President: Manuel Luis Molina Quezon November 15, 1935 to August 1, 1944
Chief of Staff: Major General Jose Delos Reyes, Philippine Army December 21, 1935 to May 6, 1936

May 14, 1935

The Constitution of the Philippines was ratified by a large majority of the citizenry. Among its provisions are the ceilings for the maximum hectares for individuals and corporations leasing public lands at 1,024 hectares; and 2,000 hectares for grazing leases.

1935 to 1944

During the Commonwealth of the Philippines, the work of government executives and legislators sought to end the privileges the Muslims had been enjoying under the earlier American administration. Muslim exemptions from some national laws, as expressed in the Administrative Code for Mindanao, and the Muslim right to use their traditional Islamic courts, as expressed in the Moro Board, were ended. The perception gained credence, among Muslims, that governance by Filipinos was hostile to their interests.

May 14, 1935

Article I of the Philippine Constitution defined the national territory as: “…all the territory ceded to the United States by the Treaty of Paris concluded between the United States and Spain on the tenth day of December, eighteen hundred and ninety-eight, the limits which are set forth in Article III of said treaty, together with all the islands embraced in the treaty concluded at Washington between the United States and Spain on the seventh day of November, nineteen hundred, and the treaty concluded between the United States and Great Britain on the second day of January, nineteen hundred and thirty, and all territory over which the present Government of the Philippine Islands exercises jurisdiction.”


A march was held in Dansalan protesting the inclusion of Muslim areas in the Philippine territory as set forth in the Constitution. While it was a minor event in terms of numbers, it is noted for indicating a sentiment that did not die.

December 21, 1935

Commonwealth Act No. 1, the National Defense Act, created the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP). The AFP was established with ten military districts: five in the islands of Luzon, Mindoro, Palawan, and Masbate; four in the Visayas; and one covering all of Mindanao and the Sulu Archipelago. The Act instituted a universal draft and created the Philippine Military Academy. National defense was the major theme of the first address of President Quezon to the newly elected National Assembly in mid-1935. The AFP, whose principles and strategies adopted US military philosophy from its inception, would bring that American perspective into the conduct of battle in all parts of 20th C Philippines.

June 11, 1936

Chief of Staff: Major General Paulino Santos, Philippine Army and Philippine Constabulary May 6, 1936 to December 31, 1938
Military Advisor to the Philippine Commonwealth: General Douglas MacArthur, United States Armed Forces 1936 to 1939

Upon the death of Sultan Jamal-ul Kiram II, who was without direct heirs, the ruma bichara petitioned the government for Dayang Dayang Hadjia Piandao to become Sultana. This petition was declined because of her gender.

November 25, 1936

Executive Order No. 66 created the municipality of Dulawan (most of which will become Datu Piang at mid-century). It is more or less coincident with the area in the middle of the vast Liguasan Marsh that had been the core of the Buayan sultans’ domain of the sa raya, or “in the upper valley”

Maguindanaoan people. This Buayan power center was the traditional rival of the sa ilud, or “in the lower valley” Maguindanaoan, whose core territory on the other hand is the delta of the Pulangi River as it flows out into Illana Bay, or today’s Cotabato City.

June 16, 1936

In his second State of the National Address, President Quezon articulated the official policy with regard to Mindanao thus: “The time has come when we should systematically proceed with and bring about the colonization and economic development of Mindanao. A vast and rich territory with its untapped natural resources is a temptation to enterprising nations that are looking for an outlet for their excess population. If, therefore, we are resolved to conserve Mindanao for our posterity, and ourselves we must bend all our efforts to occupy and develop it and guard against avarice and greed. Its colonization and development will require no little capital. But every cent spent for this purpose will mean increased national wealth and greater national security. There are provinces in Luzon and the Visayas that are already overpopulated. There are localities in some of those provinces where the people live on large estates without opportunity to earn a livelihood sufficient to meet the necessities of civilized life, much less to own the land wherein they live and which they cultivate. It is inconceivable that such a situation should exist in a country with extensive areas of fertile uncultivated lands. I invite you, therefore, to give this matter preferential consideration.” He added: “The so- called Moro problem is a thing of the past. We are giving our Mohammedan brethren the best government they have ever had and we are showing them our devoted interest in their welfare and advancement. In turn they are giving us their full cooperation. Let us reserve for them in their respective localities such land of the public domain as they may need for their well-being. Let us, at the same time, place in the unoccupied lands of that region industrious Filipinos from other provinces of the Archipelago, so that they may live together in perfect harmony and brotherhood.”

