Moro National Liberation Front

Not to be confused with Moro Islamic Liberation Front.
Moro National Liberation Front
Participant in Moro conflict

Flag and logo of the MNLF

October 21, 1972  September 2, 1996 (As a secessionist group)[1]

September 2, 1996  present (As a political organization)
Ideology Bangsamoro self-determination
Leaders disputed since 1996 – Nur Misuari (MNLF), Alvarez Isnaji (Isnaji group), Habib Mujahab Hashim (MNLF-ICC), Hadja Bainon Karon (MNLF Women’s Committee), Dimas Pundato (MNLF-RG), Muslimin Sema (EC-15), Hatimil Hassan (EC-15) and Abul Khayr Alonto (MNLF)[2]
Headquarters Sulu

Philippines Republic of the Philippines

Malaysia Malaysia (formerly)[3][4]
Opponents Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant Abu Sayyaf

The Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) is a political organization in the Philippines that was founded in 1972.[2][5] It started as a splinter group of the Muslim Independence Movement.[2] The MNLF was the leading organization among Moro separatists for about two decades beginning from the 1970s.[2]

In 1996, the MNLF signed a landmark peace agreement with the Philippine government that saw the creation of Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), an area composed of two mainland provinces and three island provinces in which the predominantly Muslim population enjoys a degree of self-rule.[6] Nur Misuari was installed as the region's governor but his rule ended in violence when he led a failed rebellion against the Philippines government in November 2001,[6] and fled to Sabah before being deported back to the Philippines by the Malaysian authorities.[2][7][8]

MNLF is internationally recognized by the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) and its Parliamentary Union of OIC Member States (PUIC).[9] Since 1977, the MNLF has been an observer member of the OIC.[10] On January 30, 2012, MNLF became an observer member of the Parliamentary Union of Islamic Cooperation (PUIC), as approved during the 7th PUIC global session held in Palembang, Indonesia.[11]


Further information: Jabidah massacre

The Philippine government wanted to encourage migration of landless Christians from other parts of the country in a so-called Homestead Program (1903–1973). There was no land titling system by the natives of Mindanao at that time, and the Christian settlers exploited the situation. Lanao and Cotabato received an influx of migrants from Luzon and Visayas. Tensions between Moros and Christians were caused by disputes about land ownership and disenfranchisement of Muslims. The Homestead Program is one of the root-causes of the Moro conflict.[12][13]

Poverty, grievances of the Muslim population, weak rule of law and difficult terrain have made counterterrorism challenging against insurgents in the Southern Philippines.[14]

On March 18, 1968 there was an alleged massacre of Moro soldiers in Corregidor Island.[15][16] There has been a long-standing allegation that the Malaysia provided the initial training and arming of the first batch of MNLF cadres known as "Top 90" in 1969.[3] Likewise, it has also been alleged that Malaysia was either seemingly ignorant or tolerated the illicit arms shipments, mainly from the Middle East, flowing into Mindanao that fueled the insurgency.[17]

The founder and former leader of the MNLF is Nur Misuari.[2] The MNLF was founded as a splinter group of the Muslim Independence Movement on October 21, 1972.[2]

MNLF officially claims that its ideology is egalitarianism, and it is not a religious organization like its Islamic splinter group the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.[18]

Leadership and splits

The MNLF was the leading organization among Moro separatists for about two decades beginning from the 1970s. However, discontent on Nur Misuari's leadership caused the group to unravel especially after the 1996 peace agreement. Integration of former rebels in the society was also a factor in the weakening. At the present there are multiple competing factions. For instance, Hadja Bainon Karon's faction supported peace deal in 2012, after Nur Misuari had criticized it.[2][19][20][21] There was also a case of defections of Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) fighters to MNLF.[22] As of 14 August 2015, the current chairman of the group is uncertain and the sources, including Organisation of Islamic Cooperation and Philippine Government, disagree. Nur Misuari still has support among some of the factions.[2]

Many splits followed tribal affiliation.[2] United Nations Security Council report stated in 2010 that the splinter groups Moro Islamic Liberation Front and Abu Sayyaf recruit and use child soldiers in the conflict.[23]

