Bangsa Moro, History, political, socio-cultural

America and the Bangsa Moro through the years

The so-called Moro Conflict in the Philippines, which arguably does not end with the creation of the Bangsa Moro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM), can be traced back to the United States of America. The various Moro Sultanates did not have a shared history with the conquered peoples of Luzon and Visayas. The Moro sultanates were independent of the Spaniards and were recognized as such by other powers like England and Netherlands. Even Spain itself signed various treaties with them.

In fact, USA itself signed a treaty with the Moros even BEFORE it signed any agreement with the Christian Filipinos. On February 5, 1842, a treaty was signed between the United States of America represented by Charles Wilkes, commander of the American expedition and the Sultanate of Sulu represented by Sri Paduka Maulana Al Sultan Mahomed Jamal ul Kiram I, the Sultan of Sulu. 

Wilkes Treaty

Thus, Spain had absolutely no right to cede Moroland, the territories of the Bangsa Moro (Moro Nation), to the United States of America. When it came to Moroland, the Treaty of Paris of 1898 was not legal or valid. In fact, three of the five American Peace negotiators in Paris recommended that Mindanao and Sulu should not be included in the Philippine Islands. (Derewicz, 2006)

At the height of the Philippine-American war in 1899, the Americans signed another treaty with the Sultanate of Sulu. The treaty was signed between Brigadier General John C. Bates and the Sultan of Sulu, Jamal ul Kiram II on August 2, 1899. This indicates that both the Moros and the Americans did not consider the Christianized natives of Luzon and Visayas as part of Moroland, and vice versa. The so-called Philippine-American war or what the Americans called the “Philippine Insurrection” did not include the Moros.

The Americans killed some 250,000 Christian Filipinos, mostly civilians from 1899 to 1902. Some 120, 000 American soldiers were sent to the Philippines with their best generals. Around 4,200 were killed – ten times more than Americans killed in the Spanish-American War. (Derewicz, 2006)

The Philippine-American war officially ended in 1902 after the capture of Philippine President Emilio Aguinaldo. But some Filipino revolutionaries continued the war like Mariano Sakay, who formed his own government called Republika ng Katagalugan (The Tagalog Republic). Sakay’s resistance ended in 1906 after he and his men were tricked into surrendering, with promises of parliamentary reforms and exile abroad.

It must be noted that Andres Bonifacio’s Katipunan movement’s goal was to set up a Tagalog Republic, not a Republic encompassing the whole of Luzon, Visayas, Mindanao and Sulu. The Filipino historians however argue that the term Katagalugan (The Tagalog region) actually referred to the whole Philippine Islands. That is like saying Arabia refers to the whole Muslim world or Bangsa Moro (Moro Nation) refers to the whole Bangsa Melayu or the Muslim Malay Nation or Race.


Although some textbooks cite 1899 as the beginning of the “Moro Rebellion”, the first battle occurred in May 2, 1902 in Bayang. Colonel Frank D. Baldwin, with 1,085 men, with four mountain guns and artillery battery, including 10 six-mule teams and 40 pack mules, attacked the two forts of the people of the sultanate of Bayang, which resulted in the death of the Sultan and his chief datus. American newspapers reported that it was “the fiercest battle in the entire (Philippine) insurrection” to bolster the image of the US Army. In reality, it was a massacre. The Moros, with only kris and rifles, could not match the mountain guns and heavy artillery of the Americans.

American infantry on the way to Cotta Bayang

The Mranaos called the battle Padang Karbala, to recall the massacre and martyrdom of Hussein, the Prophet Muhammad’s grandson and his family against the enemies. It became the symbol of Mranao resistance against American rule. And for about a dozen years more, the Moro Rebellion continued.

More massacres followed like the Bud Dajo and Bud Bagsak massacres in Sulu. And countless skirmishes and ambushes all over Moroland.

Bud Dajo Massacre

During the Moro Rebellion, according to Wikipedia, the Americans lost 130 men with 323 wounded and about 500 died of disease. Their subjects, the Indios – Filipinos, had more casualties. The Philippine Scouts suffered 116 killed and 189 wounded while the Philippine Constabulary (PC) endured 1500 casualties, about half of them killed.


