ADETERMINED struggle is in progress today to control the latent wealth and dominate the political future of the richest undeveloped territory under the American flag -- the treasure island of Mindanao and the Sulu Archipelago. There are three parties to the conflict. American business men desire to obtain there the valuable tropical products, including rubber, which yearly become of greater importance to the United States; they are quite certain that only under American rule can the Moros and the Christian Filipinos who inhabit these islands hope for peace and prosperity. Filipinos regard Mindanao and Sulu as the richest portion of their national heritage, look forward to the day when they will be an independent Philippine nation, and realize that if Moroland should be taken from them their dream of national greatness would vanish forever. The Moros, groups of primitive peoples without either national organization or sentiment, are suspicious and afraid of the forces which they feel closing in around them. By the sword and by intrigue their leaders are seeking to protect themselves from the impact of an alien civilization which threatens to crowd them off of the land which for centuries they have called their own. The Moro question, the problem of an ethnic and religious minority, has thus become one of the most urgent of the Philippine problems which Washington has been called upon to solve.

The undeveloped wealth and the genuine frontier character of Mindanao must impress every traveler vividly. It is difficult to visit this remarkable island without feeling the pioneer's impulse to accept the challenge of its vast opportunities. Approximately 37,000 square miles in area, Mindanao is about the size of the state of Indiana. It is capable of producing all of the staple tropical crops, besides large quantities of rubber, cattle, and subtropical fruits and vegetables. It has abundant resources in high grade timber, coal, iron, and water power, all susceptible of easy development.

A broad survey of Mindanao and the Sulu Archipelago discloses that those regions which possess themostvaluablenatural resources are the most nearly empty of inhabitants (the population in them averages about 16 per square mile), and that the people who do live in them are chiefly Moros and primitive pagans who are neither capable nor desirous of developing them economically. Although there are almost 100,000 more Christian Filipinos in Mindanao than pagans and Moros combined, the Christians are concentrated in the northern coastal provinces, or in the coastal plains and isolated river settlements of a few other regions. The Christians are rapidly increasing in number, however, for only a few miles northward of vacant Mindanao lies a group of Christian islands which are greatly overcrowded. Cebu alone, with 1,000,000 inhabitants, has a population of 535 persons to the square mile. Certain other islands, including parts of Luzon, are likewise overcrowded, and the population of the Philippines as a whole is rapidly increasing. There are serious population problems near by in China and Japan. Some 10,000 Japanese already reside in southern Mindanao, while most of the business of Moroland is done by Chinese, the real commercial pioneers of all the Malaysian countries.

The political and economic implications of these facts are inescapable. They lead irresistably to the conclusion that Mindanao will be settled and developed within the next half-century. The question which concerns Moros, Filipinos, and Americans alike -- and some other peoples as well -- is how and by whom is this settlement and development to be made?


The rôle which the Moros are to play in the development of Mindanao will of course be determined in part by their own character and abilities. The first fact to consider about them in this connection is their numbers. All told there are not more than 400,000 of them, and of these nearly half live, and will continue to live, in the Sulu Islands and Palawan. Their annual increase is not above two percent. The figures in themselves set definite limitations upon both their economic and the political capabilities.

Further limitations are imposed upon the Moros by their lack of political and social development. The best way to appreciate what three hundred years of Spanish rule did for the Philippines is to visit Mindanao and Sulu, where the Spaniards never effectively governed. With very few exceptions, the Mohammedan and pagan Filipinos living there lack completely the social and political organization upon which modern life rests, and which one finds highly developed among the Christian Filipinos who were influenced by Spain. The three great Moro groups, the Maranaos of the Lake Lanao country, the Maguindanaos of Cotabato, and the inhabitants of the Sulu Archipelago, are as separate from each other, so far as any native institutions are concerned, as are Germany, France, and Spain. They have never achieved either the consciousness or the machinery of national unity.

