President: FERDINAND EDRALIN MARCOS December 30, 1965 to February 24, 1986
Chief of Staff: Brigadier General Romeo C. Espino, Philippine Army January 15, 1972 to August 15, 1981

September 21, 1972

By the time Martial Law was declared on this day, the ilagâ’s terrorizing movements encompassed Central Mindanao up to Zamboanga del Sur. The ilagâ therefore managed to lay siege to practically all of Muslim Mindanao within two years of its first appearance in Upi, Cotabato — focused on Muslim minority towns; hence, on towns that received massive migration from Christian Luzon and the Visayas. Muslim refugees were pushed to Muslim majority towns, a dynamic that contributed to the solidification of Muslim sentiment against the government and the Christian majority.

With Proclamation No. 1081, President Marcos declared Martial Law. In Mindanao, the power of the traditional Muslim datu and datu families was nearly giving way to a new set of Muslim leaders, radicalized at around the same time as their Christian contemporaries who would also struggle against the dictatorship.

According to historian Thomas McKenna: “The imposition of martial law was, in fact the proximate cause, not the consequence, of [the] armed Muslim insurgency against the Philippine state, that likely would at least have been delayed had there been no martial law.” According to an intelligence analyst: “As it was, the Army moved immediately to collect all unauthorized weapons in the Philippines and a ban was placed on all political organizations. The moment was an existential one for the Moros of the Philippines. The choice was to submit or resist. Most Moros chose the course of resistance.”According to historian Thomas McKenna: “The imposition of martial law was, in fact the proximate cause, not the consequence, of [the] armed Muslim insurgency against the Philippine state, that likely would at least have been delayed had there been no martial law.” According to an intelligence analyst: “As it was, the Army moved immediately to collect all unauthorized weapons in the Philippines and a ban was placed on all political organizations. The moment was an existential one for the Moros of the Philippines. The choice was to submit or resist. Most Moros chose the course of resistance.”

October 21, 1972

Upon declaring Martial Law over the Philippines, President Marcos issued an order for the surrender of all arms nationwide. The Muslims defied the dictum, thinking it is a scheme for all manner of possible dispossession (of life, land, armories). A Muslim group estimated at 100- to 400-strong — that in due course identified itself as the “Mindanao Revolutionary Council for Independence,” led by traditional and secular leaders — commenced an armed uprising against the government by attacking and occupying pockets of Marawi City in Lanao del Sur. They seized the airport, Pantar Bridge between the two Lanao Provinces, the PC headquarters at Camp Amai Pakpak,[1] and the Mindanao State University (MSU). The MSU was only a decade old at this time. The rebels did not succeed in rallying popular support in the Lanao provinces. However, armed rebellion against the State was inaugurated.

October 23, 1972

Immediately following the storming of Marawi City, Muslim rebels attacked a PC outpost in Parang, Cotabato.

October 24, 1972

President Marcos airlifted 300 Marines and Army reinforcement to take back Marawi City. The attackers retreated to the nearly forested mountains, from where they appealed for support from other Muslim groups. From this date, the Muslim armed struggle against the government spread throughout the Muslim-dominated parts of Mindanao and Sulu. Although the (still covert) MNLF did not participate in the Marawi City uprising that resulted in the death of 75, the event triggered its armed offensive against the government.

1972 to 1980

Under Martial Law, President Marcos centralized power in his person as the Chief Executive — particularly with the abolition of Congress, the weakening of the judiciary, and the outlawing of political parties. He was vested with the dictatorial power “to govern the nation and direct the operation of the entire government including all its agencies and instrumentalities.” The Department of National Defense (DND) became the most powerful branch of government, and its long-time Secretary, Juan Ponce Enrile, dealt with both the Leftist insurgency in Luzon and the Visayas, and the separatist movement in Mindanao. The history of the DND (at that time, renamed the Ministry of National Defense) as written by the government’s Official Gazette, states, “it was during this time that the ministry was plagued by a culture of excess and a propensity to commit human rights violations.”

Although it fluctuated from year to year, about 80% of the strength of the AFP was concentrated on the Mindanao theater of war.

Scholars and other analysts agree that Martial Law gravely intensified the already brewing conflict between the State and secession-minded Muslim protagonists in the years immediately prior to September 21, 1972. Repressive governance sharpened the perception of an anti-Islamic State. During the early years of the dictatorship, the MNLF represented a combined resistance across all ethnolinguistic groups in Mindanao that held faith in Islam. The war that ensued over the 18-year period witnessed 60,000 to 80,000 deaths; more than a million made homeless and destitute. An estimated 200,000 to 300,000 Muslim refugees resettled in other parts of the Philippines (mainly Manila) and Sabah. An estimated 10,000 to 11,000 AFP soldiers were killed.


Writing in the 21st C, Yasmin Busran Lao cited a low-ranking security officer who, in 1972, offered this summary: “The division of Lanao into two provinces is one of the reasons why the Lanao conflict arose. The Black Shirts was formed (a Moro rebel group), and the Ilaga (Christian vigilante group) and the Barracuda (Muslim vigilante group) were organized by two political leaders, the Quibranza (for the Ilaga) and the Dimaporo (for the Barracuda). Two opposite culture and intentions intensified the conflict and proliferated the gap between Maranaos and Christians. This is one of the reasons why Martial Law was declared. In Marawi, non-Muslims like the Christians and the Chinese businessmen sold their properties and vacated the city because they were afraid of the retaliation of Muslims that were affected by the conflict.”

November 1, 1972

The AFP 22nd Infantry Battalion (Kamagong) was re-activated after 14 years of inactivity, as part of the rushed response to the heightened level of rebellion in Mindanao. The “kamagong” concept involved the deployment of extended trainees (i.e., draftees, conscripts) together with a small number of regular enlisted personnel. This 22nd IB was fielded from Fort Magsaysay in Palayan City, Nueva Ecija, straight to the battlefront in Dinaig, Cotabato. After this engagement, it was attached to PC units assigned to places under constant threat from the rebellion. It was understood that the conscripts were recruited without fastidious measures, since the AFP had to swell its ranks quickly.

