Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), Sulu Province, Republic of
Philippines. A survey of 30 paramilitary operatives.
Figure 1: Regional map showing location of Jolo: Capital of Sulu Province
Figure 2: Sulu Province and adjoining islands
Bob East (PhD)
Name: Dr. Robert (Bob) East
Academic qualifications: BA (hons) PhD (S/Qld)
Address: 114 Parrish Lane, Eukey, Stanthorpe, Queensland, Australia. 4380
Biographical information: Dr. East is an independent researcher who resides in a small rural
town in Southeast Queensland, Australia. He holds a Bachelor of Arts (Honours) as well as a
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) degree—University of Southern Queensland, Australia. (Honours
dissertation: “Negotiating for peace: The Bangsa Moro and the Government of the Republic
of the Philippines). (PhD dissertation: Redefining domestic counterinsurgency post 2001, Sulu
Province, Republic of Philippines). His chief area of research is the minority Muslim
population of the southern Philippines—a region he has travelled to on a number of
occasions—and associated insurgency and independence issues. He has presented his
findings and research at 10 national and international conferences. He has a number of
journal publications and conference papers.
Dr. East is currently converting his PhD thesis—Redefining domestic counterinsurgency, post
2001, Sulu Province, Republic of Philippines—into a book. The title of which is Terror
Truncated; The demise of the Abu Sayyaf Group since the crucial year 2002.
The Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) has its headquarters in Sulu Province, Mindanao
region: Republic of Philippines. Despite a 1996 peace agreement, sporadic and violent
confrontations have occurred between MNLF paramilitary operatives and members of the
Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP). In 2008 a number of MNLF paramilitary operatives—
30—were interviewed at a MNLF camp in Barangay Marang in the Sulu municipality of
Indanan. With the permission of their camp commander they answered a number of
prewritten questions and were given the opportunity to respond further if they so desired—
many did. The interviewees ranged in age from early twenties to one in his sixties. This
paper examines the answers given by the MNLF operatives and the conclusion reached is
that the overwhelming majority were for complete autonomy for their province.
Furthermore, the Philippine national government was seen as a colonial ruler. More
importantly the historic 1996 peace agreement between the MNLF and the Government of
the Republic of Philippines (GRP) was seen to have failed, as was the inclusion of their
province in the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).1
Much of the primary evidence, that is survey question comments, which were
gathered for this study may at first have the appearance of being imbalanced or biased.
However the perception of bias or imbalance is not surprising given that the MNLF had been
subjected to both military action and verbal condemnation by most Philippine
administrations, and indeed some Western countries, since its formation in 1969. Moreover,
fresh in the minds of many of the MNLF respondents would have been two of the most
significant contemporary military encounters between the MNLF and the AFP in Sulu
Province: February 2005—approximately 70,000 civilians displaced; and November 2005—
approximately 12,000 civilians displaced. It is possible that some of the 30 interviewees had
been involved in these two incidents. However for reasons of confidentially, and the
possibility of requital from the AFP, any reference to participation in the above incidents
they proffered in their answers has been deliberately ignored.
Importantly, it must be acknowledged from the outset, there is no Philippine
Government policy that prohibits the MNLF to exist as an organisation. Unlike another two
Philippine insurgency organisations—the Abu Sayyaf Group, and the Rajah Solaiman
Movement—the MNLF is not, and has never been on the “enemy list” in the U.S. Global War
on Terror—now referred to as Overseas Contingency Operation. As an organisation, the
MNLF is formally protected under the 1987 Philippine Constitution (Article XIII, “Role and
Rights of People’s Organisations”. However the MNLF sees itself as a liberating domestic
insurgent group—a sentiment shared by the majority of members of the Organisation of
Islamic Cooperation—previously the Organisation of Islamic Conference (both have the
acronym OIC) . Put simply, a liberating domestic insurgent group sees itself as championing
the cause of people—normally original inhabitants—who genuinely believe that the ruling
government does not represent their better interests, or indeed respect their heritage. This
of course in the case of the MNLF includes the recognition of ancestral domain.
