Philippine-American War, 1899-1902


Stalling Moro Resistance: The Bates Treaty and the Sultan of Sulu, Aug. 20, 1899

Sultan Jamal ul-Kiram, front, 3rd from left, in dark suit

The Muslim Moros are a multilingual ethnic group that comprised about 5.25% of the total Philippine population in 2005. Their name originated from the Spanish word Moor, and they mostly live in the western part of Mindanao Island, the Sulu Archipelago and nearby islands.

There are at least ten Moro ethno-linguistic subgroups, all descended from the same Malayan stock that populated the rest of the Philippines. Three of these groups make up the majority of the Moro. They are the Maguindanaos of North Cotabato, Sultan Kudarat, and Maguindanao provinces; the Maranaw of the two Lanao provinces; and the Tausug of the Sulu Archipelago. Smaller groups include the Banguigui, Samal, Badjao, Yakan, Ilanon, Sangir, Malabugnan, and the Jama Mapun.

They are not closely knit and lack solidarity. Each group is proud of their culture, identity and language, including their variation of Islam.

Original caption:  "A group of the unconquerable Mohammedans".  Photo was taken in the early 1900s.

The Moros were converted in the great missionary extension of Islam from India in the 15th and 16th centuries, although there had been earlier contacts with Arab missionaries in the 13th and 14th centuries. For over 300 years, they fought off  Spanish expeditions  to conquer their territory and convert them to Christianity; in return, they launched devastating raids on Christian settlements in the Visayas and Luzon Island.  Nevertheless, the Spaniards managed to establish small outposts in a few isolated areas in western Mindanao Island, but drained by centuries of Moro resistance and retaliation, succeeded in securing a peace treaty with Sultan Jamal ul-Azam of Sulu on July 22, 1878.

Sultan Jamal ul-Azam, ruler of Sulu and North Borneo/ Sabah from 1862 to 1881, receiving a French official delegation. The chief qadi, an Afghan, sits behind the Sultan. Source: J. Montano, Voyage aux Philippines et en Malaisie (Paris, 1886).

The western part of Mindanao and the neighbouring islands were ruled by the sultanates of Sulu and Maguindanao but the former was more compact and better organized.

When the Philippine-American War broke out, the US had to concentrate its limited forces in the north. To hold at bay Moro resistance to its colonization of the Sulu Archipelago, the US, represented by Brig. Gen. John C. Bates, forged a treaty with Sulu Sultan Jamal ul-Kiram, known as the Bates Treaty.

The Spanish Treaty of Peace with the Sulu sultanate had allowed Spain to set up a small garrison on Siasi Island and in the town of Jolo. After their defeat by the U.S., the Spaniards turned over the Siasi garrison to the Sultan.

It was not until May 19, 1899 that the U.S. sent troops to take over the Spanish fort in Jolo. The Americans had not been able to get troops to Jolo sooner because they could not afford to send any troops outside the Luzon area. (Serious Moro resistance commenced in 1903).

In place of the Spanish treaty, the Bates Treaty included the recognition of U.S. sovereignty over Sulu and its dependencies, mutual respect between the U.S. and the Sultanate of Sulu, Moro autonomy, non-interference with Moro religion and customs and a pledge that the "U.S. will not sell the island of Jolo or any other island of the Sulu Archipelago to any foreign nation without the consent of the Sultan."

Sultan Jamal ul-Kiram (SEATED, CENTER), his staff, US Army officers and some foreign Muslims, circa 1899-1901.

In addition, Sultan Jamal ul-Kiram and his datus (tribal chiefs) were to receive monthly payments in return for flying the American flag and for allowing the U.S. the right to occupy lands on the islands.

The Sultan did not wish to acknowledge US sovereignty but was prevailed upon to accept it by his prime minister and adviser Hadji Butu Abdul Bagui (LEFT) and two of his top ranking datus, Datu Jolkanairn and Datu Kalbi. Hadji Bagui, recognizing the folly of armed resistance, exerted all his influence to prevent another bloody war. Hadji Bagui and his son, Hadji Gulamu Rasul later favored integration of Moros into the Philippine republic.

The Bates Treaty did not last very long. After the U.S. had completed its goal of suppressing the resistance in northern Philippines, it unilaterally abrogated the Bates Treaty on March 2, 1904, claiming the Sultan had failed to quell Moro resistance and that the treaty was a hindrance to the effective colonial administration of the area.

Payments to the Sultan and his datus were also stopped but were restored by the US Philippine Commission in November 1904.

But in reality, Bates never intended to ratify the treaty. As Bates would later confess, the agreement was merely a temporary expedient to buy time until the northern forces were defeated.

Filipinos in the Spanish army wading through a creek on Mindanao island, 1887. The Spaniards pitted Christian Filipinos against the Muslim Moros.

Filipinos in the Spanish army carrying their wounded on Mindanao island, 1887.