November 1972

The still vaguely named Muslim rebels landed arms in Jolo and Tawi-Tawi from Malaysia and the Middle East. The cache allowed the group to launch armed attacks in a number of islands of the Sulu Archipelago.

November 26, 1972

The secessionists took over Sibalu Hill in Jolo, Sulu. Determined to prevail in the Battle of Sibalu Hill, the AFP demonstrated what, at that time, was its only advantage against the rebellion: air power of the Philippine Air Force (PAF). An entire battalion of marines had to be extricated from Jolo, trapped within a secessionist stronghold. From their staging area in Mactan, Cebu, the PAF flew six fighters and gunships in successive waves in the biggest single operation up to that time. F-5 and F-86 fighters, as well as T-33 jets and C-47 gunships, took off for Jolo every minute. Before morning was over, helicopters landed in Sibalu Hill to extricate the trapped marines.

December 1972

The MNLF received arms from foreign supporters in the seaside municipality of Lebak, in what is now the province of Sultan Kudarat. A Far Eastern Economic Review article was summarized in a post-graduate thesis for a California naval academy thus: “Boats, each powered with three Volvo-Penta 170 engines, brought in Belgian made Cal 7.62 rifles, anti-personnel mines, grenades of the cylindrical unserrated [sic] type, plastic explosives, Cal 30 LMG, Browning carbines, Cal 30 M1s and several thousand rounds of ammunition to Cotabato and other landing sites regularly for the next fourteen months.”

January 2, 1973

A Department of Agrarian Reform memorandum declared that leaseholds should prevail over all rice and corn lands pending land transfer and that share tenancy is illegal for these said lands.

January 1973

Already known as the MNLF, the secessionist front led by the Tausug intellectual Nur Misuari was in control of about 80% of the island of Basilan and much of Jolo.

Early 1973

The MNLF had all but surrounded Cotabato City and the Awang Airport complex. Trained overseas and given armament support from foreign supporters, the rebels were preparing to launch a riverine/land attack on the capital of Central Mindanao.

March 6, 1973

The Central Mindanao Command (CEMCOM) was formally activated under the command of Brigadier General Fortunato U. Abat of the AFP, concurrent with his post as Commanding General of the 3rd Infantry Brigade. The 3rd IB was, immediately prior, a Visayas-based command. Its GHQ was Camp Lapu-Lapu in Cebu, and it was from this central point that attack forces against the MNLF were dispatched. From oral accounts, notably Gen. Abat’s own, CEMCOM was an institution-reorganization response to a conflict that suddenly intensified to the surprise of the national government and its military establishment. CEMCOM was to engage an MNLF at its strongest fighting capacity, over the next four years.

March 10 to 21, 1973

After securing the Awang Airport complex of Cotabato City and its surrounding areas, the newly arrived 6th Infantry Brigade (consisting of various reinforcement units arriving through Awang Airport), CEMCOM commenced retaking the road between Cotabato City and Parang. That it took more than a week for the AFP to retake a road indicated the strength of the MNLF as an armed group. Troops were airlifted from Manila and Cebu into the war zone. The AFP deployed Huey helicopters, rocket-bearing U-17 aircrafts, and C47 gunships as CEMCOM troops advanced on the ground.

March 27 to 29, 1973

CEMCOM used the Parang-Cotabato road to retake Dinaig, after which the objective was Datu Piang. The trajectory of the CEMCOM operations was therefore from the deltaic, pre-20th C sa ilud (downstream) power base of the Cotabato Maguindanaon, into the sa raya (upstream) power base of the Buayan Maguindanaon, centered in what used to be Dulawan and renamed Datu Piang.

March to April 5, 1973

Armed and other kinds of encounters transpired in quick succession. In Datu Piang (formerly Dulawan, the center of the early Buayan power center), leaflets were used effectively for psychological-war operations to incite defection and surrender; and for the citizens to evacuate the war zones. The 12th Infantry Battalion re- took Datu Piang without firing a shot, an unusual success. At Sultan sa Barongis, CEMCOM had to choose peace talks offering amnesty — the first time a peace option was offered.

March 24 to 26, 1973

Resolution No. 4 was “adopted by the Council of Ministers of the Islamic Conference in its Fourth Session held in Benghazi, Libyan Arab Republic during the month of Safar 1393 H. corresponding to March 1973 A.D., calling for the formation of Quadripartite Ministerial Commission representing the Libyan Arab Republic, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the Republic of Senegal and the Republic of Somalia, to enter into discussions with the Government of the Republic of the Philippines concerning the situation of the Muslims in the South of the Philippines.”

April 25, 1973

The MNLF opened a small front in Tarragona, Davao Oriental, a province that had not seen battle until then, using diversionary tactics.

April 2, 1973

Executive Order No. 411 created a Presidential Task Force for the Reconstruction and Development of Mindanao. It begins, “WHEREAS, the armed insurrection in Mindanao that is currently being subdued by government military forces has seriously disrupted peace and order…” The Order brought together a substantial number of line agencies to assess and to reverse the ravages of war. Marcos won over key Muslim leaders who were not aligned with the MNLF.

An estimated 2,000 MNLF fighters occupied the town of Maganoy. After a prolonged engagement, the AFP took back control. The AFP deployed six Huey helicopters executing a tight spiral (one after the other) from 5,000 feet to a marked landing spot in the town plaza to insert elements of the 22nd Infantry Battalion. Maganoy is today’s Sharif Aguak municipality in Maguindanao Province. Maganoy was carved out as a separate municipality from its early 20th C mother political unit, Datu Piang; that is to say, from the pre-20th C power base called Dulawan (renamed Datu Piang), the very heartland of Buayan Maguindanao culture and politics.

April 1973

The strength of the MNLF was estimated by one source to be 16,900 people, including the Bangsamoro Army. Another source gave the figure of 30,000.

