Philippines-Mindanao (1971 – first combat deaths)


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.

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

Economic Factors


2017 Government troops struggled to liberate the city of Marawi from fighters affiliated with IS and led by Maute Group, who laid siege to it on May 23. In the first month of fighting, 66 soldiers were killed and 350,000 residents were forced to flee the city and surrounding area. While the government at first denied any militant link to IS, the militants involved in the siege soon openly pledged allegiance to IS and received funds and support from foreign fighters. At the end of May, there were hundreds of Islamist fighters in Marawi, with at least 2,200 civilians trapped in conflict zones.

Opposed to IS, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front aligned themselves with the Philippine government and worked to gain control of the Muslim population in the Mindanao region.

On October 16, commanders Isnilon Hapilon of Abu Sayyaf and Omarkhayam Maute of the Maute group were killed in Marawi. In late October, the Philippine government officially declared the siege over, but kept martial law in place until the end of the year.

2016 No major clashes between the government and the MILF or MNLF were reported. In February, the government and MILF agreed to extend their ceasefire until March 2017 (International Crisis Group). In May, Rodrigo Duterte was elected President, replacing Benigno Aquino III (2010-2016). He is the first Mindanaoan to hold office. In March, during the election campaign, MNLF leader Nur Misuari expressed MNLF support for the candidate and his policies, particularly his proposal to implement federalism, which could help bring greater prosperity to Mindanao (ABS-CBN). MNLF also believed in Duterte’s sincere support of the full implementation of the 1996 peace agreement between the MNLF and the government. In July, Duterte called for an all-Moro body to draft a more inclusive law in lieu of the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) and, in December, the Bangsamoro Transition Committee (BTC) began to draft a new version of the BBL (International Crisis Group).

Fighting between the government and other Islamic rebel groups persisted. February also saw the revival of the Jemaah Islamiyah-affiliated Maute Group, with an attack on an army post in Lanao del Sur. The fighting displaced approximately 30,000 people and killed approximately 40 militants (International Crisis Group). In April, the Philippine military launched a major operation against Abu Sayyaf (ASG) on Basilan Island, which resulted in the deaths of 18 soldiers and 37 militants, the highest death toll of a single military operation since 2011 (CNN Philippines). On September 2, a bomb attack on Davao City, later claimed by ASG, killed 15 and injured 68 (International Crisis Group). The Philippines, Indonesia, and Malaysia announced plans to initiate joint army training to defend the Sulu Sea against Abu Sayyaf (Jakarta Post).

A February attack by Maute Group on an army base in Lanao dal Sur displaced at least 30,000 people (International Crisis Group). Seven thousand more were displaced for more than a month as the result of clashes between armed groups and government security forces in Basilan province, southern Philippines (International Committee of the Red Cross). Military operations against Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters has displaced more than 20,000 people in Maguindanao (International Crisis Group). More than 168,300 people were newly displaced by conflict in 2016.

2015 The Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) had not been passed by December 31. Two modified versions of the bill were introduced in August and September, but the 145-person quorum in the House of Representatives, necessary to pass the bill, was not reached (GMA Network).

Fighting between the government and rebel groups continued while politicians debated. On January 25 police commandos suffered heavy casualties during an operation against MILF. Multiple investigations into the operation called for government prosecution of suspects from MILF, BIFF, and private armed groups.

2014 The Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) was signed on March 27, and then the process of drafting the Bangsamoro Basic Law began. In April the draft bill was sent to President Aquino, who approved it in September. It had not been passed as of May 1, 2015. MILF announced the creation of the United Bangsamoro Justice Party. Low-level conflict between the BIFF and ASG continued. In April the Philippines signed a new 10-year deal with the United States that permitted an increased number of U.S. troops in the country.

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 current government is led by President Rodrigo Duterte, who won the May 2016 elections with 38.5 per cent of the vote (International Crisis Group). Duterte has been criticized by the United States for his harsh war on drugs and has lashed out against these criticisms (Reuters). Previous President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III was elected in a landslide victory in 2010 for a six-year term. Aquino vowed to continue peace talks with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), launched by his predecessor Gloria Arroyo, who was elected to Congress the same year. The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) has a force of approximately 125,000.

