MORO, member of any of a number of Muslim communities in the Philippines, speaking Moro or related dialects of the Tagala branch of the Indonesian languages, and living on the islands of the Sulu Archipelago, on southern Palawan, and on Mindanao in the regions of Lake Buluan, Lake Lanao, and the northwestern and western coasts. The Moro are of mixed Malayan stock, with some Arab and Chinese admixture. They are a short, brown-skinned, black-haired people, following an economy based on fishing, some farming, and the manufacture of cloth, brass, and steel. Moro homes, often on or near water, are raised high on poles. The timbers are lashed together with rattan, and the sides and roofs are made of palm leaves sewed together.
The Moro were converted to Islam in the 15th and 16th centuries. Polygamy, sanctioned by their religion, was formerly widespread but is now generally confined to the rulers of the tribes. Slavery was also a recognized institution, the slaves being acquired by raids on neighboring tribes. Local government is patriarchal and is headed by a chief called a sultan. The supreme ruler of the tribes is the sultan of Sulu. At the present time his rule is nominal and does not extend beyond his personal following; he has sworn allegiance to the Republic of the Philippines. According to a recent estimate, the Moro, with other Muslims in the Philippine Islands, number about 3 million.
The Moro have resisted subjugation for centuries. From the 16th to the 19th century they resisted Roman Catholic Spanish conquest; in the first decade of the 20th century they battled against U.S. troops; and since the 1960s they have fought against the government of the Philippines. The main resistance group, the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), was founded in 1968. A tentative agreement offering a large degree of autonomy was reached in 1976, during Ferdinand Marcos's presidency. The MNLF and especially the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), an Islamic fundamentalist splinter group (1978), demanded total independence, and the war continued. A referendum held in 13 provinces and 9 cities in Mindanao in 1989 resulted in the formation of the special autonomous region of Muslim Mindanao, comprising 4 of the 25 provinces. The conflict continued until a peace accord was signed between President Fidel V. Ramos (1928- ) and the MNLF in September 1996, extending the jurisdiction of the MNLF to 9 more provinces; a MNLF-led government, the Southern Philippines Council for Peace and Development, was established. The MILF, however, continued to seek secession from the republic for all Muslim communities in Mindanao and other islands in the southern Philippines.