Philippines-Mindanao (1971 – first combat deaths)

Updated: August 2014

The Conflict at a Glance

Who (are the main combatants): The Government of the Philippines, supported by the United States and various civilian militia groups, against particular Muslim separatist groups, including the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Movement/Fighters (BIFM/F), and the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG).

What (started the conflict): The goal of the MNLF and the MILF is to create an independent or separate Islamic state in the southern Philippines. However, disagreement on the specific outcome has led to tensions and splinter groups. While the government has engaged in peace talks with MNLF and MILF over the years, it has refused to talk with ASG, which is seen as basically criminal. Several attempts have been made to create a Muslim autonomous region. In January 2014, the government signed a peace deal with MILF to create an autonomous sub-state named Bangsamoro in southern Mindanao.

When (has fighting occurred): The MNLF is the original rebel group, founded in 1971 by Nur Misuari; a major peace agreement was signed between the government and the MNLF in 1996, paving the way for political participation. In 1981, the MILF, led by Salamat Hashim, split from the MNLF, with the goal of creating a separate Islamic state in the southern Philippines. After more than a decade of attempted peace talks, a comprehensive peace agreement between the government and the MILF was reached in 2011 and finalized at the end of 2013. The decades-long conflict claimed over 120,000 lives.

Where (has the conflict taken place): Ten per cent of the Philippine population is Muslim, with most living on the southern island of Mindanao and the smaller Sulu islands. ASG has strongholds in Jolo and Basilan. The fighting has largely taken place in and around central Mindanao.

Summary
Type of Conflict
Parties to the Conflict
Status of the Fighting
Number of Deaths
Political Developments
Background
Arms Sources

Economic Factors

Summary

2013 The level of violence increased significantly in 2013, with many attacks carried out by the MNLF, ASG and BIFM/F. In September, hundreds of militants besieged the city of Zamboanga, fighting Philippine forces for several weeks. Two hundred were killed and more than 100,000 displaced. Mid-term pre-election violence increased, with more than 70 candidates and supporters killed. At least 390 people died, including 26 soldiers and police, 311 rebels and 53 civilians. A peace agreement between the government and MILF was finalized at the beginning of 2014, paving the way for the establishment of the autonomous Bangsamoro region. Although other rebel groups opposed the deal, the government and the international community were optimistic that it was a substantial step toward resolving the conflict.

In early November, the central islands were hit by Typhoon Haiyan. By December, the death toll was estimated at more than 5,700. More than 11 million people were affected by the storm, 26,000 injured and 4 million displaced.

2012 An October peace agreement between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front created the Muslim autonomous region of Bangsamoro. MILF splinter group Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Movement opposed the plan and carried out attacks that left scores dead. One hundred sixty-nine people were killed, including at least 33 security forces personnel, 93 insurgents, and 11 civilians.

2011 Peace talks between MILF and the government began in Malaysia in August. October was the most violent month since 2008; attacks on both military and MILF bases, briefly stalled peace negotiations and displaced more than 20,000. Abu Sayyaf was linked to a number of high-ransom kidnappings of foreign nationals.

2010 The 2009 ceasefire signed by the government and Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) largely held; fatalities and incidents of violence declined significantly. An International Monitoring Team led by Malaysia arrived in Mindanao in March to oversee the ceasefire and monitor negotiations. Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III won a landslide victory in May presidential elections. Incumbent president Gloria Arroyo won a seat in congress. In June, MILF and the Aquino government signed a pledge to continue to work on the peace deal. In September, trials relating to the Maguindanao massacre began. In November, peace talks were delayed by a government request to replace Othman Razak as facilitator.

2009 Most fighting occurred in the south. Intense fighting between government forces and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) in the first half of the year displaced hundreds of thousands of civilians. In July, the government and MILF agreed to lay down arms and work toward the peace accord that had failed in 2008. Peace talks began on December 8 in Malaysia. The Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG), labelled a terrorist organization, continued to carry out bombings and kidnappings. More than 50 ASG rebels were killed during clashes with the military in the latter part of the year. The massacre of more than 50 political activists on November 23—believed to have been carried out by the powerful Ampatuan clan—unsettled the government of President Gloria Arroyo. The Ampatuans allegedly helped Arroyo win 2004 presidential elections.

