100 Years of Moro Resistance: A Chronology of Historical Events

Madge Kho is a native of Jolo of Chinese descent who now lives in Somerville, MA., USA. She is interested in anything about "Jolo" or "Tausug" and compiling information on the Chinese population of Jolo. (Photo is a collage taken from the Sulu Exhibit at the Institute of Islamic Studies library.)

January 23, 1878 

Sultan of Sulu, Jamalul Azam, leases North Borneo (Sabah) to Baron Gustavo Von Overbeck, of the British North Borneo Chartered Company, with an annual payment of $5,000. (SZ, p. 134. Wright, The Origins of British North Borneo, pp. 148-154, K.B.. Tregoning, A History of Modern Sabah, 1881-1963, pp. 13-29). This was to prevent the northeast coast of Borneo from falling into Spanish hands. This caused much alarm to the Spaniards as this gave Baron Gustavo Von Overbeck the title of Rajah of Sandakan and Datu Bandahara, and absolute power over the people of the area. 

The English translation of the document said “grant” whereas the Tausug version used the word “pajak” which means lease. The lease money stopped at some point after the death of Jamalul Kiram in 1936. 

On the Philippine side, Quezon refused to recognize a successor to the sultanate because he said it was incompatible with the notion of sovereignty (Noble, page 36-37). The Philippine government even sent a letter to the British Consul in Manila that it had decided not to recognize the "continued existence of the Sultanate." 

The niece, Dayang Dayang Hadji Piandao Kiram and 8 other relatives sued the government of North Borneo (This was, at the time, only a charter of the British Crown. It came under British rule after 1946). The government did not challenge the suit once it was clear that the plaintiffs were merely interested in resumption of the payments and not in reopening the issue of sovereignty and ownership. 

July 22, 1878 

Last treaty signed by Sultan Jamalul Alam with Spain. This treaty had the same translation flaws as the one entered into in 1851, where the Spanish version stated it had sovereignty over Sulu whereas the Tausug version described the relationship as being a protectorate rather than a dependency and Sulu customs, laws, religion were not subject to Spanish jurisdiction. The differences are material and would have repercussions in 1899 in the territories that Spain ceded to the U.S. (Treaties and Other International Acts of USA, edited by Hunter Miller, Vol. 4, 1836-1846, p. 355; also History of Sulu by Najeeb Saleeby, pp. 124-129). 

This treaty made Jolo a sort of protectorate of Spain (Muslim in the Philippines, Cesar Majul, p. 299) while retaining a great deal of autonomy. The Sultan didn't have much interest in Jolo at this point and relocated his seat to Maimbung. 

December 10, 1898 

Treaty of Paris was signed between Spain and the United States ceding the whole Philippine archipelago (including Mindanao and Sulu) in exchange for $20,000,000. 

May 1, 1899 

Spaniards departed Jolo and on the same day Americans occupied Jolo. When the Spaniards left, the Sultan thought that the town of Jolo would again be in their hands. But the Americans told the Sultan that they were now in charge. The Americans demanded that the Sultan renew the terms of the July 22, 1878 Treaty with Spain only this time substituting the U.S. for Spain. The Sultan refused. The U.S. had no idea that the treaty was merely the Sultan's modus vivendi with Spain, whose presence the Moros barely tolerated. General Bates enticed the Sultan telling him that it would be to his interest to be associated with a rich and powerful country like the U.S. The Sultan was said to have asked Bates, "Why is it that if your country is so rich and powerful would you want a place like ours?" (Vic Hurley, Swish of the Kris) 

August 9, 1899 

The Sultan, after feigning illness for some time, finally presented a "16-point proposal" to the Americans. According to Vic Hurley, prior to the Sultan's gesture, there was a great deal of preliminary discussions and numerous attempts by the Tausugs to frighten the American occupants. Among the key terms of the proposal were recognition of the sovereignty of the Sultanate and that the U.S. was not to sell Jolo to any other nation without consulting the Sultan. 