The MNLF has in the past entered into three peace agreements with various
Philippine administrations: The Tripoli Peace Agreement in 1976—President Ferdinand
Marcos; the Jeddah Accord, in 1987—President Corazon Aquino; and the GRP/MNLF Peace
Agreement in 1996—President Fidel Ramos. The 1976 and 1987 peace agreements for a
variety of reasons—not the least opposition from the Mindanao Christian majority—failed,
and the 1996 peace agreement, although partially implemented, has never lived up to
expectations. The MNLF has reason to believe that the Philippine Presidents during these
three peace agreements had let them down. However in all fairness Presidents’ Aquino and
Ramos, under the 1987 Constitution, could only serve one six-year term, making the
implementation, and monitoring of a long-term peace agreement difficult. At the time of
the interviewing of the 30 MNLF operatives the incumbent President of the Philippines was
Gloria Macapagal Arroyo —the most unpopular President since Ferdinand Marcos. In July
2008 the Social Weather Stations recorded a net satisfaction rating of -41 for President
Arroyo in the Mindanao region.2 The net satisfaction figure for Sulu Province would have
been similar—if not slightly higher. With that in mind it was expected that the 30 MNLF
interviewees would be highly critical of the Arroyo administration.
Research methodology and restrictions
The research methodology adopted for this paper was primary evidence in the form
of survey questioning of 30 MNLF paramilitary operatives that encouraged personal
comment—this, in the main, was achieved. The questionnaires were written both in Tausag
and English, and there were only three possible answers—yes; no; other, please specify—
the last option was not taken up by any of the respondents in any of the questions. For the
most part the primary evidence (comment) was written in Tausag by the interviewees. It
was then translated into English. Inter alia, some of the interviewees wrote comments in
broken English—for ease of reading and understanding, these comments have been
abridged and corrected. Only five survey questions were presented to the MNLF
personnel—simplicity being the overriding factor. Simplicity because lengthy academic style
questions may have had the appearance of “veiled” interrogation. The overriding objective
of the questionnaires was to encourage further comment.
At the outset it is acknowledged that 30 respondents/interviewees may initially not
be seen as being significantly representative of the MNLF in Sulu Province. However what
must be remembered is MNLF paramilitary operatives in this region are numerically fluid.
This is governed by situational events such as military training, emergencies, or more
mundane reasons such as the necessity to eke out a living. When it came to translation,
difficulties arose. All respondents were from the municipality of Indanan in Sulu Province.
Moreover, all of the MNLF respondents were permanent residents of this municipality and
may have been using a local dialect of the Tausag language. This made exact translation to
English by the local facilitator and research assistants difficult. Another reason for some
slightly confusing written responses may have been that some MNLF respondents were
The MNLF paramilitary forces in Sulu Province are highly disciplined and well
organised, and like many military organisations may have officers who are specifically
assigned the authority to comment on issues of organisational security, as well as matters of
intelligence—although what is divulged would be punctilious to the point of obsession and
no doubt rehearsed. Importantly, the MNLF operatives who were interviewed for this study
had permission from the officer-in-charge of the military camp in Barangay Marang in the
Sulu municipality of Indanan. This statement is reinforced by the fact all the interviewees
signed and dated their responses. However for reasons of confidentiality their names will
remain anonymous. At the time of these interviews the camp in Barangay Marang was
under the control of the MNLF’s Provincial Chairman, Khaid Ajibon. However Chairman
Ajibon was not available for interview.
The survey questions, comments, and appropriate interpretation are now presented
Question 1 sought to ascertain whether or not the MNLF believed it had popular
support from the population of Sulu Province at large. The question of ancestral domain was
also raised. The question put to the survey respondents was “do you believe that the
majority of the Sulu population support the MNLF and its broader agenda of having
ancestral domain recognised”. The response was as follows: Yes. 25; No. 5.
