ICE Case Studies
The lineage of the crisis into four parts, the first being the Islamic period (13th to 16th centuries). Its all-encompassing influence on the Mindanao people has proven unshakeable, prevailing in the Moro wars of the 1600s against Spanish seeking converts to Catholicism. The Spanish did not leave a positive colonial legacy, with the Moros being especially indignant to being forced into a nation named after King Philip II. The period of American rule further alienated Muslims through accelerated North-South resettlement programs, support for multinationals profiting from the extraction of Mindanao’s resources, and open disdain for the Muslim way of life. In the period since independence, Filipino leaders have inherited the colonizers’ bias against Moro concerns and have failed to bring that population the fruits of development: economic conditions in Mindanao, especially the Muslim areas, remain backward. Consequently, Moros see the Manila regime as yet another foreign occupier.
Economic disparity, resulting from the imbalance in ownership of natural resources, has provoked the Bangsamoro to separatism. Despite a long history of non-assimilation with the other peoples of the archipelago, peaceful coexistence within a Philippine state may have been possible if the designs of development had brought them proportionate prosperity. Traditional dissimilarities are now being invoked to bolster and advertise their cause as if the Bangsamoro way of life is completely incompatible with the Philippine one. In fact, they see the government as a successor to Spanish and then American colonial ones. Consequently, the separatist liberation fronts do not even officially view their cause as one of secession, but as one of freeing themselves from an alien Philippine government’s illegal occupation of their homelands.
By the late 1960s a Muslim Independence Movement had emerged, and was quickly supplanted by the Mindanao Independence Movement. The Marcos regime disbanded the organization, but its youth division moved forward with the Moro National Liberation Front. It is still in existence today, having settled on a policy of full autonomy rather than complete independence and having come to an agreement with the government of the Philippines. However, that compromise was unacceptable to champions of the independence cause, who formed a splinter group, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front. This group is the one currently engaged in most guerilla combat with the Philippine National Police and the Armed Forces of the Philippines. Also in the press is a second splinter group of dissatisfied with the fate of the MNLF, the Abu Sayyaf group, whose activities are limited to bombings and ransom kidnappings.
It is worth noting that between 1994 and 1999, less than 150 people were dying per year as a result of the conflict. In 2000 the number jumped to around 600, and in 2001 media reported at least 1,000 deaths. This increase suggests that the struggle is regaining intensity. The fact that no cease-fires have led to progress in its resolution reflects the fact that economic disparity – arising from inequitable distribution of land and other resources, problems that the government has yet to acknowledge or incorporate into negotiations – is the fundamental issue.
Press coverage of the Mindanao conflict predictably simplifies the factors involved in separatist groups’ demands, relying on buzzwords like “Islamic fundamentalism,” “terrorist,” and “extremism” to lump the issue with a seemingly worldwide phenomenon. The economic roots of the problem are therefore totally ignored. In fact, these are central to the currently irresolvable nature of the conflict, and they in turn are based on the allocation of rights to natural resources and the profits from those resources. Mindanao is among the most natural resource-rich areas of Southeast Asia, and the most well-endowed island of the Philippine archipelago. The contradiction between Mindanao’s natural opulence and the degree of underdevelopment there is striking.
Region: Southeast Asia
*The two red-hued items provide for the traditional livelihoods of Moro
As such, logging operations on Mindanao have been blamed for causing surrounding farmland to become infertile (Ghee 22). The island’s particularly plentiful forest cover has made Mindanao a victim to especially excessive deforestation. In 1981 hundreds died and tens of thousands of homes were destroyed in floods made devastating by denudation, and one Muslim province experiences severe flooding whenever it’s showered with two or three days of continuous rain (Porter and Ganapin 24-25). The sedimentation of rivers and streams is another externality of logging operations that has taken a toll on Mindanao, in that there is less water available for cultivation. The irrigation system for one province services only half of its designated area during the dry season because it depends on dams and canals now clogged with sediments (Ibid).