August 20, 1899 

General Bates rejected the Sultan's "16-point proposal" because it did not recognize American sovereignty. He countered with a 15-point proposal which Sultan Jamalul Kiram II hesitantly signed with Gen. John C. Bates. (Bates Treaty or Senate Document No. 136, 56th Congress, lst Session, Serial 3851). A very critical error of translation exists in this treaty. The Tausug version states "The support, aid, and protection of the Jolo Island and Archipelago are in the American nation," whereas the English version read: "The sovereignty of the United States over the whole Archipelago of Jolo and its dependencies is declared and acknowledged." The word "sovereignty" was not used anywhere in the Tausug version (Peter Gowing, Mandate in Moroland. The American Government of Muslim Filipinos 1899-1920, p. 122). 

Among the other terms of the treaty were: 

  1. Non-interference with religion, social and domestic customs or internal economic or political affairs of Moros unless requested to do so. 
  2. The U.S. was not to give or sell Sulu or any part of it to any other nations. 
  3. Continuation of the $250.00 monthly allowance that was initiated by the Spaniards. 
  4. Slaves allowed to purchase their freedom. 

It was obvious that the U.S. signed this peace treaty as a way of stemming any resistance to its occupation in the South while it was suppressing the resistance in the north. 

According to Sixto Orosa, the District Health Officer in Sulu during the American occupation "The people did not wish to come under American sovereignty; but Hadji Butu, 'recognizing the folly of armed resistance,' exerted all his influence to prevent another useless and bloody war" (The Sulu Archipelago and Its People, Sixto Orosa, p. 108-109) . 

November 7, 1900 

The U.S. pays Spain another $100,000 to incorporate the islands stretching as far as Sibutu to Cagayan de Sulu. The southernmost outlying islands of the Philippines--Turtle Island and Taganak were incorporated at a much later time period. They were part of the territories originally "ceded" (leased according to Tausug translations of the documents) by the Sultan Jamalul Alam to the North Borneo Company since 1763. 


"Policy of Disarmament" implemented by Gen. John "Black Jack" Pershing met with resistance that culminated in the Battle of Bud Dajo on March 7, 1906 

May 2, 1902 

First recorded pitched battle fought between Americans and Moros when the Americans took the Moro cottas, or forts, of Binadayan and Pandapatan in Lanao under the command of Col. Frank D. Baldwin (Muddy Glory, Russell Roth, p. 26). 

July 4, 1902 

President Theodore Roosevelt issued a presidential proclamation formally ending the Philippine "Insurrection" covering only the Independence War or the "Christian Front". In its second preamble, the proclamation reads: 

"Whereas, the insurrection against the authority and sovereignty of the United States is now at an end, and peace has been established in all parts of the archipelago except in the country inhabited by the Moro tribes, to which this proclamation does not apply;" 

This proclamation also suggest that there was an on-going war in Morolands at the time the proclamation was given and that the U.S. had not been able to contain it. Moreover, this proclamation also leaves no doubt to the fact that the U.S. had implemented a "divide and conquer" strategy in conducting the colonial war, thus creating the "Muslim Moro Front" as the second front of the war that would last longer than the Christian front. By mere happenstance, it would seem to appear as if the U.S. had waged a religious war in the Philippines --against the Christians and the Muslims, one after another. 

June 1, 1903 

Creation of the Moro Province, of which Sulu was a part under Gen. Leonard Wood, the first governor of that province. 

Gov. Gen. Wood imposed a head tax of P2 for each person. This created resentment and dissatisfaction among the Tausugs which led to a series of Cotta (trench) wars against the Americans led by Panglima Hassan (Orosa, p. 37). Among the best known are Bud Dajo and Bud Bagsak massacres.

September 2, 1903 

Moro Province Legislative Council was organized. 

March 2, 1904 

The U.S. unilaterally abrogates the Bates Treaty, upon recommendation of Moro Province Governor Wood, for two main reasons: the Sultan’s failure to quell Moro resistance and the treaty's hindrance to effective colonial administration of the area. Payments to the Sultan also stopped. 