The most significant aspect of the responses to this question was of those who
answered “No”—5 respondents—not one offered a comment. This was in stark contrast to
the respondents who answered “Yes”—25 respondents—of whom 10 commented. The
reluctance of respondents to expand on their “No” answer may have been because they
were instructed not to negatively comment on a contentious issue that, in the main, had
broad MNLF support. The comments that were made by the, “Yes” respondents made
informative, and in some cases poignant reading.
Five of these “Yes” respondents made mention in part to the MNLF having certain
“rights” which they believed successive Philippine administrations had transgressed, or at
best neglected. This belief that the “rights” of the MNLF have been violated suggested more
than a mere coincidence. The MNLF, similar to many organised military structures, may, in
their training include some form of education in the way of political analysis and legal
interpretation. There is little doubt that these MNLF respondents would have been given
some insight into the 1987 Philippine Constitution, in particular those Articles which
mention rights, and human rights. For example, in Article XII, National Economy and
Patrimony. Section 5 of Article XII in part reads—“the State guarantees the rights of
indigenous cultural communities to their ancestral lands”. As well, Article XIII, Role and
Rights of People’s Organizations—Section 15—in part reads, “the State shall respect the role
of independent people's organizations to enable the people to pursue and protect, within
the democratic framework, their legitimate and collective interests and aspirations through
peaceful and lawful means”. With these two Articles/Sections in mind, it was obvious why
these respondents felt that their rights had been contravened, given that they were
indigenous. For the purpose of being classified “indigenous” the Moros of the Sulu region
have been present for over 500 years. Importantly, the Moros also belonged to an
organisation which had been subject to military action by the AFP—whose role under the
Constitution was to be, in part, “the protector of the people and the State”.
Four respondents made mention of the Chairman and founder of the MNLF, Nur
Misuari. The favourable mention of Misuari was not unexpected given he is held in high
regard in his birthplace, Sulu Province. Furthermore the OIC recognises Misuari as the
legitimate leader of the MNLF, even though some factions of the MNLF do not. Importantly,
in March 2007—at the 2nd Mindanao MNLF leadership peace summit—Sultan Faud A. Kiram
1 of the Royal Hasemite Sultanate of Sulu bestowed on Misuari the rank and title of Datu
(Prince) of the Sultanate of Sulu and North Borneo/Sabah—symbolic perhaps, but
The United Nations (UN) and the OIC was mentioned, in part by a further three
respondents. (This in itself indicates that the “education” in the MNLF camps—of which
there are a number in Sulu Province, albeit some are temporary—is both informative as well
as propaedeutic). The UN and the OIC has in the past been petitioned—as well as
addressed—on the Moro cause in the southern Philippines. For example, Nur Misuari, in
December 2001, petitioned the UN calling for the decolonization of the Bangsamoro
homeland in the southern Philippines and establishment of an independent Bangsamoro
Republic of Mindanao. And, in 2004, Mucha Shim Arquiza, representing the “Asian Muslim
Action in the Philippines” called on the UN High Commissioner on Human Rights to help
stop the military conflict in Sulu Province. The OIC, which gave formal recognition to the
MNLF in 1975, and permanent observer status in 1977, allowed Nur Misuari to address their
Session of the Council of Foreign Ministers in June 2008. He spoke impassionedly—and in
some length—about Moro issues. (Inter alia, Misuari was released from detention in Manila
specifically to address the OIC).
Misuari was a joint recipient—with President Fidel Ramos—of the 1997 UNESCO
“Felix Houphouet-Boigny Peace Prize” for the signing of the 1996 GRP/MNLF Peace
Agreement. This award was mentioned by one of the survey respondents. From these
comments and answers it is obvious that the MNLF sees the importance of keeping its
members updated on issues that involve the MNLF internationally.
