Moro people

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Total population
5% of the Philippine population
Regions with significant populations
Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia, Brunei
Qur'an, Hadith, Adat
Maguindanao, Maranao, Tausug, Malay, Arabic, Zamboangueño, Cebuano, Filipino, English, other Philippine languages, and other languages.

The Moro people, or Bangsamoro, are a population of ethnically indigenous Muslims in the Philippines, forming the largest non-Catholic group in the country, and comprising about 5% of the total Philippine population.

There are various Moro ethnic groups, although other smaller tribes are also called "Moro", as the majority of their populations are also Muslims. The term came into use during the pre colonial period, when the Spaniards used the term Moros (Moors) when they see the Muslims as ethnic indigenous in the islands of Panay, Cebu and even to the Manila, to describe Muslim natives with similar beliefs in what they saw just just 50 years earlier in Spain during their Reconquista of Al Andalus in Southern Spain.

The Moro people mostly live in Mindanao, Sulu and other parts of the southern Philippines. Due to continuous movement of peoples from before the 16th century until the modern day, Moro communities are found in all large cities in the Philippines such as Manila, Cebu and Davao City. In the last half of the 20th century, many Moros have emigrated to Malaysia, Indonesia and Brunei. Newer communities can be found in Kota Kinabalu, Sandakan, Semporna in Sabah, as well as in Brunei.

Indigenous Ethnic Groups

The Moro ethnic group comprises the following population located in the southern islands of the Philippines.


In the 19th and 20th centuries, the Moro people remained separated from the mainstream Philippine society.[dubious ][citation needed] This is due to many social and political factors. The word Moro was a term used in the 16th century by Spanish colonizers in reference to the shared Islamic beliefs between the tribal groups in the Philippines and the ethnically distinct Moors of Al-Andalus in Spain.

Despite opposition from few who objected to the term's origin in Spanish colonialism, the name has evolved and seen as a unitary force. It was adopted by several liberation movements in the region in the late 1960s and early 1970s including the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) and Rashid Lucman's Bangsa Moro Liberation Organization (BMLO). The Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) later adopted it too in 1984.

The term Bangsamoro, derived from the old Malay word bangsa, meaning nation and the Moro as people, is used to describe both the Moro people and their homeland. Marvic Leonen, who was Chief Peace Negotiator for the Republic of the Philippines with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, has said "there is Bangsamoro the place; there is Bangsamoro the identity." The Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro recognizes Bangsamoro as an identity and calls for the creation of an autonomous political entity called Bangsamoro.



Territory of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao
Historical extent of Moro populations and governance

The territory of Moro are called the Bangsamoro region.

Their territory is located in the provinces of Basilan, Cotabato, Compostela Valley, Davao del Sur, Lanao del Norte, Lanao del Sur, Maguindanao, Palawan, Sarangani, South Cotabato, Sultan Kudarat, Sulu, Tawi-Tawi, Zamboanga del Sur, Zamboanga del Norte and Zamboanga Sibugay.[citation needed] It includes the cities of Cotabato, Dapitan, Dipolog, General Santos, Iligan, Marawi, Pagadian, Isabela, Puerto Princesa and Zamboanga.[citation needed] The territory of the former British protectorate in eastern North Borneo (now eastern Sabah) which is administered by Malaysia but disputed by the Philippines, has also been claimed by the Moro National Liberation Front for the Bangsamoro Republik, which declared independence in 2013.

The Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro defines the Bangsamoro to be "Those who at the time of conquest and colonization were considered natives or original inhabitants of Mindanao and the Sulu archipelago and its adjacent islands including Palawan, and their descendants whether of mixed or of full blood".

The August 5, 2008 attempt by the Philippine government's Peace Negotiating Panel to sign a Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front was declared unconstitutional by the Philippine Supreme Court. Conflict immediately broke out on the ground following the decision, with nearly half a million people displaced and hundreds killed. Observers now concur that two Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) commanders — Kumander Umbra Kato and Kumander Bravo — did launch attacks in Lanao del Norte and North Cotabato as a response to the non signing that has shaken the peace process in the region.


The Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) is headed by a regional governor as the outcome of the Final Peace Agreement between the Moro National Liberation Front and the Republic of the Philippines in 1996 under President Fidel Ramos. The regional governor, with the regional-vice governor, act as the executive branch and are served by a Regional Cabinet, composed of regional secretaries, mirroring national government agencies of the Philippines.

The ARMM has a unicameral Regional Assembly headed by a speaker. This acts as the legislative branch for the region and is responsible for regional ordinances. It is composed of three members for every congressional district. The current membership is twenty-four.

Some of this Regional Assembly's acts have since been nullified by the Supreme Court on grounds that they are "unconstitutional". An example is the nullification of the creation of the Province of Shariff Kabungsuwan by the Regional Legistative Assembly (RLA) as this will create an extra seat in the Philippines Congress' House of Representatives, a power reserved solely for the Philippine Congress — Senate and House jointly — to decide on. Some would say, that this proves in itself the fallacy of its Autonomy granted by the Central Government during the Peace Process.


Islam is the most dominant influence on the Moro culture. Large and small mosques can be found all over the region. In accordance with Islamic Law, alcohol and fornication are prohibited. Pork and pork byproducts are not permissible. Another practice is fasting during Ramadan and providing charity for the poor. The Hajj is also a major ritual. Moro women cover themselves using the veil just as in Malaysia and Indonesia. Moro men, especially the elderly, can always be seen wearing the kupya or Muslim skull cap. The Bangsamoro share the gentle attitude of the related ethnic group, the Malayo in Malaysia, Indonesia and Brunei.


Maguindanaon Moros performing on the agung using two balus.

The culture of the Moro revolves around the music of the kulintang, a type of gong instrument, akin to the drum instrument, yet wholly made of bronze or brass found in the southern Philippines. This creats a unique sound that varies in the speed it is hit which includes the Binalig,Tagonggo and the Kapanirong plus others more also normally heard in Malaysia, Indonesia and Brunei.

Ethnic Groups

Dominant Moro groups.

There are at least ten ethnic groups comprising the Moro of the Philippines; all descended from the same Austronesian people (Malayo-Polynesian) that migrated from Taiwan and populated the regions of the Philippines, Southeast Asia, the Pacific islands and Madagascar. Three of these groups make up the majority of these tribes. They are the Maguindanaon of North Cotabato, Sultan Kudarat and Maguindanao provinces, the Maranao of the Lanao provinces and the Tausug of the Sulu Archipelago. Smaller groups include the Banguingui, Samal and the Bajau of the Sulu Archipelago; the Yakan of Basilan and Zamboanga del Sur, the Illanun and Sangir of Davao, the Molbog of southern Palawan and the Jama Mapuns of Cagayan de Tawi-Tawi Island.

Moro groups are not united and they lack solidarity. Each group is proud of their culture, identity, language and religion. Internal differences manifested in occasional internecine dispute.


Early history

In the 13th century, the arrival of Muslim missionaries from Persian Gulf, including one, Makhdum Karim, in Tawi-Tawi initiated the conversion of the native population into Islam. Trade between Malaysia and Indonesia helped establish the Islamic religion in the southern Philippines.

In 1457, the introduction of Islam led to the creation of Sultanates. This included the sultanates of Buayan, Maguindanao and Sulu, which is considered the oldest Muslim government in the country until its annexation by the United States in 1898.

Sulu and other Muslim sultanates were introduced to Islam by Chinese Muslims and Arabs. Chinese Muslim merchants participated in the local commerce, and the Sultanate had diplomatic relations with Ming Dynasty China, being involved in the tribute system, the Sulu leader Paduka Batara and his sons moved to China, where he passed away and Chinese Muslims brought up his sons.