April 1904 

The Sultan protests the unilateral abrogation of the Bates Treaty. He argues that he couldn’t stop the Moro conflict against the Americans because the U.S. had imposed poll and land taxes on the population, a practice which the Moros were not used to. He urged the Americans not to "put yokes on our necks that we cannot bear, and don’t make us do what is against our religion and don’t ask us to pay poll tax forever and ever as long as there is sun and moon, and don’t ask taxes for land which are rights of the Moro people, including all that grows (is planted) in Jolo and its islands" (Letter to Gov. Gen, Luke Wright in Peter Gowing, p. 350-351) . 

November 12, 1904 

U.S. Philippine Commission restores annual payments to the Sultan and his advisers. 

March 5-7, 1906 

"Death List is Now 900", blazed the headline announcing the massacre at Bud Dajo where General Wood ordered his men to "Kill or capture those savages." Of the 1,000 men, women and children who fortified themselves in the 50 ft. deep crater atop this mountain six miles east of Jolo, only six men survived the two-day massacre. The well-equipped Americans were no match for the Tausugs who were armed with only krises, spears and a few rifles. The American forces were supported by two quick-firing guns from a gunboat. Many of the dead had as many as fifty gunshots (Vic Hurley, Swish of the Kris, page 186). 


First 100 families from Cebu were brought by Gen. John Pershing to settle in Cotabato, Mindanao 

June 11-16, 1913 

Battle of Bud Bagsak. Ten years after its Disarmament Policy, the Moros continued to resist American rule. From January-June, the whole ward of Lati with a population of between 6,000 to 10,000, fortified themselves in a cotta in Mt. Bagsak. On June 11, Gen. John Pershing ordered the attack. Though official estimates accounted for only 300 Moro casualties (Orosa, p.27), John McLeod, who was in Manila at the time of the massacre, reported that 2,000 were killed including 196 women and 340 children. Pershing was later criticized for his actions but a Congressional investigation into the massacre never materialized (Gowing, pp. 240-241). 

August 13, 1913 

People in Talipao municipality on the island of Jolo refused to pay road tax. They fortified themselves in Mt. Talipao. On Oct.22, 1913, engagement ensued and the Moros were defeated (Orosa). 

July 24, 1913 

Department of Mindanao and Sulu created (Orosa). 

March 22, 1915 

Sultan signs an agreement with Gov. Gen. Frank Carpenter (Carpenter Agreement) relinquishing his claims of sovereignty and reduced the Sultan to a mere spiritual and religious head of the Moro people. 

Prior to this agreement, the Sultan maintained both de jure and de facto sovereignty and was recognized by the U.S. when it was referred to as "The Government of the Sultan" in the Bates Treaty. The Sultan neither abdicated nor renounced his sovereignty or lost it to the U.S. by conquest. This became a concern for Carpenter who feared the issue might come to haunt the U.S. Thus, he wrote in his 1916 report that it became "necessary and opportune definitely to extinguish all claims of the Sultan to any degree of temporal sovereignty" (Gowing, p. 287 and Sulu and Sabah, Nicholas Tarling, p.317. 

September 1, 1913 

Moro Province is abolished and replaced with Department of Mindanao and Sulu. 

December 16, 1913 

Military rule officially ended and civilian rule begins. Frank Carpenter became the civilian governor of the Department of Mindanao and Sulu and Guy N. Roher was the governor of Sulu. 

June 9, 1921 

Petition signed by 57 leaders in Sulu declaring that "it is the desire of the people of Sulu that the Sulu Archipelago be made permanent 

American Territory (rather than incorporated in the Philippines). 


Muslims petitioned the Governor-General to grant them separate sovereignty from the rest of the Philippines in the event America withdraw, lest blood shed and warfare break out. 

Feb 8, 1935 

Adoption of the Philippine Constitution by the Constitutional Convention. Delegate Tomas Cabili representing Lanao, a Christian, did not sign the Constitution because he found the document to be discriminatory against the Moro people. 

March 18, 1935 

Declaration of the Bangsa Moro (Dansalan Declaration) in a gathering of 121 Moro datus held in Dansalan, Lanao. In a prophetic vision, the documents states: 

"We do not want to be included in the Philippine Independence. For once an independent Philippines is launched, there will be troubles between us and the Christian Filipinos because from time immemorial these two people have not lived harmoniously...It is not proper to have two antagonizing people live together under one flag, under the Philippine independence... 

