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Writing Malaysia and the Moro Identity: An Analysis of the Moro National Liberation Front’s Foreign Policy

Malaysia began supporting the MNLF when the group emerged in the 1970s. In recent years, however, the relationship between Malaysia and the MNLF has changed, especially when the MNLF repeatedly expressed negative comments about the Malaysian government. This study aims to explain the shift in the MNLF discourse on Malaysia and the ramifications of this new discourse within the Philippine state. To achieve these aims, this study approaches the issue through the lens of power relations and foreign policy. Moreover, this research employs the analysis of the MNLF’s writings and speeches. Lastly, it argues that the discourse of the MNLF on Malaysia is related to its struggle for legitimacy within the Philippines.

Writing Malaysia and the Moro Identity An Analysis of the
Philippine President Duterte (C) with the MILF chairman Murad Ebrahim (L) during the presentation ceremony of the signed document on the Organic Law for Bangsamoro Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao at Malacanang Palace in Manila. ALJIBE / AFP / Getty I
 

Introduction

The Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), under the leadership of Nur Misuari, started the contemporary Moro rebellion in the 1970s. In its fight against the Philippine state, the group’s early supporter was an external actor, namely, Malaysia. As the Philippine sources reported, Malaysia supplied the Moro fighters with weapons and ammunition to fight the Philippine army.1 There was also evidence that Moro fighters were trained by the Malaysians in Pulau Pangkor and Sabah.2 In addition, Malaysia became the initial conduit for internationalizing the plight of the Moro people and the struggle of the MNLF. In 1972, Tunku Abdul Rahman, then Malaysian Prime Minister and Secretary-General of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), raised the Moro case to the OIC members and convinced them to support it.3 Likewise, Tun Abdul Razak bin Hussein, another Prime Minister of Malaysia, called for the same appeal during the Islamic Summit Conference in Pakistan in 1974. He stated, “We seek to give our Muslim brothers a rightful place in a peaceful world.”4 In the same way, the Moros saw the Malaysians as their natural allies, a perception based on their common ethnic ties.5 Their shared religion served as another factor in establishing close relations.6 Accordingly, their bond served the MNLF in their battle against the Philippine state since it provided international support and legitimacy to the group.

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