Conflict in Mindanao
Brief history of the conflict in southern Philippines and the reasons behind it.
Last Modified: 15 Oct 2012 08:03

Who are the Moro?

The Moro are Filipino Muslims and natives of southern Philippines. A former Spanish (and latterly American) colony, the Philippines has a population of nearly 100 million, about 80 per cent of whom are Roman Catholic Christians, and about five per cent of whom are Muslim.

However, on the islands of Mindanao and Sulu, the Moro Muslims make up about 20 per cent of the population.

For centuries, minority Muslims in the Philippines have fought colonial rulers, and many are still fighting today, demanding autonomy from Manila.

What is the MILF?

The Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) is made up of Muslim people from their Bangsamoro homeland on Mindanao and neighbouring islands in southern Philippines.

The MILF formed as a breakaway group in 1977, when it split from the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), which had called for an independent Islamic state a decade previously.

Following the split, the MNLF subsequently entered into negotiations with the government and signed an agreement a decade later relinquishing its stated goal of independence.

But the 11,000-strong MILF, continue to fight for political autonomy and is one of four groups fighting for a separate Muslim state in the Southern Philippines.

Who are the other separatist groups?

Abu Sayyaf is an Islamist separatist group, which split from the MNLF in the early 1990s.

They are particularly active on Basilan island, although mainly known for kidnappings for ransom, they have also admitted responsibility for bombings, including an attack on a ferry in February 2004 that killed more than 100 passengers.

Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) aims to set up a pan-Islamic state, extending to other parts of southeast Asia.

JI was accused of involvement in planting the bomb in Bali in 2002 that killed more than 200 people. The MILF has been accused of having links with JI and al-Qaeda, but they strenuously deny this.

Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), the main separatist movement, reached an agreement in 1996 with the government of then-president Fidel Ramos, which provided for eventual autonomy for any of the Muslim areas that wanted it.

The New People's Army (NPA) is the armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines, waging a lengthy separatist rebellion in the countryside since 1969.

It operates in rural Luzon, Visayas and parts of Mindanao.

What has been the impact of the conflict in Mindanao?

Renewed fighting has displaced an estimated half a million people

More than 120,000 people, mainly civilians, have been killed since the hostilities began between the government and separatist rebels in 1972.

Millions of villagers have been displaced by the fighting. While the region is said to be rich in mineral resources, much of these remain unexploited due to the violent conflict, and there are high levels of poverty among the population, many of whom benefit from the support of aid agencies.

A little under half of the local population is said to live in poverty compared with a national figure of approximately 25 per cent. According to aid agency estimates, some 450,000 people have been displaced in renewed fighting since the collapse of a peace deal in August 2008.

Why have previous peace talks failed?

The MILF claims it has continuously observed a 2003 ceasefire although the Philippine government has attributed some attacks to the organisation.

The MILF denies any involvement and claim that the said bombings were committed by splinter groups not under its control.

In July 2008, the MILF and the Philippine government agreed to expand the existing Muslim autonomous region in the far south to include more than 700 villages.

The Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain paves the way for a final political settlement with the MILF, needed to be ratified in a vote to be held within 12 months.

In August secret talks were held between the government and the MILF held in Malaysia but negotiations later broke down over the proposed deal that was 11 years in the making.

The parties were supposed to sign a deal on August 5 that would have created an ancestral homeland for an estimated four million Muslims. But as a result of pressure from powerful local Christian politician and community leaders, the deal was squashed by a court order, and fighting resumed. The opponents, claiming the deal violated the constitution, objected to the size of the area and powers of a future government.

What has happened to the peace deal now?

In October 2008, the highest court in the Philippines threw out the deal declaring that it was illegal to give the MILF control over hundreds of towns and villages in southern Mindanao. The MILF said it planned to raise their case with the United Nations and Muslim countries.

On October 15, 2012, it was announced that an agreement had been reached with MILF giving up its demands for independence for more powers in the south.

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