Some Moro tribes on Sulu island continued resistance against American rule for over a decade of on and off fighting. The Americans used a lot of “soft power” through markets and religious influence to calm the population. In particular, the US relied on the Sultan of Sulu as a spiritual leader of the Muslims. The US also contacted the Ottoman Empire and receive the Turkish Caliph authorization to rule over Muslim people.
1905 marked a pivotal year for the Moros’ legal status. The Taft Commission Report for that year stated that the Moros needed a “substantially uniform” criminal law, but considered the Moros “below [the Filipino Catholics] in capacity for civil governmental capacity.” This gave new authority to the military administration to take over policing duties and force all datus to standardize their laws and customs. The Philippine Constabulary, made up of Filipino policemen with American officers, began patrolling the islands and took over many of the duties previously performed by local datus. Such patrols would cover the entire Province by 1909.
At this point, the United States used the Sultan of Sulu to legitimize direct American rule. The Sultan, despite no longer having temporal powers, claimed spiritual leadership over the Moros and was employed by the Americans to quell fears and potential rebellions. This gave the Americans greater leverage over recalcitrant datus than sheer military force, but it was hard to quantify how much influence.
There were two significant outbreaks of violence on Jolo Island in 1906 and 1913.
The Battle of Bud Dajo of Jolo Island in 1906 was one of two major battles during these “Moro Wars.” Most of the prior fighting could be written off as skirmishes between disgruntled datus, “pirates” and “bandits” but Bud Dajo was a much larger battle where over 600 Moros died, including some women and children. There was a firestorm of protests in the US anti-imperialist movement that culminated in the early withdrawal of General Wood. General Wood was somewhat imperious and aggressive in his dealings with Moro rebels and bandits so he made an easy target for the anti-war movement. Political pressure mounted and he was removed from the theater.
Before leaving, Wood consulted with the Sultan of Sulu about the effects of Bud Dajo and policing:
Sultan of Sulu: It will be a very good idea if there is any more trouble among the Moros to let the chief and head-men get together and have a conference, and put it down themselves.
Wood: That is a very good idea indeed. I think that the sight of the sultan… carrying out the law… would have a fine effect here.” (The Wood Papers, Stenographic report, 13 April 1906.)
General Bliss was subsequently appointed the new governor of the Moro Province. He immediately added hundreds of Moros to the Philippine Constabulary. These new Moro policemen took over the law enforcement role traditionally reserved for datus. The Sultan of Sulu really intended for a return to tribal autonomy over police and military matters, not more Moro faces in carrying out American rule.
Bliss’s approach was an intermediary strategy between Wood’s strong handed militarism and datu desires for autonomy. Military force was curtailed and largely replaced with more negotiations and the beginnings of an attempt to create a centralized “Moro” government consisting of non-tribal “civilized” Moro civil servants, like those in the Constabulary and new legal courts. In part due to his cautious and reasonable approach, there were no major rebellions during this period.
After a decade away from the Philippines, John Pershing returned as a newly promoted Brigadier General in 1909. He replaced General Bliss as the Governor General of the Moro Province. By this time, there was a significant presence of Moro Constabularies and trained civil servants. Pershing initiated additional legal reforms. Before Pershing arrived, there were problems with the new central government which was causing tension in the Moro community. The Insular Court created by Wood was incapable of trying all criminals on a timely basis and the only option for appeals was to the Catholic dominated Court in Manila. Pershing replaced this clunky system with a more flexible and decentralized district court system that gave greater authority to the American district governors and Moro leaders. The new Moro police forces and increased local participation in the court system provided a foundation for a national rather than tribal self-rule. At the same time, it allowed former tribal leaders to ease themselves into new positions of authority. Pershings reforms were less disruptive than previous governors.
The Province remained peaceful with few notable incidents until January of 1913. Datu Amil, a particularly powerful chief, led a large revolt and defeated detachments of the Philippine Scouts and Constabulary before taking refuge in the fortifications on the Bud Bagsak volcano. [I described the Battle of Bud Bagsak in more detail here]
Amil’s forces were well armed with rifles and dynamite and had adapted to modern warfare – e.g. they learned to dig trenches to survive artillery bombardments.