September 23, 1936

The town of Zamboanga, former capital of the Moro Province, became a chartered city through Commonwealth Act No. 39. It is noteworthy that all Mindanao municipalities created into chartered cities in the early 20th C became centers of power through the rest of the century, each possessed of a particular ethnic character. Because of its pidgin-Spanish tongue,[1] Zamboanga City has been given to an identity derivative of Spanish culture.

October 16, 1936

The town of Davao became a chartered city, capital of the still undivided Province of Davao, realizing Commonwealth Act No. 51. The new city had 68,000 inhabitants, most brought into Mindanao by the vast coconut and abaca plantations and sawmill operations. Migration thus had a different complexion in Davao, propelled by the need for labor in already existing large-scale agribusiness enterprises.

October 24, 1936

The National Assembly enacted the Commonwealth Act No. 75, abolishing the Bureau of Non-Christian Tribes (BNCT) and creating the Office of the Commissioner of Mindanao and Sulu. The new Office was administratively located under the Secretary of Interior.

November 7, 1936

Commonwealth Act No. 141 or the Public Land Act declared all ancestral lands to be public domain. A key provision states: “Any citizen of the Philippines over the age of eighteen years, or the head of a family, who does not own more than twenty-four hectares of land in the Philippines or has not had the benefit of any gratuitous allotment of more than twenty-four hectares of land since the occupation of the Philippines by the United States, may enter a homestead of not exceeding twenty-four hectares of agricultural land of the public domain.” Activist, secessionist, and some legal opinion, in the course of the 20th C, aver that this law effectively dispossessed all Mindanao peoples who did not hold a Torrens title.

November 25, 1936

Executive Order No. 66 effected a political reorganization of the traditional core area of the pre-20th C Buayan sultanate, upstream (sa raya) of the Pulangi River. It recreated independent municipalities, under the names of Dulawan and Midsayap, out of the municipal districts of Daguma, Isulan, Maganuy, Reina Regente, Talayan, and the southern portion of the municipal district of Dulawan, as well the municipal district of Libungan and the northern portion of the municipal district of Dulawan, Province of Cotabato. Aside from the Buayan-oriented Maguindanao, the area overlapped with the traditional homelands of the Iranun-speaking Muslims, and the “pagan” Livungan and Arumanen Manobo. Executive Order No. 66 separated Midsayap from the large area of Dulawan and Pikit. Subsequently, the first mayor of the new municipality was a migrant Christian. The Christian enclave was thus marked off from the Muslim core areas in Central Mindanao.

January 29, 1937

Datu Ombra Amilbangsa, husband of Dayang Dayang Hadjia Piandao, assumed the title of Sultan of Sulu. Almost simultaneously, Datu Tambuyong was likewise proclaimed Sultan, by another, opposing, set of datus. Datu Tambuyong, who took the name Sultan Jainal Aberin, and named as his successor his brother, Datu Buyungan, who, at this time, was the husband of Dayang Dayang Tarhata Kiram. Both Sultans claimed the title from 1937 to 1950. This intra- clan conflict had the effect of undermining the sultanate’s claim to Sabah

May 9, 1937

Dayang Dayang Hadjia Piandao and eight other heirs of the Sultanate of Sulu filed a civil suit regarding the monies payable to the non-direct descendants of Jamalul Kiram II the previous year. The juridical entity of North Borneo would give 5,300 ringgits annually to the heirs as compensation.

September 20, 1937

President Quezon, in a memorandum, instructed Secretary of Interior Elpidio Quirino not to recognize official rights or powers of datus and sultans, even as their titles are recognized. This policy sustained a concept that emerged during American colonization, intended to push the secularization of Philippine society. From this mindset, secularization meant upending the traditional leadership systems of cultures in all parts of the archipelago.

