Muslims, who make about 5 percent of the total population, are the most significant minority in the Philippines. Although undifferentiated racially from other Filipinos, they for the most part remain outside the mainstream of national life, set apart by their religion and way of life. In the 1970s, in reaction to consolidation of central government power under martial law, which began in 1972, the Muslim Filipino, or Moro population increasingly identified with the worldwide Islamic community, particularly in Malaysia, Indonesia, Libya, and Middle Eastern countries. Longstanding economic grievances stemming from years of governmental neglect and from resentment of popular prejudice against them contributed to the roots of Muslim insurgency. [Source: Library of Congress *]

Filipino Muslims are called Moros, a term given them by the Spanish. Moros is Spanish for Moors, the term the Spaniards used to describe the Muslims in Morocco. The Spanish fought the Moors from North Africa in the Middle Ages. The Moors even occupied southern Spain for a time. The Moros of the Philippines are close kin of the Muslims in Malaysia, Indonesia and Brunei. They have traditionally been a fierce, independent, seafaring people who have resisted the Spanish, Americans and the Philippines government. The traditional Muslim outfit worn by women is Malay in origin and consists of a gathered wrap-over or sarong type of ankle-length skirt, long-sleeve jacket.

Moros are confined almost entirely to the southern part of the country — southern and western Mindanao, southern Palawan, and the Sulu Archipelago. Ten subgroups can be identified on the basis of language. Three of these groups make up the great majority of Moros. They are the Maguindanaos of North Cotabato, Sultan Kudarat, and Maguindanao provinces; the Maranaos of the two Lanao provinces; and the Tausugs, principally from Jolo Island. Smaller groups are the Samals and Bajaus, principally of the Sulu Archipelago; the Yakans of Zamboanga del Sur Province; the Ilanons and Sangirs of Southern Mindanao Region; the Melabugnans of southern Palawan; and the Jama Mapuns of the tiny Cagayan Islands. *

Muslim Filipinos traditionally have not been a closely knit or even allied group. They were fiercely proud of their separate identities, and conflict between them was endemic for centuries. In addition to being divided by different languages and political structures, the separate groups also differed in their degree of Islamic orthodoxy. For example, the Tausugs, the first group to adopt Islam, criticized the more recently Islamicized Yakan and Bajau peoples for being less zealous in observing Islamic tenets and practices. Internal differences among Moros in the 1980s, however, were outweighed by commonalities of historical experience vis-à-vis non-Muslims and by shared cultural, social, and legal traditions. *

Most Muslim Filipinos live on Mindanao, the second largest island in the Philippines after Luzon and southernmost major island of archipelago. Ravaged for years by violence from Muslim insurgencies, it has opened more to tourism in recent years as peace treaties with rebel groups have been negotiated and signed. Of the 20 million or so resident of Mindanao, about 7 million are Muslims. Still largely undisturbed and unspoiled, it features wild tropical rain forests, stone-age tribes, high mountains and beaches and towns still used by pirates. Mindanao has rich volcanic soil, dense forests that are the home of monkey-eating eagles and other rare animals and rich deposits of gold, copper, nickel and other precious metals. Many people are peasant farmers or employees on large pineapple and coconut plantations. The highest mountain in the Philippines is Mt. Apo, a dormant volcano found in Mindanao, at 2,954 meters (9,689 feet). Principal rivers on Mindanao include the Mindanao River (known as the Pulangi River in its upper reaches), and the Agusan. The Philippines cultured pearl industry is centered in Mindanao. Tuna fishing is big in the General Santos area.

Moro Society

The traditional structure of Moro society focused on a sultan who was both a secular and a religious leader and whose authority was sanctioned by the Quran. The datu were communal leaders who measured power not by their holdings in landed wealth but by the numbers of their followers. In return for tribute and labor, the datu provided aid in emergencies and advocacy in disputes with followers of another chief. Thus, through his agama (court — actually an informal dispute-settling session), a datu became basic to the smooth function of Moro society. He was a powerful authority figure who might have as many as four wives and who might enslave other Muslims in raids on their villages or in debt bondage. He might also demand revenge (maratabat) for the death of a follower or upon injury to his pride or honor. [Source: Library of Congress *]

The datu continued to play a central role in Moro society in the 1980s. In many parts of Muslim Mindanao, they still administered the sharia (sacred Islamic law) through the agama. They could no longer expand their circle of followers by raiding other villages, but they achieved the same end by accumulating wealth and then using it to provide aid, employment, and protection for less fortunate neighbors. Datu support was essential for government programs in a Muslim barangay. Although a datu in modern times rarely had more than one wife, polygamy was permitted so long as his wealth was sufficient to provide for more than one. Moro society was still basically hierarchical and familial, at least in rural areas. *