Within each of the three groups the same absence of political organization is apparent. More than one hundred petty "datus" swagger about among the 100,000 Maranaos, no one of them admitting the existence of any native political superior. Each datu is jealous of the others and zealous in maintaining his own power and prestige. An official from Manila who recently inspected the province of Lanao spent much of his time in listening to bitter complaints growing out of this feeling. A datu came to him and said: "You are my father and my mother. I look to you for everything. But I am a very important man. I have a house with an iron roof. I have fifteen hectares of land and twelve carabaos. My followers are two hundred and twenty men. I have letters from General Pershing and General Harbord. I am the big man here. But you have appointed that little fellow, Datu So-and-so, as presidente. Why? He has only ten carabao and one hundred and fifty men. Why am I not the presidente?"

Such talk and such considerations seem trivial to the outsider, but they are the most important things in the world to the Lanao Moros. The two hundred and twenty men that the datu boasted of are really his. They regard him as the personification of their worth as human beings. If he is insulted, belittled, or injured, life becomes worthless to them. They can be made to fight for him even when it means certain death from the high-power rifles, Stokes mortars, and gas bombs of the Philippine Constabulary. In Cotabato the Moros acknowledge the leadership of a smaller number of relatively powerful chiefs, while in the Sulu Archipelago the Sultan of Sulu exercises a considerable influence over his former subjects by virtue of his religious position. In neither of these districts is society so disintegrated as it is in Lanao. But nowhere in Moroland is there any outstanding figure who might become a genuine leader of his people.

As the Moro will die for his datu in war, so, traditionally, will he obey him in peace. The datu and his panditas constitute the divinely appointed custodians, oracles, and executors of the ancient Moro laws and customs. Resting as it does upon slavery, polygamy, and petty despotism, the whole native social-political system seems perfectly devised for the exploitation of the people as a whole for the benefit of their political and spiritual leaders, and although it no longer has any basis in the law of the land it is sustained by religious fanaticism, fierce racial pride, and stubborn adherence to ancient custom.

During the past quarter century the cruder manifestations of such a backward civilization have been forcibly curtailed. Upon it has been superimposed an alien system of government and education embodying American, Filipino, and Spanish concepts and practices. But the belief that the Moro has been fundamentally changed during this brief period is simply self-deception. The old Moro civilization is still deeply rooted among this proud, ignorant, stubborn and highly courageous people.

The Moros cannot solve the problem of how to adapt themselves to the conditions which are rapidly developing in Mindanao and Sulu, because they lack physical resources, because they possess neither sentimental nor institutional unity, and because the fundamental characteristics of their civilization make unaided progress along modern lines virtually impossible. The conditions under which they are to be brought within the limits of Western civilization seem likely to be controlled, therefore, not by the Moros, but by whatever outside authority dominates their territory during the next fifty years.


For the past quarter-century the fundamental object of American-Filipino policy in Mindanao and Sulu has been the ultimate incorporation of that area into a united Philippines, to be governed under common political institutions. This policy, involving the progressive unification of the Moro country with the Christian rovinces, was enunciated by General Leonard Wood in 1903 in is first annual report as Governor of the Moro Province. In origin and early application, then, the policy of unification was American and not Filipino, a fact sometimes overlooked because subsequently to 1913 the Filipinos have turned the policy to their own purposes.

The government of the Moro Province, which included the Sulu Archipelago and those parts of Mindanao in which Moro and pagan interests predominated, was admirably adapted for the induction of a primitive people into the mysteries of modern political life. Governmental organization was simple and direct. The line of responsibility ran without a break from the petty datu in charge of the remotest sub-district up to the provincial governor at Zamboanga. The officials were appointive; and they were hand-picked. In the higher ranks they were Americans, most of them Army officers. Among the provincial governors were such men as Leonard Wood, Tasker H. Bliss, and John J. Pershing, with whom were associated Hugh L. Scott, J. G. Harbord, Frank McCoy, George T. Langhorne, Dr. N. M. Saleeby, and others who have since attained distinction in military or civil life. During this period the administration of the Moro Province was not complicated by "politics," for all of the non-Christian territory of the Philippines was under the exclusive jurisdiction of the Philippine Commission, which was dominated by Americans until 1913. The Commission made the widest possible delegation of power to the Government of the Province. In effect, it gave the Governor the authority of a Roman pro-consul, and held him responsible for results.

