Interview With Al Caluang

Al Caluang discusses his experience fighting for the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, including how he was sent to places like Malaysia, Cuba and Angola to train how to mount resistance operations.

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Al Caluang, a former MNLF commander, was part of the original ninety members who had received intensive military training in Pangkor Island, Malaysia. As part of the Third World movement, he recalled that many Arab countries like Libya supported the cause of the MNLF. Through collection of tax (via zakat), these countries financially supported the secessionist movement. The MLNF’s belief in secession and liberation emerged as a result of repeated foreign invasions by the Spanish, Americans, and the Japanese. Such a belief only became stronger during the Kamlon rebellion in the post-war period. The MLNF’s ideology was rooted on the core intertwining elements of the movement: Hula, Bangsa, and Agama (1). The rebels believed in the mantra: “victory to the graveyard”-- that means that they are ready to die for their principles. 

After Al Caluang returned from Pangkor, he was sent to Cuba to participate in another training in 1971. “The MNLF asked me to retrain in Cuba on communicating effectively to the masses and how to recruit them to join the movement. I joined the training because it was very difficult for us to convince them to join the armed rebellion”, said Caluang (2). The Cuban government welcomed him in the country. For three months, he learned rural and urban warfare under the supervision of a general close to the command of Fidel Castro. 

He and his fellow dissidents from Asia, Europe, Middle East, and Africa went to Angola to put to “actual test” their guerilla skills against the British-backed government Angolan military units (3). Caluang mentioned that he volunteered to go to Angola to witness and apply the tactics employed by the rebels. “For one-month-long skirmishes, we tasted all the way the bloody rage with the British patrol groups. The Angolan blacks on our side displayed their goriest temper of chopping into gristly parcels the alive British mercenaries with sharp bolos. Some British fighters caught in the ambush blew up their own heads before the chanting blacks cut them into pieces in a barbaric ritual”, Caluang said in his previous interview with the Mindanao Observer, a local press in the island of Mindanao (4).

After immersing himself in the war in Angola, he immediately went back to Mindanao and applied what he learned from the training. He trained his MNLF comrades. After the declaration of martial law, his name was “blacklisted” by the military. Because of threats on his life, he immediately surrendered to the government.


Interviewer: Elgin Glenn R. Salomon

Interviewee: Al Caluang

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Transcript Notes

(1) Hula means homeland or territory of the Moros (Mindanao and Sulu archipelago) where they are obliged to defend it from the invaders including the Philippine state. (2) Bangsa refers to the nation or group of people that were bonded together due to the commonality of their culture and traditions (in this case the Bangsamoro) which distinguished them from other groups in the Philippine archipelago, and (3) Agama connotes religion where Islam should be preserved and freely exercised without prejudice against other faith and indigenous culture within the homeland.

(2) Al Caluang, in discussion with the authors (via call) January 29, 2023.

(3) Rene Y. Daymiel,” MNLF commander meets folks here” Mindanao Observer, July 23, 1981, 4.

(4) Ibid., 5.

  1. How did Al Caluang’s experience as a rebel fighter influence the way he perceived the Cold War in the Philippines? How do you think his training in Cuba and exposure to conflict in Angola shape the way he understood the Cold War?