Philippine Government Policy in Mindanao

The national government policies instituted immediately after independence in 1946 abolished the Bureau for Non-Christian Tribes used by the United States to deal with minorities and encouraged migration of Filipinos from densely settled areas such as Central Luzon to the "open" frontier of Mindanao. By the l950s, hundreds of thousands of Ilongos, Ilocanos, Tagalogs, and others were settling in North Cotabato and South Cotabato and Lanao del Norte and Lanao del Sur provinces, where their influx inflamed Moro hostility. The crux of the problem lay in land disputes. Christian migrants to the Cotabatos, for example, complained that they bought land from one Muslim only to have his relatives refuse to recognize the sale and demand more money. Muslims claimed that Christians would title land through government agencies unknown to Muslim residents, for whom land titling was a new institution. Distrust and resentment spread to the public school system, regarded by most Muslims as an agency for the propagation of Christian teachings. By 1970, a terrorist organization of Christians called the Ilagas (Rats) began operating in the Cotabatos, and Muslim armed bands, called Blackshirts, appeared in response. The same thing happened in the Lanaos, where the Muslim Barracudas began fighting the Ilagas. Philippine army troops sent in to restore peace and order were accused by Muslims of siding with the Christians. When martial law was declared in 1972, Muslim Mindanao was in turmoil. [Source: Library of Congress *]

The Philippine government discovered shortly after independence that there was a need for some kind of specialized agency to deal with the Muslim minority and so set up the Commission for National Integration in 1957, which was later replaced by the Office of Muslim Affairs and Cultural Communities. Filipino nationalists envisioned a united country in which Christians and Muslims would be offered economic advantages and the Muslims would be assimilated into the dominant culture. They would simply be Filipinos who had their own mode of worship and who refused to eat pork. This vision, less than ideal to many Christians, was generally rejected by Muslims who feared that it was a euphemistic equivalent of assimilation. Concessions were made to Muslim religion and customs. Muslims were exempted from Philippine laws prohibiting polygamy and divorce, and in 1977 the government attempted to codify Muslim law on personal relationships and to harmonize Muslim customary law with Philippine law. A significant break from past practice was the 1990 establishment of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, which gave Muslims in the region control over some aspects of government, but not over national security and foreign affairs. *

There were social factors in the early 1990s that militated against the cultural autonomy sought by Muslim leaders. Industrial development and increased migration outside the region brought new educational demands and new roles for women. These changes in turn led to greater assimilation and, in some cases, even intermarriage. Nevertheless, Muslims and Christians generally remained distinct societies often at odds with one another. *

Islam in the Philippines

In the early 1990s, Filipino Muslims were firmly rooted in their Islamic faith. Every year many went on the hajj (pilgrimage) to the holy city of Mecca; on return men would be addressed by the honoritic "hajj" and women the honorific "hajji". In most Muslim communities, there was at least one mosque from which the muezzin called the faithful to prayer five times a day. Those who responded to the call to public prayer removed their shoes before entering the mosque, aligned themselves in straight rows before the minrab (niche), and offered prayers in the direction of Mecca. An imam, or prayer leader, led the recitation in Arabic verses from the Quran, following the practices of the Sunni sect of Islam common to most of the Muslim world. It was sometimes said that the Moros often neglected to perform the ritual prayer and did not strictly abide by the fast (no food or drink in daylight hours) during Ramadan, the ninth month of the Muslim calendar, or perform the duty of almsgiving. They did, however, scrupulously observe other rituals and practices and celebrate great festivals of Islam such as the end of Ramadan; Muhammad's birthday; the night of his ascension to heaven; and the start of the Muslim New Year, the first day of the month of Muharram. [Source: Library of Congress *]

Islam in the Philippines has absorbed indigenous elements, much as has Catholicism. Moros thus make offerings to spirits (diwatas), malevolent or benign, believing that such spirits can and will have an effect on one's health, family, and crops. They also include pre-Islamic customs in ceremonies marking rites of passage — birth, marriage, and death. Moros share the essentials of Islam, but specific practices vary from one Moro group to another. Although Muslim Filipino women are required to stay at the back of the mosque for prayers (out of the sight of men), they are much freer in daily life than are women in many other Islamic societies. *

