Understanding the call for Jihad

When US forces killed Osama bin Laden in Pakistan on May 2, 2011, the world heaved a sigh of relief. The world’s No. 1 terrorist had been neutralized. Al-Qaeda, the Islamic extremist group he had founded, was expected to lose adherents after his death. It did not. Other Islamic extremist cells took their inspiration from Al-Qaeda and terrorist attacks escalated around the world. The terrorists’ aim was to set up Islamic states in Muslim countries or countries with large Muslim populations, and to destabilize Western and allied governments that might stand in their way of establishing an Islamic caliphate. Together the Islamic states would make up the Caliphate, which would rule just as the caliphates of old had done after Mohammad’s time from 632 A.D. until 1924. At its peak, the caliphate ruled over Anatolia, most of the Middle East, North Africa, the Caucasus, and extended deep into Eastern Europe. It was the dream of extremist Islamic groups dream to restore the glory of the Caliphate. Their objective was world domination and jihad (war) was their means to bring it about. Terrorist organizations fielded their agents of chaos, skilled in bomb making and jihad, around the world. Their mission was to imbed themselves in local communities, train others to be bomb makers like them, and strike at the right moment.


One of those terrorist groups was the Jemaah Islamiyah or JI, which had covert terror cells operating across Southeast Asia since 1994, according to Mr. Nasir Abbas, a Pakistani, who was once one of the most wanted jihadists in Southeast Asia. Nasir Abbas was a former cell leader of the Jemaah Islamiyah and, by his own admission, was once a dangerous man. “Back in 2001, I led JI members in Sabah, Malaysia, Northern Sulawesi and Southern Philippines, including Mindanao and the Tawi-Tawi archipelago,” recalled Abbas, who was known then as Suleiman. “In Southeast Asia, [the plan for the Islamic Caliphate] involved overthrowing of the governments of Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore, and reclaiming Mindanao in the Philippines.…Six men of JI were ordered to go to the Philippines. Six men, including me, came to train the Bangsamoro people in North Cotabato. I set up acamp in Mt. Kararaw [a stronghold of the MILF].…I called it Hudeibah Camp.…We trained people from the Bangsamoro, from the MILF and from Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore.”

Abbas continued, “In 1998, JI received direct communication from Al Qaeda…the statement of Osama Bin Laden targeting the Westerners.” The call was for Muslims to kill American and their allies, including civilians, anywhere in the world; it was religious duty of the Muslims to do so. JI’s military leader in Indonesia, Riduan Isamuddin, better known as Hambali, who is now being detained in Guantanamo, played a huge role in spreading the statement of Bin Laden. Abbas recounted, “Hambali asked me to read the statement of Osama Bin Laden in front of JI members. But, when I read the statement, I said it isnot good for me and it is also not good for JI.”

Abbas continued, “Hambali was very enthusiastic and very [keen] to implement Bin Laden’s directive, and some of the JI members agreed with Hambali.”

JI left an ugly legacy across much of Southeast Asia. Its most brutal attack was the Bali bombing in 2002, which killed 202 civilians and left 209 badly injured. Bali was the point of divergence for Abbas. He believed it was acceptable to fight and kill foreign forces occupying Muslim countries — for instance, the Soviets in Afghanistan, the Americans in Iraq, and the Philippine Army in Muslim areas of Mindanao — but the killing of innocent civilians was forbidden, he told BBC in interview in 2006. After the Bali bombing, Abbas broke away from JI and tried to persuade his former comrades that their interpretation of the Quran was wrong. He urged them to return to the right path of Islamic teaching. Abbas would eventually leave JI in 2002 because it adopted a more modern and violent jihadist stance.


Zulkifli Abdhir a.k.a Marwan

Zulkifli Abdhir a.k.a Marwan

While Abbas was repelled by Bin Laden’s call to violence and the killing of innocents, another man, Zulkifli Abdhir, better known by his nom de guerre, Marwan, was profoundly influenced by the call.

