Another group that operates in Mindanao is called the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). The MILF is a group wich broke away from the MNLF in 1987. In general, the goals of the MILF are identical to what the MNLF was struggling for in it’s earlier days. However, when the MNLF made peace with the government, accepting partial autonomy, the MILF felt that this did not go far enough to meet the goals of the Moro people, and thus they broke away from the mother group.
When Joseph Estrada was President from 1998 until 2001, there was an all-out war between the Philippine Government and the MILF, and the Philippine Government was on the verge of wiping out the MILF when President Estrada was ousted from power by Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. The biggest and most dominant armed camp of the MILF, Camp Abubakar, was overtaken by the Philippine Government in 2000, and the MILF was really on the run at that time. After Arroyo took power, she signed a cease fire agreement with the MILF, and there have been peace negotiations between the two camps ever since. So far, though, no final peace agreement has been reached.
The leader of the MILF originally was a man named Salamat Hashem. Hashem died several years ago (natural causes), but before his death he had forged some ties with the United States, even communications directly with President Bush. US Ambassador Kristie Kenney regularly visits MILF territory and meets with their leadership. Although this seems like a strange connection, it really is true, and apparently the US Government is extending an effort to forge peace in Mindanao. Some Philippine politicians feel that the US Government is aiming to put military bases in Mindanao, inside an automomous area run by the MILF. I have no personal knowledge about this, although my nature is to doubt that such a scenario is in play. The current leader of the MILF is Al-Haj Murad.
Recently, the Philippine Government negotiated an Ancestral Domain deal with the MILF, which would have expanded the ARMM region, and given the MILF even more control that what was won by the MNLF in it’s settlement with the Government. However, the deal has since been abandoned by the Government of the Philippines, and right now there are no further negotiations underway.
As I said in my article about the NPA, I do not feel that the MILF is a major threat to foreigners traveling in the Philippines. It is prudent to stay out of their way, and not get nosey about their business. If you are traveling in Mindanao it is always wise to avoid political discussions, and just keep your opinions about Philippine issues to yourself, so as to avoid potential problems.
For more information about the MILF, you can visit Luwaran, the MILF Website.