Philippines-Mindanao (1971 – first combat deaths)

Updated: August 2013

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Summary

2012 Despite violence that increased fatalities in 2012, there was cause for optimism regarding the resolution of the Mindanao conflict. An October peace agreement between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front will create the Muslim autonomous region of Bangsamoro. The widely celebrated deal was seen to have the potential to help to resolve the conflict. The MILF splinter group Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Movement remained opposed and carried out attacks that left scores dead. One hundred sixty-nine people died in 2012, including at least 33 security forces personnel, 93 insurgents, and 11 civilians. 

2011 Starting in August, peace talks between MILF and the government began in Malaysia. Although no agreement was reached, both sides showed a willingness to co-operate. October was the most violent month since 2008, with numerous attacks of both military and MILF bases, briefly stalling the peace negotiations and displacing 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 and fatalities and incidents of violence were significantly lower this year. 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. 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 into the Maguindanao massacre began. In November, peace talks were hindered by a government request to replace Othman Razak as facilitator. The government and MILF resumed talks in January 2011.

2009 Violence continued to plague the country, with most of the fighting in the South. Intense fighting between government forces and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) during the first half of the year resulted in the displacement of hundreds of thousands of civilians. In July, the government and the MILF decided to lay down their arms and work toward the peace accord that had failed in 2008. Peace talks began on Dec. 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 Nov. 23—believed to be carried out by the powerful Ampatuan clan—unsettled the government of President Gloria Arroyo. Arroyo was tied to the Ampatuans, who allegedly helped her win the 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. The renewed conflict was estimated to have killed at least 300 people, including 104 civilians. An estimated 610,000 civilians were displaced. Meanwhile, a resurgence of local, predominantly Christian militia groups, now being supplied with arms by the government, weakened prospects of renewed peace talks and led to warnings of an impending civil war.

2007 Fighting between the government and rebel groups continued throughout the year, resulting in the deaths of hundreds. May elections caused significant violence, with more than 100 civilians and politicians killed leading up to and during the elections. Peace talks between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) progressed in 2007, but recent breakdowns over demarcation of territory left talks stalled. There was a re-emergence of the rebel group Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), when 11 years of peace broke down over the government’s demand that the group permanently disarm. More than 1,000 people were displaced from Mindanao. U.S. troops remained in the South, assisting the government in training the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), as well as providing intelligence.

2006 Heavy fighting between the government and rebel groups resulted in the deaths of 200 to 300 and the displacement of thousands. Peace talks between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) took place intermittently throughout the year, but without any resolution of the conflict.

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 army operation in February on Jolo Island against MILF and Abu Sayyaf rebels, resulting in many fatalities and mass displacement of civilians.

2004 Fighting between government forces and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) as well as terrorist attacks continued sporadically through the year resulting in the deaths of more than 125 people. Talks between the government and MILF rebels continued, in part to isolate more militant organizations. U.S. military assistance continued as part of the U.S.-led 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), occurred in early 2003, resulting in several hundred deaths. Informal peace talks in Malaysia involving the government and MILF officials got underway in November following a July ceasefire signed by the two parties. However, the ASG and Jemaah Islamiyah (JI), a regional Islamic militant organization, continued to be targeted by government forces. U.S. military assistance to the Philippines, in the form of arms and training, continued as part of the global war on terror.

2002 Fighting remained intense between the government and the main rebel groups, the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG), and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), resulting in the deaths of more than 800 people. The Philippine government accepted military anti-terrorist training and support from the U.S. military.

2001 Fighting between government and rebel groups intensified in 2001 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 in the fighting.

2000 Tensions in the Southern island of Mindanao heightened significantly when the Philippine government mobilized more troops to counter rebel attacks. In March and April, foreign and local hostages were abducted by Abu Sayyaf rebels, held for ransom, most were eventually released. At least 600 people (civilians, rebels and government soldiers) died this year as a result of the clashes, a sharp increase over 1999.

