Historian: 1906 massacre of Moros not the same as extrajudicial killings in Philippines drug war

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An Islamic Studies scholar said the massacre of Moros more than 100 years ago on which President Rodrigo Duterte pins his criticism of the United States, cannot be compared to the extrajudicial killings related to the Philippine administration's drug war.

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines) — President Rodrigo Duterte cannot refer to a massacre of Moros by American troops more than one hundred years ago, as his rejoinder to U.S. criticism of the extrajudicial killings, an Islamic Studies professor said Wednesday.

Renato Oliveros from the Divine Word Seminary told CNN Philippines' "The Source" that the two situations varied in context.

The 1906 Battle of Bud Dajo, where more than 600 Moro men, women, and children were killed by American troops, happened during the American rule in the Philippines,  when the U.S. sought to pacify Mindanao, home to the country's Muslim minority.

Bud Dajo is an inactive volcano near the town of Jolo, in the far-flung southern island province of Sulu.

On the other hand, the extrajudicial killings related to the Duterte administration's drug war now were happening in a time when Filipinos have rights, after being granted independence by the U.S. in 1946.

"It's a different situation. There is a colony. There is an occupation," Oliveros said, referring to Bud Dajo, adding that the Moros then were resisting American rule. "We cannot fit them as criminals... we cannot just easily correlate it as extrajudicial killings at the same time."

"But in today's context, we're dealing here with people, citizens," he said. "You can discuss it, but it's kind of, in a sense, forced," Oliveros said, referring to President Duterte's occasional reference to the massacre in the past month.

The 1906 incident was first mentioned by Duterte on September 5, on the eve of his first trip as President to an international conference, the ASEAN Summit in Laos. The summit was attended by heads of state and high level officials from Southeast Asian countries, the United States, Russia, Japan, and China.

Duterte sent reporters and Filipinos scurrying for history books, after he mentioned the incident. "As a matter of fact at the turn of the century, before the Americans left, the Philippines, in the pacification campaign of the Moro in this island, there were around six million ang population ng Moro. How many died? Six hundred," Duterte had said in that September news conference.


His reply was in reaction to a question by a reporter if he would discuss the extrajudicial killings with US President Barack Obama if this was brought up in a bilateral meeting on the sidelines of the ASEAN Summit.

What followed was a tirade of criticism by the defiant Duterte against the U.S. "Who is he [Obama] to confront me. As a matter of fact, America has one too many to answer for the misdeeds in this country," he added. A planned meeting between Duterte and Obama in Laos was canceled by Washington after his remarks.

A week after Duterte made the remarks, he presented photographs of the 1906 massacre and said that U.S. Special Forces that were in Mindanao to help in the Philippine military's war against the bandit group Abu Sayyaf, should leave.

Related: No scheduled pullout of U.S. troops in Mindanao yet, Abella says

Apology still needed

Despite the incomparable relation of extrajudicial killings and the 1906 massacre, Oliveros still believes "it's just proper for the U.S. to recognize and apologize" now that the story is being revived.

"Given at least what our President is stating, it's [only] just for the Moros to hear [an apology] also, recognize this part of our history, and apologize, move on," said Oliveros, adding that we must continue working towards development.

Historically, some amends were attempted. The U.S. Congress then also reacted strongly against Bud Dajo, calling it a "slaughter." "[It] was an indicator that even in the U.S., they knew that there was something wrong [with] the way they were governing the Sulu sultanate," said Oliveros.

He added that General Leonard Wood, who had led the troops in the one-sided siege, returned to the Philippines 13 years later as governor-general and defended the Moros from Filipinos in the north.

"It's interesting that if you recap…Americans, historically, are not really bad after all in Mindanao experience," said Oliveros, adding that succeding datus asked the Americans to stay when other Filipinos sought to claim their lands.

The professor, who is completing a book on the American occupation in Mindanao, said that the ruling Moro leaders were complicit with the Americans in the massacre.

"When you look at the Bud Dajo experience, it was not only the Americans. The Datus and the Sultan cooperated with them," he added.

Include Bud Dajo massacre in history discussion

The Battle of Bud Dajo is hardly discussed in schools today, reflecting the bias in favor of the main island of Luzon and the central Philippine islands of Visayas. "When we talk of Philippine studies, we only deal with stories coming from the north and the Visayas, but really we have not heard of the stories coming from Mindanao," said Oliveros.

"It's important for Filipinos to understand that the Moro, they have a faith… For them to act, usually it comes from a belief system," said Oliveros. "But in the context when their religion was threatened in 1906, they were really out there to defend their faith."

When asked if he had forgiven the Americans and Filipinos involved, Oliveros, who is also a Tausug, one of the main ethnic groups in Mindanao, replied, "I forgive, but I don't forget. That's part of understanding our history."

A measure was filed in the House of Representatives in mid-September that calls for March 6 to be named "Bud Dajo" day. It aims to raise Filipinos' awareness of this tragic event event in history.

History of Bud Dajo

Oliveros gave a summary of the incident: The Moros trekked to Bud Dajo to assert their sovereignty and set up a village. The Sultan of Sulu, along with some datus, were believed to have been paid by the Americans. "The sultan and the datus were the ones who instigated, 'Bring these people back to Jolo. If they refuse to submit, they are unlawful,'" he explained. "Ideally, a good sultan would care for the people, but he abandoned them," he added.

Following the sultan's consent, the Americans shelled the mountain. According to a narrative, they successfully climbed the mountain after bribing one of the leaders. Philippine Scouts were among those who accompanied American troops in the siege.

"It was a massacre," since the Moro only fought with their traditional swords known as "kris" and "bolo," which were clearly no match for the guns of the Americans.

However, Oliveros says the incident was symbolic for the Moro people, who believed giving in to colonial rule was a sin and would "lessen identity as Muslims."

"Their theology is very clear: that there is only one Allah, and we are sovereign under him," says Oliveros.

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