Moro is the Tagalog term for a Muslim inhabitant of Mindanao, the Sulu Archipelago, or other islands of the southern Philippine archipelago. Since Spanish times it has been used in a derogatory manner (implying the Muslims were a treacherous, barbaric race). The childhood game moro-moro is an indication of how deeply rooted the war against the Moros has been in the Filipino culture.

It has since then been adopted by the Muslims as a mark of honor to identify their uniqueness from the rest of the Philippines. They often refer to Mindanao as the Bangsamoro, or Moroland.

The four main communities that make up 98% of the Bangsamoro are the Maguindanaw, the Maranaw, the Tausug, and the Samal. Other tribes do exist, but they have mostly been assimilated into general Moro society. Most are practicing Sunni Muslims, which have been moderate in their views against Christian immigrants, although numerous groups of Islamic fundamentalists (many supported and encouraged by forces from the Middle East) do exist.

The Moro Rebellion

Since the Spanish occupation of the Philippines, the Moros have been in conflict with the rest of the country. During the Spanish American War, all three combatants (Spain, the US, and the Malolos Republic) regarded the Moros as a separate government. After the Spanish were defeated, Emilio Aguinaldo, then-President of the Malolos Republic, unsuccessfully attempted to recruit the Moros to his side against the Americans.

The Treaty of Paris which ended the Spanish American War also signed over the ownership of the lands belonging to the Moros to the United States. Not trusting the Spanish, US President William McKinley also signed the Bates Treaty with the Sultan of Sulu on August 20, 1899, eight months after the Treaty of Paris. With the Bates Treaty, Washington acknowledged that the Moros were a separate entity from the Philippines, and specifically guaranteed to respect the Sulu Sultanate. In return, the Sultan would recognize US sovereignity over the rest of the islands. The US government then proceeded to abrogate unilaterally the Bates Treaty on March 21, 1904, sparking a war with the Moros that lasted until 1913. This war was harder than the Philippine American War previously against Aguinaldo. Indeed, the Colt 1911 was reputedly designed specially to stop charging Moro fanatics, to provide the stopping power older guns could not.

The Carpenter Agreement of 1915 marked the end of official hostilities, with the Sultan of Sulu formally relinquishing all political powers (reputedly, signed while the Sultan was under military custody).

The American colonial government, the 1935 Commonwealth of the Philippines, and the 1946 Republic of the Philippines have all reacted almost exactly the same to the Moro problem. Each new insurrection and "disruption of law and order" have been excuses to remove the rights of the Moros one by one. Their lands were confiscated and given over to Christian settlers and American companies (including Dole and Del Monte). Manila refused to recognize the titles of Moro nobility. Irrigation, roads and other improvements were withheld from predominantly Muslim communities.

World War II provided no respite, though the Moro also fought the Japanese, who had their hands full keeping the rest of the country pacified.

The 1970's spawned several Muslim political movements, although only the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) achieved any form of success. Founded by Nur Misuari, it managed to unify the until-then disparate Muslim bands, and also was able to solicit support from backers in Libya and Malaysia.

In 1976, the Tripoli Agreement was signed between the Marcos administration and the MNLF, under the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC). Although the MNLF was now agreeing to the formation of an autonomous Muslim state ruled by Islamic law instead of full secession, talks broke down in 1977 and sporadic clashes again continued with government forces.

The Marcos administration achieved some degree of success by encouraging factionalism within the Moro ranks, causing several splits, most notably the formation of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) under Hashim Salamat, a more moderate group, as well as the MNLF-Reformist Movement.

The declining MNLF strength allowed new talks with the Aquino administration after the 1986 revolution. In January 1987, the MNLF started a new agreement, allowing the formation of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM). Although the MNLF officially resumed its armed insurrection in 1988, enough Muslim leaders from the other factions had been swayed to the government side to allow the formation of the ARMM, without the MNLF. In 1989, four provinces were officially designated the ARMM, with its own governor and unicameral legislature.

Aquino's successor, Fidel Ramos successfully brought the MNLF back into the fold, giving Misuari the ARMM governorship in exchange for the integration of the MNLF forces into the Armed Forces.

All seemed to be going well, until the Estrada administration, in defiance of his predecessors, declared "total war" on the MILF in 1999. One of the factors which led to his ouster in 2001, it set back the Moro peace process by at least a few years.

The present

Muslim sentiment in Mindanao is still divided, although overtures by the present Arroyo administration have served to prevent open rebellion, there are still sporadic clashes between MILF and government troops. Arroyo seems to have a higher priority on stamping out rogue forces like the Abu Sayyaf and other "lost commands" in the area, rather than making war.

Public sentiment among the Christian majority on the other islands is improving - instead of the "Moros are evil" propaganda of the Marcos and earlier years, there seems to be a general desire to accept and embrace Islam as a part of Philippine culture. The conversion to Islam of popular screen actor Robin Padilla is an indicator of this trend, which hopefully will continue to lessen friction between the Moro and their Christian neighbors.

Dates and facts pre-1989 taken from, newer facts taken from Philippine Daily Inquirer, various news broadcasts and specials.

Moro, strictly translated as 'moor'  is a highly problematic term for the student of Spain and the Spanish language. One the one hand it is the only way to refer to all of the various Islamic groups that ruled over a large part of the Iberian peninsula from the eighth to the fiffteenth century. On the other it is, in modern usage, an insulting term used not just for the inhabitants of the North African areas where the original moors came from, but by extension for all North Africans, Arabs and even at times for Muslims in general.

Some people, both native and non-native Spanish speakers are unaware of its historical meaning. As such, its use may cause offense, or be interpreted as demonstrating a racist point of view, even when referring to the historical culture. The accepted modern alternative is magrebí as a general term for North Africans.

Mo"ro (?), n. [Cf. It. mora mulberry, L. morum.] Med.

A small abscess or tumor having a resemblance to a mulberry.



© Webster 1913.

Mo"ro (?), n. pl. Moros [Sp., Moro Moor.] (Ethnol.)

A member of the Mohammedan tribes of the southern Philippine Islands, said to have formerly migrated from Borneo. Some of them are warlike and addicted to piracy.


© Webster 1913.

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