A brief guide to some of the insurgent groups plaguing the Philippines

insurgent groups in the Philippines

The recent news that the unfortunately named MILF (Moro Islamic Liberation Front) is prepared to lay down arms and settle for a high degree of autonomy is obviously to be welcomed, but MILF is far from the only insurgent group in the Philippines. 

So, who are the main players raising hell in the Philippines?


Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF)

Formed in 1968, and took arms in 1969 in order to form an independent Islamic homeland in Mindanao for the Moro people. In October 2018 they signed a peace deal in exchange for a high degree of autonomy, although they are yet to lay down arms. At its height the MILF had tens of thousands of militants.

Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF)


The less famous of the two insurgent groups in Moro, perhaps due their less catchy name, the MNLF were formed in 1972. In 1976 Colonel Gaddafi got involved, and there was talk of an autonomous region being given to the Moro, something that was later achieved in 1996. What it did not bring though was peace, and fighting continued on and off, until 2013 when one MNLF faction declared the Bangsamoro Republic and attacked Zamboanga City.  The MNLF are currently in talks with the government about the implementation of federalism and their own semi-independent republic. 

Islamic State of Lanao (Maute Group)

The Islamic State of Lanao was founded in 2012 by two men who were described as petty criminals, and quickly grew to a large group allied with the Islamic State. They are most famous for the siege of Marawi, and thus the battle of Marawi that followed, in which many of the group including senior leaders died. Following the battle remnants of this group have allegedly been regrouping, although relatively little has been heard of them, and they are not part of the peace process. 


Abu Sayyaf – Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant – Philippines Province

A Wahhabi Islamic terrorist group that has pledged allegiance to the Islamic State. They were allegedly part of the siege of Marawi, and have at least cordial relations with the Maute Group. It has been alleged that many Mujahideen that fled Iraq have ended up in the Philippines, and there is serious concern that Mindanao could, perhaps after Libya, become one of the main fronts for the Islamic State. They have not been part of any peace talks. There are no exact figures on their numbers, but they are considered the main thereat to security in the Philippines. 

Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), 

Also known as the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Movement, the BIFF are a small, but more radical splinter group from MILF with relations to the Maute Group, that have rejected the peace process. Small numbers and mostly active in Maguindanao.

New People’s Army

The communist insurgent group, while much less damaging, and regionalised than the islamic insurrection in Mindanao is still the longest running civil war in the world, since the peace process in Colombia saw the FARC demobilise (link). Have been fighting a People’s Protracted War since 1969, and despite some attempts at a peace process with the government the insurgency not only continues, but is active in almost every province of the Philippines. Unusually for a communist insurgency there are no real splinter groups to speak of. 

So, while peace talks must always be welcomed, with so many groups involved, don’t expect a peaceful Philippines any time soon. 

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