When it came to the question of ancestral domain, only one respondent offered a
comment, but the meaning of ancestral domain may have been lost in translation. Or, more
likely, the respondents, who were all Tausag Sunni Muslims, believed they still had some
control over their ancestral lands, albeit tacit, even if they did not have official autonomy.
Question 2 bought into the survey the contentious issue of the 1996 GRP/MNLF
Peace Agreement. It is widely acknowledged that this peace agreement which promised so
much, in the end delivered little—partly due to its non-implementation in full. The question
put to the survey respondents was “do you believe that if the 1996 peace agreement
between the MNLF and the Philippine Government had been fully implemented, then Sulu
would now be more peaceful and prosperous?” The response was as follows: Yes. 22; No. 8.
As with question 1 a similar negative response (1 from 8) came from respondents who
answered “No”. And in the similar manner, those respondents who answered “Yes”—22
respondents—only 9 commented.
At the time of this survey the 1996 GRP/MNLF agreement was over 13 years old. The
agreement was a complex document that dealt with issues such as MNLF integration into
the AFP and to a lesser degree the Philippine National Police (PNP). It also advocated
resource revenue sharing with the Muslims of the Mindanao region. Its partial enactment
had little impact on the quality of life of the average Sulu citizen and even less on the
average MNLF paramilitary operative in Sulu Province.
The only respondent to question 2 who gave comment when answering “No”’ was a
65 year old veteran. His brief answer is included here with no grammatical correction “no;
because each and every member of the MNLF are aspiring something differently”. There
was some poignancy to his answer—maybe disappointment, or even frustration. This
respondent would have been 52 years old at the time of the signing of the 1996 agreement
and 32 years old at the time of the 1976 Tripoli Agreement—which was considered the
model for the 1996 agreement. It is more than likely that this MNLF operative had
experienced over the past four decades military action between the MNLF and the AFP.
Of the nine respondents who answered “Yes” four believed that the Philippine
Government—and that included all administrations since the signing of this agreement—
had “deceived” the MNLF. More importantly these four respondents further believed the
Philippine Government has/had no intention of fully implementing the agreement. A further
three respondents made mention of the AFP “bombing” the MNLF and civilians in Sulu. (This
of course would have been during full-scale military encounters between the AFP and the
MNLF forces in the first decade of the 21st Century). Importantly all nine respondents
believed that Sulu Province would be more peaceful and prosperous if the agreement had
been fully implemented. (Please refer to Figure 3 below for specific economic clauses in the
agreement). Moreover, it came as no surprise that all the MNLF paramilitary respondents
were very familiar with the terms and conditions of the 1996 GRP/MNLF Peace Agreement.
After all, this agreement and accompanying ceasefire was the most significant event that
had occurred to date between both parties. The importance of the Philippine Government,
in particular the Arroyo Administration—which through a series of constitutional incidents
lasted for nine years and five months—not fully implementing the 1996 GRP/MNLF Peace
agreement cannot be overstated.
Figure 3. Important clauses in Section D of the 1996 GRP/MNLF Peace Agreement.
1 The granting of incentives, including tax breaks, to business establishments and
investors; (Article 129)
2 The enactment of a Regional Tax Code and a region-based Local Tax code; (Article 132)
3 The establishment of “economic zones and industrial centers” as well as the construction
of port facilities in growth centers for the purpose of attracting both local and foreign
investments and commercial enterprises consistent with the special zone act and the
Autonomous Investment Act; (Articles 141, 142, and 150).
4 The formulation of economic and financial policies as well as the implementation of
economic and financial programs (Article 140), including the encouragement of the
establishment of banks, and the entry and establishment of off-shore bank units of
foreign banks; (Articles 127 and 136).
5 The control, supervision and regulation “over the exploration, exploitation,,
development, utilisation and protection of mines and minerals,” with the exception of
certain “strategic minerals” later to be defined; (Articles 146 and 147)”.