In a recent development (March 2003) the Pentagon announced it would send units to fight alongside the Philippine army against the rebels. While the U.S. has been training local anti-terror units for over a month, President Gloria Arroyo-Macapagal dismissed the offer as premature and reaffirmed that foreign forces would not be directly involved in the conflict, in line with the Philippine constitution.
The most recent deaths also occurred in March 2003, with a bombing at the Davao City airport. The Abu Sayyaf group claimed responsibility, but intelligence forces questioned the reliability of the claim and place blame on MILF.
Tan, Samuel. “Understanding the Mindanao Conflict: Mindanao at the Crossroad.” Cotabato City Peace and Development Forum. 20 July 2000.
Vizmanos, Capt. Danilo, P.N. (ret.). “Military Aspect of the Mindanao Conflict.” Press Statement. 24 May 2000.
McKenna, Thomas M. Muslim rulers and rebels : everyday politics and armed separatism in the southern Philippines. 1998.
Rigg, Johnathan. Southeast Asia : the human landscape of modernization and development. 1997.
Abinales, Patricio N. Making Mindanao: Cotabato and Davao in the formation of the Philippine nation-state. 2000.
Bankoff, Greg, and Weekley, Kathleen. Post-colonial National Identity in the Philippines: celebrating the centennial of independence. 2002.
George, T.J.S. Revolt in Mindanao: the rise of Islam in Philippine politics.
Christie, Clive J. Modern History of Southeast Asia: decolonization, nationalism, and separatism. 1996.
Dixon, Chris. Southeast Asia in the World Economy.
Rush, James. Last Tree: Reclaiming the Environment in Tropical Asia. 1991.
Gochenour, Theodore. Considering Filipinos. 1990.
Chalk, Peter. “Militant Islamic Extremism in the Southern Philippines: The Historical Context of the Islamic Insurgency in the Southern Philippines.” Ch.4 in Isaacson, Jason F. and Colin Rubenstein, eds. Islam in Asia: Changing Political Realities. 2002.
Ghee, Lim Teck and Valencia, Mark J., eds. Conflict over Natural Resource in South-East Asia and the Pacific. 1990.
Porter, Gareth and Delfin J. Ganapin, Jr. Resources, Population, and the Philippines’ Future: A Case Study. World Resources Institute. October 1988.
Oxfam-Great Britain. Anthropometric and Household Food Security Survey among Displaced Families in Central Mindanao. November 2000.
1999 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices: Philippines. Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor. U.S. Department of State, 25 February 2000.
An Act to Recognize, Protect and Promote the Rights of Indigenous Cultural Communities/Indigenous Peoples, Creating a National Commission on Indigenous Peoples, Establishing Implementing Mechanisms, Appropriating Funds Therefor, and for Other Purposes (Republic Act No. 8371). Philippines Government. 28 July 1997. Chan Robles Virtual Law Library. Philippine Environmental Laws Online. http://www.chanrobles.com/republicactno8371.htm.
Moro National Liberation Front homepage: http://mnlf.net/
Project Ploughshares’ Armed Conflict Report 2002 – Philippines-Mindanano: http://www.ploughshares.ca/content/ACR/ACR00/ACR00-PhilippinesM.html
 The current war on terrorism and its implications for the oil-rich Persian Gulf region are still unclear in the long-run, which increases the incentive for countries to reduce their reliance on its exports. For the Philippines, this is evidence by the fact that its Department of Energy has amassed
 Until, that is, government-sponsored North-South relocation movements filled the frontier.
 One example of this was the consultation process between a Moro tribe and Mindex, a Norwegian company seeking establish a Nickel Cobalt mining operation. The mining consultation company hired had formerly been discredited for approving operations that led to environmental disasters. Observers feared that the tribe’s representatives were not made sufficiently aware of the potential externalities to their farming land and fisheries. Philippines Indigenous Peoples Links http://www.philsol.nl/B99/Mindoro-may99.htm.