Brief History of Armed Conflicts in Mindanao and Sulu

April 14, 2014 by  
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By Norodin Alonto Lucman

 Philippine history in school textbooks tend to confuse rather than enlighten. The starting point of Philippine history was 1899 known as the Malolos Constitution, a political construct conceived by ilustrados who maintained filial and historical ties with Mother Spain.  The 1896 Katipunan Rebellion was not a Philippine insurrection. It was a Katagalugan Insurrection against Spain. Ka Andres Bonifacio and Jose Rizal never considered themselves Filipinos. Jose Rizal always regard himself as a Malay by racial identity. This is probably why more Filipinos are evasive when they are confronted with historical issues on how Philippines came about. They are as confused about details of their national heroes and the battles that they lost against Spain and later the Americans. So I turned to our Salsila and history to understand why Mindanao history was left out in the narration of Philippine history.  For starters, Philippines is a misnomer. It has nothing to do with the origins of our ancient history. Mindanao history is as old as the kingdom of Champa, a 2nd century kingdom in what is now Vietnam.


Development of human civilization in Mindanao and Sulu came in three stages

In the early 11th century  a known civilization in  Maguindanao, or Mintolang – Butuan, (Pd’uan or P’u-tuan) was described in the Sung Shi, Sung history, as a small country in the sea to the east of Champa (Vietnam), farther than Ma’yi (Mindoro), with regular communications with Champa, but only rarely with China. The Kingdom of Champa (Chiem Tham) was founded in the 2nd century and lasted until the 17th century. The peaceful kingdom is one of many diverse kingdoms  in East Asia protected by China in the 9th and 10th century as a trading and commercial partner.

The prosperity of Cham became a target of invasion by different armies in the region including China, Mongols, Khmers of Angkor Vat, Dai Viet who took turns in invading the remaining cities of the Cham.

The last Champa King Po Chen,  moved his kingdom  away from the marauding Viet troops and hundreds of thousands of his subjects, mostly Muslims,  trooped to coastal areas of what is now Kampuchea, Kelantan and Terrenganu. It was the first known mass Diaspora in the history of Indochina.

What remains of the ancient kingdom is a strip of land  called Kompong Cham, a coastal region in the southwestern part of Kampuchea with 100,000 inhabitants known as Rohingyans. (

The demise of Champa is a bitter lesson to Muslims in the Malay world, Bangsa Melayu.  Their fate could have been duplicated in Mindanao had it not been of the dogged resistance of the Sultanates against tremendous odds. Centuries of conflicts in the Malay Peninsula and Sumatra was also a blessing.

Islamization in East Asia brought civilization to disparate tribes and communities in East Asia amid the violence of European colonialism, seeking riches and gold in the region. Islam carried with it terrible wars and resistance against pagan tribes, evangelizing Spaniards and Portuguese conquistadores who see in Islam a threat to their grand design of subjugation and enslavement of East Asians, particularly in the Malay world. Study of history in East Asia is intertwined with the development of organized nation-states and Caliphates in the Middle East and Europe, and consequently the flowering of Islamic civilizations from Menado, Sulawesi (Bugis) to Acheh, all the way down to Luzon and Mindanao through centuries of peaceful missionary work, and not by force.

It established the sultanates of Maguindanao and Sulu when Malay and Sumatran noblemen, missionaries and their followers took refuge in Mindanao and Luzon to escape the depredations wrought by Portuguese colonizers  and their puppets in the islands of Sumatra and the Malay Peninsula. By the time the Spaniards set foot in Masao in Butuan in 1521, the Rajahs knew what to expect from the colonizers. Tales of violence by Portuguese against the Malays are well known in the islands, through horrible stories narrated by refugees from the stricken kingdoms and principalities of Sumatra and Malay Peninsula. Rajah Kolambo of Butuan and his brother Rajah Siaoi were diplomatic enough to tell Ferdinand Magellan who reached Masao in 1521 “that they have a lord” and there is no need for them to worship another god. As soon as provisions were given to the Spaniards, Ferdinand Magellan set sail to Sugbu (Cebu) where fate awaits him.

Another beleaguered city in Sumatra known as Bentayan was transplanted in Ranao as Binidayan. Kingdom of Pasay in Sumatera (Sumatra) was transplanted in Luzon. Most of the Johor nobility at the time were either executed or have escaped the  death warrants of Achehnese rulers, allies of Portugal at one point,  by relocating to other parts of East Asia, establishing sultanates and principalities in the name of Islam. It follows that the bloodline of Prophet Mohammed’s Ahlul Bayt be preserved despite the cruelty of foreign colonialism and extreme depredations.

Temasek was renamed Singapore, a variant of Singhapura, now a prosperous city-state in the southern tip of the  Malay archipelago.

In our genealogy, legend has it that the civilization of our forefathers in pre-Islamic times under Madjapahit and Sri Vijayan Empires emanated from the  Kingdom of Butuan – Butuanun Kalinan. Butuanons were said to be regular visitors to China along with foreign traders like the Arabs, Syrians, Tibetans, Uighors and Samals.  Sometime in  March 17, 1001, King Kiling (O’ling or Ch’ling) of Butuan, the earliest known kingdom in northern Mindanao sent tribute missions headed by Li-yihan and Jlaminan to China but China singly recognized Champa in southern Vietnam as its major trading partner. Back then, we call our rulers Rajah, Sri, Datu or Simbaan, a variant of Simbahan which means lord in ancient times. This title found its way in the lexicon of Katagalugan, the Nation of Tagalogs, meaning Church or he who is worshipped. In Luzon they chose their ruler by consensus, ihalal, of which the root word is in Arabic halal, to cleanse or he who is beyond question as an honest, brave and just leader. In other words, clean. halal. Madjapahit Empire ceased to exist when Mongol warlord Kublai Khan invaded the island of Java in 13th century and killed its king. (Marco Polo)

In the event, this prosperous trade partnership has proven that Butuan enjoy a high level of economic and political relations with other kingdoms in East Asia. Regular contacts with Muslim traders from the Middle East have exposed them to Islam, which is at the height of its economic and political power. (Greg Hontiveros) In 1011, Sri Bata Shaja clinched a trade partnership with China, the earliest recorded trade mission from northern Mindanao. He sent one of his trusted men, Liyu-xie, bearing his message inscribed in gold tablet, assorted gifts of local varieties and a slave. The Chinese Emperor was impressed, probably impressed with such offerings, bestowed Liyu-xie with a military title and necessary symbolic regalia such as flags, pennants symbolizing the granting of an honor to a distant land. Butuan had emerged as a busy commercial port during the Sung Period, when Butuan boats called  Balanghai were capable of sailing beyond Mindanao shores. (William Henry Scott).