2008 One day before its formal signing in August, Supreme Court intervention scuttled an agreement between the Philippine government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) that would have extended autonomy to regions within Mindanao. Rogue MILF commanders reacted by launching new offensives in the region. The government then retracted its support for the agreement, dismantled its peace panel, demanded disarmament and launched a series of reprisals. At least 300 people, including 104 civilians, were killed and approximately 610,000 civilians displaced. There was a resurgence of local, predominantly Christian militia groups, armed by the government.

2007 Fighting between the government and rebel groups killed hundreds. More than 100 civilians and politicians were killed prior to and during May elections. Peace talks between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) stalled  over demarcation of territory. Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) reemerged as a conflict player after 11 years of peace when the government demanded that they permanently disarm. More than 1,000 people were displaced from Mindanao. U.S. troops remained in the south, assisting in training the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and providing intelligence.

2006 Heavy fighting between the government and rebel groups killed between 200 and 300 and displaced thousands. Intermittent peace talks between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) took place.

2005 Peace talks between the government and Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) rebels led to a tentative agreement on a future semi-autonomous Muslim territory in Mindanao. The Philippine army launched a large-scale operation in February on Jolo Island against MILF and Abu Sayyaf rebels, killing many rebels and displacing civilians.

2004 Terrorist attacks and clashes between government forces and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) killed more than 125 people. Talks between the government and MILF rebels continued, partly to isolate more militant organizations. U.S. military assistance continued as part of the war on terror.

2003 Intense fighting between the government and the two main Islamic rebel groups — the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) — killed several hundred. Informal peace talks in Malaysia between the government and MILF began in November following a July ceasefire. Government forces continued to target the ASG and regional Islamic militant organization Jemaah Islamiyah (JI). U.S. military provided arms and training to the Philippine armed forces as part of the global war on terror.

2002 Intense fighting between government forces and rebel groups Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) left more than 800 dead. The United States provided the Philippine military with anti-terrorist training and U.S. military support.

2001 Fighting between government and rebel groups intensified even during peace negotiations. In November, a rebel faction abandoned a 1996 peace agreement and launched an attack against government troops. More than 1,000 people were killed.

2000 Tensions in Mindanao heightened significantly when the Philippine government mobilized more troops to counter rebel attacks. In March and April, foreign and local hostages were abducted and held for ransom by Abu Sayyaf rebels; most were eventually released. At least 600 civilians, rebels and government soldiers were killed in clashes, a sharp increase over 1999.

1999 Periodic clashes between government forces and Muslim rebels killed more than 100 in Mindanao.

1998 Sporadic clashes between government forces and rebel groups continued alongside government peace talks with the largest remaining Muslim separatist group.

1997 In spite of a government peace agreement with the largest Muslim insurgent group and a ceasefire and talks with separatist rebels, clashes continued.

1996 A peace agreement between the largest Muslim rebel group and the government did not prevent clashes between other Mindanao rebels and security forces.

1995 Government troops attacked Muslim rebels after raids on Mindanao towns were attributed to breakaway rebel factions.

Type of Conflict

State formation

Parties to the Conflict

1. Government of the Philippines: The government is led by President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III, who was elected in a landslide victory in May 2010 for a six-year term. Aquino vowed to continue peace talks with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), launched under former president Gloria Arroyo. Arroyo was elected to Congress in the 2010 elections. The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) has a force of approximately 120,000.

Supported by

2. The United States: Since 2002, the United States has had a significant military presence in the Philippines, training Philippine troops in counterterror operations. While there are indications that U.S. forces could become directly involved in the conflict, under the Philippine Constitution, the United States is permitted only to arm and train members of the Philippine Armed Forces.

3. Various civilian militia groups: Occasional players in the conflict, these groups developed in response to the heightened threat of MILF attacks on their villages. They include:

a. The Ilaga, a Christian militia group, said to have resurfaced after 20 years of inactivity. They are being tolerated/supported by the military in parts of Mindanao as civilians attempt to protect themselves from MILF forces.

b. Government-backed Civilian Armed Forces Geographical Units (CAFGU)

c. Civil Volunteer Organizations (CVOs)

d. Police auxiliaries

Versus

A number of rebel groups based in Mindanao, most of which identify as Muslim, are fighting the government to attain greater autonomy for the island’s Muslim population. Some groups seek outright independence, They include:

4. The Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF): was originally established by Nur Misuari in 1971 to secure an independent Muslim state. In 1989, then-President Corazon Aquino gave predominantly Muslim areas of the Philippines a degree of self-rule by setting up the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM). In 1996, the government signed a peace agreement with MNLF that allowed Misuari to run for governor, but his term ended violently after a failed uprising. While multiple factions splintered from the main group, many remained loyal to Misuari and launched a series of attacks beginning in 2005. The Armed Forces of the Philippines renewed hostilities against the group, reasserting old claims that MNLF was working with Abu Sayyaf. MNLF/Misuari declared an independent Bangsamoro Land in 2012 and an independent Bangsamoro Republik in 2013 in an apparent attempt to subvert MILF-government talks on a semi-autonomous Bangsamoro region. In September 2013, dozens of MNLF fighters led a violent month-long siege on the southern city of Zamboanga.

5. Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF): MILF is the largest rebel group with an estimated 11,000 members and is based primarily in central Mindanao. It was formed in 1981 after its leader, Salamat Hashim, left the MNLF. MILF has been led by Al Haj Murad since the death of Salamat Hashim in July 2003. After a peace agreement was ruled unconstitutional in 2008, MILF and the government signed a ceasefire in 2009 and have actively engaged in peace talks since 2011. While MILF previously called for the creation of a separate Islamic state, in 2010 it changed this goal to a “sub-state” akin to a U.S. state under a unitary Philippine government. The fourth and final Annex to the Framework for the Agreement on the Bangsamoro (FAB) was signed in January 2014, paving the way for the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) to be finalized by 2016.

6. Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG): ASG is a radical Islamist group led by Khadafi Janjalani. The group has an estimated 300 to 400 fighters in Sulu and Basilan, is alleged to have links to the al-Qaeda network and is considered a terrorist organization by both Manila and Washington. ASG is known to carry out kidnappings and bombings, which have been condemned by both the MNLF and MILF.

7. Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Movement/Fighters (BIFM/BIFF): This group, led by Ustadz Ameril Umbra Kato, splintered from the MILF in December 2010, in response to MILF’s departure from the original goal of creating a separate Islamic state. There are an estimated 300 BIFM fighters.

8. Jemaah Islamiyah: A regional organization with ties to al-Qaeda, its objective is to establish an Islamic state across the arc of Southeast Asia. It has been inactive in recent years.

 

Status of Fighting

2013 Clashes between MNLF and ASG in February left 30 dead. In March, gunmen killed at least 10 people in an attack on a Philippine mayor in southern Mindanao. In July, BIFF militants ambushed Philippine forces, leaving two soldiers and five militants dead. At least 16 were killed and 29 wounded in bomb attacks in July and August, most likely carried out by BIFF rebels. On September 9, dozens of MNLF fighters besieged the city of Zamboanga for several weeks. Rebels took more than 100 civilians hostage, but most were freed or rescued. Fighting between rebels and the 3,000 soldiers lasted for weeks, killing approximately 200. In a city of more than one million people, more than 100,000 were displaced. Also in September, 150 ASG and BIFF/BIFM militants joined forces to attack Philippine troops on Basilan Island. BIFF/BIFM rejected the Framework for the Agreement on the Bangsamoro (FAB) that was finalized in January 2014 and fought with Philippine troops.

2012 Targeted killings, bomb attacks, and state military offensives against Muslim insurgents continued. Civilians died, mainly from bomb attacks. In August, to protest ongoing peace efforts between the MILF and government, BIFM launched attacks that left five civilians, 10 security forces, and approximately 60 BIFM insurgents dead, while 45,000 were displaced. Summer clashes involving members of Abu Sayyaf over disputed land at a rubber plantation killed at least 30. The NGO Karapatan recorded 52 incidents of extrajudicial killings.

2011 Abu Sayyaf was linked to a number of high-ransom kidnappings of foreign nationals. The army continued to launch attacks on ASG. October was the most violent month since 2008; attacks on both military and MILF bases displaced more than 20,000 and briefly stalled peace talks. Nineteen army special forces soldiers were filled when they entered what MILF deemed a soldier-free zone in Al-Barka. The local governor refused to allow the Malaysian-led International Monitoring Team access to investigate the attack. Ameril Umbra Kato, a breakaway MILF leader of a few hundred militants, led a number of attacks not sanctioned by MILF and was expelled from the group.

2010 The 2009 ceasefire signed by the government and Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) largely held; violent incidents and deaths were significantly lower this year. The only clashes between the government and MILF occurred in January and December. In August, fighting between two MILF commanders displaced 5,000. Low-level fighting occurred  between Abu Sayyaf and the government, but with fewer deaths reported than in previous years. In April, ASG attacked Isabela City in Basilan, killing 12; in response, the government increased its troop presence. In September, a bomb blast on a bus killed 10; the government blamed MILF, which denied involvement. The government increased its military presence in Maguindanao in November, when peace talks with MILF ran into trouble. In October, 33 people were killed in violence related to district and local council elections, but officials reported violence was 70 per cent less than during the 2007 election.