"Should the American people grant the Philippines an independence, the islands of Sulu and Mindanao should not be included in such independence...Our public land must not be given to other people other than the Moros..." 

July 4, 1946 

Proclamation of Philippine Independence formally creating the Philippine Republic. Morolands were incorporated against their wishes. Few months later, Haji Kamlon started building his armed resistance in Luuk, Sulu to defy the Manila-based Christian government. 

1956 (to be verified) 

Establishment of the Economic Development Corps (EDCOR), the government program to resettle landless communist Hukbalahaps (Huks) on homesteads in Mindanao and Palawan. 


Creation of the Commission of National Integration (CNI) under R.A. 1888 aimed at alleviating the "economic, social and political advancement of the non-Christian Filipinos." 


Rep. Datu Ombra Amilbangsa introduced House Bill 5682 calling for "Granting and Recognizing the Independence of the Province of Sulu. 

Dec 1969 to Feb 1972 

Christian "Ilaga" raids against Muslim villages. Casualties: 2,606 Moros; 1,238 Ilagas. Damages: 2,561 houses; 11 mosques. March 17, 1968

The "Jabidah Massacre" in Corrigedor Island killing 28 trainees (16 still missing and presumed dead) of the Jabidah Special Forces who were supposed to carry out an invasion of Sabah under "Operation Merdeka." 


The Committee on National Minorities of the Philippine Senate issued a thoughtful analysis of the "Moro problem” in its senate document: 

"Through either indifference, insincerity, or lack of foresight, the seeds of discord were sown when the Commonwealth government embarked on a policy of bringing settlers from Luzon and Visayas to Mindanao without a parallel program of helping the natives legitimize their landholdings or assisting them in making their farms productive.. After the second World War, the influx of settlers and immigrants to the verdant valleys of Cotabato continued... the prior rights of the natives were disregarded and even trampled upon..." 

October 1971 

Armed Muslim group called "Barracudas" staged an ambush against Constabulary patrol in Magsaysay killing 17 troops out of the 22-man patrol. 

Sept 21, 1972 

Declaration of Martial Law by Pres. Marcos. Moro rebellion renewed after a quarter century of dormancy when Marcos ordered the Muslims to lay down their arms. 

Nov 14, 1972 

The official emergence of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), chaired by Nur Misuari. 

Dec. 23, 1976 

Signing of the Tripoli Agreement between the MNLF and the Philippine Republic. 

March 1977 

Pres. Marcos set up a "Provisional Autonomous Government" for an "autonomous region" made up of 13 southern provinces. 

Oct 10, 1977 

MNLF forces led by Commander Usman Salih assassinated Brig. Gen. Teodulfo Bautista in Patikul, Jolo. 

Dec 1977 

A power struggle within the MNLF led to the formation of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), chaired by Hashim Salamat. 1983 

MNLF military activities wane as the New Peoples Army (NPA) emboldens. 

Aug 21, 1983 

Ninoy Aquino assassinated at Manila International Airport, galvanizing nationwide anti-Marcos protest. 


EDSA People Power ousts Pres. Marcos. 

Sept. 1986 

Pres. Cory Aquino visits MNLF camp for peace talks but ignores MILF. 

Oct 15, 1986 

Adoption of the new Philippine Constitution which provides among others, regional autonomy for Muslim Mindanao and the Cordillera regions. 


Congress passes bill creating the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM). 


Fidel Ramos wins presidency. Government initiates new negotiations with MNLF 


Indonesian government hosts talks between Philippine government and MNLF. 


Abu Sayyaf, a more militant Muslim group, raided the town of Ipil, Zamboanga, killing 50 people. 

Sept 2, 1996 

Peace agreement finally signed betwen the Philippine government and the MNLF. Misuari wins election for ARMMM governor. 


Heavy fighting erupts in Maguindanao between government forces and MILF. 

March-June 2000 

MILF expands territorial control in Central Mindanao. Abu Sayyaf takes foreign hostages putting the Philippines in international headlines. Government attacks MILF and Abu Sayyaf camps. Thousands of mostly Muslim residents flee while Estrada's low approval rating rises.