Forgotten Wars, 2

We have forgotten about those wars waged by the United States of America against the sultanates and principalities in Mindanao and Sulu, but to our Muslim brothers and sisters, the historic wounds have not quite healed. In his revealing book, Muslims in the Philippines, Dr. Cesar Adib Majul related how the “Moro Wars” conducted by Spain were not mere posses against Moro pirates, but the systematic destruction of well-organized communities that refused to convert to Christianity.

When it was the USA’s turn, the loss of human lives, cultural and material resources of Mindanao and Sulu was more devastating, as told in Timothy Marr’s The Cultural Roots of American Islamism. Be that as it may, neither imperial Spain nor imperialist America succeeded in totally subjugating the indomitable Filipino Muslims. Yet, both invaders managed to plant the seeds of enmity between Muslim and Christian Filipinos which to this day have prevented people with similar cultural traits from forging a clear national vision.

At the outset, the Muslims in Mindanao and Sulu were indifferent to the Philippine-American War (1899-1913). When American military advisers and personnel ventured down south into their territory, they were courteous and diplomatic. Many datus and sultans even had photos taken with the Americans. The Bates Treaty signed in 1899, stipulated that the American colonial administration would not interfere with Muslim affairs. But, that was shoved aside in 1904, when a Moro Province was created and placed under military control. Muslim Filipinos smelled treachery and resisted so Mindanao became another battlefront, an execrably cruel one. Anti-imperialist Mark Twain denounced American foreign policy and called the military “Christian butchers” and “uniformed assassins.” Needless to say, those inglorious wars had to be erased from both American and Christian Filipino collective memory.

To this day in our country, there are many tales told about how American soldiers called the Muslims “Apaches of the Philippines” , most of those who came to conquer were veterans of the Indian Wars. They gave a twist to Stonewall Jackson’s infamous words: “The only good Moro is a dead Moro.” They shuddered at the thought of engaging “Moro bolo men” in hand-to-hand combat because they were “fanatical”, “amuck”, “juramentado” and continued to slash and kill with their deadly swords even after sustaining several bullet wounds. That was why the .45 automatic Colt pistol was designed by John Browning, the legendary inventor of firearms.

On two occasions, Muslim communities, (men, women and children with their leaders) gathered at the craters of dormant volcanoes to seek refuge from grave threats. Apparently, that was a custom then. In 1906, entire communities trekked to Bud Dajo and upon seeing that mass mobilization, American soldiers rushed to surround the crater and massacre the people there assembled. Their commanding general was Leonard Wood who received salutations from President T, Roosevelt for “…the brilliant feat of arms, wherein you so well upheld the honor of the American flag.” General Wood was later appointed Governor of the Philippine Islands.

Ironically in 1913, after Frank Carpenter, the first American civil governor of the Moro Province offered “peace with honor”, there was a repeat of that unspeakable crime in the Bud Bagsak crater in Jolo. General John Pershing had ordered all Muslims to lay down their arms, but instead, they trekked to Bud Bagsak as an act of resistance. Pershing led the 8th Infantry and Philippine Scouts (mainly Christians) in hot pursuit and killed more than five hundred men, women and children. Fourteen American soldiers perished in that genocidal encounter.

In George Ade’s satirical operetta, “Sultan of Sulu” there are oblique references to those “forgotten wars”. The chorus sang: “We want to assimilate them if we can, the brother who is brown. We love our dusky fellow man and we hate to hunt him down as when we perforated his frame, we want him to be good. We shoot at him to make him tame, if he understands.”

Who remembers? President Rodrigo Duterte did, he reminded us all in September 2016.