Butuan’s prominence extended to other regions in Mindanao and Sulu. Indeed, Sultan Barafa Shah Tengah of Sulu at the end of the 16th century was said to have been a Butuanon himself. (Scott: Barangay 177) Against the backdrop of this turbulent and glorious history, it is not true that Mindanao was a wilderness when Spain invited themselves as conquerors and intruders.



In 1310, an Arab missionary by the name of Tuan Mashaika Maqbalu died in Jolo. He was buried at Mount Datu. He was revered as the founder of Sulu’s first Islamic society. It was not known how he lived in Sulu but there was an active trading activity between Sulu and the islands of Borneo, Indonesia and trading settlements along the Straits of Melaka (Malacca).  Arab traders and missionaries are  known to ply the region around this time, spreading and preaching the Koran to the Malay natives.

1376  “Sometime in the last quarter of the 14th century” said historian Ambeth Ocampo, “Sheikh Karimul Makhdum Tuan Sharif Awliya,  arrived in Buansa, Sulu with seven other Arab scholars or teachers.” Through historical sources, oral tradition, local history or genealogical calendar, the  exact date was 1376 or 1380 or thereabouts.   Sheikh Makhdum (Ar. Makhtoum) built the first mosque in the Simunul islands, a strategic gateway to Mindanao & Sulu, a prosperous and powerful island, frequented by European and Asian mariners and sailors.

1407 Emperor Zhu Di (Yong-Lo), at one time  expressed interest in Luzon but Admiral Zheng He probably did not pursue the plan to seize the island except with Ko Cha Lao, a Chinese warlord who organized Chinese resistance against Spain in Luzon. In many of his major voyages, between 1421-1423, Zheng He always bypass Luzon (Liu-sung) in favor of other islands as though it has no value. It was not even  mentioned in his log books or in the inscriptions found in Chiang-su. This is very significant in the light of lack of materials chronicling the people of Luzon before 1521. Another version known in Chinese writings as San-Pai-T’ai-Chien, Zheng He, a native of Yunan,  was a Muslim admiral and a favorite eunuch of Emperor Zhu Di. Within a period of 28 years (1405-1433) he led seven exploring expeditions which discovered the Americas, 100 years before Columbus. (Gavin Menzies, 1421)  Through Zheng He, the Ming Dynasty flourished and maintained trade and diplomatic relations with African, Asian, Arab Kings and Sultans. He reached Lingayen (Luzon), Mindoro and Jolo in December, 1405-1406 and 1417. Admiral Zheng He, a Muslim eunuch and head of China’s Treasure Fleet under Ming Emperor Zhu Di, proclaimed the Sultan of Melaka and gave notice to the King of Siam that their days of exacting tribute from Melaka is over. The Sultanate was joined by other kingdoms in the Malay Peninsula, giving rise to an organized confederation of Islamic Sultanates covering the islands of Sumatra, Sulawesi, Java and Borneo. Consequently, Manila, Tondo, Mindanao & Sulu became part of this confederation of Sultanates governed by common attachment to Islam, geography and most of all, mercantile society.

This civilization was anchored on organized government, guided by laws  backed by a powerful navy and ground army. A Mranao noble title known as “Ayunan  Datu” (He whose counsel is valued) is believed to have originated from the word “Yunan” a region in China populated by Muslims. Admiral Zheng He is a Yunanese. At the height of the power of the Chinese Treasure Fleet in East Asia, Zheng He was known to have negotiated peaceful settlements among warring tribes in the Malay region. He pacified, among others,  the conflict between the Sinhalese and Tamils while in Ceylon (Sri Lanka), an important seaport in the Indian Ocean. Few years after Ming Emperor Zhu Di’s death in 1423, Zheng He retired in Nanjing where he died of old age.

1417    Paduka Pahala, the Eastern King of Sulu, died of illness at Te-chow (now Dezhou City in Shandong Province, China) while on an official Royal State Visit  to Pekin, China during the Ming Dynasty whose emperor at that time was Zhu Di (Yong-le) who reigned from 1403 to 1424. He was given a Royal burial in Imperial China. In his eulogy, Emperor Zhu Di said: “He was a brave King and Master of the East.” Diplomatic relations between Mindanao and China prospered despute the Sultan’s death.

In 1471, the great city of Vijaya was sacked by the Viet troops. Vijaya was renamed Dong Duong,  Da Nang was the former Singhapura, Kauthara also fell and was later renamed as NhaTrang in Khanh Hoa province. Amaravati is now the present-day Quang Nam province.

In 1433, Portugal launched the highly profitable slave trade in the region, invading regions known for their spices. From its major base in Goa (India), it attacked the Melaka sultanates, Acheh, Johor and other kingdoms in the archipelago causing massive dislocation of inhabitants, loss of property and lives. This practice was copied by other enterprising European countries plying the islands searching for East Asian treasures. Soon, merchants and raiders from Mindanao entered the slave business, attacking Spanish enclaves in Luzon and Visayas in search of Spanish garrisons,  bihags, or slaves, to be sold to British and Dutch companies, enemies of Spain, in exchange for guns and bullets.

Rajah Baguinda  established himself as leader of the Tausogs, people of the current. He introduced the use of modern weapons in his domain. This particular period in East Asia was crucial in the sense that Europeans are beginning to make itself felt in the islands.