Such a system, in the hands of such men, inevitably produced the expected results. The Moros and the pagans were forced to recognize the authority of the United States, and a pax Americana was established throughout a country which never before had known the reign of law. Legal slavery was abolished and steps were taken gradually to wipe out this ancient institution. Wherever possible the common people were protected from spoliation by their native leaders. Efforts were made to indoctrinate both the datus and their followers with Western ideas of justice. So far as practicable, and under competent American supervision, natives were entrusted with political authority. A comprehensive program of public works was begun, especially for roads, trails, and telephone communications. Schools were established, dispensaries and hospitals were built, and agriculture and commerce were encouraged.

The American program, however, struck at the wealth, power and prestige of the Moro aristocracy and at the religion and prejudices of all Moros. Consequently, it had to be put through by force. Never during the continental expansion of the United States were armed encounters between the Indians and American troops so frequent and so serious as the conflicts that took place between the Moros and the American forces from 1904 to 1914. In the end the Moros learned that armed resistance to the Americans meant annihilation. They were conquered and disarmed.

But if it is important to understand that American rule in Mindanao and Sulu was first established by force, it is equally important to know that in the end the Moros ceased their organized resistance because that force was exercised with justice and consideration. As General Bliss put it, "After his first defeats and while he was getting his second breath, it gradually dawned on the slow-working mind of the Moro that the Americans possibly meant what they said when they declared that they intended no attack on his religion nor any violent or unnecessary change in his customs. He waited to see and has remained waiting. He is as ready to fight now as he ever was, but he sees no reason for organized resistance to the government."

Furthermore, during this period the Moros had practically no grievances against their conquerors and governors on the score of the abuse of power. The troops used were either American regulars or Philippine Constabulary largely composed of Moro companies commanded by American officers. The civil officials were either Americans of the highest type or prominent Moros. Plundering or extortion were practically unknown and when discovered were sternly punished. The Moros had no fear that the Americans would ever come to live in their country in large numbers and take their land from them. These supremely important factors softened the bitterness of the period of conquest, and eventually led to a general acquiescence in American rule. It was American and not Filipino rule that was accepted by the Moro, however. The Filipino had so far played practically no part in the drama.


In 1913 President Wilson and Governor-General Harrison put virtually complete control over the Government of the Philippine Islands into the hands of the Filipinos. They were told to govern not only themselves, but also the Moros. They at once enunciated and put into effect a "policy of attraction" designed to assimilate the Moros rapidly into the body politic of a united Filipino people, whose goal should be the establishment of an independent Philippine Republic. This is the Filipino solution of the Moro problem.

Before the end of 1913 the Moro Province itself was abolished and in its stead was erected the Department of Mindanao and Sulu. In September, 1914, this department was completely reorganized. Mindanao and Sulu were divided into provinces, the governments of which could easily be developed into replicas of those of the Christian provinces, chiefly by the progressive substitution of the elective for the appointive principle in the selection of public officials. For the time being the seven provinces thus organized were to be supervised by the Departmental Government, with headquarters in Zamboanga, the natural Moro capital.

In still another way the unification of the political institutions of the Southern Islands with those of the other provinces of the Archipelago was rapidly advanced. A marked characteristic of government in the Philippines has always been the centralization of control over the public services throughout the Islands in the departments of the Insular Government at Manila. The jurisdiction of practically all of the bureaus of that government was now extended to the Moro country. Direction of the services of education, public works, public health, penal institutions, agricultural development, and the public lands in the Southern Islands was transferred from Zamboanga to Manila.

This development of the provincial governments and of the organs of centralized administration and control was intended by the Filipinos to make possible the early elimination of the departmental government as an intermediary between the Manila government and the Moro provinces. This step was taken in 1920. The Department of Mindanao and Sulu was then abolished and its powers of supervision and administration were transferred to the Department of the Interior, which thenceforward directly controlled local government in both the Christian and the non-Christian parts of the Archipelago.