Because of the insistence of the Christian Filipinos that Mindanao and Sulu formed part of the Philippine Islands, the Americans in 1903 created the Moro Province, which was composed of Moroland; i.e., the whole of Lanao, Cotabato, Sulu, Davao and Zamboanga. This was ruled by American military governors, separate from the rest of the Philippine Islands but with the purpose of eventually assimilating Moroland into the bigger Philippine body politic.

Coat of Arms of Mindanao and Philippines in the American Occupation. Note that Mindanao is considered different and apart from Philippines

The last Moro Province Governor John J. Pershing noted in his last official report: “It remains for us now to hold all that we have gained and to substitute for a government by force something more in keeping with the changed conditions. Just what form that will take has not been altogether determined.” (Sjursen, 2019). But instead of training the Moros in the art of republican governance, the Americans trained the Christians to govern the Muslims.

In 1914, the Moro Province became the Department of Mindanao and Sulu with civilian governors. Slowly but surely, administration of Moroland was given to Christian Filipinos. The Americans unilaterally abrogated the Bates Treaty and replaced it with the Carpenter’s Agreement, which considerably clipped the powers of the Sultan of Sulu.


During the American Occupation, all Moro nations — the Tausug, the Maguindanaons, the Buayanens, the Mranaos, etc. — expressed their desire for independence from American and/or separation from the Filipino administration.

Quezon insisting that the Filipinos can better govern the Moros than the Americans.

However, the Indios, who started calling themselves Filipinos, led by Quezon and Osmena convinced a handful of Moro leaders to support Philippine (including Moroland) independence. They also campaigned vigorously in Manila and in Washington, DC not to separate Mindanao from the Philippines. They argued that the Moros were not “civilized” enough to form their own government.

With their European background, the new Filipinos portrayed themselves as the inheritors of Western civilization, unlike the Moro “savages” who were described in images befitting the Westerners’ “Other”.

Various US investigative Commissions (like the Wood-Forbes Commission) favored separation of Mindanao and Sulu from the rest of the Philippines. The Bacon Bill of 1926 demanded such separation. US President Hoover vetoed the Philippine Independence Act of 1931 because of Moro protests.

But the Filipino leaders merely doubled / tripled their efforts. Regular missions to the US were sent to convince American leadership about the folly of trusting the Moros. The Filipinos only had to remind the Americans of the deaths and destruction the Moros had done to American army personnel in Mindanao and the report of US officials that “a good Moro is a dead Moro.”

“A good Moro is a dead Moro”

The eloquence, charm and strong personalities of Quezon, Osmena, Roxas and their colleagues were all put to good use. No Moro leader went to the US to counter Filipino charges. And so, the Tydings- McDuffie Law was passed in 1936 promising independence to the Philippine Islands, including Mindanao and Sulu.


In 1946, the US handed over the Moro nations to the Indios-Filipinos and formed a new nation-state called the Republic of the Philippines. The Republican experiment may have been good for the Indios-Filipinos, but it was a bad experience for the Moros.  

Hadji Kamlon with President Magsaysay

The Moro uprisings did not stop. The most famous of these was the Kamlon Rebellion, which occurred in 1948 until 1955. The revolt reportedly cost the government some P185 million, which is about 1 Billion pesos in 2020 figures, and so many lives, including the whole 7th Infantry Battalion known as the formidable Nenita unit, veteran of the Korean War. 

In 1961, Datu Ombra Amilbangsa, Congressman of Sulu and husband of Dayang dayang Hadja Piandao, Sultana of Sulu, filed House Bill No. 5682 in the House of Representatives. The bill proposed the grant of independence to the Sultanate of Sulu and North Borneo since Sulu suffered only greater poverty and inequity when it was annexed to the Philippine Republic.

In the late 1960s, President Ferdinand Marcos encouraged the Christian settlers in Mindanao to organize themselves and challenge the Moros in local elections. With the victory of Christian settlers in elections, Marcos encouraged them to fight the Moros in combat, with the support of the Philippine military.