October 18, 1937

In his State of the Nation Address, President Quezon reiterated his land reform concept. “We are committed to the policy of acquiring the haciendas which, in the opinion of the Government, should be subdivided in small lots and resold to the tenants actually working on said lots. In a message to the National Assembly in its first regular session, I stated that we were not in a position to redeem this pledge, not only because we had no funds with which to purchase these estates, but also because I feared that we would only be transferring the trouble faced by the owners of these estates to the Government itself. Since then we have come into this fund accruing to the Commonwealth from the processing tax on oil, and I deem it proper and wise to use a part of it for the acquisition of these haciendas. In order that the Government may accomplish its objective more completely this time than when it brought the Friar lands…”


According the Annual Report of the Philippine President, the country’s average rice consumption required 3,129,000,000 pounds of rice a year, and the harvest for 1937 exceeded that requirement by 131,000,000 pounds, most of which were in the hands of the National Rice and Corn Corporation. This brief rice self-sufficiency occurred as massive rodent infestation commenced in settlement rice fields in Mindanao.

May 1938

The labor union AMT, or Aguman ding Maldang Talapagobra, Kapampangan for League of Poor Laborers, staged strikes and mass demonstrations against landholders of Central Luzon. Led by Luis Taruc, the group also consisted the Socialist Party. Taruc later wrote in recollection: “On the haciendas there were laborers who were paid less than ten centavos a day…Thousands of miles away the Spreckles sugar interests in California reached into the sugar centrals of Pampanga and took their fortune from the sweat of Filipino labor.” The landlords called on the Philippine Constabulary (PC) to come to their aid. The alignment of the PC with landlord interest during this period was to be echoed in the mid-20th C, when the PC aligned with the politico-economic elite of Mindanao.


President Quezon assigned his Armed Forces Chief of Staff, General Paulino Santos, the leadership role in quelling piracy; and to subdue Kota Dilausan in Lanao specifically.

The AFP surveyed the entirety of the undivided Cotabato, as well as Davao (the Monkayo-Campostela region from the upper Agusan Region), principally to identify lands with agricultural promise. The survey discovered Mt. Diwalwal as a major reserve of gold and silver.

June 23, 1938

Through Commonwealth Act No. 343, President Quezon separated the PC from the Philippine Army (AFP), stating “Law enforcement is not properly a military responsibility.” The PC was attached to the Office of the President for seven months, after which it was placed under the Department of Interior. The PC was to figure prominently — as an agent of what were, in the ensuing decades, the different concepts of how to address the Moro independent spirit — in the affairs of Mindanao until its incorporation into the Integrated National Police in 1987.

September 20, 1938

President Quezon issued a memorandum that first defined the Philippine Commonwealth policy for the Muslims of the Philippines. The Secretary of Interior was given the task of directing the “general development work in Mindanao and Sulu,” and to improve “the condition of the people educationally, morally, and materially.” The policy gave a directive “not to recognize the power of the datus, to protect the common people from the control or exploitation of the sultans, datus, leaders, etc.,” and “that the people should be heard and consulted.” It adds that “equality between the titled datus and the common people before the law and their rights must be recognized.” Civilian governors were to be appointed in lieu of the PC officers heretofore appointed.

November 7, 1938

After the leaders of the Communist Party of the Philippines, President Quezon also gave absolute pardon to the Partido Komunista ng Pilipinas (PKP), hence effectively legalizing Communist Party activities except for armed rebellion. The PKP merged with the Socialist Party affiliated AMT. The American Communist Party leader James Allen, who originally broached to President Quezon the idea of absolute pardon for Filipino Communists, remarked that no ideological differences actually separated the two groups. With this merger, the Nueva Ecija based Kapisanang Pambansa ng Magbubukid ng Pilipinas, aligned with the PKP and worked together with the AMT. At this point, peasant rebellion was no longer limited to single provinces and had greater geographic coverage.

February 15, 1939

President Quezon issued a statement supporting the acceptance of Jewish migrants into Mindanao. He articulated the thinking behind the statement: “…that it could be accomplished in the interest of a national program, without in any way depriving Filipino citizens of the opportunity of enjoying the benefits of that undertaking. Moreover, the Philippines could gain positive advantages from the execution of this plan. The proposed settlement would provide Filipino settlers in neighboring areas with a practical example of modern farming methods practiced in the most advanced farming sections in Europe. Also, these refugees could develop new crops familiar to them and which might be profitably produced here.”