Supported by

2. The Government of the United States: The United States and the Philippines have a long standing diplomatic and military relationship. The Philippines, a former colony of the United States, hosts major U.S. military bases. While there are indications that U.S. forces could become directly involved in the conflict, the Philippine Constitution only permits the United States to arm and train members of the Philippine Armed Forces. President Duterte announced his “separation” from the United States after declaring that he had realigned with China (Reuters). Duterte called for the withdrawal of U.S. Special Forces from the southern islands, saying that their presence could complicate offensives against Islamist militants (Reuters).

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

a. Ilaga, a Christian extremist group, is said to have resurfaced after 20 years of inactivity. They are tolerated and sometimes supported by the military in parts of Mindanao. The group is infamous for its June 1971 massacre of more than 70 Moro civilians inside a mosque.

b. Civilian Armed Forces Geographical Units (CAFGU) are an irregular auxiliary force of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, created in 1987 by then President

c. Civil Volunteer Organizations (CVOs)

d. Police auxiliaries


Mindanao-based rebel groups, most of which identify as Muslim, are fighting to attain greater autonomy for the island’s Muslim population. Some groups seek outright independence from the central government. Rebel groups include:

4. The Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF): Established by Nur Misuari in 1971, MNLF originally sought to secure a Muslim state independent of the Philippines. 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 in late 2001. Multiple factions have splintered off from MNLF, but many remain loyal to Misuari. MNLF launched a new series of attacks in 2005. The Armed Forces of the Philippines renewed hostilities against the group, reasserting past claims that MNLF was working with Abu Sayyaf. In 2012, MNLF/Misuari declared an independent Bangsamoro Land and in 2013, an independent Bangsamoro Republik 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 was formed in 1981 after its leader, Salamat Hashim, left the MNLF. MILF is primarily based in central Mindanao and is the country’s largest rebel group, with an estimated 11,000 members. Since Hashim’s death in 2003, MILF has been led by Al Haj Murad. 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, it changed this goal in 2010 to advocate for 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. In April 2014 MILF announced that it was establishing a new political group, the United Bangsamoro Justice Party.

6. Abu Sayyaf Group (i.e., “bearer of the sword”): ASG is another MNLF splinter group, which broke away in 1991. It disagrees with the MNLF’s pursuit of increased autonomy for the Philippines’ Muslim population and wants to establish an independent Islamic state. ASG founder Abdurajak Abubakar Janjalani (killed by police in 1998) was an imam who fought in the Soviet-Afghan war, when he purportedly met Osama Bin Laden. Al-Qaeda provided initial funding and training to the ASG. ASG factions, connected through kinship or personal ties, cooperate and occasionally compete against each other. The group has an estimated 400 fighters in Sulu and Basilan, and is considered a terrorist organization by both Manila and Washington. ASG has carried out kidnappings and bombings, which have been condemned by both the MNLF and MILF.

7. Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Movement/Fighters (BIFM/BIFF): In December 2010, BIFM splintered from MILF when MILF moved away from its original goal of creating a separate Islamic state. BIFM was originally led by Ustadz Ameril Umbra Kato, who died in 2015. He was replaced by BIFM’s former vice-chairman for political affairs, Ismael Abubakar. There are an estimated 300 BIFM fighters.

8. Jemaah Islamiyah (JI): JI was founded in 1993 by Indonesian radicals who fled to Malaysia following their release from prison. The transnational organization has cells in Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia, and the Philippines. With ties to al-Qaeda and IS, JI seeks to establish an Islamic state across the arc of Southeast Asia.

9. Khalifa Islamiyah Mindanao (KIM): Founded between 2011 and 2013, KIM is a Jihadist group that seeks to establish an independent Islamic state in Mindanao. KIM is an umbrella organization composed of members from the ASG, JI, rogue members from BIFM, and members of other armed Islamic groups. It is led by Afghan-trained cleric Humam Abdul Najid.

10. Maute Group/Islamic State in Lanao: Founded in 2013 by Abdullah Maute, the group seeks to form an Islamic State in Lanao. The Maute group is headquartered in Butig in the province of Lanao del Sur, also an MILF stronghold. The clan-based gang reportedly has ties to JI and is composed of former MILF guerrillas and overseas fighters. The group has approximately 200 members and is reportedly using the government’s failure to pass the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) to recruit young fighters. In 2016, the gang resurfaced and played a part in September’s Davao City bombing, February’s prolonged attack on a Lanao del Sur army post, and November’s attempted bombing outside the U.S. Embassy in Manila. That year, Maute Group militants allegedly flew IS flags during the fighting (International Crisis Group).

