What are the Causes of the Moro Rebellion?

Following the conclusion of the Philippine-American War, the Moro Rebellion took place. It entailed periodic clashes between American soldiers stationed there to supervise the shift from Spanish administration to US control and the Muslim Filipinos residing in the southern region of the Philippines. The Moro people believed they would be self-governing after the Philippines were freed from Spanish rule. By focusing their battle in the Sulu Archipelago and the island of Mindanao, they opposed the American occupation of the Philippines in 1899.

The Moro Rebellion is among the significant chapters in Philippine history. But what do you think are the causes that led to this rebellion? Understanding the causes of their rebellion is vital for us to further understand what it is all about. For centuries, the rebellion is rooted in various factors that have shaped the grievances and aspirations of the Moro people. These include historical, cultural, economic, political, and security factors. If you are interested to learn more about these, read on as we’re giving you more information about the causes of the Moro Rebellion.

Brief Historical Background of the Moro Rebellion

Christian Filipinos under Spanish army in Mindanao in their battle against the Moro Muslim

For us to fully understand the causes of the Moro Rebellion, it is important to learn about the historical context in which it emerged. The history of the Philippines is marked by different periods of colonization and occupation. Each of them had left their own imprint on the diverse ethnic and cultural landscape of the country.

Before the Philippines was colonized, its southern regions, which were commonly referred to as the Moro-Majority regions, were home to different indigenous communities with diverse cultural identities. They had established trade networks and political structures, and Islam have a significant influence in the region.

When the 16th century came, the colonizers from Spain arrived in the Philippines. They were seeking to expand their influence and spread Christianity. While they were successful in establishing control over much of the country, the Moro people living in the southern regions fiercely resisted Spanish colonization. This was primarily because of their adherence to Islam, their desire to maintain their political autonomy, and their disapproval of Spanish religious conversions.

In 1898, after the Spanish-American War, the Philippines was acquired by the United States from Spain. The colonial period of America introduced a new set of dynamics in the Moro-Majority regions. With this, the Moro people faced new challenges to their autonomy as the American government attempted to exert control over the whole country. During this period, different conflicts and uprisings were seen as the Moros fought against American rule.

The Causes of the Moro Rebellion

Bud Dajo Massacre Trench on Jolo Island

After learning about the historical background of the Moro Rebellion, let us now discuss the different causes that led to it.

Cultural and Religious Factors

One of the things that contributed to the start of the Moro Rebellion has something to do with cultural and religious factors. The Moro people classify themselves as a distinct ethnic group with a shared history, traditions, and cultural practices. Their Islamic faith, which unites the Moro-Majority communities, is a significant part of their sense of identity. The preservation of their cultural history and their aspirations for self-determination have both benefited from this unique identity.

The conflict between the Christian influences brought by Spanish and American colonial powers and the Islamic faith practiced by the Moro population resulted in deep-seated cultural and religious tensions that fueled the rebellion. The Moros’ way of life was challenged by attempts to impose foreign cultural norms and practices, which sparked their opposition and a determination to preserve their religious and cultural identity.

Islam has shaped the social, political, and judicial structures of Moro society, making it distinctive. The Moro people’s communal organization, social cohesion, and government are all supported by the teachings of Islam. They have resisted outside influences largely due to the desire to uphold Islamic ideals and the preservation of Islamic values.

Also, the Philippines is known to be a predominantly Christian country. This fact has often presented challenges for the Moro people. The differences in religious beliefs and cultural practices have contributed to a sense of marginalization and a perceived threat to their way of life. This factor has fueled a sense of cultural and religious identity among the Moro people, which led to demands for recognition and autonomy.

Economic Factors

The Moro people’s complaints and frustrations were also influenced by economic inequalities, land disputes, and restricted economic prospects. Historically, the Moro-Majority regions have experienced lower levels of economic development compared to the other parts of the Philippines. Among the Moro community, differences in infrastructure, access to essential services, and economic possibilities have resulted in a sense of exclusion and inequality.

Land has also been a central issue in the Moro Rebellion. Territories controlled by the Moro people were heavily invaded as colonial powers expanded their influence. Competition for natural resources and economic opportunities, which resulted in the eviction of Moro groups from their traditional lands, increased tensions. Resistance was sparked by the loss of their lands and resources.

The Moro people have long-standing claims to ancestral lands in their regions. However, historical processes like land dispossession, land grabbing, and conflicting land tenure systems, resulted in disputes and conflicts over land ownership and control. These have also increased tensions and fueled the demand for recognition of ancestral domains and the right to self-determination.

Political Factors

A number of important political issues, including marginalization, power centralization, and historical grievances, have also contributed to the rebellion. The Moro people have historically felt marginalized and kept out of Philippine politics.

The dominance and control of the central government over the decision-making procedures have restricted the representation and involvement of the Moros in national politics. The feeling of political disengagement brought on by this marginalization has fostered calls for more autonomy and self-governance.

The suppression of the Moro identity and the loss of political autonomy are two historical grievances that are at the heart of the Moro Rebellion. Long-standing aspirations of the Moro people include self-determination and the preservation of their cultural heritage. Armed groups aiming to resolve these historical grievances have emerged as a result of the history of colonial resistance and the fight for democratic recognition and self-governance.

Security and Armed Conflict

When the Moros resisted American colonization, a series of conflicts began, which was called the Moro Wars. These conflicts culminated in the Battle of Bud Dajo on March 5, 1906. In the said battle, the American military killed hundreds of Moro men, women, and children. This event further increased the resentment of the Moros toward American colonization.

Aside from that, there have been different armed groups that have emerged within the Moro regions, and each has its own motivations and objectives. These groups include the Moro National Liberation Front, or MNLF, and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front or MILF. They have sought to address the political, economic, and cultural grievances of the Moro people. However, their presence has heightened tensions, which led to armed confrontations with state security forces.

Violent acts, like assaults, bombings, and armed conflicts, have been a defining feature of the Moro Rebellion. These incidents have caused fatalities, community uprooting, and infrastructure ruin. Such acts of violence have had a negative impact on the lives and livelihoods of Moro communities, feeding a vicious circle of grievances and prolonging the conflict.

The response of the government of the Philippines to the Moro Rebellion has involved counterinsurgency measures to suppress the armed groups. But these measures have led to human rights abuses, civilian casualties, and a deepening of the division between the state and the Moro population, which exacerbated tensions and prolonged the Moro Rebellion.


The Moro Rebellion in the Philippines indeed has deep-rooted causes that include historical, political, economic, and security factors. Cultural and religious differences are among the most significant causes of the Moro Rebellion.  This reveals the reasons behind the resistance of the Moro people against colonization and their struggle to maintain their autonomy and cultural identity. We hope this post helped you learn more about the causes of the Moro Rebellion.