Sultan of the River: The Rise and Fall of Datu Uto of Buayan

6 Aug Datu Utto

Datu UttoIn turning the page of our history, Maguindanao is barely mentioned in the chapter of Spanish occupation of the Philippines in comparison to Luzon and Visayas that are highlighted in history books. This can be understood in the light of the popular belief that Mindanao was never colonized by the Spaniards. This has been demythologized by historians citing the case of the Sultan of Cotabato who yielded to the Spanish power in the 19th century.

However, we cannot undermine the fact Mindanao gave the Spaniards their worst headaches in colonizing the entire Philippine islands which, on the other hand, they successfully accomplished with Luzon and Visayas to which they divided among themselves like pieces of cake.  The struggles of the Muslims against the imperialistic ambition of the Spaniards lasted for very long years, even centuries. The unrelenting efforts of the Muslim to protect their sacred lands were led by their mighty leaders. One of the legendary Muslim leaders was Datu Uto, who brought the Sultanate of Buayan into its highest grandeur.  Spanish accounts on Datu Uto were malignly written describing him as a fearless, clever leader who fought the Spaniards by combining military, political, economic, and diplomatic weapons.  Other accounts on Datu Uto were evil in content depicting him as a “barbaric” and “immoral” person, and even involved him in terrorist acts.  However, there were also positive sides of Datu Uto lifted from Montero y Vidal accounts describing him as a wise ruler and incomparable to other rulers because of his vast wealth and political power. He had as many as 4, 000 to 5, 000 slaves at the peak of his power in the 1870’s, then the biggest number owned by one person, and a great deal of modern arms, including cannons or lantakas.

The bad blood between the Muslims and Spaniards was brought about by the colonial ambition of Spain to put Maguindanao under its sphere of influence because its land was rich. The Muslims maintained friendly relations with the British who were their trading partner and the Dutch. They could have good relations with the Spaniards if the latter only offered their friendship. There were two major factors that pressed the Spanish government to change its policy towards the Muslims in Maguindanao whether by peaceful or diplomatic means: trade and suppression of piracy. The rich soil and forests of Mindanao ideal for planting of cacao and tobacco other agricultural crops for export appeared to be attractive for the Spaniards. It was also a response to British and French desire to take possession of Sulu and Basilan to safeguard the southern boundaries of the colony.

Datu Uto, born as Sultan Anwarud-din Uto, was the son of Sultan Bangon Marajanun of Buayan, the most famous ruling family of the upper valley of Maguindanao, and Tuan Bai Sa Buayan. He lived in the nineteenth century when Maguindanao was under the “bamboo curtain” with its impenetrable political and economic structures. Uto rose to prominence in the 1860’s when he led the rebellion that proved to be the main hindrance to absolute Spanish domination of the Maguindanao territories.

Spanish sorties to Maguindanao had added fuel to the fire to the existing rivalry between the sultanates of Cotabato and Buayan. In the first half of 19th century, Spain entered into treaties with Sulu and Cotabato in 1836 and 1837. Spanish vessels would be guaranteed protection through the payment of duties to the Cotabato and Sulu trading posts, and trading concessions to Cotabato and Sulu vessels in Manila. By this time, the Sultan of Cotabato was politically dependent to the Spanish government in order to secure its supremacy over other sultanates. In 1861, the Spaniards openly occupied the Cotabato sultanate. They raised their flag at the kota of Datu Amirol. However, a force led by Datu Maghuda, one of the Tumbao leaders, initiated a rebellion against the Cotabato sultan at Pagalungan, but was repressed by the sophisticated weapons of the Spaniards. It became known as pagalungan massacre as 200 natives were slaughtered.

In 1864, the Spaniards having decided to punish the rebels of Talayan asked assistance fro the Sultan of Buayan, Datu Uto’s father. They provided the Spaniards force of 500 led by Col. La Hoz with guides and warriors headed by Datu Uto. Marching towards Talayan, the group came upon a field of grass, where they were suddenly attacked by knife-wielding Talayans. It seemed that Datu Uto defied his father’s order when he and his men quickly joined the Talayans and, although inferior in number, overcame the Spaniards. Datu Uto was acclaimed as the hero of that encounter. It was this battle that Datu Utto, having joined his Muslim brothers, lost his right eye, for which he acquired the title “One-eyed man”.  On this battle, Uto became the undisputed leader of the Buayan sultanate despite the fact that it was his uncle who succeeded the Buayan Sultanate when his father died in 1872. The years 1865 to 1872, was a period of stability although interrupted by some threats and counter threats between the Spanish forces and forces of Datu Uto.
Datu Uto shared with the Sultan of Sulu the same sentiment against the Spanish incursion of Maguindanao. In 1874, Datu Uto joined forces with the sultanate of Sulu in harassing the Spaniards. The governor reacted quickly by ordering a military manhunt for him. Although the Spaniards were able to partially occupy Bakat, his foremost stronghold, Datu Uto escaped unscathed. Later through guerilla attacks, he and his men forced the Spaniards not only to relinquish their position in the stronghold but also opted, in May 1875, to establish a peace accord with Uto.

