Rebel & Separatist Groups of the Southern Philippines
by Liezl Martija
National Liberation Front
Islamic Liberation Front
Other Related Resources
Modules for Teachers
This lesson is aimed at providing students
with a thorough understanding of groups such as the Abu Sayyaf, Moro National Liberation
Front, the New Peoples Army and their role in the southern Philippines. It will also
address current conflicts between such groups with the Philippine government, and other
intervening nations. In addition, it will discuss the focus on groups such as these since
the September 11th tragedy.
Brief History of the Moro Struggle
What is Moro?
Moros is a Spanish term given to the Muslim community in the
Philippines. The struggle of the Moros can be broken down into three phases:
Back to top
- Moros vs. Spanish Colonization
- Moros vs. American Imperialism
- Moros vs. Philippine Industrialization
(i.) Around 1280 A.D., before Spanish settlement in the
Philippines, commercial expansion between China and Arab lands brought about the presence
of Muslim traders to southern region of the PhilippinesMindanao and the Sulu
Archipelago. Thus, the Islamic teachings expanded to these parts of the islands as well.
Then, in 1521, Ferdinand Magellan, a Portuguese navigator,
lands and claims the Philippines for Spain. For more than 300 years, the Spanish ruled
over islands of the Philippines, especially Luzon and the Visayas. However, colonists
failed to conquer Muslim areas in the South. During Spanish rule, there has been movements
and continued resistance against colonization among the Moros. Ever since those times,
tension has existed and grown between the Muslim and Christian communities in the Southern
These days, the war in Mindanao should not be
called a "holy war," for it is anything but. It is not a matter of religion, but
a matter of political agenda between a community of minorities and government control.
Moro National Liberation Front
- Abul Khayr Alonto and Jallaludin Santos, two activists during
the BangsaMoro Movement, conceptualized the idea of the Moro National Liberation Front.
Under the direction of Nur Misuari, the MNLF came out into the open and claimed leadership
of the Moro secessionist movement in 1972.
- Although they have served as armed Islamic resistance in the
past, the MNLF made peace with the Philippine government in 1996. The peace agreement
established Muslim Mindanao as an autonomous region and gave the MNLF slight political
power. However, groups that split from the MNLF, such as the Moro Islamic Liberation Front
and the Abu Sayyaf, are currently active today.
Back to top
Moro Islamic Liberation Front
- The Moro Islamic Liberation Front was established in 1980.
They split from the MNLF because many felt the leadership of the MNLF was beginning to
shift towards Marxism, rather than maintaining Islamic views.
- Objectives of the MILF (according to morojihad.com): This
organization has several programs and activities in order to become self-reliant,
militarily, politically, and economicallyall for the purpose of achieving its main
objective: Establish an Islamic State and government.
- The Philippine government views the Moro Islamic Liberation
Front like the other separatist groupsas a threat to peace and order in the Mindanao
region. A series of destructive battles took place between Philippine forces and the MILF.
Among the most publicized are the Battle of Malmar, Battle of Basilan, Battle of Rajamuda,
Battle of Buldon, Battle of Camp Umar and a week-long war that occurred towards the
end of January in 1999.
Back to top
- Abdurajak Janjalani, a former member of the Moro National
Liberation Front, meaning "Bearer of the Sword" in Arabic, organized the Abu
Sayyaf Group with the financial support of Jamal Khalifa, a Saudi businessman. After
Abdurajak Janjalani was killed in a conflict with Philippine Police in 1998, his brother
Khadafi took the main leadership position. Like the MNLF and MILF, the Abu Sayyaf is also
seeking a separate Islamic state for its Muslim community.
- The Abu Sayyafs extremist activities include bombings,
extortion, assassinations; but their kidnappings are what they are infamous for.
Throughout the past decade, ASG has engaged in several kidnappings of Americans and local
Filipino businesspeople as well as schoolchildren. They target mostly Westerners because
they tend to make for larger ransom payments. The ransom used in exchange for the
kidnapped has become a source of funding for the group, allowing them to purchase better
weaponry and attracting others to join this dangerous faction.
- The Philippines central government has been pursuing Abu
Sayyaf by sending thousands of soldiers to the southern islands of the Philippines.
However, they have not been successful in freeing ASGs hostages.
- The United States has always viewed the Abu Sayyaf as a
terrorist organization, and since the September 11th attacks in New York, the
U.S. has sent over 500 troops overseas to assist Philippine soldiers in the pursuit of the
Abu Sayyaf. However, many residents of these regions are not happy with the presence of
In an article, one local stated, "They shouldnt be allowed here. Many of us in
Basilan are against it." He also added, "Its important that they
dont make the wrong move. Many people are just waiting to pick a fight with them
because so many are against them."
Back to top
New Peoples Army
- The development of the New Peoples Army came about in
1969 under the direction of Jose Sison, former editor of the journal, Progressive Review.
This guerilla group is the military wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP).
- Like several of the other separatist groups, the New
Peoples Army disapproves of U.S. military presence on the Philippine Islands. In
December 2001, the U.S. State Department has added the NPA to its list of terrorist
groups; however, unlike the Abu Sayyaf, the New Peoples Army has not been recognized
as a major threat to the U.S. since the September 11th incident.
Back to top
Back to top
Jubair, Salah. "A Nation Under Endless Tyranny"
Lt. General Ismael Villareal, "Conflict Resolution in
Pike, John. "Moro National Liberation Front" <http://www.fas.org/irp/world/para/mnlf.htm>,
Macaraig, Twink. "U.S. Troops in Basilan Raise Fears of
Wider Armed Conflict" <http://cna.mediacorpnews.com/articles/2002/02/20/southeastasia21517.htm>
Butler, Amir. "An Enduring Freedom for the Moros"
Williams, Michael C. "FOCUS ON PROF. JOSE MARIA
Other Related Resources:
Katherine G. Adraneda, "Human rights activists to GMA: Please stop Basilan
siege," Cyberdyaryo (October 11, 2001).
T.J.S. George, Revolt in Mindanao: The Rise of Islam in Philippine Politics
(Kuala Lumpur: Oxford University Press, 1980).
Eric U. Gutierrez, The Re-imagination of the Bangsa Moro: 30 Years Hence,
Institute for Popular Democracy (Manila, Philippines).
Salah Jubair, A Nation Under Endless Tyranny (Lahore: Islamic Research
Academy Mansoorah, 1997).
Cesar A. Majul, "The Iranian Revolution and the Muslims in the
Philippines", in John L. Esposito (ed.), The Iranian Revolution: Its Global Impact
(Florida International University Press: 1990), pp. 262-263.
Cesar A. Majul, The Contemporary Muslim Movement in the Philippines
(Berkeley: Mizan Press, 1985).
Thomas M. McKenna, Muslim Rulers and Rebels: Everyday Politics and Armed
Separatism in the Southern Philippines (Berkeley: UC Press, 1998).
Marites Vitug and Glenda M. Gloria, Under the Crescent Moon: Rebellion in
Mindanao (Manila: Ateneo Center for Social Policy and Public Affairs and Institute for
Popular Democracy, 2000).
Back to top