Genocidal war against Moros in late 1960s/1970s

And again, massacre after massacre happened. And so the Moros, defending themselves from genocide, rose again in the early 1970s. This time, the Moros went international and asked the help of Muslim countries. The Moro fight has been officially recognized by the Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC) with the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) having an observer status.

The various international agreements (Tripoli, Jakarta) signed by the Philippine government and the MNLF were honored more in the breach than in implementation.

The physical genocide may have stopped but the Philippine government had other ways of decimating the Moros. First is the statistical genocide. Government insists that Moro population hardly increased since the 1960s. Apparently, it was because the Moros had the smallest birthrate among all Philippine groups. Also, because of the Moro diaspora, the Moros scattered all over Luzon, Visayas and non-Muslim parts of Mindanao, including Sabah where some 500,000 Moros fled during the height of the Moro revolution in the 1970s. And then, there is the gerrymandering of the Moro provinces.

Moro provinces were chopped into several provinces to create provinces for the Christian settlers. And of course, ever since the time of President Quezon, Christians were shipped to Mindanao to settle in Moro lands.

And so now, the Moros, like the Palestinians, find themselves minority and powerless in their own land, in the land where their ancestors fought for more than 400 years to protect their lives, liberty, religion and homeland.


The new century / millennium started with an American War Against Terrorism as a result of 9/11, which many Muslims the world over see as the War against Islam. The prospect of renewed atrocities against the Moros loomed bright. (The lapsus linguae of US President Bush when he declared a “Crusade” against his enemies did not escape the Muslims’ attention).

Once again, the Indios-Filipinos called on “Mother America” to help them fight the Moro “savages,” now called “terrorists”. And Mother America sent 1,000 troops to help the Philippine military against the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG). ( Derewicz, 2006) ASG is a supposedly ultra fundamentalist Islamic group which was in reality created by the CIA and the Philippine Army as a foil to the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). MILF used to be described as a fundamentalist Islamist group as opposed to the more moderate MNLF. And of course, ASG needed to be described as “associated with Al-Qaeda.”

The Americans had returned to Mindanao, ostensibly to train and advise the Philippine military. But sometimes, they did more than train and advise. In early February 2012, a deadly drone flew over Jolo, Sulu and within 15 minutes, around 15 people were killed. The drone war reached Mindanao. It was first time the dreaded US drone strike was used in Southeast Asia although it is the favorite weapon of America against Muslims in the Middle East. (Ahmed and Matin, 2012).

AlJazeera feature on US drones in Mindanao

In September 2016, on national TV, President Duterte asked American troops in the country to leave. He said that ‘Islamic’ threat in Mindanao” continued because of American presence there. He showed photos of the Bud Dajo massacre and accused the Americans of human rights abuses in Mindanao.


During what the media mistakenly calls “Siege of Marawi” in 2017, the AFP spokesman Gen. Padilla informed everyone that American troops were in Marawi helping the Philippine armed forces through intelligence-gathering and strategies-formulation. P3 Orion surveillance planes were seen over Marawi skies. And there were reports of drones, too. While the US troops carried rifles, they were supposedly there to merely advise. The news shocked quite a few people, including Duterte himself who admtted that he did not know about the American presence in Marawi.

Despite Duterte’s insults and demand that the American troops leave the country, they did not. The US troops remained in Mindanao and were in the thick of the fight in the Rape of Marawi.

A US P3 Orion surveillance aircraft seen flying over Marawi –REUTERS

Uncle Sam came in 1898 in Moroland and stayed there until 1946. But its soldiers keep on coming back.

America was an accomplice in the Rape of Marawi in 2017. The Philippine government used all its might to bomb Marawi City to kingdom come and loot the city. This, the government claimed, was for the good of the Mranaos. It was to cleanse themselves of one Mranao family whom the government claims is part of the obviously un-Islamic ISIS or Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. This claim was made just a few hours after the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) top brass declared several times that there were NO ISIS members in the Philippines and that the AFP was in full control of Marawi.