Because of the world resurgence of Islam since World War II, Muslims in the Philippines have a stronger sense of their unity as a religious community than they had in the past. Since the early 1970s, more Muslim teachers have visited the nation and more Philippine Muslims have gone abroad — either on the hajj or on scholarships — to Islamic centers than ever before. They have returned revitalized in their faith and determined to strengthen the ties of their fellow Moros with the international Islamic community. As a result, Muslims have built many new mosques and religious schools, where students (male and female) learn the basic rituals and principles of Islam and learn to read the Quran in Arabic. A number of Muslim institutions of higher learning, such as the Jamiatul Philippine al-Islamia in Marawi, also offer advanced courses in Islamic studies. *

Divisions along generational lines have emerged among Moros since the 1960s. Many young Muslims, dissatisfied with the old leaders, asserted that datu and sultans were unnecessary in modern Islamic society. Among themselves, these young reformers were divided between moderates, working within the system for their political goals, and militants, engaging in guerrilla-style warfare. To some degree, the government managed to isolate the militants, but Muslim reformers, whether moderates or militants, were united in their strong religious adherence. This bond was significant, because the Moros felt threatened by the continued expansion of Christians into southern Mindanao and by the prolonged presence of Philippine army troops in their homeland. *

Islam Introduced to the Philippines

Islam came to the southern Philippines in the 15th century from Malaysia and Sumatra via Brunei and Borneo. The religion spread to Palawan and Manila but was halted by the arrival of the Spanish. Islam has endured on the southern island of Mindanao and the Sulu archipelago between Borneo and Mindanao.

Islam was brought to the Philippines by traders and proselytizers from the Indonesian islands. By 1500 Islam had gained a foothold in much of coastal Philippines and was established in the Sulu Archipelago and spread from there to Mindanao; it had reached the Manila area by 1565. Muslim immigrants introduced a political concept of territorial states ruled by rajas or sultans who exercised suzerainty over the datu. Neither the political state concept of the Muslim rulers nor the limited territorial concept of the sedentary rice farmers of Luzon, however, spread beyond the areas where they originated. When the Spanish arrived in the sixteenth century, the majority of the estimated 500,000 people in the islands still lived in barangay settlements. *

Philippine Muslims regard themselves as descendants of the Royal Sultanate of Sulu. The Royal Sultanate of Sulu was an Islamic kingdom that ruled the islands and seas in the southern Philippines and northern Borneo long before the arrival of the Spanish. The Muslim sultanate of Brunei was a very powerful kingdom in the16th century. It ruled over all of Sarawak, Sabah and Borneo as well as part of the Sulu Islands and the Philippines.

The Spanish viewed the Muslims as natural enemies, identified with their Muslim rivals at home, the Moors of Morocco. There was some Muslim-Christian elements to the early conflicts with the Spanish. The “Moro Wars” continued off and on for 300 years after the Spanish arrived. The Christian Spanish had drove Muslims off the northern islands by the early 1600s. Later the Spanish attacked Muslim city-states on Mindanao and established a Jesuit base in eastern Mindanao in Zamboanga. The Muslims were excellent boatmen. After declaring “jihad” (holy war) against the Christians, they were able to defend their Islamic territories and raid Christian outposts. It wasn’t until the introduction of steamships in the 1800s that the power of the southern Muslim sultanate was brought under control by the Spanish.

Spain’s Battle with Islam in the Philippines

The Spanish were unsuccessful in converting Muslim Sultanates to Christianity, and in fact warred with Muslim Filipinos throughout their 300 year colonial rule from 1521 - 1898. Legaspi conquered a Muslim Filipino settlement in Manila in 1570. Islam had been present in the southern Philippines since some time between the 10th and 12th century. It slowly spread north throughout the archipelago, particularly in coastal areas. Had it not been for Spanish intervention, the Philippines would likely have been a mostly Muslim area. [Source: Professor Susan Russell, Department of Anthropology, Center for Southeast Asian Studies Northern Illinois University,]

According to Lonely Planet: ““The indigenous islanders - who by tradition were loath to work together anyway - were no match for the Spanish and their firearms. Spain's greatest challenge came from an old enemy - Islam. To Spain's horror (having recently booted out the Moors at home), the Muslims had a big head start: Islamic missionaries from Malacca had established towns in Mindoro and Luzon almost a century before the Spanish arrived. Legazpi finally succeeded in taking the strategic Muslim settlement of Maynilad (now Manila) in 1571, hastily proclaiming it the capital and building over the kuta (fort) of Rajah Sulayman. This was eventually to become Fort Santiago. [Source: Lonely Planet =]

So began a 300-year-long religious war that still smoulders in Mindanao, the spiritual home of Islam in the Philippines. The Spanish recruited newly Christianised Filipinos to help fight the Moros (as Muslim Filipinos were dubbed), many of whom earned a violent living as pirates. Meanwhile, Spain was courting the Chinese through trade. Throughout the 16th and 17th centuries, Spain's galleons - many of them built in Cavite near Manila - also specialised in taking spices, silk, porcelain and gold to the New World, and returning with Mexican silver. Moro pirates dodged many a cannonball to claim a share of these riches. “

Later History of Muslims in the Philippines

Mindanao and other predominately Muslim islands in the southern Philippines were never conquered during 381 years of Spanish and American rule. One Muslim told the Los Angeles Times, “We do not consider ourselves Filipinos. Filipinos are those who surrendered to the Spaniards. We never surrendered.”