The seeming harmony, however, was short-lived. The following year, the Spaniards occupied Jolo and by 1877, had persuaded the sultan of Tumbao to form an alliance with the sultan of Cotabato against the Buayan chief. Owing to the provisions of the 1875 treaty, the Spaniards recognized the independence of Datu Uto’s territory as long as he kept away from their strongholds. In 1885, Cotabato had a new Spanish governor, Federico Roldan, who abandoned this policy of accommodation for one of confrontation. Roldan initiated a sequence of moves to provoke renewed hostilities between his camp and that of Datu Uto.
To make the situation worse, Governor Serina sent on February 13, 1886 sentries to demolish the grove trees sheltering the ancestral homes of Datu Uto’s family in Bakat, fortunately they spared the tombs, to give way to the construction of a planned Spanish fort on a site beside the grove. The forces of Datu Uto retaliated by engaging in a bloody fight with the Spanish forces and raiding of Christians settlements in Cotabato.
Trapped in the situation with no way out, Datu Uto raised the white flag on March 28 and had literally brought to the Spanish camp by his minister of war, Datu Kabalo. Howevr, Gov. Serina ordered that Uto and his wife sign a petition authorizing the Spaniards to take any place along the Pulangi River with the exception of Bakat as it was a sacred place for the Maguindanao. However, this was disregarded by the Spaniards.
Datu Uto’s rule suffered a major blow when Sarangani Bay fell to the hands of the Spanish forces from which Uto had derived much of his sultanate’s income. In June 1886, his base in the bay was demolished. The bay’s closure to inland Maguindanao meant the loss of trade as well as access to Sulu firearms not only for Buayan but also of the sultans loyal to Spain. Incensed, these sultans formed an alliance against Uto and declared war against him that same year.
One by one, Datu Uto’s chief followers fell, starting with Datu Kambing, followed by Datu Kaliz, and finally the Sultan of Talayan. In January 1887, Governor-General Emilio Terrero personally led an all-out war attack on Buayan itself. Every kota of Maguindanao, including that of Datu Uto, were demolished.

The sultan of Kudarangan negotiated for absolute peace with the Spaniards followed by the pledge of loyalty to Spain by Uto’s cousin Tambilawan, the Raja Muda of Kudarangan, and by a Magundanao peace mission headed by his other uncle, Datu Silungan. Finally on March 10, 1887, Datu Uto himself, along with his wife and other datus signed the peace treaty formulated by the Spaniards and brought to him by Datu Silungan. Datu Utto gradually lost his prestige among the Datus of the Valley because of the defection of his allies. All these defections were manipulated by the Spaniards.
After 1888, Datu Uto was stripped of his rank and his legacy was lost in the memory of the people.
We Filipinos do turn blind eye to our heroes who fought and died for their ideas.  If not forgotten, our heroes were taken for granted because of our lack of interest in studying their lives as we found it not applicable anymore in our society that heavily relies on technologies.  It is only during the celebration of independence that we give our heroes attention, making them less invisible. Datu Uto is one of the unsung heroes in our history, but his legend lives on. (by: Quennie Ann J. Palafox)


The Kris and the Samurai

30 Jul

The drums of war caught the Joloanos by surprise. Pearl Harbor was thousands of miles away, but the news of the Japanese bombing was so electrifying that a cloud of anxiety blanketed the island of Jolo. It was Dec. 8, 1941. War had finally come and the much ridiculed Japanese war machines would certainly come to attack the Philippines.

And attack they did on December 24, 1941. In Jolo the Chinese residents of the island were the first to feel the cruelty of the invaders. The Japanese executed a lot of them for supporting the Chinese resistance in China. Jolo was important then as a staging area for the Japanese invasion of North Borneo.

