Bud Dajo: Americans, Filipinos, and Moros

The Explainer: Manuel L. Quezon III

Posted at Sep 13 2016 11:17 PM | Updated as of Sep 14 2016 03:05 AM

LAST Monday, President Rodrigo Duterte showed a set of photos, including this picture, to the audience attending a mass oath-taking before the chief executive in Malacañan Palace. It is the story of this battle, the Battle of Bud Dajo,–a massacre, in blunt terms—that President Rodrigo Roa Duterte has brought up time and again, locally and internationally, as the foundation of his argument that the Philippines ought to chart a different course with regards to Philippine-American relations.

Above photo of the aftermath of the Battle of Bud Dajo is from morolandhistory.com, which says, “On January 25, 1907, almost eleven months after the battle, a cropped, black and white copy of the above photograph accompanied an editorial that appeared in the Johnstown (Pennsylvania) Weekly Democrat. 3,000 copies of the article were immediately reprinted by the Anti Imperialist League and mailed out to the press. The above print is from the National Archives and was taken from the original glass plates. The photograph was taken at one of the infamous two trenches at the top of the East Trail. The grim-faced soldiers are from Company B (khaki shirts) of the 6th Infantry and Company D of the 19th Infantry (dark blue shirts). Their leader, Captain Wetherill, stands on the far left (however cropped out of the photo in the newspaper). However by then media interest and public anger had dissipated and attempts to revive the outrage failed.”

The battle took place on March 5-8, 1906, and soon after on March 12, Mark Twain penned a fiercely sarcastic denunciation of what took place:

"The battle began—it is officially called by that name—our forces firing down into the crater with their artillery and their deadly small arms of precision; the savages furiously returning the fire, probably with brickbats—though this is merely a surmise of mine, as the weapons used by the savages are not nominated in the cablegram. Heretofore the Moros have used knives and clubs mainly; also ineffectual trade-muskets when they had any.

"The official report stated that the battle was fought with prodigious energy on both sides during a day and a half, and that it ended with a complete victory for the American arms. The completeness of the victory is established by this fact: that of the six hundred Moros not one was left alive. The brilliancy of the victory is established by this other fact, to wit: that of our six hundred heroes only fifteen lost their lives.

"General Wood was present and looking on. His order had been, 'Kill or capture those savages.' Apparently our little army considered that the "or" left them authorized to kill or capture according to taste, and that their taste had remained what it has been for eight years, in our army out there—the taste of Christian butchers."

The thing is, Mark Twain decided not to publish this essay (it was published in 1924, almost a decade and a half after Twain died). Still, I suggest you read the essay in full, or watch it being read in the clip above; if any American deserves to be held in the affection of Filipinos, Mark Twain is one of them. 

Some additional information to flesh out Twain’s synopsis of events. Bud Dajo is actually a dormant volcano that last erupted in 1897. Gen. Leonard Wood in January, 1906 had decided to take a personal interest in “a considerable number of discontented people” hiding in the dormant volcano; accepting American upon advice of his subordinates in February, he decided to mount a campaign but undertook his preparations in defiance of standing orders from Washington requiring prior clearance for any military campaigns. Arriving in Zamboanga in March, Gen. Wood then ordered an attack on Bud Dajo, with the assault columns leaving Jolo on March 5, 1906. The result was the siege and massacre described by Twain based on official dispatches and press reports. (For a more detailed account of the battle, see Battle of Bud Dajo March 5-8, 1906 in the site morolandhistory.com, in particular the timeline: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, as well as photographs).

The Americans called it the Battle of the Clouds, and the site observes that “notoriety in American military history ranks it beside that of Sand Creek (1864), Wounded Knee (1890), and My Lai (1968)” (all were infamous massacres). The site goes on to note that, “Unlike the other three incidents, the match up at Bud Dajo was not as overwhelmingly lopsided at its inception, nor did lax discipline and control unleash an orgy of sadistic violence, as marked the other three. The resultant massacre at Bud Dajo was a as much as anything the product of moral indifference at the top command level and in part the indiscriminate employment of newer technology, specifically the machinegun. But the result was still the same.” From 700 t 850 Tausugs –men, women, children—were killed; only seven persons (three women and four children) were captured. According to the same site, the Battle of Bud Dajo ignited a fierce controversy in American society, seen in “the news and editorial pages, periodicals, letters from readers, public discussion forums, sermons from the pulpits, parlor room conversations, and even poetry.” The issue only died when the Great San Francisco Earthquake of April 18, 1906 wiped all other stories off the front pages.

