Military Governor: THOMAS M. ANDERSON June 30, 1898 to July 25, 1898 [overlapping with the Presidency of Emilio Aguinaldo]

Turn of the century

Mindanao was populated by thousands of nomad’s sites and hamlets barely connected to each other.[1] The edges of language regions overlap and shade off into each other.

While there was already a deep sense of separation between them and the animist cultures of Mindanao, the Islamicized peoples of Mindanao were, also, separate from each other. Language links did not promote an Islam-based homogeneity, except in the case of what linguists categorize today as the Danao language group,[1] consisting of Maguindanaon, Maranao, and Iranun/Illanun. The Tausug of Sulu were not only linguistically separate from Central, West, and South Mindanao — the separation was historically layered. By this turn of the century, the Tausug had already forgotten their linguistic and cultural roots in northeastern Mindanao, residence of their closest linguistic relatives, the Cebuano (or Sugbuhanon) and Butuanon speakers.[2] The Sama — speakers of the Sinama languages, notably including the (Malaysian) Bajau and the (Philippine) Badjao — preceded the Tausug in the Sulu archipelago by centuries. The Sama peoples had the farthest range of any Philippine language group, and until the 20th C, there are more Sama speakers living in waters outside the Philippines than within. The Samalan peoples ranged in waters from Timor to Samar to Borneo to Sulawesi. The Yakan are Sama speakers.[3]

August 20, 1898

Military Governor: WESLEY MERRITT July 25, 1898 to August 29, 1898 [overlapping with the presidency of E. Aguinaldo]

The Kiram-Bates Agreement was signed between American Brigadier General John C. Bates and Jamalul Kiram II, Sultan of Sulu, declaring the sovereignty of the US over the predominantly Muslim Sulu Archipelago and its dependencies. The Sultan’s Prime Minister, Hadji Butu Abdul Bagui, and his son, Hadji Gulamu Rasul, both thought that integration into the Philippine republic would prevent unnecessary bloodshed. The US pledged to respect the rights and dignities of the sultan and his datus; and not to interfere in the local practice of Islam, their social customs and mores, and form of governance. President McKinley approved the Agreement. The Muslims of Mindanao and southern Palawan did not join the Luzon and Visayas struggle against the US, even as a substantial number engaged in their own anti-US armed rebellion. Retrospectively to some scholars, the Agreement was structurally undermined by mistranslations across the languages used in the documents. Another serious misunderstanding was to stem from the erroneous assumption of General Otis, Commander of the US forces, that all Mindanao Muslims would abide by the treaty with the Sultan. Only Bates knew otherwise: that the other Muslims of Mindanao, speaking other languages and owing allegiance to local leaders, would not regard themselves to be bound by this treaty.

November 25, 1898

Military Governor: ELWELL S. OTIS August 29, 1898 to May 5, 1900 [overlapping with the presidency of E. Aguinaldo]

US President William McKinley cabled the American delegation to the negotiations leading to the Treaty of Paris, instructing them to demand the entire Philippine archipelago. He wrote: “… to accept merely Luzon, leaving the rest of the islands subject to Spanish rule, or to be the subject of future contention, cannot be justified on political, commercial, or humanitarian grounds. The cessation must be the whole archipelago or none. The latter is wholly inadmissible, and the former must therefore be required.” Earlier in the negotiations, Spain was wishing to only cede Mindanao/Sulu, keeping Luzon. But the US had already won its military victory over Spain and could dictate the outcome of the Treaty.


Spanish forces evacuated Cotabato City (including Tamontaka), ending what was, in any case, a short-lived Spanish military supremacy in the region. Writing in the 1970s, the eminent historian Reynaldo C. Ileto wrote of the actions of two datus, Ali and Djiambangan, close relatives of the important Datu Utto of the late 19th C: “…the members of the [Spanish] Provisional Government left behind by the retreating Spaniards were turned upon by Ali and Djiambangan, with the tacit consent of Piang. Cotabato itself was sacked; the Church and convent badly damaged. Images, engravings and other devotional objects were publicly desecrated, the pent-up wrath of the Magindanaos against the Christian colonizers reached a peak of expression.” Unlike Datu Piang, who was to consolidate his power by working within the so-called pax Americana, Datus Ali and Djiambangan resisted American rule.

February 4, 1899 to 1902

Members of the Katipunan revolutionary army shifted into active struggle against the new colonizers. The Philippine-American War that ensued involved the Muslim areas of the Philippines only insofar as the United States understood these territories to be part of the purchase of the Philippines for US$21 million. The Philippine-American War is generally understood to have ended with the surrender of the last Katipunan general, Miguel Malvar, in 1902. However, armed resistance continued, particularly in Batangas, for years.

February 28, 1899

Chavacano-speaking residents of the settlement called Zamboanga declared independence. The last Spanish commander in the Philippines surrendered their fort to the Filipino revolutionaries. The Republica de Zamboanga lasted nine months.