April 13, 1973

President Marcos wrote in his diary: “AFP Central Mindanao Command has reported that demoralized rebel forces in Cotabato are now sending feelers to the Government for possible surrender under the extended amnesty decree for outlaws in Mindanao (Presidential Decree No. 95). This was revealed by Brig. Gen. Fortunato Abat, CEMCOM commander, in a report to Brig. Gen. Cicero O. Campos, PC deputy chief of staff for home defense, during the latter’s three-day survey of peace and order conditions in the insurgent-infested areas in Mindanao. Gen. Abat said that the insurgents in Cotabato are now surrounded in one area by military forces, adding that their proposed surrender is now the subject of a series of conferences between military officers and Cotabato Muslim leaders. The CEMCOM commander also revealed that the rebels, after being driven to the hills by military forces with the determined support of civilian home defense units, now realize that they cannot even win the sympathy of the civilian populace.”

May 1 to 7, 1973

The 6th Infantry Battalion took to Davao Oriental to retake the municipality of Tarragona. However, mopping up operations were to take another few months, only ending on August 25, when the PC was given back the province for civilian law enforcement. The secessionist war that had spilled to Davao Oriental had the effect of projecting a Mindanao-wide conflagration to the rest of the country.

May 8, 1973

On this day, CEMCOM re-occupied Pagalungan (in what is now Maguindanao, largely within the heretofore impenetrable Liguasan Marsh), the birthplace of the Muslim Independent Movement (MIM) in 1968. Udtog Matalam, MIM founder, decided to cooperate with the government in re-stabilizing Cotabato, starting with his agreement to talk to Gen. Abat. Under Gen. Abat’s leadership, CEMCOM sought the endorsement of traditional leaders. President Marcos spoke to Matalam as well on the telephone. With the restoration of government control, Pagalungan was recipient of a massive civic action program, involving the Philippine National Red Cross; SPARE (Special Program of Assistance for the Rehabilitation of Evacuees); the Social Welfare, Health, and Agriculture departments; and the National Grains Authority.

May 15, 1973

In his diary, President Marcos wrote: “Pres. Soeharto has met Prime Minister Tun Abdul Razak at Penang, Malaysia and returned to Jakarta. Sec. Romulo who attended the ASEAN minister’s conference saw Pres. Soeharto to deliver my letter wherein I pointedly accused Malaysia of training the rebels in the South and furnishing arms, equipment and funds to them…One thing disturbs me and that is that Pres. Soeharto seems to be convinced by Razak. He has said that ‘he considered the evidence of both parties of equal weight,’ and the situation in Mindanao is “serious and deteriorating…” I have told him that we can handle the internal situation. We are concerned about war which we must prevent.”

June 6 to August 3, 1973

A summary of Gen. Abat’s recollection of the battle for Tran, Lebak, Maguindanao, said: “Tran was the hardest fought piece of real estate in Central Mindanao. This was the main logistics base of the MNLF’s Cotabato Command. The deep waters of Linao Bay and the wide mouths of its rivers made possible the use of Volvo Penta speedboats and kumpits to bring in arms, ammunition and other war material to the rebels. Tran was heavily fortified with bunkers, trenches, air-raid shelters and land mines. It was guarded by 600 rebels under Datu Sangki Karon, a former councilman of Lebak.”

To recover Tran from the MNLF, the Air Force provided air cover and tactical support to AFP ground forces that consisted of the 21st, the 22nd, and the 4th Infantry Battalions of the Army, as well as the 1st Composite Infantry Battalion; the 554th and 531st PC Companies; and four ships of the Naval task group 71.1. These forces interdicted waterborne rebel reinforcements; broke up MNLF concentrations; and exploded fuel and ammunition dumps. C47 gunships conducted interdiction and harassment at night, the area lighted by illumination shells from the naval task group. The full-scale military campaign lasted two months before the AFP could degrade the substantial MNLF depot and restore government control over the town. The battle for Tran has since been regarded as the hardest fought battle between the protagonists of this war. AFP casualties were mostly the result of sniper fire, anti-personnel mines, and anti-tank weapons. A thousand MNLF fighters and their families surrendered on August 6. On one hand, CEMCOM has since been proud of its successful routing of the MNLF through superior armaments.[1] On the other hand, Muslim and other residents of the general Lebak area would recall these battles as a collective trauma at the hands of the Philippine State.

June 20, 1973

The MNLF subjected Awang Airport of Cotabato City to mortar fire. Mortar fire also besieged Midsayap, in the northern area of Cotabato. During this entire period, the MNLF was so strong in armaments and personnel, it mortared CEMCOM GHQ, however intermittently.

August 2, 1973

Presidential Decree No. 264 established the Philippine Amanah Bank, with the express purpose of developing entrepreneurship among Muslims in the Philippines. It was among the first Islamic banks in the world, with a charter specifically mandating it to assist Basilan, Cotabato, Lanao del Norte, Lanao del Sur, Palawan, Sulu, Tawi-Tawi, Zamboanga del Norte, and Zamboanga del Sur. It had an original capitalization of PHP100 million.

September 21, 1973

In his 8th State of the Nation Address, President Marcos included the following lines: “The Muslim areas have a lot of catching up to do with the more developed parts of the country, and in this we were committed to give them all possible support… That is why new road arteries are being built simultaneously in the area; food production, education, and health services are being given utmost emphasis; and economic activity is being given a big push. P496 million have been appropriated for Mindanao, apart from the funds coming from foreign loans for development. A Muslim information center has been opened in Marawi, the Institution of Islamic Studies in the University of the Philippines, Amanah Bank has been created with a capitalization of P100 million; barter trade has been resumed with Sabah; and a unique type of development loan is being given to those who had fled to the hills but later opted to live a normal life.”

September 25, 1973

The MNLF attacked Mati, near Tarragona, Davao Oriental, killing six PC men and three policemen.

October 21, 1973

Land Transfer, which previously covered landholdings of over 50 hectares of rice and corn lands, was extended to holdings of 24 to 50 hectares.

November 22, 1973

Presidential Decree No. 341 further divided Cotabato (that is to say, the area not part of South Cotabato) into three provinces: North Cotabato, Sultan Kudarat, and Maguindanao. The following month, Batas Pambansa No. 660 shortened the name North Cotabato to simply Cotabato. Mindanao-based politicians understood this presidential initiative as yet another gerrymandering move to carve out parts of Cotabato (and Mindanao) for Christian majority political units that will guarantee Christian leaders in both elective and appointive positions.