The inhabitants of pre-Hispanic Philippines practiced Islam and Animism. The Malay kingdoms interacted, and traded with various tribes throughout the islands, governing several territories ruled by chieftains called Rajah, Datu and Sultan.

Spanish period

Main article: Spanish-Moro Conflict

The Spaniards arrived in 1521 and the Philippines became part of the Spanish Empire in 1565. The sultanates, however, actively resisted the Spaniards, thus maintaining their relative independence, enabling them to develop an Islamic culture and identity, different from the rest of the Christianized natives which the Spaniards called "Indios" (Indians).

An 1858 German map of the Southeast Asia showing the Spanish territory (Spanische Besitzungen) in the Philippines

With intentions of colonizing the islands, the Spaniards made incursions into Moro territory. They also began erecting military stations and garrisons with Catholic missions, which attracted Christianized natives of civilian settlements. The most notable of these are Zamboanga and Cotabato.

Feeling threatened by these actions, the Moros decided to challenge the Spanish government. They began conducting raids on Christian coastal towns. These Moro raids reached a fevered pitched during the reign of Datu Bantilan in 1754.

The Spanish-Moro Conflict lasted over several hundred years and included multiple wars between the Moros and Spanish.

The string of coastal fortifications, military garrisons and forts built by the Spaniards ensured that these raids, although destructive to the Philippine economies of the coastal settlements, were eventually stifled. The advent of steam-powered naval ships finally drove the antiquated Moro navy of colorful paraws and vintas to their bases. It took until the final 2 decades of the presence of the Spanish in the Philippines for them to launch an extensive conquest of Mindanao. The Sultanate of Sulu, the only sultanate left standing, itself soon fell under a concerted naval and ground attack from Spanish forces. In the last quarter of the 19th century Moros in the Sultanate of Sulu formally recognized Spanish sovereignty, but these areas remained loosely controlled by the Spanish as their sovereignty was limited to military stations and garrisons and pockets of civilian settlements in Zamboanga and Cotabato, until they had to abandon the region as a consequence of their defeat in the Spanish–American War.

In 1876, the Spaniards launched a campaign to colonize Jolo and made a final bid to establish a government in the southern islands. On February 21 of that year, the Spaniards assembled the largest contingent in Jolo, consisting of 9,000 soldiers in 11 transports, 11 gunboats and 11 steamboats. José Malcampo occupied Jolo and established a Spanish settlement with Pascual Cervera appointed to set up a garrison and serve as military governor. He served from March 1876 to December 1876 and was followed by José Paulin (December 1876-April 1877), Carlos Martínez (September 1877-February 1880), Rafael de Rivera (1880–1881), Isidro G. Soto (1881–1882), Eduardo Bremon, (1882), Julian Parrrado (1882–1884), Francisco Castilla (1884–1886), Juan Arolas (1886-18930, Caésar Mattos (1893), Venancio Hernández (1893–1896) and Luis Huerta (1896–1899).

The Chinese sold small arms like Enfield and Spencer Rifles to the Buayan Datu Uto. They were used to battle the Spanish invasion of Buayan. The Datu paid for the weapons in slaves. The population of Chinese in Mindanao in the 1880s was 1,000. The Chinese ran guns across a Spanish blockade to sell to Mindanao Moros. The purchases of these weapons were paid for by the Moros in slaves in addition to other goods. The main group of people selling guns were the Chinese in Sulu. The Chinese took control of the economy and used steamers to ship goods for exporting and importing. Opium, ivory, textiles, and crockery were among the other goods which the Chinese sold.

The Chinese on Maimbung sent the weapons to the Sulu Sultanate, who used them to battle the Spanish and resist their attacks. A Chinese was one of the Sultan's brother in laws, the Sultan was married to his sister. He and the Sultan both owned shares in the ship (named the Far East) which helped smuggled the weapons.