1999 Despite commitments to peace talks, periodic clashes between government forces and Muslim rebels persisted in Mindanao in 1999. More than 100 people were killed during the year, an increase over total conflict fatalities in 1998.

1998 Sporadic clashes between government forces and rebel groups in 1998 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 through 1997.

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 struck against Muslim rebels after attacks on Mindanao towns 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. Immediately after taking power, 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), comprises approximately 120,000 combatants.

Supported by

1. The United States of America: Since 2002, the United States has had a significant military presence in the Philippines, training Philippine troops in counterterror operations. There are indications that this may lead to the direct involvement of U.S. forces in the conflict, although under the Philippine Constitution, the United States is permitted only to arm and train members of the Philippine Armed Forces.

2. Various civilian militia groups: have been active players in the conflict from time to time, and developed in response to the heightened threat of MILF attacks in their villages. These include:

a. The Ilaga, a Christian militia group, is said to have resurfaced after 20 years of inactivity. They are being tolerated/supported by the military in regions 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 the Southern island of Mindanao, most of whom identify as Muslim, are fighting the government to attain greater autonomy for the island’s Muslim population. Some of these groups seek outright independence, while others demand greater autonomy under a unitary government. These groups include:

3. Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF): MILF is the largest rebel group, with an estimated 11,000 to 15,000 troops. MILF has been led by Al Haj Murad after the death of Salamat Hashim in July 2003. MILF is a splinter group of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) with reported support from overseas militant Islamic organizations. MILF was established in 1984 and is based primarily in central Mindanao. The armed wing of the MILF is known as the Bangsomoro Islamic Armed Forces (BIAF). In 2009, MILF, after discussions with the UN, committed to stop recruiting children. MILF and the government signed a ceasefire in 2009 and have been engaged in peace talks since. While MILF previously called for the creation of a separate state, in 2010 they indicated they would no longer seek this goal, but instead wanted to create a “substate” akin to a U.S. state under a unitary government.

4. 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 labelled a terrorist organization by both Manila and Washington. They are believed to have joined forces with Manila-based Rajah Solaiman Movement, a group of radical Muslim converts.

5. Jemaah Islamiyah: a regional organization with ties to al-Qaeda, whose objective is to establish an Islamic state across the arc of Southeast Asia. This group has not been active in recent years.

6.  The Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF): MNLF is a Mindanao-based rebel group which reached a peace agreement with the government in 1996, establishing the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM). The MNLF had become relatively insignificant, with many factions splintering from the main group, but in early 2007 the AFP renewed armed hostilities against the group, reasserting old claims that they were working with Abu Sayyaf.

7. BIFM (Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Movement): BIFM is a MILF splinter group. They are fighting for the creation of a separate Bangsamoro state and violently protested the October 2012 peace deal, which created an autonomous Bangsamoro region. The BIFM is led by Ustadz Ameril Umra Kato.

Status of Fighting

2012 Targeted killings, bomb attacks, and state military offensives against Muslim insurgents continued in 2012. Civilians died, mainly from bomb attacks.
In August, in protest over continuing peace efforts between the MILF and government negotiators, members of the BIFM launched several attacks that resulted in the deaths of five civilians, 10 security forces, and approximately 60 BIFM insurgents. This conflict reportedly created 45,000 IDPs.
Summer clashes involving members of Abu Sayyaf over disputed land at a rubber plantation resulted in the deaths of at least 30 people. The NGO Karapatan recorded 52 incidents of extrajudicial killings in 2012.

2011 Abu Sayyaf was linked to a number of high-ransom kidnappings of foreign nationals. The army continued to launch attacks on Abu Sayyaf militants. October proved the most violent month since 2008, with numerous attacks of both military and MILF bases. More than 20,000 people were displaced by the heavy fighting, which briefly stalled peace talks. MILF blamed the armed forces for the deaths of 19 army special forces for entering what MILF deemed a soldier-free zone in an area of Al-Barka. The local governor refused access to the Malaysian-led International Monitoring Team 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 and fatalities and incidents of violence 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 between Abu Sayyaf and the government continued throughout the year—with fewer deaths reported than in previous years. In April, Abu Sayyaf attacked Isabela City in Basilan, killing 12 and prompting the government to increase 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 the 2007 election.