Status of Fighting



On January 5, more than 100 Muslim rebels attacked a prison in Kidapawan, freeing 158 inmates in the biggest jailbreak in the history of the Philippines. Security forces later recaptured 40, and killed at least seven, inmates.

On February 27, the smallest and most radical Islamist rebel group, Abu Sayyaf, posted a video of the beheading of a German hostage.

On May 23, security forces unsuccessfully raided the hideout of Isnilon Hapilon, leader of Abu Sayyaf. Abu Sayyaf then called for reinforcements from an allied group, the Maute and attacked Marawi City. Security forces clashed with about 100 fighters, with at least three security force members killed. Attackers burned a church, capturing a priest, 10 worshippers, and three church workers; the city jail; and two schools while taking control of the main streets and blocking entrance to the city via two bridges. President Rodrigo Duterte declared martial law in the southern region.

On May 24, the armed groups beheaded the police chief of Marawi. At least 13 militants were killed. By May 28, 19 civilians had been killed in clashes between armed forces and Muslim fighters.

Although most citizens fled Marawi, about 2,000 people remained trapped in the city. Approximately 60 militants and 15 security forces had been killed by May 27. Foreign fighters supported the rebels. On May 29, the Philippine military chief stated that three Malaysians, an Indonesian, and Arab fighters had been killed. Helicopters from security forces fired rockets at rebel hideouts. After a week of fighting, dozens of civilians were dead.  

On June 1, the Philippine military accidentally killed at least 10 of their soldiers in an airstrike targeting the Maute group. On June 4, security forces attempted to secure a ceasefire to rescue civilians trapped in Marawi. By then, at least 38 civilians had been killed, with the actual death toll possibly much higher. Philippine authorities stated that 120 rebel fighters and 38 government security forces had been killed.

On June 10, approximately 13 Philippine marines were killed and 40 wounded in a 16-hour-long battle in Marawi between security forces and the Maute group. By June 13, between 300 and 600 civilians remained trapped and starving in the city. On June 15, Filipino politician Zia Alonto Adiong stated that at least 100 dead civilians were scattered about the city. According to the Philippine military, by June 27, at least 70 government soldiers and 300 Muslim fighters had been killed, but the military had been able to regain control of most of the city. By June 28, more than 300,000 people had been displaced from their homes in Marawi and the surrounding area.

In early July, Defence Secretary Delfin Lorenzana denied claims by local media that at least 2,000 civilians had been killed. According to the government, by July 18, 500 people, including military, rebel fighters, and civilians, had been killed.

The U.S.-backed Philippine military continued airstrikes well into August, targeting the remaining 70-80 gunmen.

On October 16, top commanders Isnilon Hapilon of Abu Sayyaf and Omarkhayam Maute of the Maute group were killed in Marawi. On October 23, the Philippine government officially declared the end of the siege. According to the government, more than 1,000 people were killed. In November, ongoing fighting in Marawi was reported; nine Islamist fighters were killed on November 6. Marshall law was extended to the end of the year.

Other events

On June 21, as many as 200 Bangsomoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (affiliated with IS) took control of a primary school in Malagakit, close to the city of Pigcawayan, taking five civilians hostage. In the ensuing gun battle with security forces, the militants were eventually forced to retreat. The number killed in the fight was not known, but at least 1,000 civilians fled their homes in Malagakit and two other villages.

On July 21, the Philippine government ended peace talks with communist rebels after a series of violent clashes in Mindanao left three government soldiers dead and six wounded. Militant attacks were in retaliation for the government’s seizure of a communist rebel camp in early July. On July 28, the military killed four communist fighters from the New People’s Army in Sorsogon.

2016 Both Abu Sayyaf (ASG) and the Maute Group continued to clash with government forces. In January, attacks by Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) caused thousands of civilians in the southern Philippines to flee. Fighting in February between government soldiers and Maute Group fighters in Lanao del Sur resulted in the displacement of thousands of Butig residents and the deaths of approximately 40 militants (CNN Philippines). In April, the military launched a major operation against ASG on Basilan Island, Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao. While more than 50 were injured, 18 soldiers and 37 militants were reportedly killed in this military operation, which had the highest death toll since 2011. The military captured at least three ASG camps and released 29 hostages, including a former Italian missionary; 10 Indonesian soldiers; 14 Indonesian citizens; and four Malaysians. In May, government troops reportedly killed 54 Maute Group members. The next month, the government captured a Maute Group training camp, killing dozens of militants; four soldiers were killed. In July, the military reportedly killed 40 ASG fighters in clashes on the islands of Jolo and Basilan. Also in July, the military reportedly killed 33 BIFF militants (International Crisis Group).