The Spanish launched a surprise offensive under Colonel Juan Arolas in April 1887 by attacking the Sultanate's capital at Maimbung in an effort to crush resistance. Weapons were captured and the property of the Chinese were destroyed while the Chinese were deported to Jolo.

By 1878, they had fortified Jolo with a perimeter wall and tower gates, built inner forts called Puerta Blockaus, Puerta España and Puerta Alfonso XII, and two outer fortifications named Princesa de Asturias and Torre de la Reina. Troops including a cavalry with its own lieutenant commander were garrisoned within the protective confine of the walls. In 1880, Rafael Gonzales de Rivera, who was appointed the governor, dispatched the 6th Regiment to govern Siasi and Bongao islands.

American period

Main article: Moro Rebellion

Japanese occupation

The Moros fought against the Japanese occupation of Mindanao and Sulu during World War II and eventually drove them out.

Philippine independence and government policies

After gaining independence from the United States, the Moro population, which was isolated from the mainstream and experienced discrimination by the Philippine government, including the obvious notion at the Philippine government was a de facto Roman Catholic state, added to the fact that they were now governed by what they view as the former foot soldiers of Spain, their ancestral lands given away to Settlers and Corporations by Land Tenure Laws, arming the Settlers as militia in Mindanao, Filipinization as a the Government Policy which eventually gave rise to armed secession movements.

Struggle for independence

The struggle for independence has been in existence for several centuries, starting from the Spanish period, the Moro rebellion during the United States occupation and up to the present day.

The kris is the weapon of the Moros
The barong is one of several significant weapons of the Moros in the southern Philippines

Modern day Islamic Insurgency in the Philippines began between the 1960s and 1980s. During that period, the Philippine government envisioned a new country in which Catholic and Moro would be assimilated into the dominant culture. This vision, however, was generally rejected by both groups, the Catholic looking still hearing stories from Spanish foot soldier stories of how fierce the Moro was, and the Moro remembering the Catholic as helping its Spanish enemy for 300 years. The two just wont mix. Because of this, the government realized thought that there was a need for a specialized agency to deal with the Moro community, so they set up the Commission for National Integration (CNI)in the 1960s, which was later replaced by the Office of Muslim Affairs, and Cultural Communities (OMACC) and later on as OMA.

As they thought, concessions were made to the Moro after the creation of these agencies, with the Moro population receiving exemptions from national laws prohibiting polygamy and divorce which the Moro has already been exercising. In 1977, the Philippine government another palliative attempt is to move a step further by harmonizing Moro customary law with the national law which has no bearing at all for the Moro.

Naturally, most of these achievements were seen as superficial. The Moro, still dissatisfied with the past Philippine governments' policies and mis-understanding established the Moro National Liberation Front led by Nur Misuari with the intention of creating their independent homeland. This initiated the Islamic Insurgency in the Philippines, which is still going on up to the present, and has since created fractures between Muslims, Christians, and people of other religions. The MNLF is the only recognized representative organization for the Muslims of the Philippines by the Organization of Islamic Nations (OIC).

By the 1970s, a paramilitary organization created by Settler Mayors in collusion with the Philippine Constabulary, mainly of armed Catholic Ilonggo residents of mainland Mindanao, called the Ilagas began operating in Cotabato originating from Settler communities. In response, Moro volunteers with minimal weapons also group themselves with much old traditional weapons like the keris, spears and barong, such as the Blackshirts of Cotabato and the Barracudas of Lanao, began to appear and engage the Ilagas. The Armed Forces of the Philippines were also deployed; however, their presence only seemed to create more violence and reports that the Army and the Settler militia are helping each other. A Chavacano version of the Ilagas, the Mundo Oscurro, was also organized in Zamboanga and Basilan.

In 1981, internal divisions within the MNLF caused the establishment of an Islamic paramilitary breakaway organization called the Moro Islamic Liberation Front. The group continued the insurgency when the MNLF signed a Peace Deal with the Philippine Government in 1994. It has now become the biggest and most organized Moro armed group in Mindanao and Sulu.