2009 Violence perpetrated by 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 of the country, resulting in the deaths of hundreds and the displacement of hundreds of thousands. According to citizens’ group, government forces illegally detained citizens, destroyed houses and shelled villages while carrying out offensives against different rebel groups. Fighting between MILF and ASG displaced civilians. But according to government forces, MILF and the ASG were fighting together. 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 the “rogue” members of MILF, including commanders Bravo and Umara Kato. Early in June, more than 100 MILF rebels were killed in the span of one week, and by mid-June, government troops had destroyed six MILF bases, significantly weakening the rebel group. 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. Subsequently, fighting decreased substantially. ASG continued to kill numerous government officials and civilians. The group was blamed for numerous bombings and kidnappings, including the high-profile kidnapping of three Red Cross workers. More than 50 ASG rebels were killed in the fall during various clashes with government troops. On Nov. 23, more than 50 political activists, lawyers and family members of politicians were murdered in a politically motivated massacre, believed to have been carried out by the powerful Ampatuan clan.

2008 The failure of peace talks in August intensified violence between the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP). But reports of increased skirmishes and military activity had begun several weeks earlier. The presence of armed MILF fighters in communities of the North Cotabato province, and the ensuing evacuation by some civilians in advance of conflict, was reported as early as June 9. In July, municipal and provincial governments began to request ammunition and arms from military and police forces. Skirmishes began on July 24 in North Cotabato between the MILF and 400 fighters from Civil Volunteer Organizations (CVOs). By Aug. 1, at least 73 houses had been burned and dozens of civilians killed. AFP documents report a possible total of 67 attacks on military positions between May 1 and Aug. 3. Although some attacks may be double-counted in these totals, they are nonetheless frequent. Two or three rogue MILF commanders (known as Ameril Umbra Kato, Abdurahman “Bravo” Macapaar and “Pangalian”) are believed to be 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 an increase in the proportion of civilian deaths in general. Specifically, the military has been accused of looting and burning civilian homes and crops, as well as killing civilians in attacks and aerial bombings. Likewise, MILF continues to be accused of targeting Christian civilians in Mindanao, using guns and machetes to kill villagers, and of using children as soldiers and in “auxiliary” roles. About 610,000 civilians fled their homes after renewed violence in August and some 370,000 are still displaced.

2007 President Gloria Arroyo moved the headquarters of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) south, in an effort to better combat Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) rebels. Clashes between the rebel group and government forces continued throughout the year, with the ASG responsible for numerous kidnappings, beheadings and mutilations. U.S.-backed 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), but the threat of renewed violence remained constant throughout the year as all attempts at peace talks failed.

2006 Intermittent clashes took place between government forces and Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) rebels, and between government military forces and Abu Sayyaf. Heavy fighting between MILF and government paramilitary forces took place in June and July, displacing 16,000 to 20,000 villagers. In August, 5,000 members of the Philippine military, backed by U.S. intelligence and equipment, began a land, air and sea offensive against members of Abu Sayyaf on Jolo Island. The operation aimed to capture the group’s leader and two members, believed to behind the 2002 Bali nightclub bombings. This heavy fighting displaced up to 2,000 civilians. A number of bomb blasts occurred in cities throughout the region; no group claimed responsibility, but Abu Sayyaf and MILF were suspected.

2005 Clashes in January and February in parts of Mindanao and Jolo islands between a breakaway faction of Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) rebels and government troops ended as peace talks recommenced in April. Abu Sayyaf and Jemaah Islamiyah carried out a series of deadly bombings in several Mindanao cities while government security operations against the two groups continued. Fighting was particularly heavy on Jolo Island, displacing tens of thousands of civilians. Later in the year, the government announced an end to an unsuccessful three-month operation aimed at capturing Abu Sayyaf leader Khaddafy Janjalani.