Marwan was part of Kumpulan Mujahidin Malaysia, a terrorist movement] in Malaysia. Initially, KMM didn’t do any violence in Malaysia. After Bin Laden’s call, KMM conducted a spate of killings, kidnappings for ransom and bank robberies to raise funds for its activities. Marwan was allegedly behind all these.

Abbas, the head of JI in the Philippines, had a sense of disquiet about Marwan and tried to keep him from connecting with his group. When Abbas broke away from JI, his departure left the door open for Marwan to establish firm links with the terrorist group. Marwan had none of Abbas’s misgivings about taking the lives of innocent people.

Marwan was bad news. An Electronics Engineering graduate of Arizona State University, he was an expert in making improvised explosive devices (IEDS), according to Agent X, a SAF trooper whose identity could not be disclosed. Agent X said Marwan imparted his bomb-making skill to other terrorists and also conducted elite military training. Marwan trained hundreds of terrorists and bombers, according to intelligence reports, the SAF trooper said.

Marwan was one of the top ten on the FBI’s most dangerous terrorists list, propelled there by the Bali bombing. After Bali, he eluded international law enforcement authorities and hid in Mindanao. Although he carried hefty price tags on his head — US$% million from the US, dead or alive, and P7.4 million from the Philippines — his whereabouts remained a secret for more than a decade. Gen. Benjamin Magalong, Director of the Philippine National Police and Deputy Chief for Operations, said, “We only [learned about Marwan’s presence here when we arrested Taufik Rifki, JI’s No. 3 guy in the Philippines, in 2003.” Taufik Rifki, an Indonesian, was a financier of JI, according to

“During our interrogation, Taufik Rifki told us JI had established itself in the Philippines, had its hierarchy in place and was training bomb experts,” Gen. Magalong added. The information was so disturbing that Marwan became a priority target of the SAF.

Over the years, there were rumors of Marwan’s arrest, even of his death, but none proved true. He always surfaced again.

It has been said that the MILF and the Abu Sayyaf coddled Marwan. Well, he was useful to them. Agent X said, “Before 2002, our Muslim extremists of the rebels didn’t have the kind of skills Marwan taught them.”

Marwan announced his arrival in the Philippine through several bombing incidents, notably: the 2002 Fitmark bombing in General Santos (13 dead, dozens injured); the 2003 Sasa wharf bombing in Davao (17 dead 56 injured); and the 2003 Davao airport bombing (22 dead, 143 injured). He kept it up through the years, training others to do as he did. More recently, the 2013 Rosario Arcade bombing in Cagayan de Oro City (8 dead, 43 injured) and the 2014 bombing of a rural transit bus in Maramag, Bukidnon, (11 dead and 43 injured), had Marwan’s so-called fingerprints were all over them. Marwan had also plotted an attack on Pope Francis’ motorcade in early 2015 but it did not materialize.

Warrants for Magalong’s arrest for multiple murders and frustrated murders were issued and Marwan became the most wanted man in the country, General Magalong said. “It was a challenge to either neutralize him or arrest him because he had all the support of different terrorist groups. He had the support of Muslim rebels, he had a very, very secure area in Maguindanao, and he was surrounded by armed groups who were allied with him,” the PNP Director added.

According to intelligence made available to troopers of the Special Action Force, the elite unit of the Police designated to take part in an operation to capture or neutralize Marwan, the Malaysian terrorist was also a moneyman. “He funded the materials for the bombings from contributions from abroad. If funds were insufficient, Marwan kidnapped foreigners for ransom so he would have income for his future bombings,” said a SAF trooper known only as Dimasalang.

For the SAF troopers, stopping Marwan was not about the money (there was a sizeable bounty on his head); rather, it was a matter of honor. With the police and the military unable to capture Marwan, the SAF troopers saw it as their job, their duty to do neutralize him.

“He knew how to make a bomb. He knew how to kill the others. And he had the intention to do the operation again and again as long as he was still alive,” Abbas said, summarizing the threat that Marwan posed. Clearly, Marwan had to be stopped.