In August, 12 soldiers and at least 21 ASG fighters were killed in clashes. ASG also claimed responsibility for a bomb that killed 15 and injured 68 in Davao City on September 2. In October, the Philippine Defense Secretary said that police had apprehended three Maute Group members in connection with the Davao City attack (International Crisis Group). In November, the military reportedly killed 61 members of Maute Group. On November 28, authorities diffused a bomb outside the Manila U.S. Embassy and held Maute Group responsible (International Crisis Group).

2015 Fighting between police commandos and rebel groups was ongoing. On January 25 the government engaged MILF rebels while searching for Malaysian terror suspect Zulkifi bin Hir aka Marwan. In the resulting battle 44 commandos, 17 militants, and five civilians were killed (International Crisis Group, April 1, 2015). This incident threatened to derail the legislative process to pass the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL).

Government forces also fought with ASG and BIFF rebel units that continued to reject the BBL. In February the military launched an operation against the ASG that lasted until March 30 and reportedly killed over 100 militants (International Crisis Group). There were also frequent smaller clashes, including almost daily incidents in July. The ASG carried out terrorist acts, including kidnappings and bombings.

2014 Despite the peace agreement, sporadic fighting continued, particularly between government forces and groups not involved in the peace process, such as the BIFF and the ASG. International Crisis Group reported clashes involving BIFF in January, July, September, October and November; a bombing incident and  ambush were attributed to them in December. ASG was involved in conflicts in April, July, November and December. Two MILF commanders were killed, one in February during an arrest and another in August, reportedly by other MILF fighters. In April, the MILF declared that the AFP had killed MILF soldiers while taking action against the ASG.

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.

2017 Between May 23 and October 23, extremely violent clashes between the Maute group and Abu Sayyaf and the Philippine military resulted in the deaths of approximately 1,130 people, according to the government. Of these, 920 were militants, 165 troops and police, and some 45 were civilians.

IDPS and Refugees: Approximately 350,000 fled the city of Marawi and the nearby area during the siege.

2016 According to International Crisis Group (ICG), the Mindanao conflict caused at least 545 casualties in 2016 (International Crisis Group, monthly report totals added together for 2016).

Refugees and IDPs: According to UNHCR, 193,100 IDPs were able to return home, while 168,300 were newly displaced (UNHCR). There were 356 refugees, 190 asylum seekers, and 8,084 stateless persons living in the Philippines (UNHCR Mid-Year Trends report, Annex Table 1, page 30).

2015 According to the International Crisis Group (ICG), the Mindanao conflict caused at least 233 fatalities (156 militants, 65 security forces, and 12 civilians) (International Crisis Group, 2 February 2015 to 4 January 2016).

Refugees and IDPs: The ICG noted that ongoing fighting had left at least 120,000 people internally displaced in March, with an additional 27,000 in May (International Crisis Group). The UNHCR’s country report recorded 42,171 internally displaced people by June 2015, while 334,888 returned home (UNHCR).

2014 According to International Crisis Group, there were at least 140 conflict-related deaths, including 81 rebels and 17 security forces. In January the government claimed that 40 rebels had been killed in an offensive, but this was refuted by the BIFF.

Refugees and IDPs: The UNHCR does not provide separate cause-related counts of refugees and IDPs in the Philippines. In total, there were 729 refugees and 771 asylum seekers from the Philippines as well as 54,831 internally displaced persons in mid-2014. Ten thousand people fled their homes in January due to conflict between the government and BIFF.

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

2017 On February 4, a six-month ceasefire with communist rebels in the southern part of the country ended after President Duterte refused to continue negotiating with the rebels. In March, Commander Bravo of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front agreed to peace negotiations with the Philippine government.

In May, the government gained the support of the Cordillera People’s Liberation Army in the fight against the Maute group in Marawi. By September 6, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front had aligned themselves with the Philippine military against the Maute group. On May 27, in declaring martial law in the south, President Duterte “joked” that each soldier was allowed to rape as many as three women.  

