aggravating conflicts between the native Moro Muslims and Filipino Christian settlers as disputes over land increased. Another complaint of the Moros is the extraction of Mindanao's natural resources and wealth by the central government while the Moro population live in mass poverty.

In 1969, the MNLF waged armed conflict against the Philippine government.[36] During one of the fierce battles of the insurgency in 1974, Jolo was burned down and news of the tragedy galvanized other Muslims around the world to pay greater attention to the conflict. Over 10,000 Moro and Chinese civilians were killed by the Philippine Armed Forces when they burned Jolo to the ground. Two years later, the Philippine government and the MNLF signed the Tripoli Agreement, declaring ceasefire on both sides. Within the agreement provided that Mindanao would remain a part of the Philippines but 13 of its provinces would be under the autonomous government for the Bangsamoro people.[36] President Marcos went against the agreement and violence ensued.

The Philippine government encouraged Filipino Christian settlers in Mindanao to form militias called Ilaga to fight the Moros. The Ilaga engaged in massacres and atrocities and were responsible for Manili massacre of 65 Moro Muslim civilians in a Mosque on June 1971, including women and children. The Ilaga also engaged in cannibalism, cutting off the body parts of their victims to eat in rituals.

Other massacres committed by the Philippine armed forces against Moro civilians include the November 1971 Tacub massacre, 1974 Malisbong massacre, October 1977 Patikul massacre, February 1981 Pata Island massacre.[37][38][39][40][41][42]

On September 24, 1974, in the Malisbong massacre the Armed Forces of the Philippines slaughtered 1,766 Moro Muslim civilians who were praying at a Mosque in addition to mass raping Moro girls who had been taken aboard a boat.

In 1977, Shiekh Salamat Hashim established the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), a splinter group of the MNLF seeking to establish an Islamic state.[43] Conflicts between these rebel groups and the Armed Forces of the Philippines would continue until the end of the regime of President Marcos.

C. Aquino and Ramos (1986–1998)[edit]

The CMC Cruiser as shown in an AFP Anniversary parade in 1997.

Earlier in her term, President Corazon Aquino arranged a meeting with MNLF chairman Nur Misuari and several MNLF rebel groups in Sulu, which paved the way for a series of negotiations. In 1989, the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) was created under Republic Act No. 6734 or the ARMM Organic Act, pursuant to the 1987 Constitution.[44]

In 1991, Abdurajak Janjalani, a former teacher who studied Islam in the Middle East, formed the Abu Sayyaf Group after reportedly meeting Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan in the 1980s. Janjalani recruited former members of the MNLF for the more radical and theocratic Abu Sayyaf.[36]

Under the Presidency of Fidel V. Ramos, several negotiations and peace talks[29] were held and the ARMM was solidified and was to have its own geopolitical system.[36]

The North Cotabato conflict (2000)[edit]


1000 MILF rebels under the command of Umbra Kato have seized control of thirty five villages in the North Cotabato province. 2000 Philippine troops with helicopters and artillery were sent in to the seized area on August 9 to liberate it from the rebels. The MILF had wanted North Cotabato to be included in the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao. The government and MILF had been negotiating for the inclusion of the province in the Muslim Autonomous Region but the Supreme Court had struck down the proposal after hearing concern from local Christian leaders in the region.


The rebel troops were ordered to leave the area by their commanders but the contingents under Kato refused to leave the villages they had occupied and instead dug in. The Philippine Army responded on August 9 by bombarding them. The next day, the government forces moved to retake the villages recapturing two of them from the rebels.[45][46]

Estrada and Arroyo (1998–2010)[edit]

Political map of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).

During his term President Joseph Ejercito Estrada he declared an "all-out war" against the MILF on March 21, 2000 although a series of negotiations for cessation of hostilities were held.[43] Apparently, several conflicts in and around Mindanao erupted and clashes between the Philippine Military and the rebel groups resulted in massive loss of lives.

During his term, these rebel groups kidnapped three Italian priests, two were later released and one was shot dead;[47][48] seized the municipal hall of Talayan, Maguindanao and Kauswagan, Lanao del Norte; the bombing of the ferry Our Lady of Mediatrix at Ozamiz; and the takeover of Narciso Ramos Highway. All these incidents resulted in massive loss of investments abroad, especially in the area of Mindanao.

M101 howitzer was widely use as the artillery in the operation against the Moro insurgencies in Mindanao.