In late 2014, it appeared the cat and mouse game could finally end.

PNP Chief General Alan Purisima told SAF commander Director Getulio Napeñas in November that he had intel reports that was living in Mamasapano, Maguindanao.

Based on the intel, the SAF launched Oplan Terminator, but aborted it when the boats they were using to enter Mamasapano could not carry the weight of the SAF men and their combat gear. The SAF’s second attempt in December had to be aborted after an encounter with rebel forces. A third attempt, also slated for December, was called off to keep the peace with the Muslim rebels ahead of Pope Francis’ visit in mid-January.

While all these were going on, the line of command in the PNP shifted. On December 4, 2014, General Purisima, charged with graft was placed on preventive suspension by the Ombudsman. However, he continued to be involved in planning the Mamasapano missions, while PNP Deputy Director Leonardo Espina, who was named OIC in his place, was kept out of the loop.

On December 23, the SAF team (suspended PNP Chief General Purisima, SAF Director Getulio Napeñas, the battalion commanders and key troopers) met and conceived Oplan Exodus. A heli insertion and a boat insertion were ruled out. The plan was to deploy three units of the SAF.

  • The attack force would be made up of 37 elite cops from the Seaborne Unit of the 84th SAF company. Their task was to arrest Marwan and his aide, also a top terrorist, in Barangay Pidsandawan.
  • The blocking force would be comprised of 36 elite cops of the55th SAF company. They would be stationed less than a kilometer away in Barangay Tukanalipao, Mamasapano.
  • And a standby force comprised of 300 troopers from another SAF company would be deployed at various points in Barangay Tukanalipao, a few kilometers away, ready to help the Seaborne, if necessary.

The one thing they were not in control of was their exit. The SAF leaders were relying on the AFP to help extricate the troopers, but the AFP would not be told about the mission until Oplan Exodus was underway. Without the AFP, the troopers would have to exit the way they came in — a perilous exercise because the enemy would be waiting for them.

Oplan Exodus was a tightly kept secret. Only the President, suspended PNP Chief General Purisima, SAF Director Napeñas, PNP Intelligence Group Director Fernando Mendes, and the SAF troopers involved knew when it would be launched.

Normally, executing such a complex mission would require coordination with the military, specifically, the Armed Forces. However, in previous missions, the SAF’s movements were leaked to their quarries who got away. This time, General Napeñas advised against telling the AFP, saying it was compromised. Instead, they would inform the AFP when the SAF assault force was actually in the target area already.

SAF leadership mulled the impact of a Mamasapano raid on the Peace Process because of a longstanding agreement between both parties that the government would inform the MILF of any law enforcement mission in MILF territory. However, high-value targets were exempted from this rule, sand both Marwan and his aide were high-value targets.


Tactical Map

Tactical Map

On January 24, 2015, the President gave the go signal for the Mamasapano raid. Officially, it was a police operation to arrest two high-value targets. The troops set off at 10 p.m. and arrived at their drop-off point two hours later. They faced a 4.4-kilometer trek across cornfields and rivers to get to Barangay Pidsadawan, where Marwan lived. The cornfields were impenetrable, so they skirted them, losing valuable time.

The Seaborne unit reached the main river around 2:30 a.m. The scout and Agent X swam 40 meters across the river, unfurling a rope, which they fastened on the other side. Agent X radioed the troops that the rope was in place. Using a flotation device, the men pulled themselves across the river. It was slow work. Of the 37 men of the Seaborne, only 13 had made the crossing when their commander said, “We’re going to invade the hut.”

Dawn would break soon and they would lose the cover of darkness. If they aborted the mission now, they would still get killed. They might as well go in, get Marwan and exit the place. The planners had allotted 30 minutes for the extraction itself. The troopers hoped things would go according to plan because they were exhausted after a six-hour trek through dense vegetation. Within minutes, they reached Marwan’s hut and positioned themselves in an L, covering two sides.