May 19, 1899

As the Philippine-American War transpired in Luzon, and partially in the Visayas and Mindanao, two American military battalions of the 23rd Infantry, with 733 officers and men, occupied Jolo, Sulu, raised the American flag, and commenced the colonial occupation of Sulu. The American soldiers used the Catholic Church of Jolo as sleeping quarters.

August 10, 1899

President McKinley wrote: “The authorities of the Sulu Islands have accepted the succession of the United States to the rights of Spain, and our flag floats over that territory. On the 10th of August 1899, Brig. Gen. J. C. Bates, United States Volunteers, negotiated an agreement with the Sultan and his principal chiefs, which I transmit herewith. By Article I the sovereignty of the United States over the whole archipelago of Jolo and its dependencies is declared and acknowledged.” In the 20th C, questions were raised about what the Sultan agreed to.

October 30, 1899

The US Armed Forces created the Military District of Mindanao, Jolo, and Palawan (Paragua) as part of US Army operations during its conquest of the Philippines.

November 16, 1899

The American military forces occupied Zamboanga City, securing its inclusion in American Philippines, terminating thus the Republica de Zamboanga.

December 1899

Following through from the occupation of Zamboanga City, the US Army established garrisons in a number of strategic locations, notably Parang, Banganga, Mati, and Polloc, along the extended coastlines of the Cotabato and Davao areas.

1899 to 1900

Aside from the events in Cotabato, Muslim leaders in Lanao, Zamboanga, and Sulu harassed and captured many of the remaining defenders of Spanish garrisons. The subsequent encounters with US Army units transpired within this context of radical possibility, when shifts in the order of power were clearly large-scale.


Misamis encompassed the present northern provinces of Misamis Occidental, Misamis Oriental, Camiguin, Bukidnon, part of Zamboanga del Norte, Lanao del Sur, and Lanao del Norte. The precolonial homeland of the Subanun people, Misamis, became predominantly Christian in the latter centuries of Spanish colonial administration, ruling it as part of Cebu.

1899 to 1903

To mid-20th C scholar Peter Gowing: “During the years of military occupation, the U.S. Army was related to the Muslim Filipinos in much the way it had long been related to the North American Indians. The Muslims, like the Indians, were regarded as living in ‘a state of pupilage’ on territory owned by the United States. The Army’s main task was to keep them peaceful. The Army was not to antagonize the Muslims by attempting to regulate their affairs except ‘to prevent barbarous practices’… Army activities were mainly limited to suppressing piracy, curtailing the slave trade (though not abolishing slavery) and keeping Muslim internecine conflicts within bounds.”

1899 to 1903

Of the 30 American generals to serve in the Philippines during this period, 26 were veterans of the US Army campaigns against the native Americans in the Great Plains of the US. Military strategy deployed in those campaigns was thus introduced into Mindanao.

March 10, 1900

The American colonial government issued General Order No. 31, creating the Mining Bureau to administer mining grants and claims. It provided that claims instituted prior to April 11, 1899 were to be addressed by the Bureau of Public Lands.

March 21, 1900

The American rout of Christian resistance fighters gained momentum in Mindanao, as in the rest of the Philippines. Cagayan de Misamis (today’s Cagayan de Oro City) was invaded by Companies A, C, D, and M of the 40th Infantry Regiment of US Volunteers.

April 1900

Incipient distrust of the new foreign presence among Muslims was described by an American military account of this period: “Americans occupied the coastal towns of Cotabato and Davao in the south, Cagayan, Iligan and Misamis in the north, and Dapitan in the northwest. Those intrusions, though bloodless, nevertheless alarmed and irritated the Moros, if only because the Americans appeared to be stronger and far better organized than their Spanish predecessors. And so, separate bands from the Maranaos tribe[1] of Moros suddenly pounced on three different American camps in the north, only to be sharply repelled by the alert Americans. At Cagayan, the Moros’ loss was 50 killed compared to only four Americans; at Agusan it was 38 to none and at Misamis 57 to seven. The Sultan of Sulu commented, ‘Americans were like a match box. If you strike one they all go off!’

June 1900

Military Governor: ARTHUR MACARTHUR, JR. May 5, 1900 to July 4, 1901

General MacArthur offered a 90-day amnesty to Mindanao anti-American fighters, with a promise of “complete immunity for the past and liberty for the future.” He also offered 30 pesos per rifle surrendered. The initiative did not succeed. This early resistance to disarmament was to prove a continuing motif in the next century and in the relationships between the Muslim peoples of Mindanao and the entities wishing to exercise authority over them. It should be recalled that Jolo and Cotabato areas accumulated modern armaments in the 19th C and previous centuries through extensive commerce with island Southeast Asia, the Arab world, the Indian subcontinent, and China.

June 4 to September 13, 1900

Pocket resistance to American colonization persisted in Mindanao. After successfully engaging American forces in Makahambus Gorge near Cagayan de Misamis, Filipinos captured 55 American soldiers in a notable event of American defeat. Manobo fighters were among the ones engaging the US garrison in Libona, Bukidnon, on August 1900, where the US forces prevailed over them. Anti-American battles followed in Misamis and Agusan.