Peace talks

Libyan and Muammar Gaddafi's mediation resulted in the Tripoli Agreement on December 23, 1976. It would have established an autonomous region and given Moros influence on foreign policy, military, education, courts, and finances. Areas such as Basilan, Palawan and Sulu would have been included in the autonomous region. The plans failed due to president Ferdinand Marcos' decision to hold a referendum on each area that was to be included in the autonomous region. Most of the regions did not have a Muslim majority. The referendums however did influence Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao by creating its predecessors. MNLF decided to continued armed struggle.[2]

The MNLF shifted from demands of full independence to autonomy in the 1980s. In 1986 a ceasefire and attempts to have a peace agreement were made, but they failed.[2]

Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao was established in 1989, despite opposition from the MNLF.[2]

OIC, Libya and Indonesia mediated peace talks which were restarted in 1992. Statements of Understanding and Interim Agreements were made between 1992 and 1996. Jakarta Peace Agreement was signed in 1996.[2]

Tensions between the Philippine Government and the MNLF have been fueled by mineral wealth sharing, problems of implementing the peace agreement and the Nur Misuari faction's ongoing opposition of the peace agreement.[2][24]

In 2015 Nur Misuari rejected reports on the MNLF involvement in the North Borneo dispute and said only the Sultanate of Sulu can pursue the negotiations for the Sabah claim with the Malaysian sides. The MNLF has asserted that their group are not involved in any part of the North Borneo dispute and stressing it is a non-issue as Sabah has become the "home-base for different tribal groupings of Muslims from different regions of Southeast Asia that have enjoyed peaceful and harmonious co-existence with the Chinese and Christian populace in the area."[25]

European Union and the United States do not use the classification of "terrorist" for the MNLF.[26]

Zamboanga City crisis

Zamboanga City hall pictured

In 2013, the Nur Misuari faction of the MNLF declared independence for the Bangsamoro Republik and attacked Zamboanga City. During the MNLF standoff with the Armed Forces of the Philippines, the group was accused by the Philippines of using civilians as human shields,[27] thus leading the Philippine government to label them terrorists.[28][29][30][31] The State Department of the United States included a mention of the siege in its report on "East Asia and Pacific Overview".[32]