2004 Despite a ceasefire and peace negotiations, there were several clashes between Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) rebels and government forces. There also were reports of attacks on civilians by Muslim militants. Government air raids on rebel targets occurred in November, killing several rebels. The U.S. military maintained a presence in the Philippines, including training government troops as part of the war on terror.

2003 The rebels continued their bombing campaign while government forces, with the aid of U.S. military assistance, intensified efforts against the Islamic “terrorists.” The main government offensives occurred in February, resulting in as many as 200 deaths and displacing more than 40,000 civilians. The rebels responded in the following months, attacking government targets and detonating bombs, killing more than 100 people. Although the government attributed most bombings to the MILF, it denied responsibility, stating that its fighters only target military forces, not civilians. Fighting subsided in the latter part of the year after a July MILF-government ceasefire.

2002 The Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) stepped up its attacks on Christians and foreigners in response to the Philippine government’s willingness to accept US military support to combat insurgency. The MILF also intensified its operations by retaking camps it lost to the Armed Forces of the Philippines several years ago.

2001 Sporadic fighting was reported between government troops and rebels throughout the year. A number of kidnappings by rebel groups led to numerous government raids against rebel strongholds. In November, a Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) rebel faction broke the peace agreement reached with the Philippines government in 1996 by launching an attack against army units. In December and January 2002, U.S. troops were sent to the region to assist the Philippine government against the Abu Sayyaf rebels.

2000 Tensions in the Southern island of Mindanao heightened significantly as the Philippine government mobilized more troops (about 70,000 soldiers) to counter attacks by Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and Abu Sayyaf (ASG) rebels. The increased violence was triggered by a government attack on a highway held by the MILF that links south-central and northern Mindanao. In March, ASG fighters 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 the Philippine island of 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 were released or rescued.

1999 Intermittent clashes between government forces and rebels continued in Mindanao in 1999, mainly over the control of territory.

1998 Sporadic clashes between government forces and rebel groups in 1998 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 through 1997.

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 Deaths

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

2012 According to International Crisis Group, 169 people died in the Mindanao conflict in 2012. This figure includes at least 33 members of security forces, 93 insurgents, and 11 civilians. This death count is an increase from the two previous years.

Refugees: In February approximately 10,000 people fled Maguindanao because of rebel attacks. August attacks by BIFM in Mindanao resulted in the displacement of 45,000 people. 

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

2010 According to multiple news sources, CrisisWatch and the U.S. Department of State Human Rights Report, an estimated 80 to 95 people were killed in clashes between the government and Abu Sayyaf and MILF. An additional 33 people were killed in violence related to regional and district elections in September. The vast majority of deaths resulted from clashes between the government and Abu Sayyaf. According to the military, at least 23 militants, 10 government troops and dozens of civilians were killed in Abu Sayyaf-related attacks. Also, according to the government, its forces killed 11 MILF combatants. According to reports, MILF killed three soldiers. (The military does not record deaths at the hand of MILF.)

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 politically motivated clan massacre. Close to 100 government troops were killed by Muslim rebel groups. Fighting killed more than ASG fighters and between 60 and 70 MILF fighters. [sources: U.S. Department of State, 2009 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices; media sources]

2008 Heightened conflicts in the aftermath of the MOA-AD collapse killed an estimated 300 people. Amnesty International reported at least 104 civilians killed by October; because many deaths in accessible areas go unreported, the figure is likely much higher. According to the government, its forces killed between 100 and 200 MILF soldiers since the renewed violence. A U.S. State Department report, citing police and military sources, documented 209 government troops killed in 2008, 56 by the ASG and 13 by MILF.

2007 Several hundred people died in the continuing conflict between government troops and rebel groups. The majority of deaths were combatants, but there were sporadic bombings that killed civilians. Violence leading up to and during May elections killed an estimated 125, including both civilian and government officials.