European intervention broke the power of the Sulu sultanate. Following the imposition of American colonial ruler in 1899, the sultanates of Sulu and Mindanao were brought under the administration of Manila.

See Insurgent Groups and Terrorists

Americans in Mindanao

The Americans arrived in Mindanao in 1898 and were able to subdue the island within a few years with the last major battle fought in Cotabato in 1905. An uneasy peace prevailed after that. The Americans urged people from other parts of the Philippines to move to Mindanao but at time few took up the offer.

When Spain ceded the Philippines to the United States in 1898, General John Pershing was put in charge of the “pacification campaign” to put down rebel movements. It was during this period that Muslim “juramentados”—men who attack American with a sword—were born (see Below). One Philippines professor told the New York Times, “They were considered the original suicide bombers because they won’t hesitate to die as long as they could kill the enemy.”

In 1907 more than a thousand Muslims were killed in what some historians have described as a massacre. More attacks followed and more Muslims died. Many Muslims in southern Philippines are aware of these deaths and feel they have not been avenged and the United States has not paid for them.

In 1912, the American Cornélis De Witt Willcox wrote: “The Moros of Mindanao and Jolo would have resumed their piratical excursions to the northward, burning, killing, and carrying off slaves. If this be questioned, then let us recollect that as recently as 1897 they carried off slaves from the Visayas, a sporadic case, probably, but giving evidence that the disease of piracy is to-day merely latent. Given an opportunity, it will break out again. Under independence, the large, beautiful, and fertile island of Mindanao would be left to its own devices, would be lost to civilization. Upon this point we need have no doubt whatever. The issue of Filipino control of Mindanao was very clearly raised, when Mr. Dickinson, the late Secretary of War, visited Mindanao in August of 1910. [Source:“The Head Hunters of Northern Luzon” by Cornélis De Witt Willcox, Lieutenant-Colonel U.S. Army, Professor United States Military Academy, 1912 ]

“Upon this occasion Mr. Dickinson, in response to a Filipino plea for immediate independence, with consequent control of the Moros, made a speech in which he declared the unwillingness of the Government to entrust to the 66,000 Filipinos living in Mindanao the government of the 350,000 Moros of this province. At the close of this speech, four datus (chiefs), present with 2,000 of their people, and controlling the destinies of 40,000 souls, swore allegiance to the United States; and, requesting that, if the Americans ever withdrew from Mindanao, the Moros should be placed in control, firmly announced, at the same time, their intention to fight if the Americans should ever take their departure.... For the Christianized Filipinos can never hope to cope with the active, warlike pirates of Moroland. So far as this part of the Archipelago is concerned, a grant of independence means the re-establishment of slavery, the recrudescence of piracy, the reincarnation of barbarism. How great a pity this would be may be inferred from the fact that Mindanao forms nearly one-third of the Archipelago in area, and exceeds Java in arable land. Now, Java supports a population of over 25,000,000.”

Juramentado: Filipino Running Amok?

In the Philippines, amok also means unreasoning murderous rage by an individual. In 1876, the Spanish governor-general of the Philippines José Malcampo coined the term juramentado for the behavior (from juramentar - "to take an oath"), surviving into modern Filipino languages as huramentado. It has historically been linked with the Moro people of Mindanao, particularly in the island of Jolo in connection with societal and cultural pressures. [Source: Wikipedia +]

Juramentado, in Philippine history, refers to a male Moro swordsman who attacked and killed targeted Christian police and soldiers, expecting to be killed himself, the martyrdom undertaken as an unorthodox form of personal jihad. Unlike an amok, who commits acts of random violence against Muslims and non-Muslims alike, a juramentado was a dedicated, premeditated, and sometimes highly skilled killer who prepared himself through a ritual of binding, shaving, and prayer in order to accomplish brazen public religious murder armed only with edged weapons. +

For generations warlike Moro tribes had successfully prevented Spain from fully controlling the areas around Mindanao and the Sulu Archipelago, developing a well-earned reputation as notorious seafaring raiders, adept naval tacticians, and ferocious warriors who frequently demonstrated extraordinary personal bravery in combat. While Moro forces could never match opponents' firepower or armor, such bands used intelligence, audacity and mobility to raid strongly defended targets and quickly defeat more vulnerable ones. One extreme asymmetric warfare tactic was the Moro juramentado. +

