The Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (Filipino: 'Nagsasariling Rehiyon ng Muslim sa Mindanaw') (abbreviated ARMM) is the region, located in the Mindanao island group of the Philippines, that is composed of predominantly Muslim provinces, namely: Basilan (except Isabela City), Lanao del Sur, Maguindanao, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi. It is the only region that has its own government. The regional capital is at Cotabato City, although this city is outside of its jurisdiction.
The ARMM previously included the province of Shariff Kabunsuan until 16 July 2008, when Shariff Kabunsuan ceased to exist as a province after the Filipino Supreme Court declared the "Muslim Mindanao Autonomy Act 201", which created it, unconstitutional in Sema v. Comelec. On 7 October 2012, President Benigno Aquino III said that the government aimed to have peace in the region and it will be known as "Bangsamoro".
For the most part of Philippines' history, the region and most of Mindanao has been a separate territory, which enabled it to develop its own culture and identity. The region has been the traditional homeland of Muslim Filipinos since the 15th century, even before the arrival of the Spanish who began to colonize most of the Philippines in 1565. Muslim missionaries arrived in Tawi-Tawi in 1380 and started the conversion of the native population to Islam. In 1457, the Sultanate of Sulu was founded, and not long after that the sultanates of Maguindanao and Buayan were also established. At the time when most of the Philippines was under Spanish rule, these sultanates maintained their independence and regularly challenged Spanish domination of the Philippines by conducting raids on Spanish coastal towns in the north and repulsing repeated Spanish incursions in their territory. It was not until the last quarter of the 19th century that the Sultanate of Sulu formally recognized Spanish sovereignty, but these areas remained loosely controlled by the Spanish as their sovereignty was limited to military stations and garrisons and pockets of civilian settlements in Zamboanga and Cotabato, until they had to abandon the region as a consequence of their defeat in the Spanish-American War.
In 1942, during the early stages of Pacific War (a theater of the Second World War), troops of the Japanese Imperial Forces invaded and overran Mindanao. Three years later, in 1945, combined United States and Philippine Commonwealth Army troops liberated Mindanao, and with the help of local guerrilla units ultimately defeated the Japanese forces occupying the region.
In the 1970s, escalating hostilities between government forces and the Moro National Liberation Front prompted Ferdinand Marcos to issue a proclamation forming an Autonomous Region in the Southern Philippines. This was however, turned down by a plebiscite. In 1979, Batas Pambansa No. 20 created a Regional Autonomous Government in the Western and Central Mindanao regions.
Establishment of the ARMM
The Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao region was first created on August 1, 1989 through Republic Act No. 6734 (otherwise known as the Organic Act) in pursuance with a constitutional mandate to provide for an autonomous area in Muslim Mindanao. A plebiscite was held in the provinces of Basilan, Cotabato, Davao del Sur, Lanao del Norte, Lanao del Sur, Maguindanao, Palawan, South Cotabato, Sultan Kudarat, Sulu, Tawi-Tawi, Zamboanga del Norte and Zamboanga del Sur; and in the cities of Cotabato, Dapitan, Dipolog, General Santos, Koronadal, Iligan, Marawi, Pagadian, Puerto Princesa and Zamboanga to determine if their residents wished to be part of the ARMM. Of these areas, only four provinces - Lanao del Sur, Maguindanao, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi - voted in favor of inclusion in the new autonomous region. The ARMM was officially inaugurated on November 6, 1990 in Cotabato City, which was designated as its provisional capital.
Expansion of ARMM
Prelude to Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain
In 2001 a new law, Republic A 9054, was passed for the expansion of the ARMM. In a plebiscite, Marawi City (situated within Lanao del Sur) and the province of Basilan (excluding Isabela City) opted to be integrated into the region. RA 9054 lapsed into law, without the signature of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.
In 2006, a new province was carved out of Maguindanao: Shariff Kabunsuan, the 6th province of ARMM, joining Maguindanao, Lanao del Sur, Sulu, Tawi-Tawi and Basilan. Massive protests, however, have greeted the move of the GRP and MILF panels in signing a Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain as a majority of the Local Government Units where these Barangays are connected have already opted not to join the ARMM in two instances, 1989 and 2001.
On July 18, 2008, Hermogenes Esperon, "peace advisor" to Philippine President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, in his talks with Moro Islamic Liberation Front rebels in Malaysia, revealed the planned extension of the region. The deal, negotiated in secret talks with the MILF and subject to approval, would give the ARMM control of an additional 712 villages on the south west portion of Mindanao, as well as broad political and economic powers.
Challenge on MOA-AD
On July 16, 2008 Sema v. COMELEC voided the creation of Shariff Kabunsuan, declaring unconstitutional a section in RA 9054 which granted the ARMM Regional Assembly the power to create provinces and cities. Then, on August 4, 2008, after local officials from North Cotabato asked the Court to block the signing of the agreement between GRP and MILF, the Court issued a Temporary Restraining Order against the signing of the Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain (MOA-AD) between the Philippine government and the MILF rebels in Malaysia. Several lawmakers had filed petitions with the Supreme Court to stop the Philippine government from concluding the MOA-AD due to lack of transparency and for MILF's failure to cut ties with the al-Qaeda-linked terrorist network Jemaah Islamiyah, which aims to establish a pan-Islamic state in Southeast Asia using MILF camps in south western Mindanao as training grounds and staging points for attacks.
On October 14, 2008, the Supreme Court of the Philippines, by a vote of 8–7, declared “contrary to law and the Constitution” the Ancestral Domain Aspect (MOA-AD) of the Tripoli Agreement on Peace of 2001 between the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). The 89-page decision, written by Associate Justice Conchita Carpio-Morales ruled: “In sum, the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process committed grave abuse of discretion when he failed to carry out the pertinent consultation process, as mandated by EO No. 3, RA 7160, and RA 8371. The furtive process by which the MOA-AD was designed and crafted runs contrary to and in excess of the legal authority, and amounts to a whimsical, capricious, oppressive, arbitrary and despotic exercise thereof. It illustrates a gross evasion of positive duty and a virtual refusal to perform the duty enjoined.”