6 The acceptance and administration of foreign financial and economic grants for the
development and welfare of the people in the region; (Article 137) and the preparation
of an annual budget of its own revenue resources and subsidies from the national
government, including the planning, programming, and distribution of its funds.
The survey now moved onto question 3 which sought to gauge the reaction of
respondents to the contentious U.S. military presence in their province since 2001. It must
be acknowledged here that under the terms of the 1999 “Visiting Forces Agreement” (VFA)
U.S Military Forces can be stationed anywhere in the Philippines with the sole purpose to
advise and train members of the AFP. The question asked of respondents was “do you
believe that the presence of U.S. Military Forces in Sulu has been beneficial in any way?”
The response was as follows: Yes. 24; No. 6.
At the outset, it is important to mention that question 3 may have appeared
ambiguous to both the translator and the respondents at large, insofar that “beneficial” was
intended to imply it would assist Sulu and its population in general in some capacity.
However, all but one written response assumed—or so it appeared by the content of the
answers—the question was asking if the U.S. military presence benefited either the Arroyo
administration, or the U.S. Military itself. As previously mentioned, the error in translation
may have been as a result of dialectic difficulties. The mention of the legality of the 1999
VFA may have also been beneficial when framing this answer—however it was not and the
question had to stand within its constraints.
Predictably, there were three main responses to the U.S. military presence in Sulu
Province. First was that the U.S was there to assist the Arroyo Government in quashing the
autonomous aspirations of the local population—and this was to be achieved by force.
Second was the belief that the U.S. was re-enacting their colonial actions of the early part of
the 20th century—the centenary of the infamous Bud Dajo massacre (1906) had been
remembered in ceremonies in Sulu just two years before this survey.3 Last was the
overwhelming belief that the U.S was conducting public infrastructure upgrading for more
than just philanthropic reasons—although some financial gain to the population had
resulted. Their belief was not without some foundation. In 2004, Steven Metz and Raymond
Millen, writing for the ‘Strategic Studies Institute of the US Army War College’, espoused the
theory that to defeat any liberation insurgency organisation—which the MNLF see
themselves—the local population must be opposed to the insurgents. And, the most
effective way to achieve this is for the national government, or in this case the visiting
forces, giving to the local population that which the liberationist insurgents are unable to
provide: humanitarian aid, public infrastructure construction, security and so forth.
The most interesting answer/argument put forward by a respondent to this question
involved the belief that the U.S. was after the buried treasures of “our forefathers”. The
reference to treasures being buried in the Philippines dates back to WW II. This theory is
widely believed to be true by many Filipinos in some provinces of the Philippines. During
WW II there were less than 1000 non-Suluanos in Sulu, and this may have included a small
contingent of Japanese military personnel, making the possibility of confiscating “treasure”
from the Tausugs very difficult at the best—if indeed there was any “treasure”. The
Japanese Commander of the Philippines during WW II was General Yamashita, who was
hanged in Davao City, Mindanao, on 3 April 1946. Yamashita had sent back to Japan, during
the Japanese occupation of the Philippines, a considerable amount of gold to help with
Japan’s war effort. He refused to confirm or deny if there had been any gold buried
anywhere in the Philippines awaiting shipment back to Japan before he was hanged—hence
the rumour or more likely myth.
Question 4 involved the acceptance or otherwise of being in the ARMM. The
question simply asked, “are you happy with Sulu being part of the Autonomous Region in
Muslim Mindanao?” The response was as follows: Yes. 13; No. 17.
Of the written responses to this question only two were in favour of remaining in the
ARMM. These two written responses were short and lacked any worthwhile detail. Why the
other 11 “Yes” respondents did not comment is unknown. In contrast, the respondents who
were not in favour of remaining in the ARMM, in many instances gave a detailed
explanation of why they believed withdrawal from the ARMM was desirable as inclusion had
not benefited Sulu Province. As with questions 1, 2 & 3 comments from selected
respondents have been translated, corrected, and abridged.