History of Juramentado

Juramentado is an archaic term derived from the Spanish word juramentar, meaning one who takes an oath. Some sources link amoks (from the Malayan term for "out of control") and juramentados as similar culture-specific syndromes while others draw distinctions of religious preparation and state of mind. A Moro might be said to have "gone juramentado" or be "running juramentado." [Source: Wikipedia +]

U.S. Army officers who had served in Moroland incorporated the idiom into their own vocabulary, but often simply equated it with the Moro people as a whole. In his memoirs, Army Air Service advocate Benjamin D. Foulois said of volatile rival Army Air Service officer Billy Mitchell, "He had become fanatic much in the way the Moros were in the Philippines. He had become a juramentado and was ready to run amok." +

The term juramentado was coined by José Malcampo, in command during the Spanish occupation of Jolo Island in 1876, but Moros had been making such personal attacks for many years. By the time of the Spanish–American War juramentados were being discussed in the American media, some official sources finding few documented cases. By 1903, local United States Army commander Leonard Wood sent a report to Governor of the Philippines William Howard Taft indicating juramentados were "an oft repeated offense." Almost forty years later, on the eve of the Japanese invasion of the Philippine Islands beginning the Second World War, Time Magazine was reporting juramentado attacks in Jolo occurring "once every other day". +

The Moro juramentados performed suicide attacks against Japanese troops. The Japanese were among several enemies the Moros juramentados launched suicide attacks against, the others being the Spanish, Americans and Filipinos, while the Moros did not ever attack the Chinese since the Chinese were not considered enemies of the Moro people. The Japanese responded to these suicide attacks by massacring all the relatives of the attacker. +

Juramentado Attacks

Candidates, known as mag-sabil, "who endure the pangs of death," were selected from Muslim youth inspired to martyrdom by the teaching of Imams. Parents were consulted before the young men were permitted by the sultan to undergo training and preparation for Parang-sabil (the path to Paradise). After an oath taken, hand on the Qur'an, the chosen took a ritual bath, all body hair was shaved, and the eyebrows trimmed to resemble "a moon two days old." A strong band was wrapped firmly around the waist, and cords wrapped tightly around the genitals, ankles, knees, upper thighs, wrists, elbows, and shoulders, restricting blood flow and preventing the mag-sabil from losing too much blood from injury before accomplishing his gruesome task. Clad in white robe and turban, the chosen youth would polish and sharpen his weapons before action. [Source: Wikipedia +]

At the moment of attack, the mag-sabil would approach a large group of Christians, shout "La ilaha il-la'l-lahu" ("There is no god but Allah"), draw kris or barong and then rush into the group swinging his sword, killing and maiming as many victims as possible in the time he had left. The true believer, however, faced a theologic conundrum. If the observant Juramentado believed that his murders pleased Allah, he could not admit that the inevitable consequences of his attacks constituted suicide, per se, as their Qur'an forbids it. To reconcile the inconsistency, they fashioned themselves as martyrs of their own making, coaxing their way into Paradise with the spilled blood of numerous enemies of the faith on their hands. In effect, however, the tactic more closely resembles murder/suicide. The Juramentado—acting neither in self-defense nor through selfless altruism—commits to murder, and his own self-destruction, solely for the promise of his perception of personal gain. After death, the mag-sabil's body would be washed and again wrapped in white for burial. In the unlikely event the mag-sabil survived his attack, it was believed his body would ascend to Paradise after 40 years had passed. +

Peter Gowing wrote: “ With the possible exception of Japan's kamikaze pilots in the closing days of World War II, warfare has rarely known a more frightening phenomenon than the juramentados.” The Moros' use of local intelligence to mark target situations, coupled with a keen understanding of the tactical element of surprise made combating juramentado warriors difficult for Spanish troops during its long attempt to occupy the Sulu Archipelago. In an era of warfare where body armor had become anachronistic, an unexpected melee attack with razor-sharp blades was a devastating tactic against veteran soldiers. Even when colonizers had time to draw weapons and fire on the charging attacker, the small caliber weapons commonly in use possessed no stopping power, bullets passing though limbs and torso, the juramentados' ritual binding working as a set of tourniquets to prevent the swordsman from bleeding out from wounds before accomplishing his purpose. +

