Interview With Nur

A former high-ranking member of the Moro National Liberation Front, Nur recollected how leaders of the Front collaborated with the Philippine communists and employed Maoist tactics to conduct actions in Mindanao.

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Nur recounts how the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) and the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) began to associate with each other during the Cold War era. The CPP, according to Nur, originally had no intention to recruit the MNLF into its fold. The communists were originally looking for students from the University of the Philippines to join the Kabataang Makabayan. Some of the participants of the Kabataang Makabayan were concurrently active within groups in Mindanao that espoused Moro and Islamic viewpoints respectively. At the same time, many Filipino students had travelled to and studied in the Middle East. Those students were exposed to various Islamic and progressive thoughts, as well as methods by which they could apply those thoughts into social and political movements.  These two groups of FIlipino students eventually came together to form the MNLF

Nur goes on to point out that Maoism was an influential ideational foundation of the secessionist ideology that the MNLF was advancing at the height of the Cold War in the Philippines. Commanders and trainers of the Front had read Mao’s Little Red Book, and attempted to integrate teachings from the Red Book into training their rank-and-file. Nur remarked that Mao, rather than Lenin or Stalin, was the more popular communist figure within the circles of the Islamic secessionist movements in the Philippines. The reason for that laid in how Maoist teachings were seen as more aligned to those of Islam, whereas conventional Marxism was perceived as being diametrically opposed to the religion. As a result of such perceived ideological affinity between Maoism and what the MNLF stood for, many survivors of the Battle of Jolo in 1974 had associated members of the Front as Maoists, instead of associating them with their membership in the Front. Nur was, however, careful to point out that such associations did not necessarily mean that MNLF members were Maoists in any dogmatic sense.

Elgin: Hello? Nur: Hello?

Elgin: Hello, Salaam alaikum. Hello? 

Nur: Hello.

Elgin: Good evening.

Nur: Good evening. So, are you going to interview me?

Elgin: Yes sir.

Nur: Ah okay. Elgin: Can I record our conversation? Sir xxxx shared your story, especially the one on how you had composed the Bangsamoro Hymn. I’m very interested in that, like, how you wrote it. 

Nur: It was made for BARMM (Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao). Ah, the Bangsamoro Hymn.

Elgin: So, it was new, this is one of the highlights of my paper about the relationship of MNLF and the Communist Party of the Philippines. What is the story behind this sir? What is the historical link? What is the history of the connection?

Nur: MNLF and MILF? Elgin: No. It’s CPP – Communist Party of the Philippines and Moro National Liberation Front. 

Nur: Ah! Here’s the story. Previously, the CPP had no orientation and plans (for the Moro). Their students were recruiting for Kabataang Makabayan at the University of the Philippines. 

Elgin: Ah, KM.

Nur: During that time, there were groups that were organizing in Mindanao that had Moro and Islamic points of view. Those students there have Moro orientation.

Elgin: What’s the name of the organization?

Nur: Moro Youth Power.

Elgin: Ah, okay.

Nur: Misuari was one of the leaders of the youth sectors of Moro who joined the Kabataang Makabayan. They don’t have orientation regarding the Moro but they realized how to forward or fight for their rights that were slowly disappearing 

Elgin: Mmm, okay.

Nur: What I’m trying to say is that the CPP helped him realize their objectives. And coincidentally, around the mid-1960s to 1970s, there were Moro students in the Middle East that employed the teaching of Islamic and progressive movement. 

Elgin: Is this related to Nasser of Egypt? Nur: Yes, it’s from Nasser. And also, the case of the Palestinian. They are related to the PLO.

Elgin: Yes. Yes. Palestinian Liberation Organization

Nur: The two groups of students namely those who studied in Manila and those who went to the Middle East formed the MNLF. The MNLF’s ideological line is egalitarian. 

Elgin: Yes.

Nur: Some of Misuari’s perspective came from Mao and Marx

Elgin: Mm-mm. Okay.