Pershing relied heavily on the soft-power influence of the Sultan of Sulu and refused to immediately attack the rebel forces. General Pershing besieged the fortifications in February, and after negotiations with the Sultan of Sulu, the rebels returned to their homes. This was a short-lived development and Amil’s rebels soon put Jolo City under siege in April. American reinforcements drove the rebels back to Bud Bagsak, where Amil was defeated by June. The Sultan, evidently, proved to be of some worth in suppressing the rebellion. War Department officials accredited him as an “influencial ally… and has been a potent factor in restraining the lawless element.” The initial size of the rebellion was reportedly up to 2,000 in size, but by the time of the final battle months later, Amil had only 500 loyal men at his side. This was partly due to the efforts of the Sultan, loyal datus, and religious leaders in winning over the wavering and non-committed rebels.
The cause of this large-scale rebellion on Jolo Island was the Disarmament policy, which forced all Moros to surrender their firearms. This removed the last vestiges of datu ruling power as well as reducing the means with which to resist American rule. General Bell’s message to the War Department provided a succinct summary of the rebellion. “Amil and a relatively small following,” he began, “refuse to give up arms peacefully. Disarmament generally desired by Moros themselves. All the rest surrendered arms months ago without resistance.” In the Army’s view, it was unfair to disarm some Moros and leave them to the mercy of armed Moros. Disarmament had to be universal, and Datu Amil’s refusal had to be punished.
Military power put down the revolt on Jolo, as it had in the past, but there were diplomatic and cultural policies that helped prevented further rebellions.
By April of 1913, Americans changed strategy in legitimizing their rule over the Muslim population. The first attempt at using the local Sultan of Sulu was only semi-consequential, in part because the Americans did not fully respect Islamic practices or law. The new administration of Woodrow Wilson joined with the local leaders, Major Finley, who was the Jolo Island district governor, and General Pershing in implementing new policies designed to subdue the Muslim anger. The new policy centered around two main objectives, first to show greater respect and accommodations for Islam, and second, to obtain more authority to rule. In this bid to attract more support, Finley arranged transportation to Mecca to reward loyal datus with the Islamic pilgrimage. The Sultans of Sulu had garnered much of their prestige because they alone had the personal wealth to make the expensive pilgrimage to Mecca as well as a political visit to the Ottoman Sultan in Istanbul. The idea was to extend that privilege to all loyal pro-American datus and religious leaders as a bargaining chip. Going back to the “pyramidal power structure” and the emphasis on genealogy and accomplishments, the pilgrimage was a major factor in gaining prestige for religious leaders. The nature of this deal would grant symbolic and spiritual power for pro-American leaders over those who encouraged resistance.
But more importantly, Major Finley was commissioned by President Wilson and Secretary of War Henry Stimson to travel to Istanbul and meet with the Ottoman Sultan. This was arranged by Ambassador Rockhill. The visit was “unofficial” but produced the desired results:
It is understood that Major Finley is carrying back to the Philippines with him a letter to the Moros from the Sultan, which urges them to obey the laws of the United States and counsels them to send their children to the many excellent schools provided to them, to stop drinking in compliance with the mandates of the Koran, and to try in every way to learn the ways of the civilized Americans who have cast in their lot with them. (New York Times. “Ask Sultan’s Aid to Civilize Moros” 4 May 1913)
In addition to granting legitimacy to American rule, the sultan provided for Ottoman preachers to go to the Moro Province. The Turkish ulema would not urge the use of jihad or juramentado attacks as part of the deal.
Smythe, Donald. Guerrilla Warrior: The Early Life of John J. Pershing. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1973.
Hegedorn, Hermann. Leonard Wood: A Biography New York: Harper and Brothers Publishers, 1931.
The Wood Papers
Most biographies of John Pershing deal with his early career too.