First, it was believed inclusion in the ARMM worsened the overall situation for all the
Muslims in the Mindanao region. Genuine independence was needed not autonomy.
Second, full and unconditional independence should be granted immediately to Sulu
Province. Third, being a part of the ARMM has not led to any long-lasting peace in the
Mindanao region, especially the Sulu Archipelago region. Fourth, autonomy—as was
granted to the ARMM—has been tried, found wanting and in the main has failed. It was
time for genuine independence not selective independence. Last, the original inhabitants of
Sulu Province need their independence and this is not possible whilst being a part of an
Importantly, more than half of the MNLF respondents were not happy with being a
part of the ARMM. This finding was somewhat surprising given that when the 1989
plebiscite was conducted to form the ARMM, Sulu voted overwhelmingly for inclusion. It
must be remembered here that the feeling of discontent at being a part of the ARMM was
only from MNLF members. However, given that the MNLF enjoys popular support in Sulu, it
is not without some foundation to suggest that the Sulu population, at large, would have
the same feeling of unease at being a part of the ARMM as the majority of the MNLF
respondents had indicated. Inter alia, in an interview in August 2005, 15 years after the
original ARMM was formed, the Chairman of the MNLF, and also a former Governor of the
ARMM, Nur Misuari, described the ARMM, in his words as a, “lousy form of government”. It
now appeared the enthusiasm in Sulu Province which was evident at the formation of the
ARMM in 1990 had somewhat diminished. By and large, most respondents saw no
advantage in being included in the ARMM. As expected, genuine independence for Sulu, in
some form, was desired by the majority of respondents. This was not unexpected given that
Sulu had retained some degree of autonomy—Sultanate—for hundreds of years until
Philippine independence was granted in 1946.
The final question to the respondents bought into the survey the issue of the Arroyo
administration’s domestic counterinsurgency policies and the effect on the MNLF. The
question asked was, “do you believe that the Arroyo administration is using its domestic
counterinsurgency policies in an attempt to discredit the MNLF?” The response was as
follows: Yes. 24; No. 8.
In this final question, of those respondents who answered “No” not one offered a
comment. Moreover, as opposed to questions 1-4 this question attracted few written
responses, and of those even fewer could have been seen as addressing the question. The
disappointing results of the written responses to this question may have been, as previously
mentioned, with translation difficulties. Like “insurgency” the word “counterinsurgency”,
does not have a Tausug equivalent. The translator had to substitute the Tausug words Pag-
atubang ha kahiluhalaan, the English translation of which has various meanings, including
“security”. Like so many languages, exact translation is difficulty—sometimes impossible. As
with questions 1, 2, 3 & 4 comments from selected respondents have been translated,
corrected, and abridged.
First, it was believed there was no hope for sustainable development under the Arroyo
administration. Second, it was stressed the military actions of the Arroyo administration
against the MNLF will one day “rebound” onto it. Third, the actions and presence of the AFP
is creating disorder. Moreover, talking had failed. fourth, the Arroyo administration finds
favour with the U.S. and the Christian population of the Philippines Government by being
antagonistic to the MNLF. Last, the MNLF was seen as being, quote, “straight in the name of
God”, and “the MNLF strives hard for peace; the Arroyo administration does not”.