Nur: Also, from Engels. Marx. 

Elgin: Yes

Nur: The MNLF’s perspective is egalitarian. Not Marxist, not Maoist but egalitarian Elgin: It’s like the mixture of everything but the center of their ideology is egalitarian? Nur: Yes, yes! There are scholars within the group who don’t agree with each other. For instance, we have Hashim Salamat. If you look at it, he looks at the Bangsamoro as a whole. He wanted to liberate the Bangsamoro. But Salamat has an Islamic perspective. Because of that they formed a group, but they have different points of view. Eventually, both Misuari and Salamat’s groups split.

Elgin: So, it’s like they don’t agree with one another in terms of their struggles? Is that right?

Nur: Yes. They have different foundations of their point of view. That started their decision to split.

Elgin: Yes

Nur: So that split the MNLF in the 70s. 

Elgin: Is that during the time of the Tripoli Agreement?

Nur: Yes

Elgin: So, for Hashim Salamat, he established the MILF because the MNLF was too radical? Nur: Not necessarily because his perspective is Islamic. His perspective came from Islam. They had different ideational foundations. It’s difficult for a group to have different points of views. Every decision starts based on the foundation of their point of view.

Elgin: . So, the basis of their point of view is their respective theories. So, the foundation of their group is very different. 

Nur: At the same time, the CPP had neither position nor views on the Moro. But when they arrived in Davao Oriental, they encountered the MNLF in the hinterland. 


Elgin: Mm, okay.

Nur: That started the Armed Policy on the Moro Struggle which was written by (I think) Jose Maria Sison. They already started their connection with the MNLF despite that it’s not yet strong. By 1976, their connection strengthened although it was not yet formally programmed but their view towards Moro became more open. At the end, the CPP had an armed policy on Moro struggle but there was no formal relation.

Elgin: Based on what I understand, of course the military was getting stronger, and the tendency was that they needed to unite. But they needed to get along together.

Nur: Yes

Elgin: That’s true right? Then they would cooperate with one another so that they could easily defeat the soldiers. They could easily defeat them.

Nur: That happened later.

Elgin: Okay, Sir the next question is more on the ideological aspects of the Muslim secessionist movement. A while ago we tackled its history but right now, we will talk about the ideological link of the MNLF towards Maoism and Marxism especially during the 1970s.

Nur: Actually, the Red Book was read. 

Elgin: Mm, okay okay.

Nur: In South Cotabato, the NPA was organizing in that area. When the NPA encountered the MNLF in their area, they talked about how they were going to help one another. But each of them has different tactics. The MNLF are conventional while the NPA are positional. So, there was a military operation, but many NPA died in the encounter. What was left was their head who was also a former member of Kabataang Makabayan / Nationalist Youth (I think). His name is “Mario” Later on, “Mario” became a member of the MNLF, but he carried his Marxist-Leninist perspectives. 


Elgin: Going back to the Red Book, usually the leaders only read the book? Nur:  During trainings, the MNLF introduced it but the members failed to internalize the teachings. 

Elgin: Is it true that someone was sent to China to train for the MNLF.


Nur: China…

Elgin: Hmm-mm.

Nur: I really don’t know but I’m sure that a training was conducted in Malaysia Elgin: Pero yung alam mo lang is may pinadala sa Malaysia? Nur: Ah, oo, sa Malaysia.

Elgin: Actually Pres. Ferdinand Marcos said, or the Marcos government said in the newspaper that the MNLF sent some of their comrades to China.

Nur: I really don’t know. But those foreign trained rebels, they carried their principles, their strategies and tactics on warfare. That includes the perspectives of Mao. Elgin: Mm.

Nur: Actually, Mao is the most communist here. Lenin and Stalin are not that popular. 

Elgin: Personally, what makes Mao popular? Nur: For Mao, both peasants and workers should be allies. All people should combine their forces. At the same time, other communist movements are urban but Mao focused on armed struggle based on the hinterland Elgin: Is MNLF a combination of Islamic and Maoist?