Inside the hut, someone lit a lamp and turned on his flashlight. It was a prearranged signal from Marwan’s aide that Marwan was in the hut. Agent X thought he saw Marwan and was about to open fire when there was an explosion over his head. Something hit his back. He thought a coconut had fallen on him. Stunned by the blow, he dropped his magazine and hid in the foliage. He did not know he had been wounded. Around him, his buddies opened fire.

Two men were escaping from the hut, troopers on the flank shouted. Inside the little house, someone groaned, “Alahu Akbar. Alahu Akbar.” He was dying. The wounded trooper yelled at him, “It’s your time!”

The SSET (Sensitive Sight Exploitation Team) entered the hut. Marwan shot at them and they fired back, killing the terrorist.

“Bingo!” one of the SSET members shouted, signaling that they had neutralized Marwan. In the firefight, the SSET could not carry his body out. So they took pictures and Senior Insp. Gednat Tabdi, the team leader, cut off Marwan’s finger as DNA evidence. Then, using the remaining cover of darkness, the Seaborne fled with the enemy firing at them.

They did not return fire for that would have given away their position. They headed for the river to rejoin the rest of the Seaborne company.

Near the bridge, they heard shouting. Through night vision goggles, they saw armed men blocking their path just a few meters away. They hid in the bushes and watched enemy soldiers walk by them — MILF and BIFF! It was a revelation. The two factions were supposedly at odds with one another but here they were fighting side by side.

What a revelation!

Actually, it was pintakasi (a collective effort) in action, as Secretary Teresita Deles, former Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process, later explained. During government raids into Muslim territory, the MILF, BIFF and other armed Muslim groups united against the threat. The enemy of one Muslim group became the enemy of all the Muslim groups.

A few kilometers away, the 55th was moving forward to meet the Seaborne. But the Seaborne was trapped near the bridge and were unable to move because dawn had broken.

As daylight spread, rebels engaged the 55th with a sudden barrage of gunfire. The rebels bombarded them with heavy fire for hours. The commander of the 55th begged for reinforcements and support from the third SAF company and the AFP.

The Seaborne was ordered to support the 55th. Agent X was puzzled why they were ordered to reinforce the 55th when the main body of the SAF, numbering around 300 troopers, was only 700 meters away from the 55th. The Seaborne didn’t know that the commander of the 300 SAF refused to send his men to certain death.



Members of the Seaborne, who were discovered by a child, decided to fight their way through the encampment to reach their beleaguered brothers. The 55th were trapped in a cornfield and the rebels were literally mowing them down with gunfire.

One of the Seaborne troopers fired a coded signal to let the 55th know help was on the way. But the signal gave away their position and they came under heavy mortar shelling from all directions. Now they had to maneuver to save their own lives.

One of them called the AFP command post. “Don’t mortar us,” he pleaded. “That’s not us,” the AFP told him. It wasn’t friendly fire; it was the enemy bombarding them. The Seaborne’s morale sank.

The government, becoming aware of what was happening in Mamasapano, made a desperate plea to MILF leaders for a ceasefire. The Coordinating Committee on the Cessation of Hostilities (CCCH) intervened, calling for a ceasefire. The MILF appeared to comply but used the break in hostilities to regroup. After an hour, all hell broke loose.

The 55th was decimated; only one survived.

Not far from them, the Seaborne also encountered heavy gunfire. In twos, giving fire cover to the other teams, they ran for a cornfield by the riverbank. The troopers crawled into the cornfield so the rebels would not see them. Their water had run out. They were tired, weak and hungry. Enemy fire mowed the cornstalks like a lawn mower. The end seemed near and the guys began calling their loved ones to say goodbye. It broke their team leader’s heart to hear them because they still had a long way to go, because they still had to fight on, because the injured were relying on them, because others were too.

Between noon and 4 p.m., the number of deaths escalated. The enemy was relentless, delivering death in unremitting gunfire. The SAF troopers wondered where their enemies got their bullets. They had all but run out of ammo.

