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Moro (ethnic group)


Moro (ethnic group)

Moro people
agung using two balus.
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 indigenous ethnic Muslims in the Philippines, forming the largest non-Catholic[1] group in the country, and comprising about 10% of the total Philippine population.[2]

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 colonial period, when the Spaniards used the term Moros (Moors) when they see the muslim ethnic indigenous in the islands of Panay, Cebu and Manila, to describe Muslim natives they also saw just 50 years earlier during their Reconquista of Andalus in Southern Spain.

The Moro people mostly live in Mindanao 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 are found in Kota Kinabalu, Sandakan, Semporna and 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 ]. This is mainly due to the "Filipinization" approach of the Republic of the Philippines and the Land Tenure Laws enacted as early as early as the creation of the Republic of the Philippines. There were no Moro and or Lumad mandate and representation during the Malolos Congress.

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 only during Spanish Arrival, the name has evolved positively and seen as a unitary force in Mindanao and Sulu, genrally to take in also the Lumad indigenous communities in Central Mindanao.

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.[3]

The term Bangsamoro, derived from the old Malay word bangsa, meaning nation or people and Moro, 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."[4] The Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro recognizes Bangsamoro as an identity and calls for the creation of an autonomous political entity called Bangsamoro.[5]



The settlements of Muslim Filipinos are called the Bangsamoro region.

Their territory is located in the provinces of Basilan, Cotabato, 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. It includes the cities of Cotabato, Dapitan, Dipolog, General Santos, Iligan, Marawi, Pagadian, Isabela, Puerto Princesa and Zamboanga. The territory of the former British protectorate North Borneo (today mostly 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.[6]

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".[5]

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.[7] Conflict immediately broke out on the ground following the decision, with nearly half a million people displaced and hundreds killed.[7] 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 that hurt the peace process in the region.[7]


The Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) is headed by a regional governor. 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. Proving in itself the fallacy of its Autonomy granted by the Central Goverment during the Peace Process with the Moro National Liberation Front.


Islam is the most dominant influence on the Moro culture. large and small Mosque are all over the region. As usual practice,alcohol and fornication are prohibited. Pork and pork by products is not permissible. Another practice is fasting during Ramadan and providing charity for the poor. The Hajj is also a major ritual. Moro women cover use the veil just as in Malaysia and Indonesia, Moro men especially the old can always be seen wearing the kupya or muslim skull cap. The Bangsamoro shares the gentle attitute of their Malayo brothers in Malaysia, Indonesia and Brunei.


The culture of the Moro revolves around the music of the kulintang, a type of gong instrument, found in the southern Philippines. This music includes the Tagonggo and the Kapanirong plus others normally heard in Malaysia, Indonesia and Brunei.

Ethnic 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 Melbugnans of southern Palawan and the Jama Mapuns of Cagayan de Tawi-Tawi Island.

Moro groups are not united and they lack solidarity.[8] Each group is proud of their culture, identity, language and religion. Internal differences manifested in occasional internecine dispute.


Islam arrival in Sulu and Mindanao

In the 13th century, the arrival of Muslim missionaries from Persian Gulf,[9] including one, Sharif Makhdum Karim from Yemen, in Tawi-Tawi initiated the conversion of the native population into Islam. Trade between Malaysia and Indonesia helped establish the Islamic belief in southern Philippines.

Historically, the Moro and Lumad of mainland Mindanao can be traced back to two ancestral brothers named Apo Mamalu for the Lumad and Apo Tabunaway for the Moro. Sharif Kabungsuwan pleaded to the two brothers to embrace Islam. This famous event are still enacted

In 1457, consequently 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 immorally annexation by the United States in 1898.

Sulu and other Muslim sultanates were introduced to Islam by Melay, Arab and Chinese Muslims arriving in the Melayu Peninsula. 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.[10]

In general, to understand the Philippine Archipelago set up, the inhabitants of pre-Colonial Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao practiced Islam and Animism. The Malay kingdoms naturally 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).