February 2 to March 26, 1974

CEMCOM concentrated operations at Reina Regente,[1] a barrio of the municipality of Datu Piang. Because Datu Piang was formerly Dulawan, which was formerly the center of the upstream, sa raya Buayan power base of earlier centuries, the AFP assaults were directed at the deep heartland of one of the two oldest Muslim communities in mainland Mindanao. Reina Regente was then an important base from which the secessionist front launched attacks against Christian communities in Sultan Kudarat, and in Midsayap and Pikit in Cotabato. The AFP fought for 52 days to reclaim Reina Regente.

February 7, 1974

The MNLF first attempted to take over an entire provincial capital, Sulu’s Jolo, with a surprise attack on the AFP’s command headquarters. The AFP deployed new fighter jets as well as WWII planes (nicknamed Tora-Tora), as well as helicopter gunships to bombard the capital. The 14th Infantry Battalion, led by Col. Salvador Mison, slipped into the Jolo wharf on a Philippine Navy ship. The wharf and most of Jolo were already in MNLF hands. After days of ground and air fire, the MNLF retreated to high, forested ground. Jolo was set ablaze. This episode of large-scale bombing is characterized by the MNLF as the worst single atrocity committed by the AFP against a Muslim community. After the burning of Jolo, the MNLF attacked AFP camps in Basilan and the Zamboanga Peninsula.

March 11, 1974

Presidential Decree No. 410 cites Proclamation No. 1081 — the Declaration of Martial Law — as the source of a new law that declares ancestral lands occupied and cultivated by national cultural communities as alienable and disposable. It stated that: “any provision of law, decree, executive order, rule or regulation to the contrary notwithstanding all unappropriated agricultural lands forming part of the public domain at the date of the approval of this Decree occupied and cultivated by members of the National Cultural Communities for at least ten (10) years before the effectivity of this Decree, particularly in the provinces of Mountain Province, Cagayan, Kalinga Apayao, Ifugao, Mindoro, Pampanga, Rizal, Palawan, Lanao del Sur, Lanao del Norte, Sultan Kudarat, Maguindanao, North Cotabato, South Cotabato, Sulu, Tawi-Tawi, Zamboanga del Sur, Zamboanga del Norte, Davao del Sur, Davao del Norte, Davao Oriental, Davao City, Agusan, Surigao del Sur, Surigao del Norte, Bukidnon, and Basilan are hereby declared part of the ancestral lands of these National Cultural Communities and as such these lands are further declared alienable and disposable if such lands have not been earlier declared as alienable and disposable by the Director of Forest Development… Provided, further, that the Government in the interest of its development program, may establish agro- industrial projects in these areas for the purpose of creating conditions for employment and thus further enhance the progress of the people.”

May 29, 1974

A meeting was held between President Marcos and President Suharto of Indonesia at Menado, North Sulawesi. The agenda was the solidarity of the region vis-à-vis ASEAN. President Marcos asked his counterpart to persuade the leaders of Islamic states to refrain from intervening in the conflict in Mindanao and allow him to bring about a peaceful solution to the problem. It was only with external support that the MNLF was successfully waging war. Accompanying President Marcos was Executive Secretary Alejandro Melchor, Chairman of the Presidential Task Force for the Rehabilitation of Mindanao. The peaceful solution President Marcos had in mind involved channeling greater resources into Mindanao’s development.

June 1974

The AFP undertook “Oplan Kingfisher” to regain control of Zamboanga del Sur, starting with the Pagadian area and other western towns. This offensive is said to have crippled the MNLF in this area, rendering them incapable of staging large-scale offensives. A subsequent “Oplan Sea Breeze” involved zonal search operations in Pagadian to reveal caches of firearms and ammunitions.

June 21 to 25, 1974

Resolution No. (18)[1] was “adopted by the Islamic Conference held in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia in Jumada Alakhir 1393 H. corresponding to June 1974 A.D. which recommends the searching for a just and peaceful political solution to the problem of the Muslims in the South of the Philippines through negotiations.”[2]

July 1974

The battle for Upi (now in Maguindanao) was a two-day standoff ending in the withdrawal of government troops. The MNLF held the town. Upi was razed.

August 1974

Six hundred MNLF fighters camped in Indanan, Sulu, were attacked by the 1⁄4 Brigade that was deployed to preempt a rebel first attack.

The AFP retook Upi. Town reconstruction commenced immediately, under the commanding officer of the 2nd Infantry Battalion, who was designed acting mayor. At this point in the conflict, the AFP scaled up its reconstruction work as part of the government’s overall strategy.

August 23 to September 3, 1974

The MNLF fielded 500 men to capture Balabagan in Lanao del Sur, cutting off two companies of the 26th Infantry Battalion. No response from the AFP transpired for two weeks, after which bombardment from Navy ships preceded the landing of a marine battalion. Balabagan was razed by the departing MNLF.

September 24, 1974

Military and paramilitary personnel killed 1,500 male Muslims, aged 11 to 70 years old, of Malisbong, Palimbang, in what is now Sultan Kudarat Province, inside their (Tacbil) mosque. The Malisbong Massacre, since regarded by Muslim communities to be among the extreme atrocities committed by the government during Martial Law, was not recognized as factual by the Commission on Human Rights until the 40th anniversary of the event. One account asserted that: “Moro men were shot to death while women and children were arrested and brought to a nearby Marines and Navy boat anchored on the sea shore that was constantly shelling the community.” The account also claimed, “Women aged nine to 60 years-old were raped while being detained at the boat overnight. About 3,000 detained women and children were later released and ushered to a community along the seashore. Most of them lost their sanity due to grave torture during interrogations.” Three hundred houses were destroyed and burned by government forces, specifically citing the AFP 15th Infantry Battalion.