One more time, the SAF called Tactical Command Post, begging for artillery support. Five thirty, just before daylight started to fade, the first phosphorus was delivered. A prelude to bombing for in war parlance, phosphorus was used to mark the location of the enemy. The rebels’ gunfire subsided as they faded away. Finally silence reigned over the battlefield. The Seaborne troopers took an inventory. Eight dead, 15 wounded.

Evidence of the horror they had been through surrounded them.

As for the 55th, it was easier to count the living. One solitary survivor. Thetotal death toll from both units was 44.

Above them, the stars came out as if the heavens hadn’t just witnessed hell in Mamasapano.

The ground commander came in to help retrieve the bodies, but they dragged the body bags for lack of equipment. The survivors are horrified at the desecration of their beloved dead comrades.

US air support came in to rescue the wounded and to help collect the dead. The survivors were angry, feeling they had been betrayed, abandoned and left to die. Help was so near, yet none came.

Members of the SAF main force hugged them and they broke down and cried. Their comrades were dead; they felt guilty about being alive. Those who had failed them by not engaging wept with them in their wretchedness.

Weeks later, the FBI confirmed, from the DNA sample taken from his finger, that Marwan was indeed dead. The most dangerous terrorist in Southeast Asia had been neutralized. But the applause for the success of their mission was drowned by the outrage.



A review of the events took place — one of many “post mortems” that would be conducted for the botched Mamasapano mission.

The overriding question was why did the beleaguered SAF not receive any back up from the military despite the SAF’s desperate pleas as rebels pounded them relentlessly?

1. First, there was a lack of coordination with the military.

AFP Chief of Staff General Gregorio Catapang said it was only when he arrived in Zamboanga that he was told of the firefight by Lt. General Rustico Guerrero (West Mindanao Command). All the while, suspended General Purisima, was telling the President everything was under control, even when things were going horribly wrong.

2. Second, the AFP was held back for the sake of the peace process.

Police Director General Getulio Napeñas said he had begged for artillery support for his men, but the AFP held back. Why? For the sake of the peace process, he was told. Gen. Napeñas said, “From past 8 in the morning all the way up to 10, up to 1 o’clock, I made a lot of requests, through text messages, to Gen. Espina, Gen. Purisima, Gen. Guerrero, [Maj.] Gen. [Edmundo] Pangilinan [Commanding General of the 6th Infantry Division], [1st Mechanized Brigade Commanding Officer Col. Gener] Del Rosario, requesting for the artillery support because our troops, the 55th SAF particularly, were surrounded and only with artillery support would they be able to extricate themselves,” said General Napeñas. “But saving the peace process was considered and so the AFP could not fire on the MILF rebels,” he lamented.

A video clip of the Senate’s official probe into the Mamasapano Massacre showed AFP Chief of Staff General General Catapang being interrogated by Senator Alan Peter Cayetano.

Senator Cayetano probed, “You said, ‘The order is only to extricate. But do not engage the MILF because we do not want to endanger the peace process.’
Gen. Catapang replied, “Yes, Your Honor, that’s my statement.”
“So you sacrificed the 44?”
“No, Your Honor, because by that time the Coordinating Committee on the Cessation of Hostilities (CCCH) was already inside the area.” “Yes, Your Honor, but…”
“So at that time, you had two missions. The two were conflicting. Save the peace process or save the 44?
“It’s like you ordered them to go boxing but with hands tied down because you told them not to engage the MILF. How could they get the 44 and the rest who were there out if they could not engage the MILF?”

3. Third, the military doubted the coordinates supplied by the beleaguered SAF troopers.

General Napeñas begged until General Guerrero relented and said he would talk to General Pangilinan. General Napeñas immediately gave him the coordinates supplied by Police Superintendent RaymundTrain from the GPS the SAF was using. But there was a problem. According to General Benito de Leon, head of the Fact Finding Committee on the Mamasapano Incident, the military doubted the coordinates passed by the SAF, as these were coordinates read from Google Maps. But, contrary to AFP assertions, the SAF troops were using real time military type satellite maps and GPS.

