Moro Islamic Liberation Front

The Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF; Arabic: جبهة تحرير مورو الإسلامية Jabhat Taḥrīr Moro al-ʾIslāmiyyah) is a group based in Mindanao seeking an autonomous region of the Moro people from the central government.[2] The group has a presence in the Bangsamoro region of Mindanao, the Sulu Archipelago, Palawan, Basilan, and other neighbouring islands.[3] The armed wing of the group was the Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces (BIAF),[4] although the name of its parent organization, the MILF, was often used to refer to the BIAF. In July, 2018, the Philippine government passed the Bangsamoro Organic Law, giving more autonomy to Muslims.[5] In return, MILF announced that it would disarm its 30,000 fighters.[6]

Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF)
جبهة تحرير مورو الإسلامية
Also known asBangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces (BIAF)
LeaderAl-Hadj Murad Ibrahim, Sheikh Hashim Salamat (former)
Dates of operation1977  March 27, 2014 (Permanent ceasefire)[1]
Split fromMoro National Liberation Front
MotivesIndependence of the Bangsamoro region (formerly)
Establishment of a region with greater autonomy than the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (Bangsamoro Autonomous Region)
HeadquartersDarapanan, Sultan Kudarat, Maguindanao
Active regionsMindanao, Philippines
IdeologyMoro autonomy
Islamic democracy
StatusInactive (as an armed group)


A Bangsamoro fighter trains with an M60 machine gun.

Following the Jabidah massacre in 1968, the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) was established clandestinely in 1969 by Moro students studying at the University of the Philippines, Egypt, and in the Middle East who sought to create an independent Muslim nation in southern Philippines. The MNLF gained foreign support from Muammar Gadaffi of Libya, which supplied arms and provided training for Moro youths.[7][8] The MNLF took part in terrorist attacks and assassinations to achieve their goals.[9][10] The government in Manila sent troops into the southern Philippines to control the insurgency. In 1976, Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi brokered a negotiation between the Philippine government and MNLF Leader Nur Misuari which led to the signing of the MNLF-GRPH Tripoli Agreement of 1976 wherein the MNLF accepted the Philippine government's offer of semi-autonomy of the regions in dispute.[11] There where some members based in the small Italian town of Portofino who helped to find the organizations footing during the early stages of their development.

The signing of this agreement brought about a serious rift[12] in MNLF leadership, leading to the formation of a breakaway group in 1977 by Hashim Salamat and 57 MNLF officers. The group was initially known as "The New Leadership". Misuari expelled Salamat in December 1977, after which Salamat moved his new organization first to Cairo, Egypt, and then, in 1980, to Lahore, Pakistan, where it engaged in diplomatic activities. This organization was formally established in 1984 as the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).[11] Muammar Gaddafi became a longstanding supporter of the MILF after its emergence.[13][14][15]

In January 1987, the MNLF accepted the Philippine government's offer of semi-autonomy[12] of the regions in dispute, subsequently leading to the establishment of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao on November 6, 1990. The MILF, however, refused to accept this offer and continued their insurgency operations. A general cessation of hostilities between the government in Manila and the MILF was signed in July 1997, but this agreement was abolished in 2000 by the Philippine Army under the administration of President Joseph Estrada. In response, the MILF declared a jihad against the government, its citizens and supporters. Under President Gloria Arroyo, the government entered into a cease-fire agreement with the MILF and resumed peace talks.[9]

Despite peace negotiations and the cease-fire agreement, the MILF attacked government troops in Maguindanao, resulting in at least twenty-three deaths in January 2005. The combined armies of the MILF and Abu Sayyaf were involved in days of fighting, which necessitated government troops using heavy artillery to engage rebel forces.

