Also known as non-violent resistance or passive resistance, unarmed resistance is defined as opposition to a government by the use of noncooperation and other nonviolent methods, such as boycotts and protest marches. This series is dedicated to tackle unarmed resistance of minority groups during the Martial Law period, or the latter part of the Marcos administration (1972-1986). Also, the series was in response to a request of a few readers to have articles focusing on local and regional histories.

Representative Ombra Amilbangsa
Courtesy of


The Muslim in Mindanao

Muslims in the Philippines, alternately known as Moros, was said to have predominated Mindanao. This gave our second largest island the moniker Moroland. Although, the Muslim population only accounted for 20% of the total Mindanao population in 1975.

However, Moro is not an ethnic group. Ethnic groups in Muslim Mindanao include the Maranao (Ranao), Ilanun (Iranun), Magindanao (Maguindanaon), Yakan, Kalibugan, Sama (Samal), Sangil (Sangir) and Tausug (Tau Suug).

The “Muslim Problem”

Since 1914, Muslims in Mindanao expressed their desire for economic and political sovereignty. After Philippine independence was granted in 1946, mass migrations of people from Luzon and Visayas were sponsored by the government. These migration programs included Magsaysay’s Land Settlement Development Administration (LASEDECO) and National Resettlment and Rehabilitation Administration (NARRA), as well as Macapagal’s Land Reform Code. In turn, conditions of Muslims were neglected. The migrants, mostly Christian, also began to contest land claims of the Muslims. This threatened to reduce Muslim hold in their homeland.

By 1961, Representative Ombra Amilbangsa filed a bill to grant political independence to Sulu. This had not pushed through. Incidentally, that year was when Amilbangsa’s term as representative ended. After the Jabidah Massacre in March, Datu Udtog Matalam established the Muslim Independence Movement (MIM) on May 1, 1968. Matalam was former governor of Cotabato.

MNLF Chairman Nur (Nurullaji) Misuari
In 1969, the short-lived MIM was succeeded by the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) and its armed wing, the Bangsa Moro Army (BMA). Both were organized by Nur Misuari (photo at left courtesy of Wikipedia), then a professor from the UP. Misuari, by this time, had popularized the term “Bangsamoro” (Moro Nation). The MNLF managed to draw support from Sulu, Basilan, Zamboanga, Lanao and Cotabato. Until 1976, Muslim Mindanao would be characterized by several armed clashes between the military and the MNLF. Battles fought during the “Moro war for liberation” would be the bloodiest since World War II. In 1974, President Marcos ordered the destruction of Jolo in Sulu and Tumbao in Cotabato as part of “total war” against the MNLF. The Battle for Jolo itself was dubbed as “The Day We Nearly Lost Mindanao.”

According to Inamullah Khan, Secretary General of the World Muslim Congress, the seven-year conflict resulted to 60,000 dead, 54,000 wounded and 350,000 displaced. Of the dead, around 10,000 were soldiers of the Philippine military. 

While independence was the ultimate goal of the MNLF, negotiations had been ongoing since 1972. The result? The Tripoli Agreement of December 23, 1976 which changed the paramount issue from independence to autonomy. According to the agreement, thirteen (13) provinces were to be under a single autonomous region. However, Marcos reduced the number of provinces to ten (10), divided into two autonomous regions (Region IX and XII). Also, the formed autonomous government later proved to be weak.

Estimated extent of Bangsamoro in accordance
to the recently completed Framework Agreement
on the Bangsamoro between GPH and MILF
Photo courtesy of Wikipedia
Peace Comes to Moroland?

Due to setbacks in the implementation of the Tripoli Agreement, the peace process collapsed. Fighting resumed in a much reduced scale by 1978, but it is not to be said that all Muslims in Mindanao supported the liberation of the Bangsamoro through armed struggle.

Muslims displaced by “total war” against the MNLF were evidenced by the rise of “Campo Muslims” in Cotabato and Zamboanga. The term “Campo Muslim” refers to a Muslim community in a Christian-dominated city. From 1980 to 1986, most of the unarmed struggle was taken by Muslims within Campo Muslim. Many of the migrants to Campo Muslims came in search of refuge from harmful actions of the Ilaga, an anti-Muslim Christian vigilante, and of the Philippine military. However, most of the local datus administering the Campo Muslims also feared the military. Thus, they had little to do to address the military abuses done to Muslim civilians.

One of the most infamous atrocities done by the military was the Malisbong or Tacbil Mosque Massacre on September 24, 1974. Conducted by the 15th Infantry Battalion, more than 1,500 died in this incident.

The remaining armed resistance, this time carried on by the “new MNLF” of Salamat Hashim (becomes MILF in 1984), usually won in skirmishes with the military. However, they proved incapable of defending their fellow Muslims. This failure may have dampened their appeal to the Campo Muslims. Actually, the very success of the renewed armed resistance led the military to severely retaliate on Muslim civilians instead. It is to be noted that the MILF was not the voice of the entire Moroland. There were attempts to express opposition minus the clamor of arms. For instance, in 1985, around 10,000 madrasah (Islamic school) students organized a parade during a “Da’wah Conference” of Cotabato ulamas (Muslim legal scholars). A first of its kind in Cotabato province, it was one of the largest Islamic events held at the time.

The students carried messages such as (translated into English):

“Allah Hates Oppressors”

“Muslims and Christians Have a Common Enemy”

“Military Out of Mindanao”

Enter Ninoy

After his successful triple heart bypass in 1980, Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino, Jr. was asked to visit Filipino Muslims abroad. This was where he witnessed the gravity of support for the Muslim insurgency. Disillusioned with Marcos and his policies, these Muslims asked Ninoy Aquino to come up with a solution to the Muslim problem. By 1981, he was already discussing about a “secret formula” that would see the end of the Muslim insurgency in Mindanao.However, his “secret formula” would not see implementation due to his assassination in 1983.

Muslim Mindanao Politics

In elections held from 1978 to 1986, the MNLF, and even the United Democratic Organization, called for a boycott. However, it did not seem to have much effect on the voters. In fact, 88% of the household heads voted. Although, local polls in the Campo Muslims indicate close calls for the KBL candidates.

For example, in the Campo Muslim in Cotabato City, only 32% voted for the winning KBL mayoralty candidate, while the runner-up received 25%. The independent Christian mayor surprisingly garnered 13%. This was despite of the intense campaigning done by the local datus for the KBL candidate. Also, this was the time when Marcos himself won the presidency for the third time with 88% of the nationwide vote (the most lopsided in Philippine electoral history).

Before 1984, the KBL gained all seats in Muslim Mindanao. In the 1984 election, the opposition led by the UNIDO won at least six seats in Muslim Mindanao. In 1986, Marcos won in Muslim Mindanao by around 491,000 votes according to the COMELEC count. However, the NAMFREL count (able only to take account of 70% of the votes cast) indicates a lead of around 79,000 for Corazon “Cory” Aquino. It is also to be noted that the Campo Muslim voters overwhelmingly voted for Cory Aquino: a ratio of three to one.

Want to continue this series? Read the final part of the Minorities during Martial Law series.

See the references by clicking here.


[Disclaimer: While some content may offend or cause disagreement with some readers, it must first be taken to mind that the author does not have access to the entire fountain of sources for this topic. Therefore, whatever analyses and conclusions made here are made as adequate as possible and are only built from the available evidences, sources and theories the author has access. Also, since only few editing, mainly grammatical, was made since this series was first written in 2014, then it is yet to be subjected to change. Any correction is welcome, but copying without permission is being frowned upon, since this blog has copyright. Thank you for reading the Young Filipino Historian.]