2006 According to the Asia Pacific Daily Reports, 200 to 300 people were killed in clashes between the army and rebel groups. Most of the deaths were of army or rebel group members. Bomb blasts in urban areas were responsible for some civilian deaths

2005 More than 200 people were killed in a series of bombings and clashes between the army and rebels. The deadliest fighting occurred in February on the island of Jolo where approximately 150 people were killed during a large army operation.

2004 More than 135 people, mostly civilians, were killed as a result of either attacks or clashes between government forces and MILF rebels in 2004.

2003 According to independent media reports, approximately 200 to 300 people were killed in the conflict this year, many of them civilians killed in bombings.

2002 An estimated 800 people died as a result of the conflict, many of them Muslim combatants and military forces, although Filipino Christians and foreigners were also targeted.

2001 According to media reports, at least 1,000 people were killed as a result of the fighting, the majority combatants.

2000 At least 600 people (civilians, rebels and government soldiers) died this year as a result of government-rebel clashes.

1999 At least 100 people died in 1999 as a result of fighting between government forces and rebels.

1998 Figures are difficult to obtain, but it appears that fatalities declined significantly from the number killed in 1997 fighting.

1997 At least 150 combatants and some civilians died in the fighting of 1997.

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 Fighting between the government and the MILF and the ASG killed more than 100 people.

Political Developments

2012 There is evidence to suggest that both sides of the conflict want a resolution. Government military offensives against the MILF rebels in July were reported to the International Monitoring Team, suggesting an increased trust in external actors.
Peace talks between the government and the MILF continued to show signs of progress throughout the year. In April agreement was reached on 10 principles for negotiations, including the government structure for a new Muslim autonomous region. In October a deal between the MILF and the government was announced. This agreement includes the creation of a new autonomous region called Bangsamoro which will 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 still need to be addressed. A MILF-led transition period will prepare the region for elections in 2016. According to the U.S. Department of State, the developments in 2012 have the “potential to increase peace and security in central Mindanao and the Sulu Archipelago.”

2011 A series of peace talks between the government and MILF began in August for the first time since 1997. Talks soon stalled but resumed in November. Ameril Umbra Kato, a hardline MILF leader who opposed the peace talks, led a number of attacks not sanctioned by the group. He was expelled from MILF and formed his own breakaway group; but rumours of Kato’s death placed the group’s future in doubt. Human Rights Watch reported that both MILF and government forces put children in danger, with practices such as using schools as bases. According to Human Rights Watch, extrajudicial killings and abductions of politicians, journalists and activists continued in 2011, while the government largely failed to prosecute military personnel implicated in such killings, even though strong evidence exists in many cases.

2010 Negotiations between Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and President Gloria Arroyo’s government continued in the early part of the year, as both sides pushed for 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) signed an agreement to co-operate more closely. In June, MILF and the Aquino government signed a pledge to continue to work on the peace deal. In June, powerful provincial clans held a peace dialogue in Maguindanao, aimed at healing their relationships after the 2009 massacre. Negotiations between MILF and the government progressed positively through September; MILF announced it would no longer seek “independence” but rather the creation of a “substate” that would remain under a unitary government; and the government said it was optimistic that a peace deal could be reached within six years. Also in September, trials into the Maguindanao massacre began. In November, the peace talks were hindered by a government request to replace Othman Razak as facilitator. The government and MILF resumed talks in January 2011.

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 Sept. 15, the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (GRP) and MILF signed an accord to form an International Contact Group (ICG). The ICG consists of various impartial states and non-state organizations whose role is to aid in peace negotiations between the GRP and MILF. The members were announced on Dec. 2 and include; the United Kingdom, Japan, Turkey, U.S.-based Asia Foundation, the Geneva-based Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue and London-based Conciliation resources. On Oct. 27, both sides signed the Agreement on Civilian Protection accord. The signing of the ceasefires, the ICG formation accord and the Civilian Protection accord were the three accords needed before official peace talks could proceed. The promise of peaceful negotiations prompted 66 MILF rebels to surrender to the military in late August. Formal peace talks took place Dec. 8 and 9 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. At the same time, Arroyo was dealing with upheaval back home after declaring martial law in Maguidinao in the wake of the massacre of more than 50 political activists in late November. The Ampatuan clan, believed responsible for the massacre, has close ties to Arroyo and is widely believed to have helped her win the 2004 Presidential elections.