Another battle at Bud Dajo took place between the Americans and the Tausugs in 1911. As late as 1913, there would be another battle, at Bud Bagsak.

And yet, by 1945, the same Tausugs who had been defeated twice in Bud Dajo were fighting with the Americans –against the Japanese—in what would be a victory for the Moro guerrillas and American troops.

How did this come to be? 

The Mindanawon historian Patricio Abinales –co-author of State and Society in the Philippines, the best single-volume introduction to our history and development of our nation—argued in an essay titled “Re-constructing Colonial Philippines: 1900-1910,” that the “territorial reality” of what we now know as the Philippines was the result of American rule. Abinales pointed out that by the first decade of American rule, Filipino leaders had “proved within a short period of time that they had the ability to be equally adept at governing the colony. In its first year at work, the Philippine Assembly had already shown a marked adeptness in introducing additional provisions or new amendments to existing colonial laws, and in negotiating with the Philippine Commission and the Governor General over matters of policy formulation, funding and government personnel changes.” But, he also pointed out,

"This type of political and administrative consolidation however was only happening in one part of the colony—the 'Christian' Filipino dominated 'lowlands' in Luzon, the Visayas and northern Mindanao. In the other half of the colony, the U.S. army administered the 'special provinces' on the grounds that their population—the so-called 'non-Christian tribes'—were more backward than the Filipinos and were prone to more 'warfare.' The Americans saw their 'civilizing mission' as special given that the underdeveloped character of the Cordillerans and Muslims required a longer time for them to become familiar with self-government. They also had to be thoroughly 'pacified.'

"Surprisingly, the pacification process was fast and relatively easy. There was hardly any resistance from the various indigenous communities in the Cordilleras, while Muslim resistance was scattered and unsustained. At the middle of the first decade, the Cordilleras and 'Moro Mindanao' had become very stable and peaceful areas.

"A major reason for the American success was the cooperation extended by Muslim and Cordilleran leaders to the Americans. They regarded colonial rule as a means of protecting themselves against Christians and 'lowlanders.' American military officials reciprocated this cooperation by resisting the efforts of Filipinos to extend their power to the 'special provinces.' A working relationship eventually developed between these community leaders and the Americans whereby the former were given minor posts in the provincial government ('tribal wards' in the case of the Muslims) in exchange for agreeing to recognize American sovereignty. U.S. army officers who administered these areas also became their protectors against Filipino leaders, doing everything they can to limit the presence of Manila and the Nacionalista party in the Cordilleras and 'Moro Mindanao.'

"The only major resistance came from the Muslims at the hills of Bud Dajo and Bud Bagsak, when the army declared a ban on weapons and raised head taxes. American military superiority prevailed and over a hundred Muslim men, women and children were killed. Politically, however, these actions eroded the army’s standing and opened up an opportunity for Quezon to attack military rule in Mindanao. After the massacres, the army was forced slowly to concede authority to Manila and the Filipinos. The army’s powers were also clipped once the U.S. Congress authorized its partial demobilization, and once the American president ordered its withdrawal from the special provinces and its replacement by Philippine Constabulary units. Many American officers also preferred to continue their military careers in the U.S. mainland, seeing very little prospects in just limiting themselves to the Philippines. All these problems emboldened the Filipinos to assert their political presence in these special provinces. This was something that a weakened military government could not repulse anymore. In 1913, the army conceded its power to the Department of Mindanao and Sulu, a body controlled from Manila and by Filipinos. The Cordilleras’ status as a special province was also terminated and the Nacionalista Party began recruiting its first 'Cordillerans' to join the organization."

In other words, the flipside of American conquest was American attraction of, leading to cooperation with, their former foes. This put the Moros in a ticklish spot, to put it mildly. A very illuminating quote I’ve referred to time and again comes from Teodoro M. Kalaw, circa the 1920s:

"The Wood-Forbes Mission arrived in Manila in May [1921], and was received with some apprehension…

"Many anecdotes were told about this trip…

"In Mindanao, an officer with the Mission approached a Moro and asked him his opinion of the political situation. The Moro answered him: 'No, no, I do not want to say a word. If I say I like independence, the Americans get sore. And if I say I do not like independence, the Filipinos get sore. I say nothing.'