The critical periods in the development of almost every colony are associated in history with the names of great men. Two names stand out in the annals of Mindanao and Sulu. Leonard Wood, as all the world knows, organized the Moro Province and laid the foundations for the development of a modern civilization among the Moro peoples. Frank W. Carpenter established and for almost seven years directed the Department of Mindanao and Sulu and carried a long way toward achievement the project of making that territory and its peoples an integral part of the Philippine nation.

An idealist as to ends, Governor Carpenter was a realist as to means. In the Department of Mindanao and Sulu his realism meant two or three days in the field to one in the office. It meant knowing personally every Moro, pagan, Filipino, Chinese and American leader in the seven provinces. It meant dealing with men in such a way as to bend them to his will, and yet to retain their respect and liking. Carpenter's idealism meant that he served a cause, not himself. His services in the cause of creating a unified and enlightened Philippine nation were recognized by a grant of 50,000 pesos from the Philippine treasury when his direct connection with Mindanao and Sulu ceased. To an extraordinary degree he possessed the confidence of both Americans and Filipinos. His personality was an indispensable element in the early success of the Filipino "policy of attraction," and his appointment as the first Governor of the Department of Mindanao and Sulu was an act of political wisdom for which the Harrison administration has never received sufficient credit.

In 1920, when the Department of Mindanao and Sulu was abolished, the Hon. Teopisto Guingona, who since 1917 had been its Secretary (and Acting-Governor during Governor Carpenter's absences from Zamboanga), became the Director of the Bureau of Non-Christian Tribes. The control over the seven provinces of the Department was thus transferred from Zamboanga to distant Manila and placed in the hands of a Filipino official who was also responsible for the government of some 400,000 pagans scattered all over the Philippines. With the advent of the Wood administration a year later, Filipino-American unity of purpose in the solution of the Moro problem vanished. Before long the new Governor-General and the Filipino legislative leaders were at hopeless loggerheads as to the Moro provinces. In other words, three of the factors which had contributed most vitally to the success of the Filipino program between 1913 and 1921 were almost simultaneously swept away. Furthermore, by the latter date Filipino officials, most of them inexperienced in dealing with the Moros, had largely replaced the experienced Americans who had been the backbone of government in the Moro provinces prior to 1913 and during the early years of the Carpenter régime.


Neither the accomplishments nor the failures of the Filipino régime in Mindanao and Sulu can be described here adequately. It should be stated, however, that in pushing their "policy of attraction" the Manila Legislature has not hesitated to make generous appropriations from the national Philippine treasury for expenditure in the Moro country. They have spent money freely, even enthusiastically, upon education, public health, agricultural development, and other similar purposes. Unceasing efforts have been made to lead the Moros to feel that the Christian Filipinos are, indeed, their "brothers". Filipino leaders have promised the Moros complete control over their local government as soon as they are qualified to administer it. The Moros have been assured that the Christian Filipinos will never interfere with their religion.

Opinions differ as to the results thus far produced. The writer believes that material conditions among the Moros have continued to improve. They are producing more goods. More and better markets are available for their products. In most districts they are reasonably secure in their civil rights. In other words, despite the unrest, the intrigue, the dissatisfaction, and the frequent armed clashes (which have become more serious during the past three years), the Moro country as a whole is developing.

On the other hand, since 1921 the ancient Filipino-Moro feud has flared up bitterly and dangerously, especially in the Province of Lanao. There alone several hundred Moros have been killed in guerilla warfare with the authorities. The Philippine Constabulary is regarded, and at times acts, as an army in hostile occupation. In many of its battles with the Moros no quarter has been granted by either side. The wounded have been killed and the dead mutilated. Datus heading various factions stalk about the province followed by "slaves" and retainers armed to the teeth. Within the period of a few months in 1926 more than twenty schoolhouses around Lake Lanao were burned to the ground and the educational system of the province practically put out of commission. There are school districts in Lanao today which the division superintendent of schools, an American, cannot safely visit without an escort of soldiers. Many Moros refuse to secure title to their lands as required by law, or to pay taxes. A deadly triangle of hatred and intrigue has grown up between Filipinos, Moros and Americans. Conditions are less serious in the other Moro provinces, but everywhere those Moros who at heart wish to expel the Filipino and root out his civilization are becoming more powerful and active.