In 1450, Sayed Abu Bakr, descendant of Prophet Muhammad, joined Rajah Baguinda and married the Rajah’s daughter, a nobility from Sumatra. (Scott, Barangay:178) After the death of Raja Baguinda, Sayed Abu Bakr who goes by the title Paduka Maharasi Maulana al Sultan ul-Hashim,  founded the Sultanate of Sulu and took the title Sultan Sharif of Sulu. Political districts were created in Parang, Pansul, Lati, Gitung and Luuk, each led by a Panglima or district leader.

The Sultanate, in its golden years, had a dominion over a large territory stretching as far as Surigao and part of Brunei to the south. Ranao coastline (Kapatagan, Balabagan, Malabang and Picong) was part of the Sultanate of Maguindanao. Ramitan (Malabang) was the seat of Sultan Kudarat’s Sultanate.

In 1475, Sharif Kabungsuan aka  Sharif  Muhammad  bin  Ali  (Bin  Sharif Ali Zein al  Abedin, Sultan of Malaysia) left Johor and reached Malabang, literally means the first “grand” call to prayer, and married four noble women from different  families in the lake and coastal regions, establishing the Sultanate of Maguindanao (Mindanao) and thereafter the four principalities of Ranao. (Forrest) According to Martel de Gayangos, a Spanish comptroller, Malabang and Lalabuan were prosperous seaports frequented by Arab, Malay, Dutch, French and British traders. Previous to the arrival of Sharif Kabungsuan, two important Sharifs already reached Mindanao, namely Sharifs Maraja and Awliya. (Sharif, variant of Sheriff,  is a title inherited from the Arabs accorded to the nobles and rulers whose bloodline can be traced to Prophet Muhammad. Sharif Maraja (Maradia) is the ancestor of  Tabunaway and Mamalu, scions of Buayaan, Teduray and Maguindanaon clans).

1495 Treaty of Tordesillas. Partition of the World into Spanish and Portuguese colonial empires. Luzon, Visayas, Mindanao & Sulu falls under the colonial domain of Spain. Malay Peninsula and Sumatra falls under the colonial dominion of Portugal.

1509 Ferdinand Magellan, also known as Fernao do Magalhaes  reached the Malacca islands, claiming a stake in the lucrative Spice islands and ushering Europe’s Age of Discovery in Africa and Asia. In September, a Portuguese expedition with four ships reached Malacca. According to Chinese chronicles in the early 15th century, Malacca was a thriving seaport inhabited by Chinese and Malays ruled by fierce chieftains. (Menzies) One of the crews, a youthful Ferdinand Magellan, was on apprenticeship as a navigator. A Muslim Chieftain  ambushed the party killing 60 Portuguese sailors, destroying one of  the vessels.  The surviving party limped  back to the ships and sailed away. Magellan was wounded.  Magellan’s slave Enrique, a mulatto, traveled with  Magellan to Lisbon.

In 1513, he took part in the Portuguese campaign against the Moors, Moros in Africa. In this campaign, Magellan was pierced by an enemy lance in the left knee, which caused him to limp for the rest of his life. (S.Zaide:76)

1511 Alfonse d’Albuquerque, the Portuguese Viceroy of India invaded Melaka (Malacca), forcing Malay and Sumatran natives to take to the sea in hastily organized fleets. Their boats were scattered by storms. Some ended up in Borneo, some in Mindanao, Visayas and Luzon.  Each boatload of refugees became the nucleus of a new settlement.  Earliest known map of the region was made by a Portuguese pilot Rodriguez, who works for Albuquerque.

The earliest known information about Luzon, lusong, or liu’sung, meaning rice mortar in Chinese, was in 1513. An early explorer and cartographer Tome Pires referred to a nation called lucoes which could mean Ilokos: “The lucoes are about ten days sail beyond Borneo. They are nearly all heathen, they have no king, but are ruled by groups of elders. They are a robust people, little thought of in Malacca.” He went on: “The Borneans go to the land of lucoes to buy gold, and foodstuffs as well, and wax and honey, and they take the same merchandise from here as the Borneans take. They are almost one people  they are a useful people, they are hard-working.” This trade attracted the Borneans to such an extent that they built a thriving settlement along the seacoast and banks of the Pasig river known today  as Manila and Tondo. A Rajanate was organized in Tondo and Manila, whose leaders were chosen among the members of the Bruneian royalty. By the time Miguel Lopez de Legazpi set foot in Manila in 1567, there were 5,000 Muslim families in Manila and Tondo ruled by Rajahs Soliman, Matanda and Lakandula, the ancestor of powerful political clans in the Tagalog and Pampango speaking regions.

Rajah Sultan Mansur of  Tidore, a city-state in Indonesia, pledged allegiance to Spain by swearing on a Koran. According to other accounts,  Magellan landed at Masao (not Limasawa  island),  in Northern Mindanao on March 28, 1521. (Zaide: 81)  Antonio Pigafetta wrote: “… we saw approaching two long boats, which they called Balanghai, full of men, and in the larger boat was their king seated below an awning made of mats. And when they came near the captain’s ship, the said slave (Enrique) spoke to that king, who understood him well.”  Bahasa Malayo was lingua franca among the nobility in Malay lands including Mindanao and Visayas. From that moment onwards, Enrique became the sole  ears and voice of this band of explorers.  Enrique quickly learned the art of navigation which was very helpful in Magellan’s quest to find the undiscovered “rich islands east of Malacca.” Magellan brought Enrique to India, Africa, Lisbon and Spain. (Quirino)

Antonio Pigafetta, chronicler of Ferdinand Magellan, noted that Rajah Kulambo and his brother  Rajah Siaui of Butuan  welcomed the foreigners with open arms.  They were wined and dined by these rajahs. However, in  the first mass  conducted by Magellan on March  31, 1521, these two Rajahs from  Mindanao attended  the Eucharist but did not offer the sacrifice.

1521 A Portuguese explorer Fernao do Magalhaes (Ferdinand Magellan) discovered Sugbu (Cebu) and declared the island a property of the King of Spain. Fernao do Magalhaes was killed by Rajah Lapu Lapu of Mactan, a Muslim warrior allied with the Sultan of Sulu,  in that same year.

