The striking fact about the Battle of Bud Dajo – or Moro Massacre as Mark Twain bluntly called it – is that the incident took place four years after President Theodore Roosevelt had announced to the world (July 4, 1902) that the Philippine-American War was over.
It is generally assumed by most Filipinos and Americans that the Philippine-American war ended on April 16, 1902, when Gen.Miguel Malvar surrendered to Gen. J. Franklin Bell, the commander of US forces, in Batangas.
In fact, Malvar’s surrender did not end the war. The heart of Filipino resistance merely shifted to Samar and Leyte, where Visayan revolutionary forces continued to fight under the leadership of Generals Ambrocio Mojica and Vicente Lukban.
Leyte became the final bastion of resistance. The US military had to field more of its troops and assets to the province. Significantly, some revolutionaries from Cebu and Panay trooped to Leyte to join the battle against the Americans.
It took more months of hostilities and painstaking negotiations between Filipino and American forces, before a formal agreement of surrender and cessation of hostilities could be effected on June 19, 1902.
Three months after the surrender of Leyte forces, the Philippine Commission on Sept. 11,1902 announced the official end of the Philippine-American War.
Offshoot of pacification campaign
The incident in Bud Dajo, which was the subject of President Duterte’s tirade at the Asean summit, took place over a period of days, from March 5 to 7, 1906.
The incident was the offshoot of an intensive pacification campaign that was launched by the American colonial government to bring the Moro-dominated areas under the sway of US colonial rule.
When the massacre of Muslim Filipinos occurred in Bud Dajo, the US government and US military tried to portray it at first as just a battle – the Battle of Bud Dajo, to suggest a full-scale military encounter between US troops and Moro fighters.
The incident was kept under wraps for days, until the commander of US forces in the Philippines sent a cablegram to the government in Washington.
The substance of the report said:
• A tribe of Moros, numbering 600, counting women and children, had fortified themselves in the bowl of an extinct crater.
• US troops under the command of Gen Leonard Wood numbered 540.
The official report stated that the battle ended with complete victory for American arms: of the 600 Moros, not one was left alive. Only 15 American soldiers lost their lives; and 32 suffered injuries.
Roosevelt commended General Wood, saying: “I congratulate you and the officers and men of your command upon the brilliant feat of arms wherein you and they so well upheld the honor of the American flag.
No feat of arms, but a slaughter
Not so, said Mark Twain (Samuel Clemens). He declared: “It was not a battle; it was a massacre.”
On March 12, 1906, he published an essay entitled “Comments on the Moro massacre.”
He wrote scathingly: “So far as I can find out, there was only one person among our eighty millions who allowed himself the privilege of a public remark on this great occasion – the President of the United States….
“This utterance cost him more pain and shame than any other that ever issued from his pen or his mouth. Not a word of what he said came out of his heart, he knew perfectly well that to pen six hundred helpless and weaponless savages in a hole like rats in a trap and massacre them in detail during a stretch of a day and a half, from a safe position on the heights above, was no briliant feat of arms … he knew perfectly well that our uniformed assassins had not upheld the honor of the American flag, but had done as they have been doing continuously for eight years in the Philippines – that is to say, they had dishonored it.”
Bud Dajo as cautionary tale
In an article published in The Boston Globe on March 12, 2006,professor Andrew J. Bacevich of Boston University sought to narrate and analyze the incident in Bud Dajo for a contemporary audience.
I quote his article at length because of the light it shines on contemporary challenges and issues:
Bacevich wrote: “Although it had seized the Philippines in 1898 during the course of its war with Spain, the United States made little immediate attempt to impose its authority over the Muslim minority. Under the terms of the 1899 Bates Agreement, American colonial administrators had promised the Moros autonomy in return for acknowledging nominal US sovereignty.
“But after the US suppressed the so-called Philippine Insurrection of 1899-1902, during which US forces defeated Filipino nationalists led by Emilio Aguinaldo, authorities in Manila turned their attention to the Moros. In 1903, they abrogated the Bates Agreement and ordered Major General Leonard Wood to assert unambiguous jurisdiction over what the Americans were now calling the Moro Province.
“Wood, President Theodore Roosevelt’s favorite general, viewed his new charges as “nothing more, nor less, than an unimportant collection of pirates and highwaymen.” He did not bother to disguise his intentions: The Moros would either submit or suffer harsh consequences.
Wood miscalculated. Neither one, nor a dozen, nor several dozens of such lessons did the trick.
An ugly war ensued, pitting poorly armed Moro warriors against seasoned US Army regulars…. As in present-day Iraq, the Americans never lost an engagement. Yet even as they demolished one Moro stronghold after another and wracked up an impressive body count, the fighting persisted….
The incident at Bud Dajo would have gone entirely unnoticed had word of it not leaked to the press.
When reports of the slaughter reached Washington, a minor flap ensued. Indignant members of Congress demanded an explanation. Perhaps predictably, an official inquiry found the conduct of US troops beyond reproach. When the War Department cleared Wood of any wrongdoing, the scandal faded as quickly as it had begun….
And yet the bloodletting at Bud Dajo accomplished next to nothing. The nameless dead were soon forgotten. Wood moved onward and upward, soon thereafter becoming Army chief of staff and eventually returning to the Philippines as governor-general.”
Bud Dajo would have remained hidden in the dusty pages of history had President Duterte not dusted it up, and exposed it to the light of a new day in Filipino-American relations.