2008 In keeping with the historical pattern, initially positive steps towards peace talks between the government and Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) ended in a new phrase of heightened violence. In June, President Gloria Arroyo announced a new draft of the Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain (MOA-AD), which would set a framework for extending autonomy in traditionally Muslim regions. The MOA-AD was agreed on in July, and was scheduled to be signed on Aug. 5. However, on Aug. 4, the Philippine Supreme Court issued a temporary restraining order for the signing of the document. Increased fighting ensued, and by 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. On Oct. 14, the Supreme Court announced the MOA-AD would represent an unconstitutional application of presidential power. Although the government’s abandonment of the plan made the court’s decision inconsequential, fears were raised that the ruling would spark renewed violence and a complete collapse in peace negotiations. Meanwhile, Malaysian peacekeepers were unable to negotiate a second mandate extension in Mindanao, and began the process of complete withdrawal in December. In late 2008, MILF officials rejected a CPP call for a joint “intensified campaign” in Mindanao (see CPP/NPA conflict); the parties were said to have a “tactical alliance.”

2007 Peace talks continued throughout the year between the government and the country’s main Islamic separatist group, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). The government took unprecedented steps in recognizing the self-determination of Muslims in the Philippines, but issues over border demarcation stalled talks. An eleven-year ceasefire ended between the government and the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) when government forces attempted to disarm the group. MNLF rebels refused to turn in their weapons and demanded that the terms of their peace deal of 1996 be reviewed in light of new deals being made with the MILF. May elections saw a significant increase in violence in the South, with more than 100 civilians and politicians killed. An estimated 120,000 people were displaced from their homes in Mindanao this year after continued fighting between government forces and rebel groups. Calls from the international community demanded President Gloria Arroyo investigate the hundreds of extrajudicial killings that have occurred since she took office in 2001. An estimated 800 human-rights activists, political activists and journalists have been kidnapped and disappeared since the beginning of her presidency.

2006 Peace talks with Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) continued throughout the year, with some progress made in the area of sharing natural resources and the formation of self-governance of Muslim homeland. No resolution was made on the issue of determination of Muslim territorial rights, which is the main issue to be resolved before political settlements can be made. Although talks surrounding this issue have been difficult, there were signs an agreement could be made in 2007.

2005 A breakthrough in peace talks between the Philippine government and Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) was reached in September. A peace deal was expected in 2006. Although details of the tentative agreement were not released, negotiators reported that they had agreed on the future governance of a Muslim homeland, its boundaries, its rights over natural resources, the granting of independent tax powers to the region as well as its own charter. However, it remained unclear whether breakaway MILF factions, who early in the year had carried out major attacks on government troops, would be part of the agreement. President Gloria Arroyo survived months of political scandals and large demonstrations after Congress dismissed impeachment charges against her involving electoral fraud and corruption.

2004 Government negotiations with Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) rebels continued and MILF launched a large information campaign to educate its members about the peace process. Additionally, the governments of Malaysia and Brunai agreed to send teams to monitor the fragile ceasefire. With persistent reports of training links between the MILF and more militant organizations, the U.S. and Philippine governments demanded a peace deal with the MILF to “deny sanctuary” to Islamic militants believed to be hiding in MILF camps. The conflict remained part of the war on terrorism, reinforcing military ties between Philippine government forces and the U.S. military. Libyan observers arrived in Mindanao in December to observe the tenuous ceasefire between the government and rebels.