This was the period when a proposal was made in the U.S. Congress to separate Mindanao from the rest of the Philippines (in 1916, American policy had committed to eventual independence for the Philippines, but at an indefinite time in the future).

To cut a long story short, with separation from the rest of the Philippines under the auspices of the Americans closed off, the alternative proposed by Christian Filipino leaders was for traditional, hereditary Moro nobility to become local and then national, leaders, thus integrating them into the broader national political class. 

This arrangement held sway from the time of the Commonwealth to the era of Student Radicalism when a new generation of young Moros, influenced by the influx of Christian settlers and their land-grabbing in Mindanao, and inspired by the secular nationalism of leaders such as Gamaliel Nasser of Egypt, decided the old Moro datus and sultans turned senators, congressmen, governors and mayors, were out of touch and that a secular, national Bangsamoro identity should replace that of being Muslim Filipinos.

Still, there seems to have been friendly ties with the Americans: as shown by their placing great faith in Moros as guerrillas fighting with Americans against the Japanese. Faith borne out, as mentioned above, in the 1945 Battle of Bud Dajo against the Japanese.

An echo of this old relationship, and the old divisions of colonial days, can be found in an interesting letter of fairly recent vintage. On January 20, 2003, the late Hashim Salamat wrote a letter to then-President George W. Bush:

"Your policy to consider the Philippine archipelago as an unincorporated territory of the United States paved the way for the US Government to administer affairs in the Moro territories under a separate political form of governance under the Moro Province from the rest of the Philippine Islands.

"Your project to grant Philippine independence obliged the leaders of the Moro Nation to petition the US Congress to give us an option through a referendum either by remaining as a territory to be administered by the US Government or granted separate independence 50 years from the grant of Philippine independence. Were it not for the outbreak of the Pacific War, the Moro Nation would have been granted trust territory status like any of the Pacific islands states who are now independent or in free association with the United States of America.

"On account of such circumstances, the Moro Nation was deprived of their inalienable right to self-determination, without waiving their plebiscitary consent. Prior to the grant of Philippine independence on July 4, 1946, American Congressional leaders foresaw that the inclusion of the Moro Nation within the Philippine Commonwealth would result in serious conflicts in Mindanao, Sulu and Palawan, arising from the inability of the Filipino leaders to govern the Moro people. This condition or states of affairs have continued to prevail to the present day.

"In view of the current global developments and regional security concerns in Southeast Asia, it is our desire to accelerate the just and peaceful negotiated political settlement of the Mindanao conflict, particularly the present colonial situation in which the Bangsamoro people find themselves.

"We are therefore appealing to the basic principle of American fairness and sense of justice to use your good offices in rectifying the error that continuous to negate and derogate the Bangsamoro People’s fundamental right to seek decolonization under the United Nations General Assembly Resolution 1514 (XV) of 1960. For this purpose, we are amenable to inviting and giving you the opportunity to assist in resolving this predicament of the Bangsamoro People."

It would be wrong to confuse this appeal for American intervention for actual affection or even warmth; whether Moro or Christian, Filipinos can be over-the-top (or as Americans might put it, we can lay it on thick) when it comes to buttering-up potential allies. Nor should we ignore that being aggressive towards allies is one of the (more blunt) instruments of statecraft: after all, June 12 as independence day instead of July 4, was selected in anger over American foot-dragging over benefits due our World War II veterans (supporting arguments from historians followed, of course). President Macapagal was angry and decided to change our independence day, and to this day it is counted as one of his administration’s enduring legacies.

They say all politics is local; and that includes foreign policy. The distant past can become an instrument on the basis of the more recent past, becoming a complicated mashup in the present.

And so, while bringing up the turn of the 20th Century, the President’s motivations as far as wanting to put the Americans in their place (generally a crowd-pleaser in certain circles) seems to have a far more recent, and not particularly Moro, origin. In his September 13 column, Rafael Alunan III wrote,

"I’ve been trying to figure out why President Rodrigo Duterte has a seeming dislike for the American government, and I think I’ve stumbled onto something.

"To refresh our memory, President Duterte took US Ambassador to the Philippines Philip Goldberg to task for his comments, tantamount to interference in domestic affairs. Ambassador Goldberg spoke during the campaign in relation to President Duterte’s remarks about an Australian missionary he tried to rescue when he was Davao City’s mayor from hardened convicts attempting a prison break. The President said Ambassador Goldberg had no business giving those remarks to which he has not apologized.