4. Who, if any, went to the aid of the beleaguered 55th?

Only the Seaborne unit of the 45th company, at the cost of losing some of their own men, tried to reach the 55th but could not get through the enemy line. There being no artillery cover, the SAF company on standby could not engage because the MILF were in better positions and they would have been massacred like their comrades who were being slaughtered. The military was told to stand down.

5. Who finally fired a shot to save the beleaguered troopers?
Night was falling. Surviving SAF troopers would be slaughtered in the dark by the MILF/BIFF forces. Somebody had to help them. General Edmundo Pangilinan fired the first round of white phosphorous at 5:30 p.m. Did he defy the order not to fire upon the MILF? The official probe later revealed that General Pangilinan of the 6th Infantry Division made a judgment call to fire the phosphorous shot instead of an artillery shot, as if marking a round, to scare the MILF/BIFF rebels away.

6. Why was there no prior coordination with the military?
General Napeñas advised against it saying the military in Central Mindanao was compromised. Instead, Napeñas recommended that the 6th Infantry Division be informed “time on target.” This concept is used by the Air Force, not the Army. To the Air Force, it simply means the time a bomb is supposed to be dropped on target.

7. Who was calling the shots for the SAF?
General Purisima, the suspended Chief of the PNP, approved General Napeñas’ recommendation for “time on target” coordination with the 6th Infantry Division and General Purisima committed to coordinate with General Catapang of the AFP.

8. Why was General Purisima involved when he was suspended in December for alleged corruption?
He had a longstanding friendship with the President and enjoyed the full support and trust of the President, said Deputy General Benjamin Magalong, chief of the Board of Inquiry into the Mamasapano Incident. “The President condoned it. Who was I not to follow orders?” he said.

9. Where was the President during all these? Did he know what was happening to the SAF troops?
The President himself was nearby, in Zamboanga, ostensibly to visit with the survivors of the bombing and condole with the families of the dead. He claimed that he did not know that the SAF were being massacred. An official probe would later find that the President had micromanaged the whole botched mission and had known very well what was going on.

The President went to sleep that night in Malacañang. 44 SAF troopers lay dead in Mamasapano under a canopy of stars.

10. Again, who was calling the shots?
The President was calling the shots, said General Napeñas. His intention to capture a terrorist was right, but he should have ensured the safety of his men. He believed he did by telling the SAF commander repeatedly to coordinate with the AFP, said Secretary Deles. It would have been sufficient to do so because the AFP on the ground is conscious of its protocols with the MILF. But the buck stops with the President. He himself said he is responsible for what happened, said Senator Grace Poe, who oversaw the Senate Inquiry on the Mamasapano Incident.

11. Was it about the money?
“Not for money, not for glory, but for safety…and honor,” said General Napeñas. “Honor because I cannot take it that we have an international terrorist in the country with the police, and the military not being able to do something to neutralize him. We didn’t go there for the bounty. We went there to do our job, to fulfill our duty.”
Congressman Jonathan dela Cruz, co-author of the Mamasapano Report by the Independent Minority Bloc, said, “We were able to neutralize the number one terrorist in the country, and in the region. But the loss of so many lives could have been avoided.” Senator Gregorio Honasan II, chairman, Senate Committee of National Defense, said, “They were heroes in the true sense of the word.… They all helped build a better nation for the next generation of Filipinos.” Senator Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos, Jr., former chairman, Senate Committee on Local Government, said,“The armed services are the only sector of society whose social contract includes giving their life in defense of the state. No other citizen has to do that. No other citizen has that social contract. Only soldiers and policemen do. And that’s why we have to recognize that and see how honorable that is. And how heroic that is.…” General Magalong concluded, “They gave up their life, you know. They gave up their life to save more people. The most appropriate term [for] them is they’re heroes.”