Abundant evidence exists to indicate that one of the chief causes of this retrogression in the character of Filipino-Moro relations has been the actual abuse of power by individual Filipino officials in the Moro country. As Governor Carpenter feared, it has not always been possible to secure the highest type of Filipino for service in the Southern Islands. Some of the Constabulary and some teachers and other officials have committed serious abuses against the persons and property of Moros. School girls have been violated; datus have been beaten and robbed; Moros have been "done" out of land which they considered incontestably theirs; official positions have been used to punish enemies and reward friends. There also has been much tactless or deliberate outrage of Moro sentiment -- as, for instance, when a Filipino magistrate insists in keeping a pig in the dwelling which is at once his home and his office. It is not surprising that such abuses should occur in a frontier country as large as the one under consideration, especially when they are far from unknown in other parts of the Philippines. In the Southern Islands, however, they have been bitterly resented by the Moros and have had a disasterous effect upon Moro-Filipino relations.

To these causes of trouble, and to the others which have been mentioned, should be added the Filipinos' tendency to ignore or override opposition to their program of rapid assimilation, and the immigration of Filipinos into Mindanao in numbers sufficient to irritate and alarm the Moros. The danger in the situation is that the same reasoning which led the Moro to accept government by Americans because they scrupulously respected his rights and, whenever possible, his prejudices, may now cause him to resist forcible control by Filipinos, whom he thoroughly mistrusts and regards as inferiors.


A number of principles must be recognized and applied if the inevitable development of the rich and relatively underpopulated Moro country is to occur under conditions creditable to Twentieth Century civilization. The most urgent need is for the establishment by the United States of a stable Moro policy, one which will be recognized as permanent by interested Americans, and by Filipinos and Moros. All three could adjust themselves to almost any fixed policy. The existing uncertainty is injurious to them all and is the greatest single bar to proper development.

To carry any assurance of permanence, however, our Moro policy must rest upon a due regard for the rights and obligations of all three of the parties directly interested. Justice demands that the Moros shall be given opportunity to participate in the material, social, and political development of their country to the full extent of their capacity to do so; and that they shall be protected from the disasters which "civilization" has brought upon other backward races.

On the other hand, the United States cannot, in justice or with safety, disregard the legitimate interests of the Filipinos in Mindanao and Sulu. For more than a quarter of a century American as well as Filipino policy has been directed to the ultimate assimilation of those islands into a strong, united Philippine nation capable of self-government and, if it shall so wish, of independence. Today it should be made clear to all reasonable men that the United States has not departed and will not depart from this policy. Upon this point the fears of doubting Filipinos and the hopes of recalcitrant Moros should alike be reduced to the irreducible minimum. Men and measures in the Moro provinces should be made to serve this fundamental purpose. Having made this matter clear, the United States should exert every reasonable effort to enlist the genuine coöperation of the Filipinos in the proper government and material development of the Moro country during the present transitional period. Once assured of the end, the Filipinos will be more willing to agree as to the means. The experience of the past ten years has taught many of them that although their country urgently needs the wealth which could be produced in Mindanao and Sulu, they are not yet ready to handle the Moros alone.

The Moro problem is regarded by Filipinos, and rightly, as inextricably linked with the broader questions concerning the government of the Philippines as a whole. The administration of Governor-General Wood restored government in the Philippines to a basis of law and cleared the way for an agreement between the United States and the Filipinos upon the fundamental questions at issue between them. Only as a part of such a general agreement can the Moro problem be put in the way of permanent and satisfactory solution. But whether it proceeds in agreement with the Filipinos or solely upon its own authority, the United States cannot escape responsibility for the fate of the four hundred thousand Moros whose country is rapidly being brought within the limits of Western civilization.

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