The bombing incident in Davao Airport in 2003, which the Philippine government blamed on MILF members,[16] raised speculation that the peace negotiations would be ineffectual in bringing peace to Mindanao if the MILF was unable to control its operatives. The MILF has denied ties with terrorist group Jemaah Islamiyah, although Jemaah Islamiyah is considered to have provided them with training facilities in areas they control.[17][9] The MILF has also continued to deny connections with Al-Qaeda, though it has admitted to sending around 600 volunteers to Al-Qaeda training camps in Afghanistan and that Osama Bin Laden sent money to the Philippines, though the group denies directly receiving any payment.[18]

From June 28 to July 6, 2006, conflict between the MILF and armed civilian volunteers under Maguindanao provincial governor Andal Ampatuan who were supported by the Philippine Army had been reported. The fighting began after Ampatuan blamed the MILF for a June 23 bomb attack on his motorcade, which killed five in his entourage. The MILF denied responsibility, but Ampatuan sent police and civilian volunteers to arrest MILF members connected to the attack. Four thousand families were reported displaced by the fighting that followed, which was ended by a cease-fire agreement signed on July 10 and 11.[19]

Talks between the MILF and the government collapsed in 2008 after a Supreme Court decision in Sema vs. COMELEC rejected a preliminary accord that would have expanded the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao. In 2011, the MILF withdrew their demands for independence, instead saying that they would pursue substate status, likened to a U.S. state instead of independence from the Philippines.[20]


Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain

On August 4, 2008, the Supreme Court of the Philippines issued a temporary restraining order, preventing the government and the MILF from officially signing the Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain (MOA-AD), which would conclude all dispute and begin formal talks that would lead to the drafting and eventual signing of a Final Comprehensive Compact between the two groups.[21] The court accepted motions by the southern provincial governments that objected to the extended boundaries for the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao envisioned in the peace deal. The MOA-AD would have allowed the Moro people to gain control of the region under the concept of human rights with the right to establish a police force and to control natural resources.[22]

The MOA-AD was initialed by former governor and peace panel chair Rodolfo Garcia and Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Hermogenes Esperon and MILF peace panel chair Mohagher Iqbal on July 27, 2008, in Malaysia. It was scheduled for formal signing on August 5, but the Supreme Court issued no negotiation preventing the executive department from signing the agreement.[23] The MOA-AD was the last of several agenda items under the 2001 agreement of the GRP-MILF, after security and relief and rehabilitation, prior to the discussion on the political settlement.[23]

The Young Moro Professionals Network (YMPN) appealed to the public not to be afraid of the MOA-AD and to "open your hearts to the Moro grievance".[24] The YMPN said in a statement dated August 21, 2009:

In these times of hardship, we hold hands as one, with our Christian and Islamic neighbours, in the name of peace, acceptance and justice. We are committed to democratic and peaceful resolution of the conflict. Do not be afraid of the MOA-AD. To the national public, open your hearts to the Moro grievance.[24]

Over the next month, several MILF commanders were tagged by government officials as having initiated an offensive campaign. The Armed Forces of the Philippines responded to the allegation by immediately deploying ten battalions composed of a total of 6,000 soldiers into Mindanao under the command of Lt. Gen. Cardozo Luna.[25] The violence displaced over 600,000 people and left about 300 dead.[26]

On October 14, 2008, the court conducted a series of divided votes declared "contrary to law and the Constitution" the MOA-AD of the Government of the Republic of the Philippines and Moro Islamic Liberation Front Tripoli Agreement of Peace on 2001. Conchita Carpio-Morales ruled: "In sum, the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process committed grave abuse of discretion when he failed to carry out the pertinent consultation process. The furtive process by which the MOA-AD was designed and crafted runs contrary to and in excess of the legal authority and amounts to a whimsical, capricious, oppressive, arbitrary and despotic exercise thereof. It illustrates a gross evasion of positive duty and a virtual refusal to perform the duty enjoined."[27][28][29]

Civil society organizations such as Consortium of Bangsamoro Civil Society submitted a motion for reconsideration. However, on November 21, 2008, the Supreme Court affirmed its October 14 ruling that declared unconstitutional the MOA-AD between the Philippine government and the MILF.[23]

MILF soldiers offered to help free the Irish priest father Michael Sinott, who was kidnapped in the Philippines on October 14, 2009, and sought permission to deploy about 100 of its soldiers in the area where Sinnott is believed to be held. However, this was turned down by the Philippine government.