MNLF — Moro National Liberation Front, a secessionist movement formed in the 1960s. It waged war against the Philippine government to achieve independence and later modified its objectives from independence to autonomy. It signed several agreements with the Philippine government for semi-autonomy. In 1996, MNLF leader Nur Misuari was installed as the first ARMM governor. The group has since undergone leadership changes and has splintered twice, giving rise to the MILF in 1976 and the Abu Sayyaf in 1991.

MILF — Moro Islamic Liberation Front, a breakaway group from the MNLF. It is the largest Muslim separatist group in the Philippines today. In the past, it refused semiautonomy and continued its insurgency efforts, including (allegedly) the bombing of Davao Airport in 2003 and the clash with government troops in Maguindanao in 2005. In 2014, it signed a peace agreement with the government, which paved the way for an agreement with the government in 2015 for the creation of the Bangsamoro, replacing ARMM. The MILF denies that it has ties with the terrorist groups such as Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) and Al-Queda. MILF forces were involved in the Mamasapano incident.

BIFF — Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters, a Islamist militant group that broke away from the MILF in 2008. It disagrees with the MILF’s acceptance of autonomy rather than full independence. It operates mainly in Maguindanao and in central Mindanao. The BIFF has pledged allegiance to the Islamic State (IS). It was involved in the Mamasapano incident.

Abu Sayyaf — a Jihadist terror group based in and around Jolo and Basilan islands. Breaking away from the MNLF in 1991, the Abu Sayyaf has carried out bombings, kidnappings, assassinations and extortion to fund its fight for an independent state. It has also engaged in criminal activities, including kidnapping, rape, child sexual assault, forced marriage, drive-by shootings, extortion and drug trafficking. It has pledged allegiance to the Islamic State.

The minorities of Mindanao are not one cohesive group. They comprise the Muslims, and non-Muslim/non-Christian lumad (indigenous peoples). The lumad comprise 18 groups, namely the: Bagobo, Tagakaolo, Teduray, Manobo, Kulaman, Blaan and T’boli who live in South Central Mindanao, especially Davao, Bukidnon and Cotabato; Mandaya, Ata, Mansaka and Dibabawon of North Central Mindanao, especially Agusan, Bukidnon, Davao and Surigao; Bukidnon/ Higaonon of Bukidnon; and Maguindanao, Iranun, Maranao, Tausug, Samal, Yakan, Kalibugan and Subanen of Western Mindanao and the Sulu Islands, especially Zamboanga, Cotabato and Lanao.

The ethnic groups that embraced Islam are the following:

• The Maranao, who are concentrated in the Lanao area;

• The Maguindanao, who once controlled most of Mindanao and had their seat of power in Cotabato;

• The Iranun, who live in the area between Lanao del Sur and Maguindanao;

• The Tausug of Sulu, who established communities in Tawi-tawi, Palawan, Basilan, Zamboanga and Sabah.

• The Yakan of Basilan who include the Tiruray, Tasaday and Subanun.

• The Sama, who are scattered all over the Sulu Archipelago. Included in this cluster are the Sama Laut or Badjao (sea gypsies) of Sulu; the Sama of Tawi-tawi; Sama Bangingi of Zamboanga, Pilas and Tungkil; the Jama Mapun from Turtle Island, Gagayan de Tawi-tawi and southern Palawan; the Sangil, now of Sarangai province and the coastal areas of Davao del Sur and South Cotabato; the Kaagan of Davao; the Kolibugan in the interior of Zamboanga; the Panimusan of Palawan; and the Molbog of Balabaac islands at the southern tip of Palawan.

According to intelligence reports, the MNLF forces are mostly Tausugs from Sulu and Basilan. The MILF forces are mostly Maguindanaoans and Maranaos. The BIFF forces operate mostly in Maguindanao and Abu Sayyaf forces operate mainly in Jolo and Basilan.