2009 Violence perpetrated by the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG), as well as powerful clans, continued to plague the most southern islands, killing hundreds and displacing hundreds of thousands. According to a citizens’ group, government forces illegally detained citizens, destroyed houses and shelled villages while carrying out offensives against rebel groups. Fighting between MILF and ASG displaced civilians. Between January and July, MILF mounted close to 40 attacks. In June, fighting between the AFP and MILF increased as the military aimed to exterminate “rogue” MILF members, including commanders Bravo and Umara Kato. Early in June, more than 100 MILF rebels were killed; by mid-June, government troops had destroyed six MILF bases. On July 23, President Gloria Arroyo terminated the military offensive on MILF. On July 25, the two sides signed an agreement to end hostilities and to continue peace talks; the number of violent incidents decreased substantially. ASG killed many government officials and civilians, and was blamed for bombings and kidnappings, including the high-profile kidnapping of three Red Cross workers. More than 50 ASG rebels were killed in the fall. On November 23, more than 50 political activists, lawyers and family members of politicians were murdered in a massacre believed to have been carried out by the powerful Ampatuan clan.

2008 The presence of armed MILF fighters in communities of North Cotabato province and civilian evacuation was reported in June. In July, municipal and provincial governments began to request ammunition and arms. Skirmishes began on July 24 between the MILF and 400 fighters from Civil Volunteer Organizations (CVOs). By early August, at least 73 houses had been burned, dozens of civilians killed and as many as 67 attacks committed on military positions. Rogue MILF commanders known as Ameril Umbra Kato, Abdurahman “Bravo” Macapaar and “Pangalian” were believed  responsible for these attacks, and the government has demanded their surrender. An Amnesty International fact-finding mission to Mindanao found evidence of increased human rights abuses and more civilian deaths. The military was accused of looting and burning civilian homes and crops, and killing civilians. MILF was accused of targeting Christian civilians in Mindanao, killing villagers, and using children as soldiers and in “auxiliary” roles. About 610,000 civilians fled their homes after renewed violence in August. The collapse of peace talks in August intensified violence between the MILF and government troops.

2007 President Gloria Arroyo moved the headquarters of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) south to better combat Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG). The ASG were responsible for many kidnappings, beheadings and mutilations. U.S.-backed government missions continued in the south, with U.S. military advisors providing training and intelligence to the AFP. An uneasy ceasefire held between Manila and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

2006 Government forces clashed with MILF and Abu Sayyaf. Heavy fighting between MILF and government paramilitary forces occurred in June and July, displacing between 16,000 and 20,000 villagers. In August, 5,000 government troops, using U.S. intelligence and equipment, began a land, air and sea offensive against ASG on Jolo Island in an attempt to capture ASG’s leader and two members believed responsible for the 2002 Bali nightclub bombings. Heavy fighting displaced as many as 2,000. ASG and MILF were accused of committing a number of bombings in cities in the region.

2005 Government troops clashed with an MILF breakaway faction in January and February in Mindanao and Jolo islands. Peace talks resumed in April. Abu Sayyaf and Jemaah Islamiyah carried out deadly bombings in several Mindanao cities, while government security operations against the two groups continued. Heavy fighting on Jolo Island displaced tens of thousands of civilians. Later in the year, the government announced the end of an unsuccessful three-month operation aimed at capturing ASG leader Khaddafy Janjalani.

2004 Despite a ceasefire and peace negotiations, there were several clashes between the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and government forces. Militants also reportedly attacked civilians. In November, government air raids killed several rebels. The U.S. military trained Philippine troops as part of the war on terror.

2003 Government troops, with U.S. military aid, intensified their response to ongoing rebel bombings. The main government offensives occurred in February, killing as many as 200 and displacing more than 40,000 civilians. In the following months, rebels attacked government targets and detonated bombs, killing more than 100. The MILF denied responsibility for any civilian casualties. Fighting subsided after a July MILF-government ceasefire.

2002 The Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) stepped up attacks on Christians and foreigners in response to the Philippine government’s willingness to accept US military support to combat insurgency. MILF retook camps it had lost to government forces years before.