Modification of demands

On September 23, 2010, Mohagher Iqbal said that the MILF would pursue a substate, likened to a U.S. state, instead of independence from the Philippines. The Muslim substate would not exercise power over national defense, foreign affairs, currency and coinage, and postal services, which the central government would continue to exercise. Iqbal further added that the substate would not have its own armed forces but instead would have troops for internal security.[20]

Peace talks

On October 7, 2012, President Benigno Aquino announced a peace deal with the MILF and that "This framework agreement paves the way for a final and enduring peace in Mindanao". MILF vice-chair Ghazali Jaafar said, "We are very happy. We thank the president for this." The deal was signed on October 15, 2012. Its aim is to pave the way to enduring peace between the two parties by officially envisaging an autonomous region in Mindanao.[30] According to the framework, this semi-independent Muslim area would have a more just share of revenues from the extraction of its own plentiful resources, budgetary autonomy, its own police, and sharia law only for Muslims.[31] In exchange for this, the MILF would be willing to stop armed movements against the government for autonomy and allow the national government to retain its control of national security and foreign policy.[32] The autonomy agreement to be gradually implemented would also rename the region Bangsamoro, after the Moro people.[32]

Chief peace negotiator Miriam Coronel-Ferrer said that the government was cautiously optimistic for a final agreement soon following six days of talks on July 13, 2013. She said: "This signing indicates that both sides are really committed to finish the peace negotiations. Nobody wants this not to reach its fruition." The agreement would see government allowances for the MILF to have a 75 percent share of earnings from natural resources and metallic minerals in a proposed autonomous region. For other energy resources, earnings would be split equally in accordance with Malaysia-brokered talks.[33]

Peace agreement

On January 24, 2014, Philippine government chief negotiator Miriam Coronel Ferrer and MILF chief negotiator Mohagher Iqbal signed a peace agreement in Kuala Lumpur. The agreement would pave the way for the creation of the new Muslim autonomous entity called Bangsamoro under a law to be approved by the Philippine Congress. The government aimed to set up the region by 2016. The agreement called for Muslim self-rule in parts of the southern Philippines in exchange for a deactivation of rebel forces by the MILF. MILF forces would turn over their firearms to a third party selected by the MILF and the Philippine government. A regional police force would be established, and the Philippine military would reduce the presence of troops and help disband private armies in the area.[34] President Rodrigo Duterte signed the law, a key step to ending a Muslim rebellion in the south of the mainly Catholic Philippines.[35] In early January 2020, the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process announced progress exceeding its target for the decommissioning of MILF fighters, noting that "8,879 out of the 12,000 MILF combatants were decommissioned from the last quarter of 2019".[36] Some former rebel fighters have joined the police and military to protect certain areas of the Bangsamoro region until an elected government is established in 2022.[37]