The phenomenon has been documented as recently as 2011, but the introduction of more potent, higher-caliber cartridges of consequence in the hands of intended victims markedly reduced the allure, and subsequently the incidence, of this peculiar method of self-annihilation. The United States occupation is claimed by some to have seen the use of burial of Juramentados with pig remains as a psychologic deterrent to continued suicidal aggression. This purported action by Americans is apparently thought, by those who hold that Juramentado is a legitimate path to heaven, to be abhorent to the "guardians of heaven." Dr. Frank E. Vandiver, professor of history at Texas A&M University and author of Black Jack: The Life and Times of John J. Pershing said about the burial of Juramentados with pig remains that he never found any indication that it was true in extensive research on his Moro experiences. He has also been unable to find any evidence corroborating the claim that Muslims believe that "eating or touching a pig, its meat, its blood, etc., is to be instantly barred from paradise and doomed to hell." It is true that Islamic dietary restrictions, like those of Judaism, forbid the eating or handling of pork because pigs are considered unclean. But according to Raeed Tayeh of the American Muslim Association in North America, the notion that a Muslim would be denied entrance to heaven for touching a pig is "ridiculous." A statement from the Anti-Defamation League characterizes the claim as an "offensive caricature of Muslim beliefs." +

Juramentado Versus the American Colt 45

Barry C Jacobsen wrote in the “Some scholars consider the origin of this strange and deadly practice to lie in the Islamic prohibition against suicide. When “dishonored” a Muslim man could regain his honor (manhood!) by going amok, and dying with sword in hand; forcing others to kill him and thus accomplish his suicide. At the turn of the 20th Century in the Philippines, the practice took a new and unique turn; as Moro insurgents against American rule “ran amok”, attacking and assassinating American administrators or army officers. [Source: Barry C Jacobsen,, March 8, 2012 /-/]

“The juramentado would prepare for his mission by having his TESTICLES TIED OFF WITH COPPER WIRE! In a state of intense agony, the juramentado would spend the night working himself into a killing frenzy. By the next day, the juramentado would be in such agony; in such an altered state of consciousness, that his mind would no longer register additional external pain. The juramentado would be led to where his target was expected (usually in public places). Just before being unleashed against the victim, his arms and legs were tied with occluding ligatures; reducing blood loss from expected wounds to these extremities. At that moment the juramentado would charge forward (often out of a crowd) and assault the victim with the distinctive Moro sword, the Kris; or the equally nasty-looking hacking knife, the barong. Despite being shot multiple times by the victim and his escort or comrades-in-arms, the juramentado would not stop hacking till the target was slain. After which, the juramentado would collapse and die; likely contented. /-/

“The problem was exacerbated by the fact that sidearm of the American Army in the PI was a .38 caliber revolver. This small caliber proved utterly incapable of stopping the juramentado. For this reason the US Army adapted the .45 caliber colt pistol: the heavier bullet of the .45 could knock the charging juramentado onto his back, stopping his frenzied “amok” dead! The Colt .45 revolver (not the later automatic pistol) was issued to the Philippine Constabulary (the American-led Philippino force created to fight the Moros and keep the peace throughout the archipeligo) in 1903. It proved much superior to the standard .38 caliber pistols used by the regulary American Army. That, and the Winchester pump-action shotgun, then coming into service in both the Marines and Army, are the weapons that stopped the rampaging Moros! /-/

“There has been much discussion about the veracity of this bit of history; wither or not the .45 caliber could have made a difference. But in his Annual Report of June, 1904, General Leonard Wood (commanding American forces engaged against the Moros in the PI, stated his opinion on the subject: “It is thought that the .45 caliber revolver (Constabulary Model 1902) is the one which should be issued to troops throughout the Army…. Instances have repeatedly been reported during the past year where native have been shot through and through several time with a .38 caliber revolver, and have come on, cutting up the unfortunate individual armed with it… The .45 caliber revolver stops a man in his tracks, usually knocking him down… It is also recommended that each company …. be furnished with … 12-guage Winchester repeating shotguns.. There is no weapon in our possession equal to the shotgun loaded with buckshot.” /-/

Christians Take Over Muslim Land

Until fairly recently Mindanao and other islands in the south were occupied almost completely by Muslims. After World War II, the Muslim-controlled areas of Mindanao were viewed as a frontier that could be settled by Christians from the northern islands. After independence in 1946, Christian settlers from the northern and central islands began migrating to Mindanao . The newly-arrived Christians generally settled where the land was most fertile and became richer while Muslim remained poor.

To end the Huk uprising in the 1950s, President Magsaysay resettled some of the Philippines’ non-Muslim poor on Mindanao and gave them title to the land they settled on. Later more people from the overcrowded islands in the north were resettled on "unused" jungle Mindanao, a move that eventually tipped the balance of landownership and political power in favor of the Christians. Muslims were denied title to land they had occupied for generations. One Muslim told Newsweek, "We became squatters in our own lands." By 1970, immigrants outnumbered local Muslim groups.