June 3, 1939

Commonwealth Act No. 441, or the Act Creating the National Land Settlement Administration (NLSA), was passed. Its stated intent was: “(a) To facilitate the acquisition, settlement and cultivation of lands whether acquired from the Government or from private parties; (b) To afford opportunity to own farms to tenant farmers and small farmers from congested areas, and to trainees who have completed the prescribed military training; (c) To encourage migration to sparsely populated regions, and facilitate the amalgamation of the people in different sections of the Philippines; (d) To develop new money crops to take the place of the present export crops which may suffer from the loss of preferences which they enjoy in the American market.” The NLSA was given a capital stock of PHP20 million. It would immediately open up “virgin lands” mostly in Mindanao to agriculture by migrant farmers.

December 18, 1939

C.F. C. Mackaskie, Chief Justice of North Borneo (today’s Sabah) delivered the ruling for his state’s High Court, legitimizing the entitlement of the heirs of the Sultan of Sulu to payment for North Borneo. In this Civil Suit No. 169/39, this “cession payment” was based on a translation into English by Maxwell and Gibson, which in time will be challenged. In a side note, Mackaskie stated that the successor-in-sovereignty of the sultanate was the Philippine Government. The obiter dictum was based on a British account that wrongly reported the Philippine Government had abolished the sultanate.


Chief of Staff: Major General Basilio J. Valdez,[1] Philippine Constabulary January 1, 1939 to November 7, 1945 [with his incumbency interrupted by World War II]

General Paulino Santos was named head of the incipient National Land Settlement Administration (NLSA). The new body was organized based on recommendations of a three-man committee tasked to study the Quezon presidency priority of land resettlement in Mindanao for Luzon and Visayas. The committee was composed of Secretary of Interior Rafael Alunan, Secretary of Finance Manuel Roxas, and Secretary of Agriculture Benigno S. Aquino. The NLSA was to supersede the work of the Inter-Island Migration Division of the Bureau of Labor, which, from 1918 to 1939, resettled 30,000 to 35,000 individuals from Luzon and the Visayas, into Mindanao.

General Paulino Santos led the first group of 200 migrants from Luzon and the Visayas to the Lagao area of Koronadal Valley, to form six settler communities in what were, in previous centuries, the contiguous homelands of the Muslim Maguindanao and the animist B’laan, Tiruray, and Bagobo peoples. The entry port of Luzon and Visayas migrants into southern Mindanao was the B’laan settlement called Dadiangas, which was to be then renamed General Santos City after the first architect of resettlement in Mindanao. Military involvement in demographic movement was enhanced by General Santos’ swift transition from his military leadership role as AFP Chief of Staff — and prior to that rank, a two-decade service in the PC — into the work of supervising resettlement in Mindanao. But retrospective accounts indicate a man with some understanding of Mindanao. One settler recruited by Santos from Tarlac, where Santos was born, bringing up apprehensions about the Muslims, was told: “Gaya rin sila, sa atin na nag-alala, baka kaming mga sundalo ay mamamatay-tao.” (“They are also like us, fearing we the soldiers are killers.”)

In the census taken this year, the number of Japanese workers in the abaka and coconut plantations in the area of what is now Davao City, numbered 18,000. The Japanese agricultural plantations, the largest of which was that by the Okinawan pioneer Ohta, were to control 140,000 hectares of prime agricultural land, through either purchase or lease. The scale of the operations of these plantations included control over baling and shipping of the products.

President Quezon organized a Rural Progress Administration that would implement the 1938 Commonwealth Act 461, authorizing expropriation of large estates. This was an initiative to address an emergent peasant movement in Central Luzon, and was articulated as fundamental to the presidency’s social justice legislative package of reform. The rise of peasant organizations was in response to onerous conditions in the large-scale, American-style plantations— mainly growing sugar in Central Luzon and Western Visayas.

This year, the population of Mindanao was an estimated 1.4 million. At the end of the Spanish regime, 40 years prior, it had a population of 500,000, composed of Muslims and animist peoples. Hence, before the second half of the 20th C arrived, the Muslim population of Mindanao had become a demographic minority.

By this end of the third decade of the 20th C, 35.1 % of all Filipino farmers were tenants. This was more than double the percentage during the first decade. According to scholar David Wurfel: “The tenancy problem was geographically as peculiar to Central Luzon as it was agronomical to rice. In 1939, five Central Luzon provinces, all of which had the greater part of their farm land planted to rice, had share tenancy rates above 50 percent: Tarlac, 50.5, Cavite, 53.5, Bulacan, 62.2, Pampanga, 64.6, and Nueva Ecija, 66.3. The only place outside Central Luzon where rice culture and high tenancy rates coexisted was Panay. In the third important rice growing region, Hocos, the land was usually cultivated by its owners.”