Muslim Filipinos numbered an estimated 2.2 million, representing 5% of the national population. In Mindanao, the proportion of Muslims is 25% to Christians, and only 5 of 25 Mindanao provinces had a predominant Muslim population.

January 7 to 15, 1975

Cotabato City’s Awang Airport was, until this point, again under MNLF control. The AFP 6th Infantry Brigade conducted counter mortar fire and undertook “search and destroy” missions. Recorded MNLF deaths numbered 86.

January 30 to March 30, 1975

In the early hours, the MNLF attacked Cotabato City, starting with mortar fire directed at the city center’s “PC Hill.” The target was the GHQ, not only of the PC, but also of CEMCOM itself. About 14 mortar shells slammed into the PC Hill area. The AFP responded by launching Operation Thunderball, to control the Tamontaka and Taviran Rivers, and the Tumbao and Kakar-Biniruan areas southeast of Cotabato City. The operation lasted more than a month, ending with the AFP capture of Tumbao on March 18, and the riverine areas retaken from the MNLF by the end of March.

March 18, 1975

During this period, the AFP conducted operations in the Raguisi-Pinaring area; in Kolong-Kolong; in Lampari-Banga; in Solon-Tarikan; and in the Carmen area. CEMCOM had succeeded by the end of the year to open river traffic in Central Cotabato; and, in effect, an undeclared ceasefire transpired.

April 22, 1975

Presidential Decree No. 690 created the Southern Philippines Development Administration (SPDA) with the express purpose of intensifying business activity in Mindanao. The decree abolished the Commission on National Integration, the Mindanao Development Authority, the Presidential Task Force for the Reconstruction and Development of Mindanao, and the Special Program of Assistance for the Rehabilitation of Evacuees (SPARE). The SPDA was first headed by Karim Sidri, a Muslim convert and cousin of Imelda Romualdez Marcos. The SPDA superseded the work of government to address Muslim concerns; later becoming the Ministry of Muslim Affairs and the Presidential Assistance on National Minorities (PANAMIN). The SPDA continues to exist today, with a mandate that overlaps many other government agencies.

June 1975

The 14th, 18th, and 24th Battalions of the 2/1 Brigade bombarded the Tayungan area of Jolo to curtail munitions supply lines to the MNLF. Thirty-six MNLF fighters and 13 AFP soldiers died, but government forces succeeded in dislodging the MNLF from Mt. Tayungan.

July 7, 1975

The MNLF mortared Awang Airport for a week. CEMCOM fought back with Operation Thunderball, which was among the largest-scale military offensives the AFP ever undertook, except for the battle for Tran.

July 1975

The 10th Infantry Battalion reoccupied the Lanao del Norte town of Tangkal (near Munai), long an MNLF sanctuary.

July 14, 1975

An account sympathetic to the MNLF said: “Many outlying areas of [Cotabato] city like Biniruan, Kakar, Pagalamatan, Bubong and even the Notre Dame University campus were scenes of bloody combat actions. The fiercest was fought in Biniruan in July 14, where at one time the CEMCOM troopers suffered over 100 casualties, mostly from the 15th Infantry Battalion, including one army major and the capture of 86 high caliber firearms.” When the AFP captured the town of Tumbao, Operation Thunderball was terminated, and the threat to Cotabato City and its Awang Airport was declared ended.


From 1973 to 1975, with the war with the MNLF’s Bangsa Moro Army in Central Mindanao, the AFP deployed 14 infantry battalions with accompanying support units. The theater of war was the Parang-Cotabato-Awang complex, the Central Plains of Cotabato, and the Kalamansig-Lebak and Tran areas. The government put in a total of 50,000 troops or 75% to 80% of the total AFP’s combat strength.

May 30, 1975

Presidential Decree No. 719 stated: “All the outstanding contracts of the Commission on National Integration, Mindanao Development Authority, the Presidential Task Force for the Reconstruction and the Special Program of Assistance for the Rehabilitation of Evacuees (SPARE) with other agencies and/or instrumentalities of the government or those with private entities are assumed by the Administration, except that in case of the non-Muslim hill tribe cultural minorities all throughout the Philippines, the powers, functions and duties of the Commission on National Integration, as provided for in Republic Act No. 1888, as amended, insofar as these non-Muslim hill tribes are concerned, shall be exercised solely by the Office of the President through the Presidential Assistant on National Minorities.” In other words, the PANAMIN led by President Marcos’ friend Manda Elizalde, took over the responsibilities of the CNI.

July 7, 1975

President Marcos issued Presidential Decree No. 742 and Letter of Instruction 290, by which he created the Western and Central Mindanao regions, and established the Office of the Regional Commissioner (ORC) in both regions.

November 30 to December 18, 1975

The 1st Leadership Training Program for the Development of Mindanao was held in Zamboanga City, organized and implemented by the Mindanao Executive Development Academy based in the Mindanao State University. The program gave an intensive training on public administration for executive positions at the local levels of government and the military, to a selection of returnees from secessionist battles with the state. The program fast-tracked integration of the former MNLF rebels into their desired positions. Among the trainees were MNLF co-founder Sali Wali, who was then commissioned 2nd Lieutenant, Philippine Army; and Hajiril “Gerry” Matba, MNLF Regional Committee head, who became Commander, SUSEFCOM, Tawi-Tawi, and who eventually became Governor of Tawi-Tawi. The Marcos administration enticed the rebels thus, to surrender. This Marcosian gambit to undermine the fighting force of the MNLF has not been adequately studied, particularly in relation to the authoritarian imperatives imposed all over the Philippines.


Former President Diosdado Macapagal, in a book published this year, wrote, “The political and short-sighted handling of Muslim problems under the Marcos reign reached a zenith when the authorities sanctioned and believably helped arm the Ilagas, an armed band of Christian Filipinos, who have waged an operation to kill Muslims.” Reports of massacres and of the number of victims continued to increase as the PC-ilagâ tandem mounted and widened its bloody sorties in the other provinces and towns outside the original base of operations. Hardest hit by these depredation usually were isolated Moro villages.