Muslim have suffered from neglect and underdevelopment. One Muslim leader told the Los Angeles Times, “Governments have promised us everything. But look around and what is the ‘everything’ they’ve delivered? Do you see roads? Electricity? Economic development? Factories? The everything is nothing.”

Muslim Situation Under Marcos

Under Marcos, timber concession in Mindanao were given to Marcos cronies and foreign companies. Muslim saw little of the money made from these ventures. More Catholics moved in. They were more likely to get jobs in local enterprises than Muslims. Muslims and Christians formed paramilitary groups. As Christians gained more control in the southern provinces in the 1970s, the number of attacks by Muslim groups increased.

A pivotal event in the Muslim struggle occurred in 1968 when at least 28 Muslim terrorist recruits were massacred after they mutinied against officers training a secret Muslim army to invade the neighboring Malaysian state of Sabah. This event inspired the first Muslim insurgents to take up arms against the Philippine government.

In 1970, land disputes escalated to armed conflict around the Cotabato area between Muslims and non-Muslims. Government forces intervened and the conflict grew into civil war that spread across Mindanao and into the Sulu archipelago. The conflict reached its peak in the mid 1970 and resulted in the dislocation of thousands of people. Major fighting ended in the late 1970s but unrest and outbreaks of violence continued to occur.

Libya has traditionally played a roll in training and educating Philippine Islamic militants and has helped negotiate peace agreements. In 1976, Imelda Marcos flew to Libya and meet with Muammar Gaddafi for five hour in his tent and eventually produced a peace agreement called the Tripoli Agreement which granted limited autonomy to Muslims in 13 provinces and 10 cities in the southern Philippines but was ultimately rejected by the the Muslim groups. Malaysia has acted an intermediary in negotiations between the Philippine government and Muslim groups.

Blood Feuds in Mindanao

Blood feuds persist in Muslim Mindanao, in the southern Philippines. Longstanding blood feuds are known as "rido." Studies funded by the Asia Foundation and the U.S. Agency for International Development found there had been more than 1,200 clan feuds in the south since the 1930s. According to AFP: Muslim clans in the southern Philippines are well known for waging prolonged feuds, typically over land, political power or influence. They often use armed followers to attack each other. Such feuds claimed more than 5,500 lives and displaced thousands between the 1930s to 2005, according to the Asia Foundation. During such feuds, the government including the military, typically tries to negotiate for peace between rival sides rather than move to apprehend the contending parties. [Source: AFP, July 12, 2013]

Simone Orendain wrote in PRI, “What rido is, why and how it happens is not the easiest thing to explain. On one level it looks like a relatively simple Hatfields versus McCoys type of feud. But on another level it's more like gang warfare. Take Fatmawati Salapuddin's example. She has spent countless hours mediating between clans enmeshed in ridos. In the 1990's in Salapuddin's hometown in western Mindanao, her father's family and her mother's nephew fought over the same piece of lucrative farm land — with landmines, mortar shells and other weapons. "There were about 20 people killed on each side. They were already firing bombardment mortar, shelling, to the other side," Salapuddin said. [Source: Simone Orendain, PRI, July 25, 2011 /~/]

“In Muslim Mindanao, family squabbles like these can easily escalate into mini-wars, because of the sheer number of people involved. First of all "families" here aren't just mom, dad and the kids. They are clans made up of hundreds of parents, children, brothers, sisters, cousins, aunts, uncles and grandparents. Salapuddin said deadly fights can erupt over power, disputed land, or simply trying to preserve someone's "good name." "It's a terrible thing because people get killed, people get displaced, properties are burned, you know," she said. /~/

“And like many seemingly senseless conflicts, ridos can last for generations. "If the clans say, 'we need to fight this group so we're not vulnerable to predation,' family members and clan members, will join in that fight," said Francisco Lara, an anthropologist who studies the phenomenon in Mindanao and schedules meetings with peace workers during hurried lunches in Manila. "Able-bodied men from a very young age will be trained in the process of involvement in clan wars." What's more, some clan members belong to Muslim separatist groups or private militias, which mean they have easy access to weapons. /~/

“Lara said part of the reason that ridos persist is cultural. Well before the Philippines became a country, Muslims in Mindanao had something similar to a feudal system. And as in any feudal structure, power struggles are inevitable. "Mindanao has never really been part of the fold, so called, of the country, of the archipelago. Definitely represents something that is part of the old," Lara said. Another problem is geography. Because the region is far from the seat of power, governments have been unwilling, or unable, to provide support. Instead, he said, Spanish colonizers in the 1500's and Americans in the late 1800's co-opted leaders of elite families to keep order, plying them with money and political power. "The government has not even been able to extend its administrative reach, so in those areas only the clans can provide protection, only clans can provide welfare to local community members," Lara said. /~/