The Moro Islamic Liberation Front are now on the final stages of the required annex for the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro that has a set time frame of full implementation in 2016.


Although initialed in a 1976 ceasefire, come 1987 as a fall out of the EDSA revolution, peace talks with the MNLF picked up pace with the intention of establishing an autonomous region for Muslims in Mindanao. On August 1, 1989, through Republic Act No. 6734, known as the Organic Act, a 1989 plebiscite was held in 18 provinces in Mindanao, the Sulu Archipelago and Palawan without considering the effects of continuous migration by Luzon and Visayas Settlers. This was said to determine if the residents would still want to be part of an Autonomous Region. Out of all the Provinces and cities participating in the plebiscite, only four provinces opted to join, namely: Maguindanao, Lanao del Sur, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi. Even its regional capital, Cotabato City, rejected joining the autonomous region as the Settlers has now greatly outnumbered the indigenous Moro and Lumad. When before they are a majority, they have now become a minority.

This still led to the creation of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, however. A second plebiscite, held a year more in 2001, managed to included Basilan (except its capital, Isabela City) and Marawi City in the autonomous region. Of the original 13 provinces agreed on the FPA with the Moro National Liberation Front, only 5 has now been included in the present day ARMM due to the continuous settler program of the Republic of the Philippines that started in the earnest of 1901.

Current situation

Due to the devastating end results of its own policy making from past and present, the Philippines are still pressed to answer the 400 year old Bangsamoro Questions brought about by the continued presence of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, the breakaway faction of the MNLF), the Abu Sayyaf, and by Jemaah Islamiyah. Even the armed Communist Party has gained its foothold in Mindanao with large Lumad adherents.

Moro Islamic Liberation Front boycotted the original referendum formed by the Organic Act referendum and continued the armed struggle through the 20th and into the 21st centuries. However, it remains a partner to the peace process in the southern islands, with the Philippines unwilling to brand MILF a "terrorist" group lest the separatists be driven away from the negotiating table.

Today, the Moro people are still disadvantaged by opportunities and pushed out of their ancestral lands compared to the majority Catholic-Filipino in terms of employment and housing; they are frequently misportrayed and discriminated against in the media as scapegoats or warmongers. This has established escalating tensions that have contributed to the ongoing conflict between the Philippine government and the Moro people. In addition, there has been a large exodus of Moro peoples (Tausug, Samal, Islamized Bajau, Illanun, Maguindanao) to Malaysia (Sabah) and Indonesia (North Kalimantan) over the last 30 to 50 years, due to the illegal annexation of their land by the Catholic Filipino, and armed militias such as the Ilaga has divided the trust between Settler and Moro communities. Land Tenure Laws has changed the population statistics of the BangsaMoro to a significant degree, and has caused the gradual displacement of the this indigenous from their traditional lands.