2003 A July ceasefire between the government and Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) remained intact for the remainder of the year. This allowed the government to focus its military resources on the regional Islamic militant network Jemaah Islamiyah (JI), which was declared a national security threat by President Gloria Arroyo in October. Informal peace talks between the government and MILF got underway in Malaysia in November, after MILF declared that it had severed links with JI and al-Qaeda. The alliance between the U.S. and Philippine governments was strengthened when 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, contrary to earlier statements.

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

2001 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 smallest and 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 the rebels. Later, in a bid to bring the rebels back to the negotiating table, Estrada ordered the withdrawal of criminal charges against MILF leaders accused of a series of bombings and massacres. In November, the President was impeached by the nation’s House of Representatives on bribery charges, setting in motion a trial to determine whether he should be removed from office.

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

1998 After a ceasefire accord jointly signed the previous year, peace negotiations between the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and the government resumed in November.

1997 In 1997, the integration of Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) personnel with government forces began, a condition of the 1996 peace settlement. A January ceasefire between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) failed. In October, after postponing peace talks when government troops captured a major rebel camp, MILF agreed to further ceasefire discussions.

1996 After talks brokered by Indonesia on behalf of the Organisation of Islamic Conference (OIC), the government and the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) Muslim rebels signed a September peace agreement. Other Muslim and Christian groups in Mindanao remained opposed to the agreement. It established a three-year peace and development council headed by MNLF leader, Nur Misuari, after which a referendum would determine which provinces joined an autonomous Muslim region. More than one-third of the rebel 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 that 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 the Muslim population.

Since 1971, the government of the predominantly Roman Catholic Philippines has faced armed opposition from several Muslim groups, earlier from the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), which sought greater autonomy for the island of Mindanao; and more recently from breakaway groups, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and the fundamentalist Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG), both of 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 an autonomous region of four Mindanao provinces in 1990.

In 1996, the government and the MNLF signed a peace agreement, but other Mindanao Muslim rebels and Christian groups opposed the settlement.

After a ceasefire accord jointly signed in mid-1997, peace negotiations between the MILF and the government resumed in November 1998. By the end of 1999, peace talks had made no progress and in 2000, President Joseph Estrada called off the talks with the MILF, unleashing military attacks against the rebels.

By mid-2003, MILF had reached a ceasefire with the government, but fighting with the ASG and Jemmah Islamiah continued.

U.S. military assistance to the Philippines, in the form of arms and training, increased dramatically after the United States launched its led war in terror in 2001.

The United States has given the Philippines more than $250-million in aid since early 2002, and U.S. troops continue to train Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) while supplying sophisticated military intelligence. This assistance has strengthened the AFP in its campaign against the ASG.

There are currently only an estimated several hundred rebels left fighting for the group in and around Mindanao.

Arms Sources

The United States is the largest recent supplier of arms to the Philippines. Other suppliers include Singapore, Thailand, Turkey, Australia, Taiwan, Israel and others.

Muslim rebels are armed with weapons captured or illegally purchased from government forces. North Korea is also said to have supplied the rebels. In 2002, the United States offered a military training and support package to the Philippine government to help fight Muslim extremists; this was extended in 2003 and 2004.

Hundreds of thousands of illegal arms are in circulation around the Philippines. The governor of the southern Sulu province attempted to ban firearms in the heavily armed region. But in 2008, the government’s Interior Department provided 1,000 shotguns for use by civilians in selected townships in Mindanao. These weapons are in addition to the estimated 60,000 unlicensed firearms possessed by civilians in Central/Southern Philippines.

MILF alone possesses an additional 20,000 fire arms, as well as landmines.

In 2012 the Armed Forces of the Philippines used U.S.-made smart bombs in their attacks against the Islamic insurgency. For years the United States has been supplying the Philippines with training and intelligence, but these bombs are the first weapons of their kind to be supplied.

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 development in these areas is lagging far behind the rest of the island.

Mindanao is resource rich, and the Philippine government has expressed wishes 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 having a poor human-rights record. The U.S. government has funded some development, through the building new classrooms, medical clinics, roads and wells.

Various insurgent groups targeted extractive industries for extortion.

map: CIA Factbook