In June, President Duterte was forced to accept U.S. military support in Marawi. In July, traditional religious leaders in Mindanao were angered after they were not acknowledged by President Duterte during the Marawi crisis.

In July, President Duterte pledged to back a bill that would give Muslims greater autonomous control in Mindanao. In September, hundreds of protesters in large cities in the Philippines protested martial law in Mindanao, while President Duterte vowed to imprison those who spoke against it. In December, martial law was extended until the end of the year.

2016 In February, the Philippine government and MILF agreed to extend their ceasefire until March 2017. MILF said that it would uphold the Mindanao peace process ahead of the May elections and was working to dissuade IS-allied militants from carrying out attacks (International Crisis Group). In May, Benigno Aquino III was succeeded as president by Rodrigo Duterte, for whom MNLF leader Nur Misuari had expressed support (ABS-CBN). Consistent with campaign promises, house speaker Pantaleon Alvarez said that the new Congress would focus on federalization of the Philippines to address the provisions of the 2014 Comprehensive Agreement on Bangsamoro (CAB). The same month, the government and MILF signed the Declaration of Continuity of the Partnership in the peace process. Poll results showed that 45 per cent of the population agreed that the new president should implement the CAB.
In July, Duterte called for an all-Moro body to draft a more inclusive law in lieu of the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) and to unite the existing peace agreements, including CAB and the 1996 final peace agreement with MNLF. In August, the government and MILF signed a joint statement agreeing to increase membership in the newly reconstituted Bangsamoro Transition Committee (BTC) to include representatives from MNLF and indigenous communities. In November, Duterte signed the executive order to authorize this expansion. However, Misuari said that the MNLF would not participate with “traitor” MILF and suggested separate peace talks with the government. The BTC began drafting a new version of the BBL. MILF leaders hoped that the new law would reach Congress by July 2017 (International Crisis Group). During an October meeting in Beijing, Duterte announced that he was loosening ties with Washington (Reuters) and expressed ideological alignment with China and Russia (Reuters).

2015 The January police operation in Mamasapano had major political consequences. In its aftermath, a House of Representatives ad hoc committee suspended the legislative process necessary to pass the BBL. The results of a police investigation in March indicated that President Aquino was personally involved in the operation. The Department of Justice, the National Bureau of Investigation, and the National Prosecution Service called for criminal charges to be laid against MILF, BIFF, and mercenaries involved in the January attack.

Legislative discussions on the BBL resumed on April 20, but were put on hold when the legislature recessed on June 11. In August, Senator Ferdinand Marcos Jr. proposed a revised version of the BBL that amended 80 per cent of its provisions. The following month, Rep. Rufus Rodriguez introduced the Basic Law on the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region (BLBAR) as an alternative to the BBL. In October the MILF and MNLF both signed a declaration in favour of the BBL as originally drafted. The year ended with no agreement of any kind, as the House of Representatives was unable to reach the 145-person quorum necessary to pass the legislation (GMA Network).

2014 The Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) was signed on March 27. It paved the way for the creation of an autonomous region in southwestern Mindanao and surrounding islands, which will replace the ARMM.  Then, the process began to draft and pass the necessary legislation, the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL). The draft bill, written by the Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC), was submitted to President Aquino on April 22. The bill was sent to Congress in September.  During the year, many hearings took place to discuss the content of the bill and ensure public comprehension. Zamboanga city asserted that it would not be included in the autonomous region. Advocates for the Lumad (Indigenous people) wanted their rights and needs acknowledged in the new bill. As of May 1, 2015, the bill had not been passed. After Congress passes the legislation, residents of the area will take part in a referendum to determine their support for the bill. The current government of the ARMM stated its willingness to step down early to facilitate the transition of power. MILF announced that it was establishing a new political group, the United Bangsamoro Justice Party. In January 2015, MILF and the government signed an agreement for the decommissioning of MILF weapons.

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.


After the Philippines gained independence in 1946, the United States accelerated a massive resettlement program. Begun in the early twentieth century, it drastically changed the religious makeup of the southern island of Mindanao, which had been populated and governed by Muslims. By 1983, 80 per cent of Mindanao was Christian and the remaining Moro Muslim population were bitterly resentful.