Peace in Mindanao has been a tenuous thing since the Spaniards tried to impose Christianity on the Muslim communities there. Peace became even more tenuous when the national government opened Mindanao up to homesteading and when the government carved up Mindanao into provinces.
Muslim uprisings gave way to a secessionist movement to separate Muslimmajority Moro areas from the rest of the country. They referred to these territory as the Bangsamoro, or the Moro nation. Following the Jabidah Massacre of Muslim troops by government soldiers, Nur Misuari founded the MNLF, which gave rise to the MILF and the Abu Sayyaf in later years. The MILF had a breakaway group, the BIFF.
Through the years, the government has held more than 20 peace talks with the Muslims, but disagreements on the Muslim side and reneging by both the government and Muslims sides caused many peace pacts and ceasefires to fail.

Notable achievements include: the Gaddafi-brokered Tripoli Agreement of 1976, which introduced the concept of an autonomous Muslim region in Mindanao; and the enactment of Republic Act 6734 authorizing the creation of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao in 1989 (although only four provinces opted to be part of ARMM out of the 13 provinces and 9 cities that participated in the plebiscite. The ARMM was formally established in 1990. But some Muslim factions preferred independence to autonomy and continued the fight.

Many presidents in the past have tried to end the Muslim insurgency and bring peace to Mindanao and the process continues in President Duterte’s term. The Final Peace Agreement with the MILF was signed in 1996 in President Ramos’s time. However, President Estrada balked and declared an all-out war agains the MILF and MILF chairman Salamat declared jihad against Estrada’s administration. President Arroyo declared a unilateral ceasefire and during her time, the General Framework for the Resumption of Peace Talks between the government and the MILF was signed. Republic Act 9054[9] lapsed into law in 2001 and the subsequent plebiscite added only Marwi City and Basilan (Excluding Isabela City) to the ARMM.

That year, 2001, the peace process fell apart again when the military attacked the MILF a day after the ancestral domain aspect of the Tripoli Agreement was signed in Libya. This attack was based on intelligence reports that the MILF has been aiding the Abu Sayyaf terrorist group, which at that time held some American and Filipino hostages in Basilan.
Several steps were taken forward and backward in the peace process until an agreement on the Muslim Ancestral Domain was reached in 2008 but the Supreme Court struck it down as unconstitutional. In an effort to salvage the peace negotiations, Arroyo suspended military operations against the MILF in mid-2009. The Second Aquino Administration resumed peace talks with the MILF in 2011 after the rebel group said they were no longer seeking independence, just statedom. But rogue MILF elements ignored the ceasefire and attacked government troops.
On October 15, 2012, the government signed the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro. The culmination of the Aquino Administration's effort to end the deadlock in the peace process, this was what President Aquino tried to save by not attacking the MILF during the Mamasapalan Massacre in 2015.


The Bangsamoro Basic Law was a bill deliberated upon by the 16th Congress of the Philippines which, had it passed, would have established the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region, replacing the current Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).
The BBL would have provided for the basic structure of government for the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region, and enacted the agreements set forth in the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro, signed by the government and the MILF in 2014. The bill was scuttled by the Mamasapano Massacre in 2015.


1. Was the Mamasapano Mission well thought-out and meticulously planned? Why or why not?

2. Based on the film and this teacher’s guide, what were some of the mistakes that could have been avoided and why?

3. What are your thoughts about the SAF main body’s refusal to engage? Were they right not to go into battle to save the 55th? Would you have done the same thing?

4. What are your thoughts about the orders to the generals to stand down and not engage the MILF/BIFF forces in a firefight? Would you have done the same thing?

5. Having gotten them into that predicament (being in the middle of a massacre without military backup) could President Aquino have done more to save the SAF 44? What could he have done to change the outcome?

6. Were the deaths of the 44 SAF troopers justified? Why or Why not?

7. What do you think were the motives of the characters for accepting the mission? Choose three who were involved and speculate.

8. Knowing that death was possible, would you, had you been an SAF trooper, accepted the mission? Why or why not?

9. What is your own definition of heroism?

10. Who would you consider your heroes today?