Legal Frameworks and Land Issues in Muslim Mindanao

in Land and Post-conflict Peacebuilding, Jon Unruh & Rhodri Williams (eds.), Earthscan, 2013, pp 451-474

25 Pages Posted: 19 Feb 2014 Last revised: 3 Mar 2014

See all articles by Paula Knack

Paula Knack

Leiden University - Public International Law Studies Programme

Date Written: February 17, 2014


Mindanao, the second largest island grouping in the Philippine archipelago, has experienced lengthy conflict over land, resources, and identity. It is the only island grouping with a large Muslim population, while the rest of the country is predominantly Christian.

Territorial conflict in Mindanao began in the sixteenth century, when Spain conquered northern Mindanao and a small part of southern Mindanao from the sultanates or royal kingdoms of Sulu and Maguindanao. After years of revolts, the Philippine war for independence from Spain broke out in 1898. This was overtaken later that year by the Spanish-American War, which resulted in America’s purchase of the Philippines from Spain. Mindanao was subdued by American forces, but conflict between the Moros and American-sponsored Christian migrant settlers and workers from other islands continued, resulting in laws legalizing confiscation of lands owned by the Moros, large-scale land acquisitions (also referred to as land grabbing), and prejudice against and marginalization of the Moros. After Philippine independence from American rule in 1946, temporary calm ensued. However, in the 1960s, conflict resumed between Moros and Christian settlers, giving rise to a secessionist movement.

In the 1970s, a war of independence was launched by the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF). Twenty years of negotiation, beginning with the Tripoli Agreement in 1976 and culminating in a second peace agreement in 1996, put a temporary stop to the conflict. In 2008, the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) signed the Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain (MOA-AD), which marked a significant step in the Moro quest for a homeland by setting up the Bangsamoro Juridical Entity (BJE). Publication of the proposed area of the BJE sparked vehement public opposition, however, because the territory overlapped with non-Muslim regions and was determined without consultation of affected Christian communities. The Supreme Court ruled in Province of North Cotabato v. GRP (Government of the Republic of the Philippines) that this entity violated the constitution.

This chapter discusses the complex legal framework for resolving the struggle over land and natural resources in Mindanao. It demonstrates how conflicting laws and policies inherited from colonial regimes have added another layer of complexity to the conflict and made the achievement of lasting peace more difficult. A comprehensive understanding of such frameworks is crucial in preventing a return to conflict and achieving stable political and social regimes in post-conflict countries. The chapter is organized as follows: The first part reviews the relationship between the legal framework and the land conflict in Mindanao; the second part reviews the historical roots of the conflict. The third discusses the peace agreements and the creation of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM); the fourth discusses the passage of the Indigenous Peoples Rights Act (IPRA) and its impacts on the legal framework; and the fifth discusses critical land issues arising from the 2008 MOA-AD. The chapter concludes by reviewing lessons learned.

Keywords: peace agreement, peace process, land, conflict, post-conflict, peacebuilding, land laws, legal frameworks, natural resource management, environmental management

Suggested Citation

Knack, Paula, Legal Frameworks and Land Issues in Muslim Mindanao (February 17, 2014). in Land and Post-conflict Peacebuilding, Jon Unruh & Rhodri Williams (eds.), Earthscan, 2013, pp 451-474. Available at SSRN:

Paula Knack (Contact Author)

Leiden University - Public International Law Studies Programme ( email )

Rapenburg 70
PO Box 9500
Leiden, 2311

Here is the Coronavirus
related research on SSRN

Paper statistics

Abstract Views
PlumX Metrics