Instruction from the Spanish King to Ferdinand Magellan “… was to locate a Pacific passage  to the Moluccas  with  authority  to  annex uncharted territories he should discover. If and when  natives are found in the new territories, Magellan will Hispanize and Christianize  them.”

In fact, 20 years after the death of Magellan, his chief pilot  Villalobos Ginés de Mafra stayed for two months in Mazaua/Maçagua (Masao: Butuan), time enough to become sufficiently acquainted with the geographic situation which he encountered twice north and south of the strait of Surigao. He recorded the following:

“From the chief of Maçagua Magellan heard that in a region named Butuan, located in the island of Mindanao, in its northern part, at a distance of 15 leguas from Maçagua, much gold is found.” (Antonio Blazquez,and Delgado Aguilera for the Spanish Royal Geographic Society, 1920. Archivo General de Indias, p. 199. Sevilla.  Schreurs: 28)

An early Spanish expedition report made in 1523 by J.G. de Loaisa spoke of a big island called Mamgdanao (Magindanao). This was corrupted into Vendanao, Bendanao and later, Mindanao. The report was translated into different European languages which gave rise to confusion and misinformation, one of which was the controversy between Mazaua (Masao) and Limasawa (Dimasawa), the first mass in Butuan

In 1564, Kota Batu and Johor Lama fell. The fort and town were burned and plundered by powerful armies of Acheh, a new kingdom in northern Sumatra, supported by Melaka Malays, Malabaris, Gujeratis and Turkish soldiers. The Kingdom of Acheh ruled the Sumatera and the Malay Peninsula until the Portuguese, using Goa (India) as a jumping point invaded these  kingdoms.



In 1594, despite the difficulties of keeping their Viet enemies at bay,  the King of Champa helped the Sultan of Johor resist the onslaughts of Portuguese incursions into the region and became embroiled in the bloody colonial wars which pitted the Malay Sultans against each other and different foreign powers from the 15th up to the 17th century.

The defeat of  Spanish Armada in 1588 by England led by Sir Francis Drake broke the monopoly of Spain and Portugal in East Asia thus preserving Islam in Southeast Asia.  Great Britain, Netherlands and France did not share the evangelizing spirit of the conquistadores  and their Age of Discovery. It is the nemesis of their new  philosophy, an embodiment of the Western Free World, a refinement of the Crusader spirit that saw many debacles in the 12th century. The Mindanao problem continue to fester simply because the Philippine Constitution is a reflection of this ancient conquistadores spirit, an issue that was left unresolved in the post-colonial period after World War II.

Between 1607 and 1676, the kingdom was ruled by King Ibrahimhe, married to a Malay princess,  who ruled an area covering parts of present-day Vietnam and Kampuchea. It was a prosperous kingdom until the Vietnamese under King Minh Mang annexed Champa territories and  drove the Muslims out of present-day Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), provinces of Trang, Phan Rang, PhanRi and PhanThiet.

It is worth noting that the names of these famous cities were adopted in some regions in present-day Malaysia and the Philippines. The Kingdom of Pasay in Sumatera (Sumatra) which was sacked by the Portuguese was transplanted to Luzon. The origin of the Sanskrit name Vijaya is thought to be the present-day Visayas in Central Philippines. Indrapura could mean Indarapatra – a legendary folk hero in Maguindanao and Ranao whose magical powers and brute strength is second to one. Cotabato, or Kota Batu (also Kotawato),  could have been derived from the great fort in Johor which saw many invasion forces, including the Portuguese. The fort finally fell in 1586 when Portuguese commander Antonio de Noronha overwhelmed 12,000 Malay defenders (Johor Malays, Minangkabaus from Naning and Rembau, Javanese, Terengganu Malays and allies from Sumatran states of Indragiri and Kampar) and vanquished the resistance of Sultan Ali who died in exile in  1597. He was succeeded by his son Alauddin Riayat Shah II who was later captured and eventually executed  by the Achehnese in 1614. (Zain, Sejara Melayu)


Miguel Lopez de Legazpi was aware of Magellan’s fate in 1521 at the hands of Mactan Chief Lapu Lapu but he was hopeful that the natives might be persuaded to make peace with the Castilians despite the treachery and deception of Rajah Humabon:  “afterward the two islands Matan and Sebu made peace privately between themselves, and the inhabitants of Cebu killed many of the Spaniards of the same fleet, and drove the remaining few away from their land.” Instead, this time around,  he found himself in Cebu scavenging for food and pursuing the enemy for provisions. Legazpi was astounded by the hostility of Cebuanos.  He wrote: “They are the lightest and swiftest runners whom I have ever seen. When we entered the village, all the food had already been taken away.” Nevertheless, Rajah Tupas allowed him to build a temporary base in his dominion in 1565.  Despite the friendship of Rajahs Tupas and Sikatuna of Cebu and Bohol respectively, Legazpi concluded his report by pleading to his King for help. Normally a calm and confident man, he could not hide his apprehension:

… “Aid should be sent as promptly as the necessity of our condition demands. For we shall have war not only with the natives of this and other neighboring islands  but, a thing of greater consequence .. we shall have to wage war with many different nations and islands, who will aid these people, and will side against us such as the Moros and other powerful and well-armed people  I beg His Majesty to send us aid with all promptness.”

The origins of Moro identity

Obviously, Miguel Lopez de Legazpi was apprehensive that the powerful and well-organized Muslim sultanates might come and overwhelm his fledgling army. At the time, a Spanish historian (intelligence agent) who probably visited Mindanao, observed of the Muslims:

 “In the villages, where they had ten or twelve chiefs, only one- the richest of them- was he whom all obeyed. When laws were to be enacted for governing the commonwealth, the greatest chief, whom all the rest obeyed, assembled in his own house all the other chiefs of the village, and when they had come, he made a speech  and the other chiefs approved what he ordained.  This policy was not in vogue with the PintadosVisayans, because no one of them was willing to recognize another as his superior.”  

