On October 23, 2017, the 5-month long Battle of Marawi, a bloody siege that killed over hundreds of combatants, displaced families from their homes, and destroyed a once beautiful city in Lanao Del Sur, was finally over. The death of terrorist leaders Isnilon Hapilon and Omar Maute and the retaking of the final remaining Maute stronghold marked the end of the battle. Tragically, 87 civilians who just wanted to live a good life in Marawi were killed, and over 80, 000 more were evacuated.
Though destructive as it was, the Battle of Marawi was just one small battle in the neverending conflict between the Filipino people and the Moro insurgents, which began when Spain, after conquering Luzon and Visayas, tried to Christianized Mindanao and failed. The Moros since then continued resisting even as the Philippines fell into the hands of the United States in 1898, and the Japanese in 1941.
When the Philippines became its own country after World War II, peace and unity seemed to have been achieved in Mindanao, as the Moros and their Northern Filipino brothers celebrated their newfound independence. However, things escalated in the second half of the 20th century when other Filipinos started settling in Moro-held territories in the South. UP professor Nur Misuari established the Moro National Liberation Front to fight this incursion, and other factions soon formed such as the infamous Abu Sayyaf who had ties to foreign jihadist groups, effectively turning many Moro fighters into terrorists. Knowing the reasons for the Moros for rebelling is key to understanding how they have fought this war for this long.
For almost half a century this conflict is still being fought and stories of bloody battles, kidnappings, beheadings, and bombings filled daily news. The Moro people also suffered from a lot of atrocities, such as the Manila Massacre that was conducted by Catholic “Ilaga” terrorists which killed 70+ innocent Moros, and the Malisbong massacre which took the lives of 1000-1500 people, mass raping of Muslim women and the razing of their homes by Marcos’s administration.
However, the largest battle of them all was the Pata Island Massacre, where an Infantry Battalion of over 119-124 government troops was ambushed and killed in their headquarters by a larger number of 400 MNLF insurgents. During the Arroyo administration, there was an incident where MILF members killed 14 soldiers and even beheaded and emasculated 10 of them for war trophies. Aquino’s administration also saw a number of costly battles such as the Siege of Zamboanga and the Mamasapano Incident which are still fresh on everyone’s minds.
Nowadays, as desperation and fatigue took its toll on the weary rebels, various factions have started to fight each other as well, like the incident in February 7, 2015, when the Abu Sayyaf attacked the MILF in Basilan as the latter was undergoing a peace process. It seems that the war is not just a conflict between Filipino Christians and Moros anymore. This war may have been started for the betterment of the Moros but sadly and ironically it affected the Muslim people the most. Insurgents and terrorists constantly fail to see that many Muslim Filipinos don’t share the same ideology. Some are happy today co-existing with other Filipinos in various cities, and in fact some Muslims have joined the Philippine military to fight against them. Each year a number of Muslim Filipinos graduate the Philippine Military Academy, who wanted to finally establish peace in their homeland Mindanao.
The long history of this conflict have left nothing but death and destruction in its wake, and this useless war has proven fruitless in the long run. But as a testimony to the long history of Filipino stubbornness and the “will to never surrender” neither parties have shown signs of ever backing down, and as long as the war continues the people of Mindanao will continue to suffer as well.