2001 Sporadic fighting was reported between government troops and rebels. Kidnappings by rebel groups led to government raids against rebel strongholds. In November, a Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) faction broke the 1996 peace agreement by launching an attack against army units. In December and January 2002, U.S. troops went to the region to help Philippine forces combat the ASG.

2000 Tensions in Mindanao heightened significantly as the Philippine government mobilized 70,000 soldiers to counter attacks by the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and Abu Sayyaf (ASG). In March, ASG kidnapped 53 people on Basilan Island, mostly teachers and schoolchildren. Four hostages were killed but all others released after negotiations with the government. In April, 21 foreign and local hostages were abducted in the island resort of Sipdan, Malaysia, by the ASG and brought to Jolo. Most hostages were released, reportedly after millions of dollars in ransom were paid by Libya and Malaysia. In September, the Philippine armed forces launched a major offensive in Jolo, deploying 4,000 air and ground troops to rescue the remaining hostages. By year’s end, all but two had been released or rescued.

1999 There were intermittent clashes between government forces and rebels in Mindanao, mainly over the control of territory.

1998 Sporadic clashes took place between government forces and rebel groups.

1997 Clashes continued.

1996 Occasional clashes between MILF rebels and government security forces continued in Mindanao.

1995 Government forces struck against Muslim rebels in April after masked men, believed to be renegade members of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) and the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG), attacked the city of Ipil in Mindanao, killing dozens of civilians. The rebels attacked a second town later in the month.

 

Number of Dead and Displaced

Total: At least 100,000 people are estimated to have died in the conflict in Mindanao, with some estimates exceeding 150,000. Two million people are estimated to have been displaced by the 40-year conflict.

2013 International Crisis Group reported at least 390 conflict-related deaths, an increase from 2012. Among the dead were 26 soldiers and police, 311 rebels and 53 civilians. Additionally, there were at least 51 election-related killings between January and May. In October, 22 village candidates and supporters were killed and 27 wounded. Violence peaked in September when MNLF fighters attacked the city of Zamboanga and clashed with security forces, leaving more than 200 dead. By the end of September, at least 70,000 had been displaced.

In early November, Typhoon Haiyan hit the central islands of the Philippines. By December, the death toll was estimated at more than 5,700. More than 11 million people were affected by the storm, 26,000 injured and 4 million displaced.

Refugees: According to the UNHCR, as of mid-2013 there were 747 refugees and 413 asylum seekers from the Philippines, and 16,905 internally displaced persons.

2012 According to International Crisis Group, there were 169 conflict deaths, including at least 33 members of security forces, 93 insurgents, and 11 civilians. This number represented an increase over the two previous years.

2011 According to International Crisis Group, at least 140 were killed, including 61 members of security forces and 40 rebels.

2010 An estimated 80 to 95 people were killed in clashes between the government and Abu Sayyaf and MILF–most from clashes between government troops and ASG.  According to the military, at least 23 militants, 10 government troops and dozens of civilians were killed in ASG-related attacks. Government forces claimed to have killed 11 MILF combatants. MILF reportedly killed three soldiers. An additional 33 people died in violence related to regional and district elections in September.

2009 Hundreds of civilians were thought to have been killed by either government forces, MILF or the ASG, as a result of fighting, bombings and extrajudicial killings. Also, more than 50 civilians were killed in a clan massacre. Close to 100 government troops were killed by Muslim rebel groups. Fighting killed ASG fighters and between 60 and 70 MILF fighters.

2008 In early August, the Supreme Court stopped the signing of the memorandum of agreement on ancestral domain (MOA-AD) with a temporary restraining order. the violence that then broke out killed an estimated 300 people. According to the government, its forces killed between 100 and 200 MILF soldiers. A U.S. State Department report documented 209 government troops killed, 56 by the ASG and 13 by MILF.

2007 Several hundred people died in violence between government troops and rebel groups. Most killed were combatants, but sporadic bombings killed civilians. Violence leading up to and during May elections killed an estimated 125, including civilians and government officials.

2006 According to the Asia Pacific Daily Reports, between 200 and 300 died in clashes between the army and rebel groups. Most were soldiers or rebels. Bomb blasts in urban areas killed some civilians.

2005 More than 200 people were killed in bombings and clashes between the army and rebels. The deadliest fighting occurred in February on the island of Jolo when approximately 150 were killed.