Nur: Maoist, and egalitarian.Marxism and Islam are diametrically opposite. If you read history, the history of the origin of Prophet Muhammad, you can see that he has many disciplines like “Don’t hurt women''.There are many disciplines that coincides the teachings of Mao and Prophet Mohammed .When I read the War of the Prophet, and read the works of Mao, they are actually parallel to each other. In Cotabato, there was a committee system. During that time, the MNLF was not yet divided. In Tausug, there was no committee system but they had a military structure to organize the committee system just like the National Democratic Front. When the MNLF formed the committee around 1975 and 1976, they created the political bureau and the instructor was former Kabataang Makabayan member Benjie Andong, Vice Chairman for Political Affairs of MNLF here in Cotabato. They have a political bureau that included the teachings of the Five Golden Rays. 

Nur: [Continuation] This was taught in Mindanao particularly the Cotabato Revolutionary Committee. What happened was they recruited political instructors, and because of this, they were not afraid to call out the MNLF group. In the Five Golden Rays, it stressed how to reflect on contradicting ideas. So many saw the wrongdoings of the commanders.

Elgin: So it shows the hypocrisy of the commanders?

Nur: Yes!

Elgin: Wow that’s interesting! So, sir, the assertion is true that there’s a parallel between Islamic and Maoist ideologies because of the teachings of Prophet Mohammad that time is aligned with the struggles of Mao? Nur: You know, Mao read the Quran. He read the experiences of Prophet Mohammad. Before the Long March happened, Mao already knew how the Prophet led the fight of the Arabs that’s why he is successful. So, Prophet Mohammad did something when he departed to Mecca and went to Medina. They established power. This is like the story of Mao when he left the center of power. He was looking for a base that’s outside the center of power. It is like the Long March when a million people died right? Mao then started to expand his influence. Then Mao said, “mobilize the countryside and enter the city and march forward”. They mobilized the people in the periphery then they entered the city. When the Prophet and his people surrounded Mecca, their enemies saw that he mobilized all the tribes, and all types of people. The leader (of their enemies) rattled. He then talked to the Prophet and negotiated to surrender. But here in the Philippines, it’s difficult to materialize it (the tactic) because it’s an archipelago. I saw, in this instance that there’s a mix of perspective of Islam and Marxist-Leninist

Elgin: Okay, I have a last question for you. In the concept of Maoist or activist, because in my interview with survivors of the 1974 Battle of Jolo, especially those who are very old, they don’t use MNLF to refer to the rebels. What they use is Maoist or activist? Who started this label?

Nur: Misuari and other students used these labels.

Elgin: Ah okay, so it’s Misuari.

Nur: When they went to Sulu, they carried the Maoist term. 

Elgin: So yung label talaga nila is mga Maoist kami, parang ganun? So, they carried the Maoist label?

Nur: Not necessarily that they said that they are Maoists. They have trainings and orientation. They would always bring up Maoism, the strategies of Mao which is the most popular in the group. They crafted a united front against the government which is their enemy.

Elgin: So, it means that the label was not used by the MNLF?

Nur: No. But the word Maoist was used because it was first conceptualized in debates (in the struggle of the movement) and Mao is always the model.

Elgin: So, who really labelled the group that they are Maoist? Of course, they know that in their trainings they use Maoist tactics. But the question is, who really labelled them?

Nur: Those labels, they know the theory of Mao and they always talk about these things. To those who knew Mao, they would say that they were Maoist. Many of them were professionals and have studied in schools and they were exposed to the teachings of Mao. But they are not Maoist. People just branded them as Maoists.

Interviewer: Elgin Glenn R. Salomon

Interviewee: Nur

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Transcript Notes


  1. What does Nur’s explanation of the alignments between Muslim secession and the dominant strands of communist thought in Asia show they ways in which people in the Mindanao region understand the ideological dimensions of the Cold War? How did such understanding shape the way they perceived or experienced the Cold War in Asia?