By 1912-1913, General Pershing pacified the Moro Islands and built a coalition of tribal and religious leaders while managing to create a Moro central government.
There was an opportunity to create an independent Moro State, separate from the Catholic Philippines during this time. Instead, a serious of inane political moves by Woodrow Wilson’s Administration squandered opportunities and left a miserable political situation in the Moro Province. The US Army did a better job of governing than the President and Congress.
There was another series of developments brought about by the Wilson Administration that affected the entire Philippine Islands. In early April of 1913, he made a controversial statement, “The Philippines are our frontier; I hope that we shall soon be able to deprive ourselves of that frontier.” This was not a new idea, but it was the first time a President had publicly stated that the Philippines were ready for independence. Roosevelt and Taft had earlier agreed that such public statements would “produce a feeling of unrest among the Filipinos” and premature “agitation for immediate independence” so the timing had to be correct. Yet, because of the peculiarities of the Moro Province, home rule would not be extended to the Muslims, but only for the Catholics.
When Wilson initiated the movement towards independence, he may not have realized that Filipino self-rule would undo Pershing’s coalition of loyal datus and a legitimate central government. Wilson wrote that, “every step we take will be taken with a view to ultimate independence of the Islands…” The problem with this statement was that independence was for the Catholic majority, while undoubtedly beneficial for the Catholics, would only create a terrible situation in the Moro Province.
American rule over Muslims, by then tolerable, would be gradually replaced by Catholic rule. The antagonism between the two religious groups should not have been underestimated or ignored.
Past policies prevented any easy solution. Immigration policies since Spanish imperial rule were designed to deliberately distort the Moro Province demographics. The Spanish encourages massive migration of Catholics to the Northern region of Mindanao. The Catholics quickly outnumbered the local Muslims in this region. Immigration was encouraged to obtain workers for rubber plantations and cocoanut groves, as well as to provide a Catholic base of support for both Spanish and American rule. Tens of thousands of Catholics settled in Mindanao. There was also Chinese immigration that fueled violence in the Province. In 1899, the State Department ceded to Chinese requests for open immigration and trade to the Philippines, given the historical ties between the two nations. In the past, Chinese merchants and laborers formed ethnic conclaves in Muslim cities – e.g. the district of Perang in Jolo City – which were frequent targets of Muslim resentment and violence. The Catholics and Chinese comprised much of the Middle Class in the region and their merchants gradually dominated the best trade routes. The Chinese also engaged in much of the regional banking – which caused problems with the Muslims who religiously opposed usury. As American military rule abated, there was an upsurge in unorganized criminal violence between the Muslims and the Catholics and Chinese.
Following the election of 1912, Water Hines Page wrote to President-elect Wilson suggesting that he send investigator to the Philippines to review the colony’s status. Wilson concurred. Henry James Ford, a friend of Wilson’s from Princeton University, made the unofficial tour of the islands. He interviewed a variety of Americans and Filipinos including Emilio Aguinaldo (the former leader of the Filipino Insurrection), and came to favor granting the Filipinos autonomous government similar to the structure of the multilingual Swiss Federation. Before his report was completed, Ford visited the Southern Philippines in April at the height of the Datu Amil rebellion in 1913. He wrote to Wilson, “…my tour [extended]… as far South as Jolo, where I found a very strange situation. The American colony was virtually in a state of siege and we could not go outside the walls without an armed guard….” The general situation of the Philippines struck him as “very grave” and this called for a “remedy” that laid “far more in a change of policy than in a change of men.” He walked into the middle of the prolonged Battle of Bud Bagsak and had absolutely no understanding of General Pershing’s strategy at the time. The Datu Amil rebellion was a rare event, and Pershing’s actions contained the rebellion to just small group. Unfortunately, Wilson’s advisor walked right into the middle of a confusing situation.
The contemporary situation in the Philippines was untenable because there were multiple forms of American government, from the military rule of the Moro Province to shared American rule with the Philippine Assembly in the north. Ford’s report contained few ideas for handling any situation with the Moros. Perhaps this was because his native interviewees were limited to Filipino Catholics with well-known animosity towards the Muslims, and his experience at Jolo City may have confirmed such suspicions. At any rate, his final report viewed the Moros as obstructionists, rather than those who deserved home rule of their own. The Moros, he believed, could not interfere with independence if the Filipino Catholics were sufficiently armed.
(Ford Report to Wilson. The Wilson Papers)
There was a single opportunity to partially rectify the independence situation. In the 1920s, a number of Datus and Muslim civil servants petitioned the U.S. Congress to grant the Moro Province independence as a separate and distinct nation-state from the Catholic Philippines. The Bacon Bill proposed this concept, but was defeated in Congress in 1926.
The Moros would have likely been treated better politically if small groups had not constantly carried out suicide and pirate attacks, enslaved Christians, and beheaded Chinese merchants. They really weren’t a sympathetic lot to be honest.
American policies have to be judged upon their intentions and consequences. The goal of creating a non-tribal self-governing Moro people did not come to pass, and the Catholics became the dominant power in the Moroland instead.
Simultaneous policies that strengthened and weakened datu rulers, while conforming to realities of the region, happened to nullify progress towards the intended form of self-rule. The Moro Province was always treated differently from the rest of the Philippines so its political development lagged behind the Catholics. However, the administrative policies had some successes, namely a reduction and gradual abolition of slavery.
There were only two credible outcomes that would have been beneficial to the Moros. First, a reinstatement of semi-tribal self-rule as existed under the Bates Agreement, but this would have left the region economically and technologically stagnant. The second option, attempted with the Bacon bill, was the creation of a Moro government, either totally independent or at least federally autonomous.
Instead, Congress and Wilson undid all the progress in the Moro Province and handed the region over to the Catholic Filipinos who bitterly hated the Muslims. In the anti-imperialist rush to let go of the Philippines, the American-Moro coalition was replaced by Filipino Catholic imperialism over the Moros. Not unexpectedly, the Muslims would rebel against Catholic rule. And still are today.
The Wilson Papers
The Roosevelt Papers
There’s many more sources, that’s just a sample.