Mindanao faces multiple intertwined conflicts that derive from struggles over land and natural resources as well as cultural and ideological divisions. On the one hand, the situation in Mindanao is characterized by the struggle of multiple Muslim rebel groups for the creation of an autonomous Region. And on the other hand, by the armed insurgency of the Maoist New People’s Army (NPA) that has lasted for almost 50 years. Caught in the crossfire, diverse groups of Indigenous Peoples of Mindanao (Lumad) struggle for the recognition of their rights.
Mindanao is rich in resources and fertile soils which is why it has long been considered the “Land of Promise”. Decades of government resettlement programs, sending landless farmers from the North to Mindanao, led to marginalization, stigmatization and land dispossession of Islamic (Moro) and non-Islamic Indigenous populations (Lumad) in Mindanao. Today, Mindanao accommodates the poorest regions of the Philippines and is the stage for multiple violent conflicts about land, natural resources, and self-determination.
The systematic discrimination of Muslims led to the formation of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) in the late 1960s and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) in 1977. Both groups are committed to political and cultural self-determination. They have engaged in peace negotiations with the government, leading to multiple peace agreements. These, however, have only been partly implemented. Since 2016 the MILF and the government have been working together to agree on a law regulating the autonomy of the Bangsamoro region. In 2018 the Philippine Government passed the Bangsamoro Organic Law (BOL) creating the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (BARMM).
The violent history and the setbacks in the peace negotiations have caused frustrations and distrust on both sides. Radical splinter groups have emerged, which are entangled in organized crime, commit bombings, and kidnapping for ransom. Several have pledged their allegiance to the Islamic State.
Despite progressive laws protecting the rights and lands of the Indigenous Peoples, they fall victim to land dispossession favoring mining and agribusiness. They get caught in between the front lines of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), the New People's Army (NPA) and various other militias operating in their ancestral lands. Attempts to claim their rights and organize themselves in activist movements, peasant or environmental groups are often met with severe oppression, which sometimes results in the killing of their leaders.
The poverty and experience of injustice in the rural areas generate support for the campaign led by the NPA, the armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP). The organization has been recruiting Filipinos from all social strata and ethnic groups since 1969. It reached its peak influence in the final years of the Marcos dictatorship. It retains a strong presence and wields considerable power in Mindanao. The Duterte Administration resumed peace talks with the CPP-NDF-NPA in August 2016. In 2017, after a series of clashes, President Duterte stopped the peace talks until “a compelling reason” to resume the talks appears. In December 2017 the President declared the CPP-NDF-NPA a terrorist organization.