2004 More than 135 people, most civilians, were killed in attacks or clashes between government forces and MILF rebels.

2003 There were between 200 and 300 conflict deaths, many civilians killed by bombs.

2002 There were an estimated 800 conflict deaths, many Muslim combatants and military forces, although Filipino Christians and foreigners were also targeted.

2001 At least 1,000 people were killed, most combatants.

2000 At least 600 civilians, rebels and government soldiers were killed in government-rebel clashes.

1999 At least 100 people died in fighting between government forces and rebels.

1998 Deaths declined significantly from 1997.

1997 At least 150 combatants and some civilians died.

1996 Between 50 and 100 people were killed in clashes between rebels and security forces.

1995 Between 50 and 100 people were killed in clashes between government troops and rebels and in rebel attacks on Mindanao cities and towns.

1994 More than 100 died in fighting between the government troops and the MILF and  ASG.

Political Developments

2013 In July, the government and the MILF signed the Annex on Wealth Sharing to the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro (FAB). Unhappy that the MNLF was not party to these talks, MNLF chairman Nur Misuari declared the independence of Bangsamoro Republik in August. MNLF fighters attempted to raise the new flag at Zamboanga city hall and on September 9 began an all-out siege on the city. Despite UN attempts at negotiate a ceasefire, fighting between rebels and the military lasted for weeks and left at least 132 dead; both sides committed serious human rights abuses. In November, MILF announced that it would evolve into a political party following the FAB peace agreement. The government and MILF agreed to the final fourth section of the peace deal framework on January 25, 2014, which will pave the way for the signing of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB). The goal is to draft Bangsamoro Basic Law and set up the new political entity by the end of the current federal administration in 2016. After the FAB was signed, the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Movement (BIFM) rejected the peace deal and attacked Philippine troops.

2012 Government military offensives against the MILF in July were reported to the International Monitoring Team. Peace talks between the government and the MILF made progress. In April, agreement was reached on 10 principles for negotiations, including the government structure for a new Muslim autonomous region. In October, an agreement between the MILF and the government was announced; it included the creation of a new autonomous region, Bangsamoro, to replace the failed autonomous Muslim Mindanao region. The deal was widely celebrated, except by MILF splinter group BIFM. Issues of policing and decommissioning the MILF forces remained.

2011 In August, peace talks began between the government and MILF. Talks soon stalled, but resumed in November. Ameril Umbra Kato, a hardline MILF leader opposed to the peace talks, led a number of unsanctioned attacks. Expelled from MILF, he formed his own breakaway group, Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF). Human Rights Watch reported that both MILF and government forces put children in danger, with practices such as using schools as bases. According to HRW, there were extrajudicial killings and abductions of politicians, journalists and activists; the government generally failed to prosecute military personnel implicated in such killings, even when strong evidence existed.

2010 Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and President Gloria Arroyo’s government worked to achieve an agreement before Arroyo’s term ended. An International Monitoring Team led by Malaysia arrived in Mindanao in March to oversee the ceasefire and monitor negotiations. Presidential elections were held in May and Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III won a landslide victory. Arroyo won a seat in congress. Also in May, MILF and Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) agreed to cooperate more closely. In June, MILF and the Aquino government pledged to work on the peace deal. The same month, powerful provincial clans held a peace dialogue in Maguindanao, to repair relationships damaged in the 2009 massacre. In September, MILF announced it would no longer seek independence, but the creation of a “substate” under a unitary government. Also in September, trials relating to the Maguindanao massacre began. In November, peace talks stalled when the government requested the replacement of Othman Razak as facilitator.

2009 Talks between the government and former separatist group Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) began in March. Progress towards a peace deal was made between the government of President Gloria Arroyo and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). On July 23, Arroyo called for the termination of military offensives on MILF. On July 25, both parties signed an agreement to end hostilities and to continue peace talks. On September 15, the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) and MILF signed an accord to form an International Contact Group (ICG) of impartial states and non-state organizations to aid in peace negotiations between the NDFP and MILF. On October 27, the two parties signed the Agreement on Civilian Protection accord. The signing of the ceasefires, the ICG formation accord and the Civilian Protection accord paved the way for official peace talks. The promise of negotiations prompted 66 MILF rebels to surrender in late August. Formal peace talks took place December 8 and 9 in Malaysia.In late November, Arroyo declared martial law in Maguidinao after more than 50 political activists were massacred. The Ampatuan clan, believed responsible for the massacre, had close political ties with Arroyo.