August 16, 1976

An 8.0 magnitude earthquake and a tidal wave hit Mindanao, killing 8,000 people. The earthquake injured 10,000 and made 90,000 homeless. War-torn municipalities, notably Lebak, were hit hard by the tsunami. Because of the scale of devastation, the catastrophe temporarily slowed down the insurgency.

November 1976

A Joint Communique was issued in Tripoli, Libyan Arab Republic, “on the 25th Zulgeda 1396 H. corresponding to 17th November 1976, following the official visit paid by the delegation of the Government of the Philippines headed by the First Lady of the Philippines, Mrs. Imelda Romualdez Marcos to the Libyan Arab Republic and which calls for the resumption of negotiations between the two parties concerned in Tripoli on the 15th of December 1976 A.D.”

December 23, 1976

Nur Misuari, Chair of the MNLF, and Undersecretary of National Defense Carmelo Barbero signed the Tripoli Agreement, providing for autonomy in 13 provinces and nine cities in Mindanao. The Quadripartite Ministerial Commission was represented by Dr. Ali Abdussalam Treki, Minister of State for Foreign Affairs of the Libyan Arab Republic; H.E. Salah Abdalla El-Fadl, Ambassador of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to the Libyan Arab Republic; H.E. Bazi Mohamed Sufi, Ambassador of the Democratic Republic of Somalia to the Libyan Arab Republic; and (“with the aid of”) H.E. Dr. Ahmed Karim Gai, Secretary General of the Organization of Islamic Conference.

February 1977

The Philippine government has invited Islamic Conference Secretary General Amadoj Karim Gayo to visit the southern Philippine islands to inspect the reconciliation efforts there between Muslims and the government.

February 4, 1977

Shari’a Courts were formally established in Muslim-dominated areas of Mindanao, upon Presidential approval of the Code of Muslim Personal Laws. During this same period, peace talks were resumed to craft the implementing rules for the Tripoli Agreement. The talks stalled with the MNLF insistence of creating a single autonomous entity of the 13 provinces — to which President Marcos responded with a demand to follow Constitutional provisions, particularly for a plebiscite to be held, because the 13 provinces have majority Christian populations.

March 25, 1977

President Marcos issued Proclamation No. 1628, declaring the autonomy of “Southern Philippines,” composed of the 13 provinces the MNLF insisted for, in preparation for a referendum. These were: Basilan, Sulu, Tawi-Tawi, Zamboanga del Sur, Zamboanga del Norte, North Cotabato, Maguindanao, Sultan Kudarat, Lanao del Norte, Lanao del Sur, Davao del Sur, South Cotabato, and Palawan; including all the cities and villages situated in these areas.

April 17, 1977

Over the objections of the MNLF, a plebiscite was called for. Ten of the 13 provinces in the newly created Southern Philippines region voted for inclusion in the MNLF’s proposed autonomous region. Marcos implemented his own version of autonomy by dividing the 10 provinces into two autonomous regions: Regions IX and XII, or Western and Central Mindanao. Negotiations broke down.

April 21, 1977

Presidential Decree No. 1125 granted second grade civil service eligibility to 59 surrenderees (“returnees”) from the MNLF, who completed the executive training program given by the Mindanao Executive Training Academy. This eligibility qualified the men to first level positions in the Civil Services.

May 1977

The Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC) formally recognized the MNLF and granted it observer status. This development assured the MNLF of international support. With the increasing costs of the war against the MNLF, and the possibility of sanctions by its Middle Eastern oil suppliers, President Marcos stepped up diplomatic initiatives to try to curtail foreign support for the MNLF.

May to December 1977

MNLF Chair Misuari refused to head the provisional government.

October 10, 1977

Brigadier General Teodolfo Bautista and 35 of his men of the 1st Infantry “Tabak” Division were killed in an attack in the Danag marketplace in Patikul, Sulu. Brig. Gen. Bautista was the highest-ranking officer of the AFP to have been killed in the Mindanao war of the 1970s. He was on his way to meet MNLF Commander Usman Sali. Eventually, the original planner of the attack, Hakim Sali alias “Snake,” a commander of the Bangsa Moro Army (BMA), and Usman’s nephew, was made to surrender, to Task Force Musang of the 24th Infantry Battalion by its captain, Jovito Palparan.

After October 10, 1977

It is alleged by Muslim sources (uncorroborated) that an estimated 700 MNLF and Sulu civilians were killed in the fight following the murder of Brig. Gen. Bautista.

November to December 1977

Hashim Salamat relocated to Cairo and established the ‘new MNLF’ — eventually named the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). Lucman and Pendatun reinvigorated the Bangsamoro Liberation Organization (BLO) to gain support, but Arab states ignored them. Prior to November, Al-Haj Murad, Muhaquer Iqbal, and Ghadzali Jaafar of the emergent MILF, met in Pikit, North Cotabato, and arrived at the decision to separate from the MNLF due to irreconcilable differences with its central committee.

December 26, 1977

In Jeddah, Hashim Salamat announced an ‘Instrument of Takeover’ of the MNLF leadership; a move supported by Muslim national leaders; notably, Maranao elder statesmen Rashid Lucman and Domacao Alonto, and the Maguindanaon Senator Salipada K. Pendatun. Chairman Misuari expelled Salamat and charged him with treason. Egypt supported Hashim Salamat. The Libyan Arab Republic continued to support Misuari.


According to anthropologist G. Carter Bentley: “Throughout Novemeber and Dcember 1977, Philippine Army units conducted large-scale operations against suspected rebel bases, declaring free-fire zones, conducting mass arrests and house-to-house searches, and generally making life difficult for nearly everyone. These operations had little actual effect on rebel forces but extravagant results were claimed. In December 1977, a top MNLF field commander, Abul Khayr Alonto, “returned to the fold of the law.” [Marcos ally, Second World War guerrilla leader, and Maranao warlord] Governor Ali Dimaporo suffered some embarrassment when this highly publicized surrender was delayed for three days while a sufficient number of plausible “rebel returnees” were recruited from surrounding communities.”

January 21, 1978

The 24th Infantry Brigade Delta Company, led by Company Commander Lt. Jovito Palparan, assaulted an MNLF stronghold in Mt. Sinumaan, Patikul, Sulu.