Lakandula (Lakan Abdullah), a descendant of the King of Namayan (there is a park in Mandaluyong called Namayan),  was awed by the firepower of the Spanish forces led by Goiti, and decided to be friends with the newcomers rather than be destroyed. (Quirino: 121, Salsila)


The following year,   Legazpi, a Basque, subdued   Raja Solayman  of  Manila (Amanila)  and Rajah Matanda   (Old Chief) who is known as the “Prince  of Luzon”  and   grandson  of   Brunei’s  Sultan  Bolkieh Saripada. with  offers of  friendship and  founded  the   City of Manila  on May 19, 1571. (Zaide: 90) According to Kadil author of The Muslim  Migration, notes that the Spaniards  found  a sizable  Muslim  community  in Manila. They  put the Muslim population at 80,000  inhabitants comprising men, women and children. Accordingly, the so-called intramuros is  significant because the spot  where  Fort Santiago was built is an entry point leading to the Rajanate of Tondo.  The Spaniards called the natives Moros, owing to their allegiance to  Islam  which  ruled the Iberian peninsula for 700 years. Juan de Salcedo also attacked a Batangas cotta in  Balayan  using caracoas. Below is a quotation from Retana’s edition of   “Sucesos  delasislas Filipinas” by Antonio  de Morga:

“When  they   landed in Manila, the soldiers of Legaspi found on the same site of the present  Fort Santiago, key  to  the capital of Manila, a powerful Muslim principality under Rajah Aceh Matanda who reigned in company  with a nephew Rajah Sulaiman.” He went on:

“Under the walls of this fort, a historical event, little appreciated but which  influenced  our conquest, took place. It was there for the first time since the conquest of  Granada that the Spaniards once more stood face to face  with  the  standards  of  the   Prophet, both meeting after circling the globe from opposite directions. As was inevitable, they met   at   the   walls  under artillery fire” and they continued to do so in Jolo, fighting a battle  that began on the borders of Guadalete. And if nothing should detract from that continuity,  Legaspi  called  them  Moros, a name they keep up to this time and which regardless   of   their   having   nothing  in common with the Mauretanians, signified a community or religion shared with the Spanish Arabs.”

Between 1567 and up to the late 19th century saw many fierce ground and naval battles between the natives of Mindanao and Spain, the former using caracoas, joanggas and praus to attack and destroy Spanish garrisons in Luzon and Visayas. In the 17th century, Capitan Laut Boisan, father of Sultan Kudarat, and Rajah Sirongan took turns in invading Spanish settlements and garrisons in Luzon and Visayas with the end in view to liberate the natives from the cruel Bishopric of Manila. One such naval attack required the assistance of armies from Borneo, Sulu and Ranao numbering in their thousands aboard joanggas and praus to drive away Spaniards in Bicol and Visayas region. Watchtowers sprouted all over Luzon including Ilocos. Mindoro, Marinduque, Romblon, Masbate, Polillo islands were Moro naval bases until late in the 19th century with the introduction of Spanish iron ships.


1645 Kudarat-Lopez Peace Treaty, Samboangan (Zamboanga) This period was the Golden Age of Kudarat, according to historians. The Sultanate of Maguindanao has effective  control over the whole of Kotawato (Cotabato), Ranao (Lanao), Sultanate of Davao, Misamis, Bukidnon and Sibugay (Zamboanga). It had the most extensive dominion ever held by a Maguindanao Sultan, a feat singularly  reserved to Sultan Dipatuan Muhammad Kudarat, known in history as “the greatest Maguindanao Sultan of all time.” During his reign, he was able to collect tributes in Basilan, parts  of the Visayas, and as far as the coast of Borneo. (Jubair :23)  This peace treaty lasted for several decades until his death in 1675.

1751 Privateer System, by the Bishopric of Manila, using natives of Luzon and Visayas to fight the Sultanates of Mindanao & Sulu

1842 Wilkes-Mohammed Treaty by US Navy Comdr. Charles Wilkes and Sultan Mohamed of Soolo (Sulu) The US government was having trouble plying the Straits of Melaka because of pirate attacks. The first known US War on Terror took place around this period when US Navy gunboats attacked Qualla Bato in Malaysia, avenging the death of a US captain and several US sailors at the hands of Malay pirates.

1897 Execution of Ka Andres Bonifacio, leader of the Katipunero/Magdiwang and Katagalugan Nation on orders by Magdalo leader Gen. Emilio Aguinaldo.

1898 Treaty of Paris. Mindanao & Sulu was illegally annexed by the US colonial government as part of the  US $20 million dollars paid to Spain for the Philippine islands.

1899 Signing of Bates-Kiram Peace Treaty by Gen. John C. Bates and Sultan JamalulKiram II of Sulu. This period coincides with the framing of Malolos Constitution, a perpetuation of Spanish colonial legacy, declaring a Free and Independent Republic of the Philippines, contrary to the Katagalugan doctrine of the Katipuneros which is purely democratic and agrarian in concept. Gen. Emilio Aquinaldo demanded the payment of damages to his troops in Marahui who died fighting the forces of Gov. Gen. Ramon Blanco in 1896. Emilio Aguinaldo never had a single follower in Ranao or any place in the Sultanates in Mindanao. (Dr. Mamitua Saber)

1900 Zamboanga was liberated by the combined armies of the Sultanates of Mindanao & Sulu. Partido Federalista was organized in Luzon and Visayas by Howard Taft and Gen. Arthur MacArthur.

1901 Gen. Emilio Aguinaldo surrendered to US colonial forces.

1902 First Moro-American War, Battle of Bayang (Padang Karbala). US Gen. William A. Kobbe estimated that the population of Mindanao was broken down as follows: Moros, 500,000, Indonesians, 250,000 and other Christianized natives, 250,000. This was the start of the 16-year Moro-American War, pitting US troops against Datu Ampuan a Gaus of Ranao, Datu Ali of Maguindanao and Panglima Hassan of Sulu. 

1903 Moro Province was established with political jurisdiction separate and different from the apparatus governing the colonized Filipinos in Luzon and Visayas. Public Land Act No. 926, declaring all lands in Mindanao & Sulu as US colonial domain, was enforced.