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.[11] 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.[12] 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.[13]

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.[14]

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

Philippine independence and government policies

After gaining independence from the United States, the Moro population, which was isolated from the mainstream by their leaders, experienced discrimination by the Philippine government, including the notion at the Philippine government was a de facto Roman Catholic state, which gave rise to armed secession movements.[15][16]

Moro Independence

Main articles: Islamic Insurgency in the Philippines and Peace process with the Bangsamoro in the Philippines

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.

Modern day Moro Insurgency in the Philippines began to implode between the 1960s and 1980s. On the background of unfair Land Tenure Laws to encourage Corporate and Settler migration[17], the illegal annexation and false representation of Moro and Lumad mandate during the Malolos Congress, Aggravated by the new Philippine government vision of a new country with a policy of "Philippines for Filipinos". This smack right into the social and economic trauma experienced by the Moro during its 400 years of resisting the colonizing might of the Spanish in the the name of King Philip II. This vision, was naturally rejected by the various ethnic Moro and Lumad communities, who perceived that it was just a euphemistic equivalent of the Spanish. Another point in fact, is that the enforcers are the same foot soldiers from Luzon and Visayas who had aided the Spanish against them.

Inadequately, the government stop gap measure 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 provides Education grants to promising Moro and Lumad students, which was later replaced by the Office of Muslim Affairs, and Cultural Communities,(OMACC)

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. In 1977, the Philippine government attempted to move a step further by harmonizing Moro customary law with the national law.

Unfortunately, most of these achievements were seen as superficial. The Moro and Lumad, still dissatisfied with the past Philippine governments' development policies and wrong policy approaches established the Moro National Liberation Front led by University of the Philippines Professor Nur Misuari with the intention of creating their independent homeland. This initiated the Moro and Lumad Insurgency in the Philippines, which is still going on up to the present, and has since created fractures between Moro, Lumad, and Settlers. The MNLF has achieved to become the only recognized representative organization for the Muslims of the Philippines by the Organization of Islamic Nations (OIC).

By the 1970s, organized by a Philippine Constabulary officer and supported by seven mayors of Settler Communities, a paramilitary organization composed mainly of Settler Ilonggo residents of mainland Mindanao, called the Ilagas began operating in Cotabato. In retaliation, Moro armed bands, such as the Blackshirts of Cotabato and the Barracudas of Lanao, began to appear and fight the Ilagas. The Armed Forces of the Philippines were deployed to install peace; however, it was too late, the harmonious relations between Moro, Lumad and Settlers has turned to mutual mistrust, Military presence only seemed to create more violence. A Chavacano version of the Ilagas, the Mundo Oscurro, was also organized in Zamboanga and Basilan. The Ilaga Milita become self subsisting para military groups extracting extra judicial taxes and protection money from local busineses and populations, a classic guns, goons and gold story.

In 1981, internal policy divisions within the MNLF caused the establishment of another Moro led paramilitary breakaway organization called the Moro Islamic Liberation Front|MILF). The group continued the insurgency when the MNLF signed a Peace Deal opting for Autonomy with the creation of Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) with the Philippine Government in 1994.

The Moro Islamic Liberation Front is now on the last stages a Peace Process with the Goverment of the Republic of the Philippines.[18]


In 1987, peace talks with the MNLF began 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. This was to determine if the residents would 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.

This still led to the creation of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, however. A second plebiscite, held in 2001, included Basilan (except its capital, Isabela City) and Marawi City in the autonomous region.

Current situation

Currently, the Philippines is pressed to address the problems brought about by the continued presence of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (the breakaway faction of the MNLF), the Abu Sayyaf (an active cell of the global terrorist network), and by Jemaah Islamiyah.

MILF boycotted the original referendum formed by the Organic Act referendum process and continued the armed struggle through the 20th and into the 21st centuries. However, it remains a partner to the stumbling 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.[19]

Today, the Moro people are still disadvantaged compared to the majority Christian-Filipino in terms of employment and housing; they are frequently misportrayed and discriminated against in the media as scapegoats or warmongers.[20] 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 (Kalimantan) over the last 30 to 50 years, due to the illegal annexation of their land by Christian Filipino militias such as the Ilaga. This has changed the population statistics in both countries to a significant degree, and has caused the gradual displacement of the Moros from their traditional lands.

See also



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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