AFP declared it was in full control of Marawi
Looting in Marawi by Philippine soldiers and police

So many houses and buildings all over Marawi City were occupied and later ransacked and looted. At the very center of the battle called “Ground Zero”, the owners of houses and buildings destroyed have not been allowed to go back to their properties up to now – more than three years after the event.

                                                                       The Rape of Marawi


On July 4, 1946 America gave Moroland — the Pat a Pangampong ko Ranao, the Sultanate of Maguindanao, the Rajahnate of Buayan, the Sultanate of Sulu and their vassal states— to the Indios-Filipinos in a newly created Republic of the Philippines.

As a consequence of that action, England immediately proclaimed Sabah, which was a territory of the Sulu Sultanate, into a Crown Colony and later gave Sabah to Malaya which became Malaysia. While the Sultanate still holds all historical and proprietary rights on Sabah, realpolitik insures that Sabah would never go back to the Sultanate unless the Sulu sultanate or the Bangsa Moro becomes independent.

England gave back Hong Kong to China in 1997 after 150 years of possession and Portugal gave back Macau to China in 1999 after around 450 years of occupancy. America can still give back Moroland to its real owners — the Bangsa Moro. America can still undo what it had done on July 4, 1946 – only some 75 years ago.

The destruction of Marawi City is a clear indication, nay, proof, that the Bangsa Moro can never be an equal partner in the Indio-dominated Republic of the Philippines.

The greatest wrong that America did to the Moros was not the many massacres and killings inflicted upon the hapless Moros through the century. It was including Moroland in the Treaty of Paris in 1898 and giving the Moros and Moroland on a silver platter to the dominant majority, the indio-Filipinos of the new Philippine Republic in 1946.

The Moros, especially after 1946, had not done any wrong to the American people. They did not go to the US to be illegal aliens. They simply want to be left alone. So, instead of continuing its military actions against the Moros, perhaps America can undo what it had done in 1898 and in 1946 — give back to Moroland / Bangsa Moro its independence and sovereignty which the various Moro sultanates enjoyed before America came to Mindanao shores.

Perhaps America’s new leader, President Joseph R. Biden can finally correct the historical wrongs done to the Muslims of Mindanao and Sulu.


Ahmed, Akbar and Martin, Frankie (5 Mar 2012), Deadly drones come to the Muslims of the Philippines AlJazeera Retrieved from

Alipala, Julie (October 25, 201_)  New batch of US troops already in Mindanao – military Philippine Daily Inquirer. Retrieved from

Amirell, Stefan Eklöf (2017) Pirates and pearls: Jikiri and the challenge to maritime security and American sovereignty in the Sulu Archipelago, 1907–1909  The International Journal of Maritime History, Vol. 29(1) 44–67

Charbonneau, Oliver, “Civilizational Imperatives: American Colonial Culture in the Islamic Philippines, 1899-1942” (2016). Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository. 3508. Retrieved from

Derewicz, Mark (January 1, 2006) A Long-buried War with the Moros Endeavors magazine. Retrieved from

Gowing, Peter  Mandate in Moroland : The American Government of Muslim Filipinos 1899-1920 (1983) QC:New Day Publishers

Gowing, Peter  Muslim-American Relations in the Philippines, 1899-1920     Asian Studies 6:3 (1968)  pp 372-382

_________________ 10 June 2017  Marawi siege: US special forces aiding Philippine army BBC.COM Retrieved from

Moro Rebellion  (2020, November 26) In Wikipedia

Villamor, Felipe (June 14, 2017)  U.S. Troops in Besieged City of Marawi, Philippine Military Says The New York Times. Retrieved from

Other Sources / Related Posts:

Philippine – American Day   BY ASHLEYJAMAL

Media coverage of Marawi “Siege” The Bangsa Moro Blog May 19, 2018 by Jamal Ashley Abbas

US Wikileaks cable says general gained from ASG kidnap The Setting Sun 2.0 Oct. 12, 2011 by Ashley Jamal





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