1905 US Mining Law in Mindanao was enacted.

1907 US Cadastral Act was enacted, depriving the Mindanao natives of their ancestral domain.

1914 Abolition of the Moro Province and establishment of the Department of Mindanao and Sulu. “Whereas it is the desire of the Islands to promote the most rapid moral, social, and political development of the inhabitants of said Department in order to accomplish their complete unification with other inhabitants of other provinces of the Archipelago.”

1915 Kiram-Carpenter Agreement, ending the Moro-American War between the Sultanates and the United States colonial army. Hostilities between US troops and Moro fighters, led by Ampuan a Gaus, continue unabated in many parts of Ranao.

1917 Bureau of Non Christian Tribes

1919 Public Land Act No. 2874 effectively putting the Ancestral Domain of natives of Mindanao under US land laws, similar to Homestead Act that deprived American Indians of their homeland.

1920 Act No. 2878 formally abolishes the Department of Mindanao & Sulu.

1921 “Declaration of Rights and Purposes” addressed to US Pres. Warren Harding signed by Mindanao Datus, Panglimas and Sultans requesting that in the event of Philippine independence, Muslims (in Mindanao & Sulu) be kept under American rule.

1926 Bacon Bill was filed in US Congress by Cong. Robert Bacon, separating Mindanao & Sulu from Luzon and Visayas. Dansalan Declaration was initiated by Datus, religious leaders and Sultans asking the US government not to annex Mindanao & Sulu into the proposed Philippine Republic for it will result in  “endless wars” between the Moros and the Filipinos.

1935 Establishment of the Philippine Commonwealth Republic, outlawing the titles of Sultans in Mindanao & Sulu, sponsored by Pres. Manuel L. Quezon.

1938 Quirino-Recto Colonization Act provides for the colonization of Mindanao & Sulu by Christian settlers from Luzon and Visayas through human settlements sponsored by the US and the Commonwealth Republic.1938  Sen. Pres. Quezon offered Mindanao as haven for European Jews fleeing NAZI persecution.

1939 Opening of Mindanao settlements through Lagao Settlement District under the National Land Settlement Administration by Gen. Paulino Santos in Dadiangas, a domain of the Sultanate of Buayaan..

1942 Japanese Imperial government headed by PM Hideki Tojo declared Mindanao and Sulu as Special Administrative Region, separate from Luzon and Visayas. (Hiripin Kyokai, 1942) Sec. Benigno Aquino Sr., Sen. Alauya Alonto chose to side with Pres. Jose P. Laurel under the Japanese administration.

1946 Philippines was declared independent by the United States. Pres. Manuel Roxas, architect of Ilonggo human settlements in Mindanao, was sworn in as president of the new republic. He died of  massive heart attack, two years later,  inside a US military base and was replaced by Vice President Elpidio Quirino.

1948 Kamlon Rebellion broke out in Sulu.

Origins of Mindanao Conflict

1955 Bandung Non Aligned Conference, recognizing Muslims in Mindanao & Sulu as part of the Islamic Ummah. The Non Aligned Conference in Indonesia hosted by Pres. Bong Sukarno, supported by Pres. Gamal Abdel Nasser, Pres. Josip Broz Tito, Jawahrlal Nehru of India  took cognizance to the state-sponsored discrimination against the Muslim minority in Mindanao in terms of education, economic-enhancing infrastructure projects, government employment, etc.

The Conference took cognizance to the influx of government-sponsored Christian settlers in Mindanao, collected from different parts of Luzon and Visayas to change the demographic status of people of Mindanao, originally inhabited by Muslims (Maranao-Iranons, Maguindanaoans, Tausog, Yakan, Samal, Badjao, Kalagan, etc.) and Lumad (13 tribes).

First wave of Christian settlers, under the 1938 Quirino-Recto Colonization Act, came from the Huks of Luzon, convicts from Visayas and Luzon. Pres. Manuel Roxas sponsored the migration of thousands of Ilonggo settlers from Visayas to Mindanao. Pres. Magsaysay undertook the massive settlement programs in 1955 which saw the Muslim population in Dadiangas, now Gen. Paulino Santos City, reduced to minority in the south Cotabato region. That same year, Egyptian Pres. Gamal Abdel Nasser pledged to grant state scholarships to Moros through Sen. Domocao Alonto to educate Moros in the field of military science (Nasserist 15 – Wahab Alonto, Sharief, Basman, SangcopanMalawani, Al Kamlian, et al), medicine (Ali Mackno, Ali Busran et al), engineering (Pasayud Macarambon, etc.) and Islamic studies (Yusop Lucman, Shuaib Tumug, Hashim Salamat, Mahid Mutilan, Basher Idris, Omar Pasigan, Mochtar Abedin, etc.). Lanao was divided into two provinces in 1958 because of disparity in voting numbers. Christians always win in Lanao elections.  In the interim, MSU, SPDA, CNI, LAC (Lumbatan), breeding stations, thousands of teachers and commissioned officers, Mindeco electric company (Congressmen Rashid Lucman, SalipadaPendatun, Salih Ututalum and Mohammed Ali Dimaporo) were granted by the government through due diligence and sustained representations  by aggressive Muslim leaders in Congress. Kamlon Rebellion ended in Sulu after he peacefully surrendered to the Philippine Constabulary. This was followed by Tawan Tawan Rebellion in Lanao.


1967Jabidah Massacre. Sen. Benigno Ninoy Aquino, Cavite Gov. Justiniano Montano, Cong. Salipada Pendatun and Cong. Rashid Lucman, exposed Marcos conspiracy to create chaos in Sabah. 60+ Muslim trainees were executed by their AFP trainors headed by Col. Abdul Latif Martelino. One of the Muslim trainees Jibin Arula survived. Ninoy Aquino exhorted the Bangsa Moro people to take up arms against Marcos in a Marawi City mass rally.