As a result, the Armed Forces of the Philippines launched a successful campaign against these rebel groups and 43 minor camps, 13 major camps including the MILF headquarters, and Camp Abubakar[49] fell. MILF suffered heavy losses and the head of MILF, Sheikh Salamat Hashim, fled the country and sought refuge in Malaysia. On October 5, 2000, 609 rebels surrendered in Cagayan de Oro, along with renegade town mayor Mulapandi Cosain Sarip.[50] These was followed by another massive surrender of 855 rebels on December 29, 2000. President Joseph Ejercito Estrada then ordered that the Philippine flag be raised in Mindanao which symbolized victory. It was raised on July 9, 2000 near a Madh'hab and again the next day along with President Joseph Ejercito Estrada, which held a feast inside a classroom just meters away from a mosque.[49]

As a result, several Islamic rebel groups retaliated, bombing several key locations within the National Capital Region on December 30, 2000. It resulted in 22 deaths and hundreds of people injured. Saifullah Yunos, one of the perpetrators was arrested in Cagayan de Oro as he was about to board a plane bound to Manila in May 2003.[51] In 2004, two members of the Jemaah Islamiyah were arrested, namely Mamasao Naga and Abdul Pata as they were identified by Fathur Rahman al-Ghozi as responsible for the train bombing.[52] al-Ghozi was also arrested, but was later killed in a firefight when he tried to escape the prison on October 13, 2003.

On May 27, 2001, the Abu Sayyaf seized twenty hostages from an upscale resort in Palawan. Four of the hostages managed to escape.[53] The kidnapping group composed of 40 gunmen then seized the Dr. Jose Torres Memorial Hospital and St. Peter's Church compound in the town of Lamitan in Basilan[54] and claimed to have taken captive 200 people although 20 people were confirmed to be taken captive inside the hospital, including the staff and the patients.[55][56]

There was a crossfire between the Army and the Abu Sayyaf rebels in Lamitan following the takeover of Dr. Jose Torres Memorial Hospital which resulted in the deaths of 12 soldiers, including the army captain.[56] Up to 22 soldiers were reportedly to have been killed in an effort to rescue the hostages.

Five more captives escaped during the battle at Lamitan. Two of the captives were killed prior to the siege in Lamitan, including the beheading of one.[53] The Abu Sayyaf then conducted series of raids, including one at a coconut plantation[57] where the rebel groups hacked the heads of two men using bolo knives. The owners and a security guard was also held captive and the rebel groups burnt down two buildings, including a chapel a week after the battle in Lamitan.[57] Another raid was conducted in August 2, 2001 on Barangay Balobo in Lamitan, Basilan. After three days, the Philippine Army rescued numerous hostages[58] after they overtook the hideout of the militants where 11 bodies were found beheaded.[59] Other hostages were either released or had escaped.[58]

On June 13, 2001, the number of hostages was calculated at around 28 as three more people were found beheaded in Basilan,[60] including that of Guillermo Sobero.[61] They were beheaded since the Philippine Army would not halt the rescue operation.[61]

The Burhams were still on the group of 14 still held captive according to three hostages who escaped on October 2001.[61] On June 7, 2002, after a year of being held captive, a rescue mission was conducted and resulted in the deaths of Martin Burnham and a nurse named Ediborah Yap[62] after being caught in the crossfire. Martin was killed by three gunshots in the chest while Gracia was wounded in her right leg. By this time Nur Misuari ordered his supporters to attack government targets to prevent the holding of elections on ARMM on November 2001, ushering his exit as the governor of the region.[36] Misuari would be later arrested in 2007 in Malaysia and was deported back to the Philippines for trial.[36]

On July 2004, Gracia Burnham testified at a trial of eight Abu Sayyaf members and identified six of the suspects as being her erstwhile captors, including Alhamzer Limbong, Abdul Azan Diamla, Abu Khari Moctar, Bas Ishmael, Alzen Jandul and Dazid Baize. Fourteen Abu Sayyaf members were sentenced to life imprisonment while four were acquitted. Alhamzer Limbong was later killed in a prison uprising.[63]

These rebel groups, especially the Abu Sayyaf conducted several terror attacks, namely the bombings at Zamboanga in October 2002; the bombing of SuperFerry 14 on February 2004; the simultaneous bombings in Central Mindanao on October 2006; the beheadings of several Philippine Marines on July 2007; the Batasang Pambansa bombing on November 2007; and the 2009 bombings in Mindanao.

Numerous clashes erupted between the Philippine Army and the rebel groups, such as the clash on June 14, 2009 that killed 10 rebels.[64]

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,[65] a part of the worldwide campaign against terrorism known as Operation Enduring Freedom.

Benigno Aquino III (2010–present)[edit]

In 2013, two main camps of the Abu Sayyaf group were overrun by forces of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) in its latest offensive in Patikul.[66] According to MNLF leader Nur Misuari, the MNLF offensive against the Abu Sayyaf is because of the MNLF opposition to the Abu Sayyafs human rights abuses which goes against Islam.