See also


  1. Analysis: Philippines, Philippines: Insecurity and insufficient assistance hampers return, Situation Reports: Philippines, Philippines: Insecurity and insufficient assistance hampers return
  2. Philippines - Muslim Filipinos
  3. Larousse, William. A Local Church Living for Dialogue: Muslim-Christian Relations in Mindanao-Sulu, Philippines  : 1965-2000. Gregorian Biblical BookShop. pp. 145–165. 
  4. "Press briefing by Presidential Spokesperson Lacierda and GPH Peace Panel Chairman Leonen, October 8, 2012". 2012-01-08. Retrieved 2013-10-12. 
  5. ^ "Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro". 2012-10-15. Retrieved 2013-10-12. 
  6. "BANGSAMORO CONSTITUTION: ROAD MAP TO INDEPENDENCE AND NATIONAL SELF-DETERMINATION". Moro National Liberation Front. 2013-08-23. Retrieved 2013-10-12. 
  7. ^ England, Vaudine (September 8, 2008). "Is Philippine peace process dead?". BBC News. 
  9. Nick Joaquin, Culture and History: Occasional Notes on the Process of Philippine Becoming (Pasig: Anvil Publishing, 2004), 226.
  10. M.R. Izady. "The Gulf's Ethnic Diversity: An Evolutionary History. in G. Sick and L. Potter, eds., Security in the Persian Gulf Origins, Obstacles, and the Search for Consensus,(NYC: Palgrave, 2002)
  11. P. N. Abinales, Donna J. Amoroso (2005). State and society in the Philippines (illustrated ed.). Rowman & Littlefield. p. 43. ISBN 0-7425-1024-7. "the Ming tribute trade beginning in 1368 brought even more traffic, including Chinese Muslim merchants and Arab and Indian missionaries... Sulu appeared in Chinese records beginning in 1349 and sent several tribute missions during the early Ming dynasty. According to historian Cesar Majul, Sulu was visited by Chinese Muslim traders and Arab missionaries who began to spread the faith in the late fourteenth century. Paduka Batara, the Sulu ruler who died in China, left two sons to be raised among Chinese Muslims." 
  12. Josephus Nelson Larned (1924). Donald Eugene Smith, Charles Seymour, Augustus Hunt Shearer, Daniel Chauncey Knowlton, ed. The new Larned History for ready reference, reading and research: the actual words of the world's best historians, biographers and specialists; a complete system of history for all uses, extending to all countries and subjects and representing the better and newer literature of history, Volume 8. C.A. Nichols Publishing Company,. p. 6697. "proved ineffectualy to suppress the scourge, and it was not until the introduction of gunboats that the Spaniards succeeded in getting the upper hand. The Moros were never, however, subdued by the Spaniards. Some of the chiefs made nominal submission while retaining actual independence, and several campaigns were conducted in Mindanao during the last twenty years of Spanish occupancy of the Philippines." ... Twenty years later, the Chinese in turn took possession, under the leadership of Koxinga" 
  13. James Francis Warren (2007). The Sulu zone, 1768-1898: the dynamics of external trade, slavery, and ethnicity in the transformation of a Southeast Asian maritime state (2, illustrated ed.). NUS Press. pp. 129, 130, 131. ISBN 9971-69-386-0. 
  14. James Francis Warren (2007). The Sulu zone, 1768-1898: the dynamics of external trade, slavery, and ethnicity in the transformation of a Southeast Asian maritime state (2, illustrated ed.). NUS Press. p. 130. ISBN 9971-69-386-0. 
  15. James Francis Warren (2007). The Sulu zone, 1768-1898: the dynamics of external trade, slavery, and ethnicity in the transformation of a Southeast Asian maritime state (2, illustrated ed.). NUS Press. p. 131. ISBN 9971-69-386-0. 
  16. Nelly van Doorn-Harder. "Southeast Asia, Islam in." Encyclopedia of Islam and the Muslim World. Edited by Martin, Richard C. Macmillan Reference, 2004. vol. 1 p. 647.
  17. James R. Arnold, The Moro War: How America Battled a Muslim Insurgency in the Philippine Jungle, 1902-1913 (Bloomsbury Press; 2011) 306 pages
  20. Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao

External links

  • Moro Community Affairs
  • MoroLaw:Moro Views on Bangsamoro Affairs
  • A new medium for the modern moro
  • The Bangsamoro Online - The History and Struggle of the Bangsamoro people
  • The Moro Islamic Liberation Front Website
  • The Bangsamoro Documentation Project
  • Amir Butler - The Moro Struggle for Independence
  • Swish of the Kris: The Story of the Moros, by Vic Hurdley
  • At The Da’Wah Center: A Call for Help
  • The Moro Conflict and the Philippine Experience with Autonomy
  • The Bud Dajo Centennial
  • Moro Swords
  • The Saga of Moro People during Martial Law
  • Bangsamoro Successors Generation Network (BSGN)

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