With a peace deal stalled on the southern Philippine island of Mindanao, more militant Islamist groups are emerging and aligning themselves with the so-called Islamic State. In other parts of Mindanao, indigenous communities are displaced by war between the government and communist insurgents, and peace talks have halted entirely. Can the next government get the peace processes back on track and stem the rising tide of militancy?

Mindanao is rich in resources as well as population diversity. It is also home to a violent patchwork of sometimes-overlapping armed groups. These include Islamist revolutionaries as well as extremist militants, communist rebels, paramilitaries, clan-based private armies, and networks of organised crime.

Most of the country’s minority Muslims live in Mindanao, and have done since the 13th century. Their ancestors established independent sultanates and they largely governed their own affairs throughout the Spanish and American colonial periods. When the Philippines became independent following the Second World War, more and more Christian settlers arrived, and their autonomy was greatly diminished. By the early 1970s, discontent among Muslims led to the formation of armed groups.

Likewise, Mindanao’s indigenous people came under increasing pressure as their traditional territory was eroded, as it was on valuable farmland as well as a wealth of minerals. By the late 1960s, similar grievances throughout the Philippines led to a communist insurgency. With the retreat of communism globally, the insurgents have decreased in number but maintain strongholds in indigenous areas of Mindanao.

Indigenous people now find themselves trapped in the middle as communists battle the army and paramilitaries, while peace talks have stalled. Muslim civilians are also caught up in fighting between the military and the militants, who have adopted an extremist ideology as successive peace processes have failed.

Philippines peace deal
Philippines caught in the crossfire
A stalled peace deal in the island of Mindanao has led to more Islamic militant groups emerging. Can the next government get the peace process back on track and stave off growing extremism? Read more. Decades after communism crumbled around the world, the revolution continues in the mountains of Mindanao, where it is tearing apart indigenous communities that cling to their lands and traditions. Read more.

Mindanao fact box
Miranda Grant/IRIN

Philippines timeline
Miranda Grant/IRIN

Philippines conflict in numbers
Miranda Grant/IRIN

Edited by Andrew Gully
Photos by Jared Ferrie/IRIN. Banner photo: The Grand Mosque near Cotabato City is the largest in the country
Back to Forgotten Conflicts