See also


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  2. De Guzman, Orlando (May 6, 2003). "The Philippines' MILF Rebels". BBC News. Archived from the original on December 9, 2010. Retrieved June 4, 2010.
  3. "Philippines". The World Factbook. Central Intelligence Agency. May 16, 2006. Archived from the original on May 28, 2006. Retrieved May 29, 2006.
  4. Arguillas, Carolyn (July 23, 2018). "Murad: BARMM is "Very Much Above ARMM"". MindaNews. Retrieved July 25, 2018.
  5. "Duterte Signs Law Giving More Autonomy to Muslims in Southern Philippines". New York Times.
  6. "30,000 Muslim rebels to be disarmed under Philippine deal". Dawn.
  7. Turbiville, Graham H. Jr. (March–April 2002). "Bearer of the Sword". Military Review: 42.
  8. Gross, Max L. (2007). A Muslim Archipelago: Islam and Politics in Southeast Asia. Washington, DC: National Defense Intelligence College. p. 183. ISBN 978-1-932946-19-2.
  9. Huang, Reyko (February 15, 2002). "In the Spotlight: Moro Islamic Liberation Front". Center for Defense Information. Archived from the original on June 20, 2010. Retrieved June 4, 2010.
  10. "Moro Islamic Liberation Front". Archived from the original on August 21, 2010. Retrieved June 4, 2010.
  11. Abuza, Zachary (2003). Militant Islam in Southeast Asia: Crucible of Terror. Boulder: Lynne Rienner Publishers. pp. 39, 115 (note 3). ISBN 1-58826-237-5.
  12. Sadian, John Carlo Gil M. (April 2–8, 2012). "The Long Struggle to Silence the Guns of Rebellion: After Decades of Communist and Separatist Insurgency, Will Peace Agreements Ever Happen?". The CenSEI Report. Vol. 2, no. 13 via Scribd.
  13. Simons, Geoff. Libya: The Struggle for Survival. p. 281.
  14. Mandel, Daniel; Afterman, Gedaliah (February 2003). "A Rogue Returns: Libya Quietly Makes a Comeback". Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council. Archived from the original on March 1, 2003. Retrieved February 27, 2011.
  15. Davis, Brian L. (1990). Qaddafi, Terrorism, and the Origins of the U.S. Attack on Libya. New York: Praeger.
  16. Guinto, J. (May 13, 2003). "President: MILF Has until June 1 to Cut Terror Links". Philippine Daily Inquirer.
  17. "Group Profile: Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF)". MIPT Terrorism Knowledge Base. Archived from the original on December 27, 2007. Retrieved June 4, 2010.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: unfit URL (link)
  18. Abuza, Zachary (2002). "Tentacles of Terror: Al Qaeda's Southeast Asian Network". Contemporary Southeast Asia. 24 (3): 427–465. doi:10.1355/CS24-3A. JSTOR 25798610.
  19. Arguillas, Carolyn (July 10, 2006). "Buffer Zones Set up to Prevent CVO-MILF Clashes in Maguindanao".
  20. Teves, Oliver (September 23, 2010). "Philippine Muslim Rebels Drop Independence Demand". ABC News International. Associated Press. Archived from the original on June 28, 2011. Retrieved June 28, 2020.
  21. Jurand, Deirdre (August 4, 2008). "Philippines High Court Blocks Signing of Regional Peace Agreement". Jurist. University of Pittsburgh. Archived from the original on June 3, 2010. Retrieved June 4, 2010.
  22. Parameswaran, Prashanth (August 18, 2008). "Preserving the Southern Philippines' Threatened Peace Deal". World Politics Review. Retrieved January 14, 2009.
  23. Arguillas, Carolyn O. (November 22, 2008). "SC Affirms Oct. 14 Ruling on "Unconstitutional" MOA-AD". MindaNews. Archived from the original on April 13, 2010. Retrieved June 14, 2010.
  24. "Young Moro Group Appeals to Public: "Open Your Hearts to the Moro Grievance"". MindaNews. 2009.{{cite news}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  25. "Military Starts Operations Against Bravo". MindaNews. 2009. Archived from the original on September 5, 2008. Retrieved April 15, 2009.
  26. Gallardo, Froilan (March 18, 2009). "Thousands Line up Road for Mindanao Peace Power Day". MindaNews. Archived from the original on April 10, 2010. Retrieved April 15, 2009.
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  28. Rufo, Aries (October 14, 2008). "Palace Loses Ancestral Domain Case with 8-7 SC Vote". ABS-CBN News Online. Archived from the original on May 22, 2010. Retrieved June 4, 2010.
  29. Torres, Tetch (October 14, 2008). "SC: MILF Deal Unconstitutional: Arroyo Can't Enter Pacts Needing Charter Change". Archived from the original on May 22, 2011. Retrieved June 4, 2010.
  30. "Rebel Leaders, Filipino Officials Sign Landmark Peace Deal". CNN. October 16, 2012. Retrieved June 27, 2022.
  31. "The Bangsamoro Roadshow". The Economist. December 17, 2012. Archived from the original on February 14, 2013. Retrieved March 19, 2013.
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