During the term of President Benigno Aquino III, a series of peace talks for the cessation of hostilities was held, including the meeting of MILF Chair Al Haj Murad Ibrahim in Tokyo, Japan which was lauded on both sides.[36] Norway also joined the International Monitoring Team (IMT) on January 2011, overseeing the ceasefire agreement between the government and MILF on Mindanao. Despite the peace talks, a series of conflicts erupted. on September 10, 2011, Jal Idris, a hardcore member of Abu Sayyaf, was arrested by government forces after a crossfire between the Philippine Army and the rebel group[67] The Armed Forces of the Philippines also killed three Abu Sayyaf militants in a stand-off[68] the following day after the arrest of Jal Idris.

Terrorism continued throughout President Benigno's term, notable cases include when 4 merchants and a guide were killed by Abu Sayyaf bandits in January 2011.[69] and later a soldier who was killed in a clash against the rebels.[70] In August 2011, rebel factions attacked a village in Sulu, killing 7 Marines and taking 7 civilians captive. They later freed 2 of the hostages after a ransom was paid.[71] Also, several areas of Mindanao were bombed in August by the government, and a Filipino businesswoman was abducted in September 2011[72] who was later freed after the three gunmen were gunned down by the Armed Forces of the Philippines.[73]

On October 20, 2011, the MILF was blamed for an attack on 40 government soldiers in the province of Basilan, which lead to the deaths of 19 soldiers and 6 MILF fighters.[74] This thereby violated the ceasefire agreement between the government and MILF. This caused outrage in the government, which lead to the continuation of the war against terrorism in the country.

On the website of the Moro National Liberation Front, Nur Misuari declared its support for China against the Philippines, in the South China Sea dispute, calling both China and the Moro people as victims of Philippine colonialism, and noting China's history of friendly relations with the Moros.[75] The MNLF website also denounced America's assistance to the Philippines in their colonization of the Moro people in addition to denouncing the Philippines claims to the islands disputed with China, and denouncing America for siding with the Philippines in the dispute, noting that in 1988 China "punished" Vietnam for attempting to set up a military presence on the disputed islands. The website also pointed out that the Moros and China maintained peaceful relations, while on the other hand the Moros had to resist other colonial powers, having to fight the Spanish, fight the Americans, and fight the Japanese, in addition to fighting the Philippines.[76]

A GKN Simba used by the Philippine Army in various military operations against rebels.

The Zamboanga City crisis erupted on September 9, 2013, when a MNLF faction known by other groups as the Rogue MNLF Elements (RME), under the Sulu State Revolutionary Command (SSRC), led by Ustadz Habier Malik and Khaid Ajibon attempted to raise the flag of the self-proclaimed Bangsamoro Republik at Zamboanga City Hall (which had earlier declared its independence on August 12, 2013 in Talipao, Sulu), and took civilians hostage. This armed incursion was met by the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the Philippine National Police (PNP), which sought to free the hostages and expel the MNLF from the city. The standoff degenerated into urban warfare, and had brought parts of the city under a standstill for days. On September 28, the government declared the end of military operations in Zamboanga City after successfully defeating the MNLF and rescuing all the hostages.

On January 24, 2014, the Philippines government chief negotiator Miriam Coronel Ferer and MILF chief negotiator Mohagher Iqbal signed a peace agreement in Kuala Lumpur. The agreement would pave the way for the creation of the new Muslim autonomous entity called "Bangsamoro" under a law to be approved by the Philippine Congress.[77] The government aims to set up the region by 2016. The agreement calls for Muslim self-rule in parts of the southern Philippines in exchange for a deactivation of rebel forces by the MILF. MILF forces would turn over their firearms to a third party to be selected by the MILF and the Philippine government. A regional police force would be established, and the Philippine military would reduce the presence of troops and help disband private armies in the area.[78]

On July 23, 2014, Abu Sayyaf leader Isnilon Hapilon swore loyalty to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in a video, along with the rest of the organization, giving ISIL a presence in the Philippines.[19][20] In September 2014, the group began kidnapping people to ransom, in the name of ISIL.[79]

On January 25, 2015, Philippine National Police's SAF conducted an operation to capture Basit Usman and Marwan in Mamasapano, Maguindanao. They were trapped between MILF's 105th Base Command, BIFF, and several armed groups. 44 SAF members were killed, but they were able to eliminate Marwan.

On February, the MILF and BIFF fought for territory in the boundaries of Maguindanao and North Cotabato.

In mid-February, the Philippine Army along with the Philippine Marines, declared a state of all-out war against the BIFF. MILF forces were pulled out to prevent them from falling victim to the fighting.

See also[edit]


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