2008 In June, President Gloria Arroyo announced a new draft of the Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain (MOA-AD) to extend autonomy in traditionally Muslim regions. On August 4, the Supreme Court issued a temporary restraining order that prevented signing the agreement. Violence increased and in early September the government abandoned the MOA-AD, dissolved its peace panel and demanded MILF’s unconditional disarmament, as well as the surrender of three rogue commanders considered responsible for the renewed attacks. Malaysian peacekeepers began the process of complete withdrawal in December. MILF rejected a communist party call for a joint “intensified campaign” in Mindanao (see CPP/NPA conflict); the parties were said to have a “tactical alliance.”

2007 Disagreement between the government and Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) over border demarcation stalled peace talks. An 11-year ceasefire between the government and the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) ended. MNLF refused to disarm and demanded that the terms of their peace deal of 1996 be reviewed in light of deals with the MILF. May elections sparked a significant increase in violence in the South, with more than 100 civilians and politicians killed. An estimated 120,000 people were displaced. The international community demanded that President Arroyo investigate hundreds of extrajudicial killings and kidnappings that had occurred since she took office in 2001.

2006 Peace talks between the government and Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) made some progress on sharing natural resources and the self-governance of a Muslim homeland.

2005 A breakthrough in peace talks between the Philippine government and Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) was achieved in September. Negotiators reached agreement on the future governance of a Muslim homeland, boundaries, rights over natural resources, powers to tax and a charter. However, it was not clear that breakaway MILF factions would accept the agreement. Congress dismissed impeachment charges relating to electoral fraud and corruption against President Arroyo.

2004 MILF launched an information campaign to educate its members about the peace process with the government. Malaysia and Brunei agreed to send teams to monitor the ceasefire. Libyan observers arrived in Mindanao in December. As a tactic in the war on terrorism, the U.S. and Philippine governments demanded that MILF “deny sanctuary” to Islamic militants believed to be hiding in MILF camps.

2003 A ceasefire between the government and Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) began in July. The regional Islamic militant network Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) was declared a national security threat by President Gloria Arroyo in October. Informal peace talks between the government and MILF began in Malaysia in November, after MILF declared that it had severed links with JI and al-Qaeda. The Philippines was designated a major non-NATO ally by the United States in May. In November, Arroyo declared that she would run in the May 2004 presidential election.

2002 A number of embassies closed after a wave of attacks on foreigners. As part of the war on terror the U.S. government provided military training and equipment to help the Philippine military fight Muslim extremists, specifically the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG). The role of U.S. forces was limited to training. The Philippine government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) signed a peace pact in June and committed to follow-up negotiations.

2001 President Estrada was removed from office in January; Vice-President Gloria Arroyo succeeded as president. In August, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front and government negotiators signed a ceasefire agreement in Malaysia, which lasted only a few weeks before fighting resumed. In October, a supplementary agreement was signed. The government refused to negotiate with the most extreme rebel group, the Abu Sayyaf Group.

2000 Philippine President Joseph Estrada called off peace talks with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and initiated a military attack against them. Later, in a bid to bring MILF back to the negotiating table, Estrada ordered the withdrawal of criminal charges against MILF leaders accused of bombings and massacres. In November, the President was impeached on bribery charges, setting in motion a trial.

1999 Launched in October, formal peace talks between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) had made no progress by year’s end.

1998 Peace negotiations between the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and the government resumed in November.

1997 Integration of Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) personnel with government forces began, as required by the 1996 peace settlement. A January ceasefire between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) failed. In October, MILF agreed to resume ceasefire discussions.

1996 After talks brokered by Indonesia on behalf of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), the government and the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) signed a September peace agreement. Other Muslim and Christian groups in Mindanao opposed the agreement, which established a three-year peace and development council headed by MNLF leader, Nur Misuari, to be followed by a referendum to determine which provinces joined an autonomous Muslim region. More than one-third of MNLF forces were to be integrated into the Philippine army and police.

1995 Peace talks between the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) and the government progressed. But the rising influence and threat of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and other rebel groups drew a large deployment of government troops to Mindanao.

Background

After the Philippines gained independence in 1946, the United States accelerated a massive resettlement program. Begun in the early 20th century, it drastically changed the religious makeup of the southern island of Mindanao, which had historically been populated and ruled by Muslims.

By 1983, 80 per cent of the population of Mindanao was Christian, a shift that caused deep resentment among Muslims.

Since 1971, the government of the predominantly Roman Catholic Philippines has faced armed opposition from several Muslim groups, including the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), seeking greater autonomy for the island of Mindanao; and breakaway groups Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG), which seek Mindanao independence.

