Mindanao, the second largest island in the Philippines, is home to a diverse population, 20 percent of whom are Muslims and identify as Moro (also referred to as Bangsamoro). Owing to the nature and longevity of the post-war authoritarian regimes that ruled the country, this community was marginalised for decades and lacked anything but token political representation.1 During the widespread armed conflict between the Government of the Philippines and a series of communist groups that began immediately after the Second World War and continues to this day, displaced communities from across the Philippines were encouraged by the administration in Manila to settle in Mindanao. This process isolated the Moro community even further and, after some Muslim recruits in the Philippine military were killed by their officers in 1968, intercommunal clashes erupted across the island. Later that year, the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) was established and began training in nearby Malaysia. In 1972, the MNLF launched an insurgency against the Government of the Philippines, initially with the goal of achieving total independence (this changed in 1978, when increased autonomy was formally adopted as the objective, leading to a split in the organisation). A devastating armed conflict followed, peaking in the 1970s before pausing altogether after the regime of Ferdinand Marcos was toppled in 1986, only to resume in February 1988.2
The situation in Mindanao gained increasing international attention in the early 1990s. By this stage, the MNLF had splintered multiple times and many of its cadres had signed up to government disarmament programmes, leaving it weakened.3 A change in government in the 1992 elections brought Fidel Ramos to power, who promptly created the National Unification Commission (NUC) and tasked it with finding solutions to the conflicts across the Philippines. Recognising an opportunity to come to a negotiated settlement, the MNLF began talks with the government via the NUC in 1992, and the following year signed a Statement of Understanding for formal negotiations to take place and agreed to a ceasefire.4 The Organisation of Islamic Conference (OIC) worked with representatives of both parties to establish a Joint Committee to oversee implementation and adherence while further talks took place. After four years of negotiations mediated by the governments of Indonesia, Libya, and the OIC, the talks culminated on 2 September 1996 with the Final Peace Agreement.5 The key provision of the accord was the creation of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (first proposed in 1976), which offered constitutional protections and political representation to the Muslim community. This ended the conflict between the Philippine government and the MNLF, but not every faction of the movement endorsed the Agreement and continued the armed struggle.