"Most recently, just before flying to Laos, he cussed in anger when a Reuters reporter asked him what his reaction would be if President Barack Obama would bring up to him the issue of human rights. The press twisted that cuss to say that he called President Barack Obama a “son of a whore.” It disrupted diplomatic relations and led to the cancellation of a meeting between the two heads of state…

"At one of the meetings in Laos, he [i.e. the President] presented American human rights violations during the Philippine-American war. He was just getting started but had to stop because he only had six minutes to speak. In a subsequent press conference, the President pointed out the Philippines’ independent foreign policy. That policy is stated in the 1987 Philippine Constitution.

"In the course of my search, I stumbled onto a blog that might shed light. It dates back to 2002 involving a certain Michael Meiring, a suspected CIA agent, who had ties with Muslim militants. He was reportedly assigned to the NBI’s Interpol section and resided mostly in Davao. He developed close ties with MNLF Chairman Nur Misuari; MILF Chief Hashim Salamat; NPA leader Father Frank Navarro; MNLF Commander Tony Nasa and others in Cotabato who fronted for him before the Abu Sayyaf.

"In May 2002, Meiring injured himself and blew up part of his legs while making a bomb in his room at the Evergreen Hotel in Davao. He was charged for illegal possession of explosives. NBI found a fax in his room from London, England, warning him that he should be careful handling the explosive material. He was flown to Manila for additional medical treatment. The FBI took custody of Meiring and flew him out of the country.

"Two months before the explosion that cost him both legs, there were several other explosions in the same region, killing 37 people and injuring 170 more. Duterte was Davao City Mayor at the time, a year after 9-11. America, allegedly, wanted the Philippines to be part of the coalition on the war on terror by pushing it closer to the US after losing its bases in 1991. It covertly assisted insurgent groups to perform terroristic acts to attain the desired results. Black ops allow for deniability. It was also possible that Meiring had gone dark -- rogue -- playing a double, even triple, game to also earn big bucks for himself.

"The blog further said that Duterte is still angry about the whole Meiring episode and how the FBI rescued the CIA operative from the Philippine criminal justice system to avoid exposing the plot. He said that his “hatred” for the US was a “personal” sentiment that he could set aside in the national interest.” Duterte was quoted to have said:

“When a bomb exploded at the airport and followed by another explosion at the wharf several months after the hotel explosion that injured Meiring, that was when I started suspecting that the US could have had a hand in the said explosions. My suspicion was fueled when a military officer declared in public that the CIA have connections with known terror groups here.”

In recent days, of course, the President (and the Presidential Spokesperson) have expounded on Bud Dajo as an example of American hypocrisy, how “American forces must go,” (but that’s just a warning, clarified the Presidential Spokesperson) while the President most recently (Tuesday) clarified, in turn, that even as he wants a more independent foreign policy, “we are not going to cut our umbilical cord with the countries we are allied now.” Absent, up to this point, are Moro voices and opinion on the matter.

Additional readings:

This entry is based in part on my Storify presentation, Writings on Mindanao and Peace, which contains most of my writings on Mindanao.

. See in particular, Repulsion and Colonization, from 1996; and my timeline, North Borneo (Sabah): An annotated timeline 1640s-present (2013). 

Visit and explore morolandhistory.com. Read the speech of the Sultan sa Ramain (Alauya Alonto) in the 1934 Constitutional Convention. Contrast this with this article by Abhoud Syed M. Lingga written in 2002. See also The State-Moro Armed Conflict in the Philippines: Unresolved national question or question of governance? By Rizal G. Buendia in 2005.

A sampling of Patricio Abinales’ writings on Muslim and Christian Mindanao: “Mohagher Iqbal, the author,” Part 1 and Part 2; The American disconnect in Moro Mindanao (connected to this is Maria Ressa’s overview of The US in PH anti-terror campaigns, 2015); “Distorting Moro Mindanao,” Part 1 and Part 2, and It’s borders with long(er) histories, stupid.

(Editor's note: Manolo Quezon III returns to ABS-CBN News Channel as "The Explainer." He will be writing a weekly blog for news.abs-cbn.com on history, politics, and other topics. "The Explainer" was a weekly show he hosted before joining the Aquino administration in 2010. He served as Undersecretary of the Presidential Communications Development Strategic Planning Office until June 2016.) 

Disclaimer: The views in this blog are those of the blogger and do not necessarily reflect the views of ABS-CBN Corp.