After the 1972 declaration of martial law by President Ferdinand Marcos and several years of intense fighting, the government agreed, in 1976, to a framework that led to the establishment of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Minandao (ARMM), comprising five provinces.

In 1996, the government and the MNLF signed a significant peace agreement, which paved the way for MNLF-leader Misuari to run for office; he was elected governor of the ARMM that same year. However, his term ended in violence in November 2001 when he led a failed uprising.

After signing a ceasefire accord in mid-1997, MILF and the government resumed peace negotiations in November 1998. The talks had made no progress and, in 2000, President Joseph Estrada called them off and initiated military attacks against MILF. President Estrada was impeached by the House of Representatives on bribery charges in November 2000 and removed from office in 2001.

U.S. military assistance to the Philippines, in the form of arms and training, increased dramatically after the United States launched its war on terror in 2001; U.S. troops continue to train members of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), while supplying sophisticated military intelligence. This assistance has strengthened the AFP campaign against the ASG and other rebel groups.

Vice-President Gloria Arroyo assumed the presidency in 2001 and was elected president in 2004, despite charges of electoral fraud and corruption. In 2007, she announced an intensified campaign against rebels, with the goal of destroying the movement by 2010. While peace talks continued between the government and the MILF, MNLF ended an 11-year ceasefire in 2007 when the government attempted to disarm them.

In 2010, Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III won a landslide victory in presidential elections. Talks with MILF and MNLF continued. A deal between MILF and the government was announced in October 2012, which included a plan to create a new autonomous region called Bangsamoro (to replace the failed ARMM).

Arms Sources

The United States is the largest supplier of arms to the Philippines. Other suppliers between 2008 and 2013 included Germany, Italy, South Korea, Poland and Turkey.

In 2002, the United States offered military training and support to the Philippine government to help fight Muslim rebel groups; this relationship continues. In 2012 the Armed Forces of the Philippines used U.S.-made smart bombs against rebels–the first weapons of this kind to be supplied. In December 2013, the United States pledged $40-million in military aid to the Philippines to improve maritime defence capabilities and boost counterterrorism operations.

Philippine security forces received shipments of small arms and light weapons from Argentina and South Korea in 2010. In 2012, the government spent $64.4-million on eight Sokol (“Falcon”) light utility helicopters from Poland, which were delivered in 2012 and 2013. The Philippines also received five Bell-205 transport helicopters from Germany and 25 Humvees from the United States in 2013. According to SIPRI, the Philippines has plans to acquire submarines as well. Defence spending rose by 16.8 per cent in 2013. In December 2012, the government allocated approximately US$1.8-billion of extra funding for military equipment purchases from 2013-2018, through the Capability Upgrade Programme.

The MNLF built up its arsenal in the 1970s and 1980s by seizing U.S. weapons from Philippine security forces and through  black market purchases and imports from Libya via Sabah, Malaysia. Weapons from Libya included several thousand FN-FAL and AK47 rifles, mortars and rocket-propelled grenade launchers. Many weapons initially acquired by MNLF were retained by new splinter groups.

Reports suggest that between 1999 and 2002, North Korea sold more than 10,000 rifles and weapons to the MILF through a third country, most likely Malaysia.

Improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and anti-tank mines are made with readily available ammonium nitrate and potassium chlorate. The ASG, in particular, has developed a technical capacity for bomb making. M16s are also manufactured locally in large numbers under licence; many are illegally sold to rebels.

Proliferation of small arms and light weapons is a major concern. In 2012, there were 1.2 million registered firearms and 600,000 unlicensed firearms in the Philippines. In June 2013, the Philippines voted to adopt the Arms Trade Treaty, and signed it on September 25.

Economic Factors

There is socioeconomic disparity between the Christian majority and the Muslim minority in Mindanao. The Muslims in the most impoverished parts of western Mindanao point out that these areas lag far behind the rest of the island in development.

Mindanao is resource rich, and the Philippine government has expressed its desire to open the area to foreign mining companies.

Since 2002, the Philippines has been the recipient of hundreds of millions of dollars in U.S. military aid, despite a poor human rights record. The U.S. government has funded some development, building new classrooms, medical clinics, roads and wells.

Various insurgent groups targeted extractive industries for extortion.

The Philippine economy grew by 6.8 per cent in 2012 and 7.2 per cent in 2013–the two strongest growth years since the 1950s.

map: CIA Factbook