1968  Malaysian PM Tunku Abdel Rahman met with Cong. Rashid Lucman to recruit young Moro youths from major clans to train in guerilla warfare and counter-insurgency in Malaysia. Training of 92 young Muslims from Mindanao, included Nur Misuari, Abulkhayr Alonto, Dimas Pundato, Jamil Lucman, Duma Sani, Otto Salahuddin, Ronnie Malaguiok and others, from Mindanao & Sulu. Union of Islamic Forces and Organization and later Bangsa Moro Liberation Organization was organized as an umbrella organization of all Islamic movements, including Ansar el Islam, Muslim Association of the Philippines, and political clans (Loongs, Kalingalan, Ampatuans, Midtimbangs, Annis, Sinsuats, Biruars, Masturas, Mangudadatus, Matalams, Abubacars, Kamlians, Yassins, etc.), the 19 Royal Houses of Mindanao & Sulu, Ansar el Islam, Lawyer’s League, Muslim Association of the Philippines, Green Guards, Lam Alif, Bangsa Bai,  Lawyer’s League, etc. to advance the cause of Bangsa Moro freedom and autonomy in line with the national opposition under the Liberal Party.

1969Battle of Wao led by Malay-trained commanders. Bamer Sharif, the first Moro martyr, was killed in the battle.

Gov. Udtog Matalam declared the formation of the Mindanao Independence Movement.  Battles between Blackshirts and AFP erupted in Buldon. Mayor Bangon Aratuc of Buldon denied maintaining an army of Blackshirts.

1970 – BMLO and Bangsa Moro Army trained 30,000+ young Moros in guerilla warfare.  Nur Misuari proposed the formation of MNLF but was rebuffed by the elders and organizers of the Bangsa Moro Army-Blackshirts Constitutional Convention approved a proposal by Delegates Raul Manglapus and Michael Mastura to grant autonomy to the Muslim regions in Mindanao.

1972Sultan Rashid Lucman bought 2,000 rifles from Fabrique Nationale in Belgium.  It was consigned to Saudi Arabia under King Faisal, a friend of Sultan Lucman. Martial Law was declared by Marcos.  Salih Bouyasir, emissary of Pres. Khadaffy to the leaders of the Bangsa Moro revolution was killed in a plane crash in Sinai. A Letter of Instruction by Pres. Khadaffy addressed to  Cong. Rashid Lucman never reached the congressman.  It was kept by Nur Misuari and the amount needed to jumpstart the guerilla war.

1973 Martial Law was declared in the Philippines. Nur Misuari fled to Malaysia. Moro National Liberation Front was organized by Chairman Nur Misuari, Sabah State Minister Tun Mustapha with the assistance of Libyan Foreign Minister Aly Trekky. Major political clans, Moro professionals and Islamic movements withdrew support to the Bangsamoro revolution. Nur Misuari, backed by Minister Tun Mustapha of Sabah and FM Aly Trekky,  announced the establishment of the Moro National Liberation Front against the wishes of the Old Guard, political clans, Royal Houses and Islamic movements. Tun Mustapha, a Tausog, envisioned a Republic consisting of Mindanao, Sulu, Palawan and Sabah. It was rejected by the political clans of Mindanao and Sulu. Tun Mustapha seized the Belgian rifles and money said to be in the amount of $2 million US dollars intended for BMLO Blackshirts and  distributed it among the MNLF commanders headed by Chairman Misuari. The movement suffered a fatal setback.  Nur Misuari was expelled from Malaysia. Tun Mustapha reconciled with the Malaysian government. Sultan Rashid Lucman went on exile in Saudi Arabia, followed by Cong. Salipada Pendatun, Atty. Macapantun Abbas Jr. and other leaders in Mindanao and Sulu.  Other leaders rejoined the government, denouncing Nur Misuari as betrayer of the unity of the Bangsa Moro revolution.

1976 Ustadj Salamat Hashim broke away from MNLF accusing Misuari of communist leanings,  corruption and source of disunity among Bangsa Moro forces.

1977 – MILF was organized in Makkah. Dimas Pundato, vice chairman of the MNLF based in Sandakan (Sabah) broke away from Nur Misuari’s MNLF. Pundato formed the MNLF-Reformist Group.

1981 Ninoy Aquino met King Khaled of Saudi Arabia, the latter pledging full support to Ninoy quest to solve the Muslim problem in Mindanao. Oil embargo against the Philippine government was discussed in the meeting. Prince Sultan bin Abdulaziz, Dr. Saleh Jamjoom and Dr. Omar Abdullah Naseef also pledged support.  The meeting was closely monitored by the US and Philippine governments.

1982 Karachi Accord for Bangsa Moro Unity  in accordance with the demands of the OIC, Dr. Inamullah Khan of Muslim World Leaque and Saudi Foreign Min. Prince Saud Al Faisal.  Nur Misuari rejected the Covenant of Unity among Bangsa Moro groups represented by Sultan Rashid Lucman, Cong. Salipada Pendatun, Sen. Domocao Alonto, Justice Mama Busran, Atty. Dimapuno Datu Ramos, Atty. Saidamen Pangarungan, Dr. Yusop Lucman et al.

1983 Benigno Ninoy Aquino Jr. was assassinated at the Manila International Airport

1984 Sultan Rashid Lucman died in Riyadh

1985Norodin Lucman re-organized the BMLO-BMA Blackshirts in preparation for the anticipated civil war in Manila as a result of Ninoy Aquino’s assassination. Noor Lucman was chosen as Chief Coordinator of Bangsa Moro Coordinating Command composed of top commanders of the BMLO, MILF and MNLF.  Nur Misuari did not join the command, citing differences with the Aquinos, according to MNLF Comdr. Hamza and Narra Jalil. Gen. Salipada Pendatun died in a car accident in Quezon City.

1986 – Pres. Ferdinand Marcos was overthrown by People’s Power at Edsa. Nur Misuari was resurrected through Butz Aquino and Aquilino Pimentel, at the behest of the OIC and the Libyan government.