June 9, 1978

Presidential Decree No. 1414 continued accreting powers and responsibilities around PANAMIN. The decree declared it “to be policy of the State to integrate into the mainstream of Philippine society certain ethnic groups who seek full integration into the larger community, and at the same time protect the rights of those who wish to preserve their original lifeways beside that larger community.” It defined “national minorities” as “the non-Muslim hill tribes referred to under Presidential Decree No. 719 and other non-Muslim national minorities whether referred to as National Cultural Minorities or Cultural Communities under other laws.” And it asserted that the “implementation of the above-stated policy is hereby vested in the Office of the Presidential Assistant on National Minorities, hereinafter referred to as PANAMIN.”

July 2 to 8, 1978

The Second Policy Conference on Southern Philippines was held at Zambayan Hotel in Zamboanga City, with the title, “The Mindanao Question: A Multi- Sectoral Search for Developmental Action.” Convened by an Inter-Agency Committee composed of the National Coordinating Committee of the AFP Home Defense Office; the National Economic and Development Authority; the Regional Commissions IX and XII; the Southern Philippines Development Administration; the Mindanao State University; and the Philippine Amanah Bank.[1] The policy recommendations[2] How these idealistic statements failed to avert more bloodshed awaits rigorous analysis, nearly forty years later.

March 23, 1979

Batas Pambansa No. 20 was legislated, forming the Regional Autonomous Government in Western and Central Mindanao. According to the official ARMM account: “Unfortunately, still the mujahideens were not appeased and continued with their revolutionary ideals.”

April 15, 1980

Marawi City was renamed the Islamic City of Marawi, in a symbolic initiative to assert Muslim identity.

July 28, 1980

In his 15th State of the Nation Address, President Marcos defended a military that he recognized to be unpopular or under criticism: “We hesitate to speak in defense of our Armed Forces and our police even if they are in the right. We hesitate to speak for our security; we hesitate to speak for the men who place at the disposal of the Republic their lives and their properties and their honor. And we expect from them the utmost vigilance, dedication, patriotism, and heroism. The economic development program of our Republic in Mindanao is possible only because of the heroic efforts of that armed force and of the civilians who have fought for the peace and order of that portion of our country. For we must bring back to the mainstream of our political and economic life the members of our Muslim community.”

1980 to 1990

The Muslim population of Mindanao had been reduced to 23% of the total Mindanao demography, down from 32% during the Commonwealth period and 76% in 1903.


It is unknown if Fidel V. Ramos, as PC head from 1972 to 1986, was aware of the depredations of PC troops in tandem with BHDU units that included the ilagâ. It is also unknown why, as PC head, he has not been questioned about command responsibility.

Rear Admiral Romulo Espaldon, who was the first Commander of the AFP Southern Command (SOUTHCOM), reported that 40,000 MNLF fighters had been persuaded to “return to the folds of the law” between 1973 and 1980. The figure he gave was widely thought to have been overstated.

The Christian population of Mindanao had increased to 77% of the total Mindanao demography, from 24% in 1903. The non-Muslim population of Mindanao had increased from 2 million in 1948 to 6.3 million in 1970, and to 8.4 million by 1980.

January 16, 1981

General Delfin Castro took command of SOUTHCOM. It had operational control of the whole of Mindanao, including Basilan, Sulu, and Tawi-Tawi. It included some 75,000 Armed Forces and police personnel; and about 50,000 para-military personnel: the 1st Division and 4th Division of the Philippine Army; two brigades of the 3rd Division; one brigade of the 2nd Division; some battalions of the 5th Division; two brigades of the Philippine Marines; all PC and Police units in Mindanao; the 3rd Air Division of the Philippine Air Force; the Naval Forces Southern Philippines; and Civilian Home Defense Forces (CHDF). It supplied 35,000 CHDF personnel with high-powered firearms. Its Special Para-Military Forces (SPMF) were composed of 2,000 former MNLF personnel.


Due to conversion of lands into commercial and industrial uses, the aggregate size of meadows and pasture lands throughout Mindanao decreased by 340%, from 120,676 hectares to 35,413 hectares. At this juncture, Muslim land-ownership had been reduced to 17% of Mindanao.

February 12, 1981

Some 400 MNLF fighters surrounded and killed 124 AFP soldiers on Pata Island, near Jolo, Sulu. The account of Brig. Gen. Delfin Castro, SOUTHCOM Commanding General, put the figure at 111. According to the Sydney Morning Herald, “Military sources said the soldiers met a group of surrendering rebels to discuss co-ordination between the regular Army and the special units in which the rebels served. A ‘misunderstanding’ occurred that the rebels opened fire.” The incident happened a few days before a visit of the Pope to the Philippines, and may have been set up to counter the Marcos line that Mindanao was under full control. Brig. Gen. Castro described the Pata massacre as an instance of consistent duplicity: “The Pata massacre was classic execution of one of Misuaris’s [sic] stratagems – for certain MNLF elements to join the government and at a given opportunity, to sabotage the returnee program of the government from within.” Castro also wrote, “The casualties incurred by the AFP were by far the biggest incurred in a single incident since the start of the conflict in Mindanao. It also had the dubious distinction of achieving the biggest losses in AFP firearms and equipment in a single incident. “

February 16, 1981

President Marcos lifted Martial Law. However, the spirit of repression under an authoritarian and over-centralized government was to persist until 1986.


Widely accepted summations of the Martial Law regime from 1973 to 1981 emphasize massive human rights violations that include over 70,000 political prisoners and 2,500 documented cases of extra-judicial killings. The summations also include 756 reported cases of forced disappearances and torture of thousands. Because of national government decisions rendered with impunity, over 1.3 million people suffered repeated refugee events; some, permanently displaced. A large majority of the internally displaced were Mindanao Muslims, indigenous people, and the poorest peasants. On the eve of the imposition of Martial Law, the poverty statistics are equally remarkable: one family out of every two was poor.