Overall assessment of the MNLF survey
The answers by these MNLF paramilitary operatives generated valuable primary
evidence from an area that is generally considered to be a war zone. The limitations
associated with dialectic difficulties diminished somewhat the effectiveness of the
responses. However the subjective views reflected in most responses, which were not
surprising given the contentious and sensitive issues raised, did not lessen the value of the
survey. In defence of the subjectivity shown by most respondents, it must be remembered
that these paramilitary members of the MNLF would have in all likelihood seen military
action against the AFP. Moreover, some may have been in the large MNLF camp in the
village of Bitanag in Panamao Municipality, Sulu Province, which was attacked and
destroyed by the AFP in April 2007—with heavy losses on both sides. Subsequent events,
including the destruction of 54 barangays—villages—which followed the levelling of the
MNLF camp in Bitanag, resulted in the displacement of, it was estimated, approximately
8,000 families—which may have translated into over 60,000 persons. These events still
would have been vivid in the memory of the respondents, as would the knowledge that the
Philippine military, which was responsible for the above mentioned events, had been
trained and advised by U.S. Military Forces, which still had a considerable presence in Sulu
Province at the time of this survey. Notwithstanding that some respondents acknowledged
that the U.S. military has been responsible for limited financial assistance in Sulu Province,
they nevertheless overwhelmingly believed that there was an ulterior motive behind this
It has been suggested that the respondents had been subjected to some form of
education, instruction and/or briefing, as a part of their training. This in itself is not unusual.
As mentioned, the knowledge of issues such as awards to Nur Misuari, addresses to the U.N.
and so forth would have been a part of the on-going briefings which MNLF paramilitary
operatives would have received. The 1996 GRP/MNLF Peace Agreement—arguably the most
important peace agreement between the MNLF and the Philippine Government in 30
years—and the promise of security and financial guarantees which the MNLF had been
offered by the signing of this peace agreement, was paramount in the answers of most
respondents. The 1996 GRP/MNLF Peace Agreement was not always specifically mentioned
by the respondents, but it was implied. For example, many respondents mentioned “being
fooled by promises”, and “being lied to”. Moreover, the majority of respondents believed
that had the 1996 GRP/MNLF Peace Agreement been fully implemented then Sulu Province
would be now more peaceful and prosperous. Importantly it should be remembered that
the 1996 GRP/MNLF Peace Agreement was designed to bring peace and prosperity to all of
the Moros in the southern Philippines, not just in Sulu Province. However, because Sulu is
the homeland of the MNLF, as well as the birthplace of its founder, this peace agreement
had special significance. Coupled with the belief that the 1996 GRP/MNLF Peace Agreement
had not been fully implemented, and the broader ramifications that this produced, one of
the more interesting findings of the survey was that a majority of respondents were
unhappy with being a part of the ARMM. It is just possible had the same question been put
to other provinces in the ARMM especially Maguindanao and Lanao del Sur it may have
produced a more favourable answer.
The possibility arises that the respondents who objected to being a part of the
ARMM may have been of the opinion that the Moro Islamic Front (MILF), which is the major
Moro paramilitary organisation in the other regions of the ARMM, may have in some way
been partly responsible for the non-implementation of the 1996 GRP/MNLF Peace
Agreement. This argument may be seen to have some merit if it is remembered that the
MILF had, since March 2003, been involved in its own peace negotiations with the Arroyo
administration. Although there is, at the time of this study, no open antagonism between
the MNLF and the MILF, it is not unreasonable to suggest that each group is motivated by
self-interest; that is, the interests of its own members. It is also not unreasonable to suggest
that if the MILF was successful in its negotiations, which also involved issues of ancestral
domain, then, the MNLF and its 1996 Agreement may become redundant. This may, in part,
explain why the majority of the MNLF respondents were uncomfortable with being a part of
the ARMM. After all, Sulu Province, given its size and population relevant to the entire
ARMM, is in a minority condition.