1987 MILF denounced the Cory Aquino government, destroyed Napocor lines in Lanao and Maguindanao provinces.

1989 – BMLO reconciled with the government when ARMM was created by Pres. Cory Aquino. Noor  Lucman was delisted in the Order of Battle as enemy of the state. BMLO handed 1,200 + firearms and explosives as a gesture of reconciliation with the Philippine government represented by SND Fidel V Ramos at a solemn ceremony witnessed by more than three thousand members of the BMLO Blackshirts.

1996 – GRP-MNLF Final Peace Agreement, Nur Misuari was elected ARMM Governor.

1999 Pres. Estrada declared All out War against the MILF. Estrada was overthrown by Edsa II. Noor Lucman met with MILF Chairman Salamat Hashim and proposed that before MILF will agree to a general ceasefire, 1) Peace Talks should be held outside the jurisdiction of the Philippine government preferably Jeddah, the seat of the Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC), 2) That a Third Party component be allowed to mediate in the Peace Talks, and 3) Call for a UN-sponsored Referendum in Mindanao and Sulu. Chairman Salamat agreed to transmit the proposal to the MILF Central Committee. I announced this Three-Point proposal at a mass rally in Marawi City, sponsored by Lacs Dalidig of IMERGG, Saksi IRF and Islamic civil society organizations on April, 1999. Malaysia was tasked by the OIC to act as mediator and Kuala Lumpur was chosen as the venue for the Peace Talks. Consequently, Pres. Joseph Estrada rejected the proposal and went on to carry out his army offensives in Central Mindanao, leading to the army occupation of Camps Abubacar, Bushra and Radiamoda. The MILF counter-attacked by resorting to a Mindanao-wide guerilla war against Pres. Joseph Estrada.

2000  Pres. Joseph Estrada was overthrown by People Power II in Edsa. Noor Lucman was cited along with Gov. Chavit Singson, Sen. Teofisto Guingona and others in Club Filipino (Greenhills) as one of the Catalysts of Edsa II. This gathering was organized by People’s Consultative Assembly and 82 other civil society groups nationwide.

2002Pres. Arroyo attacked Buliok Complex, at the behest of  AFP Chief of Staff Gen. Angelo Reyes. MNLF Chairman Nur Misuari was jailed for subversion and corruption.

2008 MOA AD was deemed unconstitutional by the Supreme Court on the basis of petitions filed by Mar Roxas, Sen. Frank Drilon, Cong. Celso Lobregat, Cong. Manny Pinol and Mayor Lorenz Cruz. MILF commanders Umbra Kato, Alim Pangalian and Bravo attacked military camps in Central Mindanao.

2010Pres. Benigno Noynoy Aquino was proclaimed president, pledging peace in Mindanao and stamping corruption in the government, including ARMM. Aquino called for reform in ARMM.

2013 November  – Bangsamoro Basic Law written by Noor Lucman was approved as a road map for peace in Mindanao & Sulu. The Basic Law is to strengthen the structures of the regional autonomy and maximize the potential for peace in Mindanao & Sulu through peaceful negotiations and in accordance with the flexibilities of the Constitution inherent in the RA 9054 and the Organic Act (RA 6734) establishing the autonomous government in Muslim Mindanao. Framework Agreement and the Annexes on Transitional Arrangements and Modalities, Revenue Generation and Wealth Sharing, and Power Sharing) will eventually find its way into the provisions of the Bangsamoro Basic Law. “Executive Order No. 120, series of 2012, created the Transition Commission which is tasked to conduct consultations with experts and stakeholders to aid them in coming up with actual provisions for the draft of Bangsamoro Basic Law.” (OPAPP, PDI 8/1/14) This Covenant is the last leg of the 16-year negotiations culminating in the 2012 Framework Agreement on Bangsamoro. It is erasing the past that sustained a historical anomaly in Mindanao & Sulu since 1645.

Framework Agreement on Bangsamoro

The Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro or FAB and the 4 Annexes use the word Bangsamoro in three levels: Bangsamoro as Identity; Bangsamoro as Territory; and Bangsamoro as Government. In all three levels, Bangsamoro is NOT merely historical or cultural concept; it is a political construct, first and foremost. The 4 Annexes are actual negotiations of powers and wealth sharing and territory. The word Bangsamoro in all three levels is a paramount political construct, because IDENTITY matters. It is an important issue that must not be taken lightly. This new political construct would define and shape the Bangsamoro identity, territory and government. It would have consequences to the existing other political constructs like Muslim Mindanao, Indigenous Peoples and ‘Christian Settlers’ in Mindanao. FAB defines ‘Bangsamoro’ as “those who at the time of conquest and colonization were considered natives or original inhabitants of Mindanao and the Sulu Archipelago and its adjacent islands including Palawan, and their descendants whether of mixed or of full blood shall have the right to identify themselves as Bangsamoro by ascription or self-ascription”. Then it goes further to recognize the spouses… To wit: “Spouses and their descendants are classified as Bangsamoro”.

The word Bangsamoro as defined in the FAB and the Annexes point to an Identity that is ‘Exclusive’ to the natives and original inhabitants, their spouses and their descendants no matter whether they are mixed or pure blood. The IP’s are classified as Bangsamoro, the Christian Settlers and their descendants, however, are excluded unless they are of ‘mixed blood’ or ‘spouses’ of a Bangsamoro.
Fr. Jun Mercado, OMI



2014 Speaker Abul Khayr Alonto, one of the founding members of the MNLF, replaced Nur Misuari as Chairman of the Moro National Liberation Front, declaring support to the current peace process between the Philippine government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.

Pres. Benigno Noynoy Aquino III and MILF Chairman Murad Ibrahim signed the Comprehensive Agreement on Bangsamoro witnessed by Malaysian PM Najib Razak, representatives of the governments of the United States, Sweden, Norway, Japan, Turkey, Germany and the member-states of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation.


The society thus organized Must live under laws That would guide their everyday life, Based on principles of righteousness and fair dealing. (2:168)











One Comment on "Brief History of Armed Conflicts in Mindanao and Sulu"

  1. Mahar Sumilang on Wed, 16th Jul 2014 12:37 PM 

    Thank you, sir Norodom Alonto Lucman.

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