The whole province of Sulu went under Japanese control, and the corollary Japanese brutality came to rear its ugly head. Soon various secret armed groups were organized, but they were fragmented and there was no central command for them to unite and rely upon for effective coordinated operations.

The first open defiance made by any guerilla outfit in Sulu was launched by a Tausug, Abdulrahim Imao, whose force landed in Siasi on December 25, 1942. His group, known as “the fighting 21”, provided the nucleus for which other willing leaderless guerillas flocked upon.

The Japanese twice attacked Imao’s headquarters. And twice they were repulsed and this with the Japanese using gunboats and warplanes. The place was called “Little Bataan of Sulu” after that.

Then on February 10, 1943, a veteran Philippine Constabulary officer, Col. Alejandro Suarez assumed command of the Sulu guerilla forces. Juarez who had just escaped from captivity, returned to his original area of operation in Sulu, and proceeded to consolidate the resistance there. Their group was recognized by Col. Wendell W. Fertig, the commanding officer of the 10th Military District, Mindanao guerrillas, and designated as the 125th Infantry Regiment. This guerilla unit was composed primarily of Muslim Tausugs, Samals, some Christians and even some sea gypsies. Later some Australians who escaped from Japanese captivity in North Borneo joined them.

These guerillas launched daring ambushes and harassed the Japanese, disrupting the implementation of their occupation plans. More importantly, the guerillas supplied intelligence reports to Allied headquarters about Japanese ship and aircraft movement, leading to the sinking of several enemy ships in the area.

With the guerilla becoming a serious threat to the Japanese who were developing Bongao as a Naval base. Air bombing operations were launched to destroy the guerilla headquarters, forcing them to move deeper in the jungles of Tawi-Tawi.

On Feb. 12, 1944 Col. Suarez received a message from Gen. Douglas MacArthur ordering him to establish a guerilla outfit to be called the Sulu Area Command with territorial responsibility on the Sulu Archipelago.

The American submarine, the Narwhal, then delivered tons of war equipment to the group of Feb. 22, 1944. Just in time for the defensive action against the Japanese.

The guerilla stronghold at Bato-bato was attacked by the Japanese on April 12, 1944. Knowing the terrain well, the guerillas inflicted a heavy toll on the Japanese soldiers. But eventually the guerillas were forced to withdraw from their camp. But not without killing more Japanese.

A continuous delivery of arms and supplies by American submarines insured the fighting capability of the guerillas. More than enough for them to launch offensive operations in Sulu and even Borneo.

In November 1944, the Sulu Area Command made simultaneous attacks in Tawi-tawi, Siasi and Jolo and never let go of the offensive operation until the end of organized enemy resistance.

On March 30, 1945, the last Japanese garrison in Tawi-tawi was wiped-out. On April 2, 1945, the first American troops landed in Bongao. The Sulu Area Command guerillas were in the beach to welcome them. Meanwhile, the Japanese forces in Siasi were so beaten up that they withdrew to Jolo for a final defense of the area.

The guerillas stepped up their attacks on the Japanese in Jolo and mauled them so badly that when the Americans landed in Jolo on 9 April 1945 Japanese could not put up even a feeble attempt for a counter attack.

In one of the ambushes conducted by the guerillas, a Japanese general was killed. He was Maj. Gen. Suzuki, Commander of the 55th Independent Mixed Brigade on Jolo Island. Some Japanese soldiers defending Mt. Tumantangis chose to kill themselves rather than surrender to these terrible, fearless SAC guerillas.

The Japanese surely on the verge of defeat still fought on. There were only a few of them who managed to survive. These were those who escaped to American line.

Moping up operations were deadlier than any other military mission, as the Japanese chose to fight to the end rather than surrender. But the guerillas, especially the Tausugs, were experts in fighting to the end. The masters of the Samurai finally met its match with the wielders of the Kris.

The mopping up operations continued until well after the Japanese surrender.

The Sulu Area Command was later incorporated into the 61st Infantry Regiment, Philippine Army on July 18, 1945.

The Sulu Area Command activities during World War II were largely overlooked and were barely mentioned in history books. But the efforts they made in defending freedom and their way of life ranks along side, and maybe above, with those of other more familiar Filipino freedom fighters.

And perhaps, the most important lesson to be learned here is that any government, in dealing with Muslim Mindanao, especially in Sulu, should not put any problem to the test of force. Because in any encroachment against the freedom of these people, the Kris always prevails.

Peter Jaynul V. Uckung
Senior History Researcher