“Peace workers say constituents don't see any perks from the deals with the government, so basic needs like school upkeep and infrastructure go unfunded. Plus, jobs are scarce. They say constituents would just as soon pick up a gun to survive in this type of environment, helping Rido to flourish. And, they say, from the outside, parts of the region look like the "wild, wild west." At a café in Manila, Mussolini Lidasan assesses the situation in his western Mindanao province. He said plain old ignorance is a big culprit in rido. He said it's reaching a point where they can't see beyond the next personal affront or the next power-grab. And Lidasan said it's time the government stepped in directly to help. /~/

"As long as injustices are there, as long as our people are illiterate they have no access to education and as long as there are no clear government programs to uplift their socio-economic conditions," Lidasan said, "then this will go on, on and on and on." It may be hard, though, to change the culture, either of rido or the government itself. Many say that clan leaders have become akin to mob bosses. And like organized crime leaders, they get involved in politics, delivering votes for national politicians, allegedly reaping financial perks for their efforts.” /~/


Muslim Schools and Economic Issues

Some Muslim children attend Islamic schools called “madaris” (plural of madrasah). These schools stress the study of the Koran and Arabic and some offer military style training but as a rule they are regarded as more moderate that their counterparts in some parts of Indonesia and Pakistan. There are not that many of them. The alternative is poorly funded public schools. In many case which every school they attend, young people find there are few jobs waiting for them when they graduate.

The government is trying to cooperate with the madaris based on the belief that it is better to work with them rather than let them fall under the influence of Muslim extremists and get support for Saudi Arabia, which supports the rigid Wahabi form of Islam and funds many madrassas in other countries.

Many feel that the problems with Muslim groups in Mindanao are more economic than cultural and religious. Sixteen of the poorest 24 provinces in the Philippines are in Mindanao. An effort was made to improve the lives of people in Mindanao in the 1990s as part of the peace agreement of 1996. Highways were built. Money was poured into airports and ports. New industries were launched. Ferries began operating between Mindanao and Malaysia and Indonesia. Particularly successful was the return and development of the tuna industry in General Santos. See Fishing.

But a lot of the progress came to an end with the Asian economic crisis in 1997-98 when funds for development dried up and an ill-timed offensive by the Joseph Estrada government that involved in attacks on Muslim groups such as the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) that were involved in development projects such as banana and fruit plantations.

The areas occupied by Muslims often also have large Catholic populations. Some progress has been achieved by “yuplims” (young Muslim professionals).

Discrimination Against Muslims in the Philippines

Muslims have long complained they have been discriminated against. A leader of an a militant group told Newsweek, “We are second-class citizens. There is no Muslim senator, there is no Muslim cabinet minister, there is no Muslim in the Supreme Court.

Muslims who generally live on Mindanao and other islands in the southern Philippines are generally poorer and less educated than other Filipinos. In the Autonomous Region for Muslim Mindanao the average per capita income in the 1990s was around $350, one third of the national average and less than half the Mindanao average of $800.

Muslims complain that Christians are given preferences for jobs. One former insurgent told the Los Angeles Times, “My son is a licensed engineer, but when the employers look at his resume and see that he is Muslim, they just tell him to come back later. Two years later he still hasn’t found anything, while less deserving Christians managed to land jobs.”

In some Muslim neighborhoods in Zamboanga unemployment rates approach 90 percent. One elderly woman there told the Los Angeles Times, “I have 14 children and 33 grandchildren. Only four of them have jobs, and they are living abroad.

Christian View on the Muslim Groups

Most Catholics are not very sympathetic to the Muslim cause and have been outraged by the killings and kidnapings carried out by militant Muslim groups. A number of priests and teachers have been among those who were murdered. One Catholic resident of Zamboanga told the Asahi Shimbum, “Muslims are trouble. I can tell they hate Christians.”

Many Christian Filipinos view Muslims as violent, warlike and backward. One priest told Newsweek. “The Muslims’ basic motivation has been money. But they have another one—to force everyone in the area to follow the ways of Islam. They’re obsessed by the [idea] that it is their territory.”

The conflict is also a drain on scarce government resources. Manila spends $2.5 million a day to support troops in Mindanao and has lost millions more in lost tax revenues.

Muslims Insurgencies

See Insurgent Groups and Terrorists

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Philippines Department of Tourism, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books, websites and other publications.

Last updated June 2015

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