February 17 to March 1981

Gen. Castro and the commander of the 1st Infantry Division, Gen. Emilio Luga, went into action to clear Pata Island of the MNLF. The operation using six battalions lasted 49 days

May 12, 1981

In a speech, Senator Benigno Aquino, Jr., said: “Over the last eight years as a result of the so-called Muslim Mini War in the Philippines, more than [100,000] Filipino Muslims have lost their lives, over [250,000] have come as refugees in the neighboring Sabah State of Malaysia, and more than one million have been displaced and rendered homeless. On the other side, according to President Marcos himself, about ten to [11,000] Filipino soldiers have been killed over the last eight years as a result of the battle in the Southern Philippines. The Philippine government under President Marcos calls the Muslim fighters as rebels, he calls them outlaws, he calls them insurrectionists, and he calls them secessionists or far worst — traitors to the Philippines. The Muslims on the other hand see themselves as patriots, as holy warriors, birthright of self-determination from infidel attacks. It is a most unfortunate that Filipinos are fighting against Filipinos today.”

August 15, 1981

Chief of Staff: Lieutenant General Fabian Ver, Philippine Constabulary August 15, 1981 to October 4, 1984

Brigadier General Romeo Espino ended his tour of duty after serving the longest in the post of Chief of Staff, Armed Forces of the Philippines, in the history of the Philippines thus far. He presided over the most protracted and intensive war waged by the Philippine government against an armed force: the Muslim separatist insurgency, which was already a more than a decade long by 1981.

May 16, 1983

President Marcos created elite units with the components of the AFP to streamline its operations and to address various threats to national security. The Special Action Force (SAF) became the elite unit of the PC. It was founded under Lieutenant General Fidel Ramos, the then Vice-Chief of Staff of the AFP and Chief of the PC. Ramos, who would become President of the Philippines, headed the PC throughout most of the Martial Law period when atrocities were perpetrated with PC tolerance and assistance. The SAF was initially created as opposition to the New People’s Army, the communist guerrilla force, and the MNLF. The unit was co-founded by then Lt. Gen. Renato de Villa.

June 23, 1983

Benigno Aquino, Jr., in exile in the US, testified before the subcommittee for Asian and Pacific Affairs of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the UN House of Representatives, that monies from Iran bankrolled the arms and ammunition acquired by the PLO for the use of the MNLF; and that the MNLF trained its commanders in Libya, Syria, and Iran.

June 30, 1984

The Office on Muslim Affairs and Cultural Communities was created by Executive Order No. 969.

November 4, 1984

Chief of Staff: General Fidel V. Ramos, Philippine Constabulary October 24, 1984 to December 2, 1985

Describing the bombings by Muslim separatists in Zamboanga City as “the worst in the nine years of the separatist war,” Mayor Cesar Climaco declared a state of emergency.

Mayor Cesar Climaco of Zamboanga City was assassinated on a public roadway at the center of his city, in full daylight. While Climaco’s life and death did not have direct relation with the secessionist war in Mindanao, his defiant anti- Marcos stance brought into high relief the embeddedness of Mindanao local politics in national intramurals. The government blamed the Muslim rebel Rizal Alih. The Climaco family blamed Marcos.


Haroun al-Rashid Lucman—exiled traditional Maranao leader who also helped the early secessionist movement Bangsamoro Liberation Organization—helped his friend, the Marcos political opponent Benigno Aquino Jr., also an exile, acquire the passport to return to the Philippines. This was the passport with the name of Marcial Bonifacio. The return journey ended in Aquino’s assassination. Analysts recognize in Lucman’s death in 1984, the passage, also, of traditional, pre-modern datu leadership over Muslims of the Philippines.

The Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) emerged in the public view, under the leadership of Salamat Hashim. However, it had broken away from the MNLF as early as 1977.


MILF sources stated that 85% of Mindanao Muslims were landless.[1]

April 11, 1985

The ilagâ militiaman Norberto Manero (a.k.a. Commander Bukay of a nebulous vigilante group) gained immediate notoriety in the murder of an Italian missionary priest, Fr. Tullio Favali, in Tulunan, Cotabato. News spread that after the murder, Manero ate the priest’s brains amidst mocking and laughter. Fr. Favali and another priest, Fr. Peter Geremia, were suspected coddlers of communist insurgents; Manero and his brother Edilberto were the liquidation team. Like many ilagâ, Commander Bukay’s career as an anti-Muslim killer during the Marcos dictatorship, had switched into an anti-communist project at this period. After conviction, Manero was to escape from prison twice and recaptured; and twice, his sentence was reduced. The PC General Fidel V. Ramos, who would be President in 1990, interceded or facilitated Manero’s commuted sentence. After serving 24 years, Manero was released in 2003.

January 1986

Chief of Staff: Lieutenant General Fabian Ver, Philippine Constabulary December 2, 1985 to February 25, 1986

Agapito “Butz” Aquino, brother of Benigno, Jr., met with self-exiled MNLF Chairman in Madrid, Spain.[1] A. Aquino explained that he was sent by Corazon “Cory” Aquino, wife of Benigno, Jr., to solicit MNLF support for the anti-Marcos forces. In exchange for Misuari’s support, A. Aquino said, “I have brought you the word of honor of Cory that if and when you decide to help and through that help she will become the next president of the republic, then all the promises of Ninoy [Benigno, Jr.,] will be fulfilled by her. All.”[2]

January to February 1986

Communities and individuals loyal to Nur Misuari and the MNLF campaigned for Corazon Aquino prior to the “snap elections” held by President Marcos to continue to legitimize his prolonged rule.

February 24, 1986

By the time President Marcos was deposed on this date, three out of every five families were poor. Of the total number of 10 million families on the eve of the regime’s demise, 5.8 million lived below the poverty line.


The fighting in Mindanao had subsided, even as the insurgency of the New People’s Army had gained momentum. Ilagâ terror directed at Muslims had also subsided; however, Ilagâ-like terror tactics, directed at suspected communist sympathizers and cadres, were known at the point to have been incipient. The militias belonged essentially to the same quasi-Christian, animist sects invested heavily in the power of amulets and the legitimacy of brutality.