Since 1971, the predominantly Roman Catholic Philippines has faced armed opposition from several Muslim groups. First, the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) sought greater autonomy for the island of Mindanao. Several breakaway groups, including the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG), seek independence for Mindanao. In 1972, in response to intense fighting, then-President Ferdinand Marcos declared martial law, which remained in effect for several years. In 1976, the government agreed to a framework that led to the establishment of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), comprising five provinces. In 1996, the MNLF signed a major peace agreement with the government, which paved the way for MNLF-leader Nur Misuari to run for office; he was elected governor of the ARMM that same year. His term ended in violence when he led a failed uprising in November 2001.

MILF and the government resumed peace negotiations in November 1998, after a ceasefire accord was reached in mid-1997. The talks were unsuccessful and in 2000 President Joseph Estrada called them off and began military attacks against the MILF. In November 2000, the House of Representatives impeached President Estrada on bribery charges and removed him from office in 2001. After assuming the presidency in 2001, Vice-President Gloria Arroyo was elected president in 2004, despite charges of electoral fraud and corruption. In 2007, she announced an intensified campaign against Muslim rebels, with the goal of destroying the insurgency by 2010. While MILF peace talks with the government continued, MNLF ended an 11-year ceasefire in 2007 after the government attempted to disarm it. In 2010, Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III won a landslide victory in presidential elections and talks with MILF and MNLF continued.

In October 2012, a political deal between MILF and the government was announced, which included a plan to replace ARMM (which President Benigno Aquino III described as “a failed experiment”) with a new autonomous region called Bangsamoro, in return for the laying down of arms by MILF. In 2014, the MILF and the Filipino government signed the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB). The redesigned power-sharing agreement was presented to the legislature for approval as the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL). By December 31, 2015, the bill had stalled in the House of Representatives.


Arms Sources

The United States is the largest supplier of arms to the Philippines.

Other suppliers between 2008 and 2015 included France, Germany, Italy, South Korea, Poland, and Turkey. The Philippines defence budget was $2.1-billion in 2013, $2-billion in 2014, and $2.2-billion in 2015 (The Military Balance, Vol. 116, 486).

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 $1.8-billion (U.S.) in extra funding for military equipment purchases for 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 AK-47 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 has developed a technical capacity for bomb making. M16s are 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.

In April 2014 Philippines signed a new 10-year deal with the United States that permits an increased number of U.S. troops in the country, although it does not allow U.S. military bases.

In November 2016, President Duterte and Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak agreed to increase maritime security operations against Abu Sayyaf after frequent kidnappings of soldiers and sailors in the Sulu Sea (International Crisis Group). The same year, Indonesia, Malaysia, and the Philippines announced plans to initiate joint army training to secure the Sulu Sea from ASG piracy (Jakarta Post).

Economic Factors

Mindanao is resource rich and the Philippine government has expressed its desire to open the area to foreign mining companies. Various insurgent groups have targeted extractive industries for extortion. Mindanao is the most impoverished of the Philippines’ three major island groups. Muslims in the most impoverished parts of west Mindanao lag far behind the Christian majority in socioeconomic development. Due to the conflict, poverty in Mindanao rose from 56 per cent in 1991 to 71.3 per cent in 2000 (World Bank). By 2006, poverty had fallen to 38.8 per cent; however, the conflict has kept Mindanao’s poverty incidence 11.9 percentage points higher than the national average (ABS-CBN).

The Philippine economy grew by 6.8 per cent in 2012 and 7.2 per cent in 2013 in the two strongest growth years since the 1950s. The U.S. government has funded development projects in the Philippines, building classrooms, medical clinics, roads, and wells.

Peace negotiations have had a positive effect on the ARMM economy by increasing investment in the area (Manila Bulletin). President Aquino’s government spent more on Mindanao from 2010 to 2016 than his predecessors had in the previous 12 years (The Economist, October 17, 2015). According to The Economist, between 2010 and 2014 investment in the Mindanao region, from the World Bank and other sources, increased more than sixfold.

In a report on the Mindanao conflict, the World Bank stated that the average economic cost of the war from 1975-82 represented about one per cent of the annual GDP for central and southwestern Mindanao, translating to approximately $200-million. From 1970 to 2001, the World Bank estimated that the Mindanao conflict produced between two and three billion dollars in direct output losses (World Bank).


map: CIA Factbook

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