  2. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 Daniel Cassman (August 14, 2015). "Moro National Liberation Front". Mapping Militant Organizations - Stanford university.
  3. 1 2 Tan, Andrew T/H. (2009). A Handbook of Terrorism and Insurgency in Southeast Asia. Cheltenham, UK: Edward Elgar Publishing. pp. 230, 238. ISBN 1847207189.
  4. "Philippines rebel leader arrested". BBC News. November 25, 2001. Archived from the original on September 26, 2015. Retrieved September 26, 2015. Malaysia's Inspector-General of Police Norian Mai said Mr Misuari and six of his followers were arrested at 3.30 am on Saturday (1930 GMT Friday) on Jampiras island off Sabah state. Manila had ordered his arrest on charges of instigating a rebellion after the government suspended his governorship of an autonomous Muslim region in Mindanao, the ARMM. Although the Philippines has no extradition treaty with Malaysia, the authorities have already made clear that they intend to hand Mr Misuari over to the authorities in Manila as soon as possible. Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad had said before the arrest that, although his country had provided support to the rebel group in the past in its bid for autonomy, Mr Misuari had not used his powers correctly. "Therefore, we no long feel responsible to provide him with any assistance," he said.
  5. "Focus on the Philippines". Retrieved January 26, 2015.
  6. 1 2 "The Philippines and Terrorism". Anti-Defamation League. April 2004. Archived from the original on May 5, 2015. Retrieved May 5, 2015.
  7. Barbara Mae Dacanay (December 20, 2001). "Nur Misuari seeks asylum in Malaysia". Gulf News. Archived from the original on July 5, 2014. Retrieved July 5, 2014.
  8. "Nur Misuari to be repatriated to stand trial". Australian Broadcasting Corporation. December 20, 2001. Archived from the original on July 5, 2014. Retrieved July 5, 2014.
  9. "PUIC". Retrieved January 26, 2015.
  10. List of Observer Members of Organization of Islamic Conference
  11. "PUIC Approved MNLF as Observer in Palembang Meet".
  13. Damien Kingsbury; Senior Lecturer in International Development Damien Kingsbury; Costas Laoutides (March 5, 2015). Territorial Separatism in Global Politics: Causes, Outcomes and Resolution. Routledge. p. 55. ISBN 978-1-317-63139-2.
  14. "Terrorism Havens: Philippines". Council on Foreign Relations. Retrieved January 26, 2015.
  15. Marites Dañguilan Vitug; Glenda M. Gloria (March 18, 2013). "Jabidah and Merdeka: The inside story". Rappler. Archived from the original on September 13, 2015. Retrieved May 6, 2016.
  16. Senator Benigno S. Aquino Jr. (March 28, 1968). "Jabidah! Special Forces of Evil?". Delivered at the Legislative Building, Manila, on March 28, 1968. Government of the Philippines. Archived from the original on September 13, 2015. Retrieved May 6, 2015.
  17. Lino Miani (2011). The Sulu Arms Market: National Responses to a Regional Problem. Institute of Southeast Asian. pp. 72–. ISBN 978-981-4311-11-3.
  18. "Asia Times Online :: Moro leader looks for united front". Retrieved 26 January 2015.
  19. "MNLF official appeals for support for peace deal". Retrieved January 26, 2015.
  20. "Abu splits into smaller groups, says MNLF official". Retrieved January 26, 2015.
  21. "Misuari to Abu Sayyaf: Enough, we cannot tolerate you forever". Retrieved January 26, 2015.
  22. "Al Jazeera reports exodus of MILF members to MNLF". ABS-CBN News.
  23. UN Security Council Report, 23 April 2010
  24. "MNLF technical panel 'walks out' in final peace agreement talks". Tempo - News in a Flash. Retrieved January 26, 2015.
  25. Karlos Manlupig (17 May 2015). "MNLF denies talks with Malaysia over Sabah". Philippine Daily Inquirer. Archived from the original on May 17, 2015. Retrieved 18 May 2015. Misuari, who is hiding after the hostilities in Zamboanga in 2013, maintains his position that only the Sultanate of Sulu can pursue the negotiations for the Sabah claim. Respecting the fervent wish of the late Sultan Muhammad Jamalul Kiram III to let alone the Islamic Sultanate of Sulu and North Borneo (SSNB) to negotiate peacefully with the Muslim leaders of Malaysia to settle the controversial issue in order not to repeat the March 2013 Lahad Datu, Sabah incident, Chairman Misuari has dismissed the media reports as unfounded and without any ounce of truth involving the MNLF in any level talks. The MNLF, however, asserted that the Sabah case is a non-issue because it is the "home-base for different tribal groupings of Muslims from different regions of Southeast Asia that have enjoyed peaceful and harmonious co-existence with the Chinese and Christian populace in the area.
  26. "Moro National Liberation Front". Mapping Militant Organizations.
  27. (video). Oct 24, 2013 Missing or empty |title= (help)
  28. Carmela Lapeña; Amita Legaspi (September 9, 2013). "MNLF attacks Zambo City, using 20 hostages as 'human shields;' six killed". Reuters. GMA News. Retrieved September 10, 2013.
  29. Titus Calauor; Benjie Vergara; Al Jacinto (September 11, 2013). "Human shields beg for help". Agence France Presse. The Manila Times. Archived from the original on October 25, 2015. Retrieved September 12, 2013.
  30. Senator Aquilino "Koko" Pimentel III (November 27, 2013). "Resolution directing the appropriate Senate Committee's, to conduct an inquiry, in aid of legislation, on the motives, behind the Zamboanga City siege in September 2013 which resulted in a humanitarian crisis in the said city, with the end in view of enacting measures to prevent the reccurrence of a similar incident in the future" (PDF). Philippine Senate. Retrieved November 28, 2013.
  32. "Chapter 2. Country Reports: East Asia and Pacific Overview". U.S. Department of State. U.S. Department of State. 2013.

Further reading

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