Jolo town, Sulu Archipelago, in 1891

May 17, 1892:   Spanish troops at mass honoring King Alfonso XIII on his birthday. Photo taken in the Maranao Moro town of Momungan, in present-day Lanao del Norte Province, Mindanao Island. The Spaniards managed to establish several garrisons in Muslim Mindanao but their authority seldom extended beyond the range of their artillery.

May 17, 1892:   Spanish troops at mass honoring King Alfonso XIII on his birthday. Photo taken in Momungan, Lanao del Norte, Mindanao Island.

May 1892:   Spanish troops resting in the forest near their garrison in Momungan, Lanao del Norte, Mindanao Island.

1892The Countess of Caspe, the wife of Spanish Governor-General Eugenio Despujol y Dussay, Count of Caspe, visiting Siasi Island, Sulu Archipelago.   Photo probably taken in June 1892.

1890's:  Two Spanish missionaries baptize a Moro convert to Catholicism.  The number of christianized Moros was negligible; the vast majority remained true to their Islamic faith.

Original caption: "Moro women in the island of Mindanao. These are women of that unconquered Mohammedan tribe so famous in Philippine history." 1898 photo.

Sultan Mangigin, ruler of the Sultanate of Maguindanao, and his retainers. Photo was taken circa 1899-1901.


Sulu Datus ("Chiefs") in 1899

Tausug Moro horsemen in Sulu. Photo published in Leslie's Illustrated Weekly, issue of Dec. 30, 1899

The church in Jolo used by the 23rd US Infantry for sleeping quarters.  Photo published in Leslie's Illustrated Weekly, issue of Dec. 30, 1899


On May 19, 1899, the Spanish garrison at Jolo, in the Sulu Archipelago, was replaced by American troops. Photo shows US Army Headquarters in Jolo, as it looked in the early 1900's.

US Army Headquarters in Jolo. Colorized photo was taken in the early 1900s.

Jan. 2, 1900. Front, L to R: Hadji Kato Mohammad Sali (Sultan's sword-bearer), Hadji Butu Abdul Bagui (Sultan's Prime Minister), Major Owen J. Sweet (22nd US Infantry and American Governor of Sulu), Sultan Jamal ul-Kiram and Rajah Mudah Mohammad Mualil Wasit (the Sultan's brother and heir-apparent). Back, L to R: Charles Schuck (interpreter), Uttu Basarudin (adviser to the Sultan), Abdul Wahab (interpreter) and Capt. William H. Sage (Adjutant, 23rd Infantry and Secretary for Moro Affairs).

Tausug Moro warriors in Sulu.  Photo taken in 1900

Flag of the Sulu Sultanate

Tausug Moros on board a US warship, 3rd man from the right, holding a barong sword and rifle is a younger brother of Sultan Jamal ul-Kiram . Photo taken in the early 1900s.


A Moro house in Jolo, Sulu Archipelago

Photo was taken in the early 1900s.

Moro war dance.  Colorized photo taken in the early 1900's.

A group of Maranaw Moros at Lake Lanao.  Colorized photo taken in the early 1900's.

Maranaw Moros at Lake Lanao with US soldiers

A Moro Datu and his wife.   Photo taken in the early 1900s.

Tausug warriors on Jolo Island, Sulu Archipelago, circa 1901.

A group of Moro warriors.   Photo published in the Detroit Free Press - Illustrated Supplement, issue of May 17, 1903

Moro weapons

Moro weapons

Moro weapons

Moro "Lantakas" or small cannon

Panglima Hassan (Central figure), killed in action against the Americans on March 4, 1904 at Bud Bagsak  ("Mount Bagsak"). 

Hassan was the district commander of Luuk, Sulu, under the Sulu Sultanate. He was the first Tausug leader to defy the sultan¬ís order, that, in the interest of peace, the people should acknowledge American sovereignty. As an Imam (roughly translates to "prayer leader"), Panglima Hassan looked at the intrusive American "infidels" as threats to Islam and Moro society . The Tausug Moros had allowed the Spaniards to build a garrison in Siasi and a church in Jolo by virtue of the 1878 peace pact, but that was all. After 300 years of almost continuous warfare, the Spanish had known better than to try and impose their authority over the fiercely independent Sulu people. But the Americans --- backed by utterly lethal modern weapons --- had no such reservations.

In early November 1903, Hassan and about 3,000 to 4,000 warriors besieged the American garrison in Jolo. Armed only with krises (wavy-edged swords) and some old rifles, they bottled up the Americans for a week before being forced to withdraw.  Following a battle, Hassan was captured while bathing near his camp at Lake Seit in late November 1903, but he soon escaped. He resumed the war in February 1904 when, together with Datu ("Chief") Laksamana and Datu Usap, they attacked the pro-American Sultan Kiram and his forces in the battle of Pampang.

Bud Bagsak, pre-World War II photo.

He lost in the battle, and was later killed with his two companions along the crater of Bud Bagsak. Hassan had 17 wounds in his body, but died game, crawling with his kris in his mouth toward the nearest wounded American soldier  when the last bullet dispatched him.