Respondents were asked if they believed that the Arroyo administration was using
its domestic counterinsurgency policies to discredit the MNLF. The response was
overwhelmingly in the affirmative even though the word “counterinsurgency” may not have
been familiar to some (if not the majority) of the MNLF respondents. Given that this may
have been so, the MNLF respondents almost certainly would have understood the meaning
of “discredit”. Leaving aside “counterinsurgency policies”, the words “discredit”, and
“Arroyo Administration” would have been familiar to the respondents, and, the correlation
between these two words would have been obvious. The respondents who answered “Yes”,
and gave supporting statements, were in the main, critical of the Arroyo administration. This
criticism included predictions of retribution for past actions against the people of Sulu
Province. The prediction of retribution by these operatives is an exemplar of action
advocated by Franz Fanon, an anti-colonialist from Algeria who wrote in 1963 that the
starving peasant, outside the class system, is the first among the exploited to discover that
only violence pays. Fanon advocated insurgency accompanied by violence against the
French colonial rule in Algeria. The Algerian insurgency could be described as classic
liberation insurgency—and it was successful.
In summarising the various answers and comments proffered by the 30 MNLF
paramilitary respondents, it is clear that the following factors and recommendations were
all important to them. And, by association, it may be true of the vast majority of Sulu
residents. First, the MNLF Chairman, Nur Misuari was held in high esteem by all survey
participants—not unexpected given that Misuari is a native of Sulu Province. Second,
sustainable peace can only be achieved if the “rights” of the Sulu people are recognised as
outlined in the 1987 Philippine Constitution. And, these “rights” must include the
recognition of ancestral domain. Third, the 1996 GRP/MNLF Peace Agreement must be fully
implemented. Something that would see, among other advantages, the sharing of the
income from natural resources with the local Sulu population. Fourth, the AFP and U.S.
military personnel must be withdrawn from Sulu Province. Crime prevention and detection
must be the responsibility of the PNP—whose membership preferably should come from
the local population. Fifth, all military action against the MNLF must cease. Sixth, Sulu
Province should withdraw from the ARMM. Finally, the contentious issue of self-rule or
genuine independence must be addressed. All of the above would be difficult to implement.
Lasting peace in Sulu Province would appear to be a long way in the future.
1. ARMM. Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao: The ARMM originally consisted of
Lanao del Sur, Maguindanao, Tawi-Tawi, and Sulu. In September 2001 the province of
Basilan and Marawi City were added. And in October 2006 the newly proclaimed province of
Shariff Kabunsuan was added. In 2008 Shariff Kabunsuan was withdrawn from the ARMM
due to constitutional irregularities.
2. Social Weather Stations is a public opinion group. The ‘satisfaction’ figure has the
‘dissatisfaction’ figure subtracted giving a net satisfaction. It dissatisfaction is higher than
satisfaction a negative figure results—figures are shown stand-alone numbers.
These figures are from GMA News, “Arroyo ratings in steep plunge”, 18 July 2008
3. On 7 March 1906, U.S. troops killed approximately 1,000 Filipino Muslims, including
women and children, at Bud Dajo, a volcanic crater on the island of Jolo, Sulu Province. On
March 9 1906, the New York Times headline read: “Women and Children killed in Moro
Battle…President [Theodore Roosevelt] wires congratulations to the troops.
Arnando, Mary. August 2005. A Visit to Chairman Nur Misuari. Available at
Arnold, James R. 2011. The Moro War. How America battled a Muslim insurgency in the
Philippine jungle, 1902-1913. New York, Bloomsbury Press.
Bauzon, Kenneth. 1999. The Philippines. The 1996 Peace Agreement for the southern
Philippines: an assessment, Available at
Fanon, Franz. 1967. The wretched of the Earth. London, Penguin.
GMA News, Arroyo ratings in steep plunge, 18 July 2008. Available at
Metz, Stephen & Millen, Raymond. 2004. Insurgency and counterinsurgency in the 21st
Century: reconceptualizing threat and response.
Taylor, Victor & IdjiraniI, Abraham. 2006, A Tabang Mindanaw study for Pagtabangan
The 2nd Mindanao MNLF leadership peace summit. Available at
The initiatives of the Moro National Liberation Front at the United Nations Organization.
2001. Available at http://mnlf.net/index.htm
Working group on minorities. 2004. Available at