Moro people

Moro people
Moro people
Agung 11.jpg
Maguindanaon Moros performing on the agung using two balus.
Total population
5 to 9 million
(about 6% to 10% 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.

Moro people refers to a population of Muslims in the Philippines, forming the largest non-Christian[1] group in the country, comprising about 5% to 10% of the total Philippine population.[2]

There are ten 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) to describe Muslim natives.

The Moro people mostly live in Mindanao and other parts of the southern Philippines, and this is considered the homeland (tanah/lupah) of the Moro peoples. 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 through to the modern day, many Moros have fled from discrimination by the Catholic Filipino majority, as well as persecution by Christian militias in Mindanao to the safe havens of Malaysia, Indonesia and Brunei. Newer communities of Moro refugees and naturalized immigrants are found in Kota Kinabalu, Sandakan and Semporna, Sabah (once part of the Sultanate of Sulu), as well as in Brunei.


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, due to the fact that they were never brought under the influence of Western culture. The term Moro was a derogatory word used in the 16th century in reference to the shared Islamic belief between the tribal groups in the Philippines and the ethnically different Moors of Al-Andalus in Spain.



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

The settlements of Muslim Filipinos are called the Bangsamoro region, derived from the old Malay word bangsa, meaning nation or people and Moro.

Their territory are found 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 also includes the cities of Cotabato, Dapitan, Dipolog, General Santos, Iligan, Marawi, Pagadian, Isabela, Puerto Princesa and Zamboanga.

These claims have since been rejected by the Christian residents of these provinces and cities. The August 5, 2008 attempt by the Philippine government's Peace Negotiating Panel to sign a Memorandum of Agreement with the MILF recognizing "Ancestral Domain" claims exclusive to Muslim Filipinos and the subsequent creation of a Bangsamoro Juridical Entity was declared "unconstitutional" by the Philippine Supreme Court. This incident hurt the peace process in the region.[3]


The Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) is headed by a Regional Governor. The Regional Governor, along with the Regional-Vice Governor, act as the executive branch and are served by a Regional Cabinet, composed of Regional Secretaries, mirroring existing 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 these are "unconstitutional". An example is the nullification of the creation of the Province of Shariff Kabungsuwan by the RLA as this will create an extra seat in the Philippines Congress' House of Representatives, a power reserved solely for the Philippine Congress, both Senate and House jointly, to decide on.


Islam has been the most dominant influence on the Moro culture. Islamic polygamous marriages are approved by public authorities while polygamy is considered illegal for non-Muslim citizens. Pork is not eaten since it is considered taboo under the Qur'an. Another practice is Islamic circumcision (tuli).


The culture of the Moro revolves around the music of the kulintang, a specific type of gong instrument, found in the Southern Philippines. This music includes the Tagonggo and the Kapanirong.


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

Various Moro groups are not united and they lack solidarity.[4] Each group is proud of their culture, identity, language and religion. Internal differences manifested itself in occasional internecine dispute.


Early history

In the 13th century, the arrival of Muslim missionaries from Persian Gulf,[5] 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.

The inhabitants of pre-Hispanic Philippines practiced Islam, Hindu-Buddhism, 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

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

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 Malays 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 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. The Sultanate of Sulu, the only sultanate left standing, itself soon fell under a concerted naval and ground attack from Spanish forces.

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).

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

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, which gave rise to armed secession movements.[6][7]

Struggle for independence

The kris is the weapon of the Moros.
The barung is one of several significant weapons of the Moros in the southern 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 Islamic Insurgency in the Philippines began between the 1960s and 1980s. During that period, the Philippine government envisioned a new country in which Christians and Muslims would be assimilated into the dominant culture. This vision, however, was generally rejected by both groups, who feared that it was just a euphemistic equivalent of assimilation. Because of this, the government realized that there was a need for a specialized agency to deal with the Muslim community, so they set up the Commission for National Integration in the 1960s, which was later replaced by the Office of Muslim Affairs, and Cultural Communities.

Concessions were made to the Muslims 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 Muslim customary law with the national law.

Unfortunately, most of these achievements were seen as superficial. The Muslims, still dissatisfied with the past Philippine governments' corrupt 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 composed mainly of Christian Ilonggo residents of mainland Mindanao, called the Ilagas began operating in Cotabato. In retaliation, Muslim 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, their presence only seemed to create more violence. 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 MILF. The group continued the insurgency when the MNLF signed a Peace Deal with the Philippine Government in 1994.


In 1987, peace talks with the MNLF began with the intention of establishing an auotonomous 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.[8]

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.[9] 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 militants 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


  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. ^
  4. ^ Nick Joaquin, Culture and History: Occasional Notes on the Process of Philippine Becoming (Pasig: Anvil Publishing, 2004), 226.
  5. ^ 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)
  6. ^ 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.
  7. ^ James R. Arnold, The Moro War: How America Battled a Muslim Insurgency in the Philippine Jungle, 1902-1913 (Bloomsbury Press; 2011) 306 pages
  8. ^
  9. ^

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