By this year, the dam built by General Paulino Santos of the NLSA was irrigating 1,500 hectares of Koronadal land in what is now South Cotabato.

The two types of activist peasant and labor organizations that arose in the 1920s engaged in mutually beneficial support in order to work within electoral politics. From their ranks, politicians won seats in Pampanga. Civil strife was becoming pronounced even as the threat of global conflict intensified.


Immediately prior to the Second World War, it was estimated that 80% of Luzon peasant farmers were hopelessly indebted to their landlords. Social reform and social justice were concepts that were only beginning to be tested in the body politic at this time — structural concepts beyond the 19th C ideas of charity.

Latter 1941

At the outset of the Second World War, the NLSA had resettled 8,300 families. However, the entire social reform package was realized with great difficulty through the legislative process, in a National Assembly that was dominated by the plantation owning elite.


The Philippine Commonwealth Army and the United States Armed Forces in the Far East (USAFFE) established its 101st Infantry Division in Lanao before the province fell to Japanese occupying forces.

Filipinos of both Muslim and Christian allegiances, together with American soldiers, waged guerrilla warfare against the Japanese Imperial Army in Mindanao. They selected among themselves the University of the Philippines- trained Maguindanao lawyer Salipada K. Pendatun as their “general.” The guerrilla unit was among the most active in Mindanao, and Pendatun went on to become, post-war, the first Muslim Filipino Senator. The Maranao emergent leader, Mohammad-Ali Dimaporo, founded the Bolo Battalion. These young Muslim leaders were republicans, who fought for the nation.

1942 to 1945

The Philippine Commonwealth Army established its 6th, 10th, 102nd, and 108th Infantry Divisions at the military general headquarters in Lanao Province.

1942 to 1945

President: JOSÉ PACIANO GARCIA LAUREL October 14, 1943 to August 17, 1945 [caretaker government]

The Philippine Constabulary (PC) created and operated its 10th Infantry Regiment at the military general headquarters in Lanao Province, from there coordinating the anti-Japanese resistance of both military and guerrillas in Agusan (now Agusan del Norte and Agusan del Sur), Bukidnon, Cotabato (now North Cotabato, Maguindanao, Sarangani, South Cotabato, and Sultan Kudarat), Davao (now Davao del Norte, Davao del Sur, Davao Oriental, and Compostela Valley), Lanao (now Lanao del Norte and Lanao del Sur), Misamis Occidental, Misamis Oriental, Surigao (now Surigao del Norte, Surigao del Sur, and Dinagat Islands), and Zamboanga (now Zamboanga del Norte, Zamboanga del Sur, and Zamboanga Sibugay).

March 29, 1942 to 1954

The Hukbo ng Bayan Laban sa Hapon, a.k.a. the Hukbalahap, a strong Marxism-inspired peasant organization, formed itself as an anti-Japanese guerrilla organization that, at its fullest strength during the Second World War, mobilized 12,800 active troops belonging to 67 military squadrons.

1943 to 1944

President: SERGIO SUICO OSMEÑA August 1, 1944 to May 28, 1946

Using their personal funds, Datu Udtog Matalam and Lieutenant Salipada K. Pendatun supported the Bolo Battalion in Cotabato. The leaders, together with Datu Mantil Dilangalen and Lieutenant Midpantao Dilangalen decided against surrender. Datu Mantil went to Midsayap to try to restore peace and order; Datus Udtog and Dinangalen joined Pendatun in floating down the Matubog River, to establish their headquarters in Panungo, Pikit. They would move to the Kitubod forest to engage the Japanese Army until the end of the war.

March 10 to August 15, 1945

The Battle of Maguindanao was among the last of the Philippine campaigns against Japanese occupation during the Second World War. Filipino forces of the 6th, 10th, 101st, 102nd, 104th, and 106th Infantry Divisions of the Philippine Commonwealth Army and of the 10th Infantry Regiment of the Philippine Constabulary included both Muslim and Christian (and indeed, migrant Chinese) guerrillas of the Maguindanao Guerrilla Forces, the Maguindanao Bolo Battalion, the Bukidnon-Cotabato Force, the 10th Military District of the Mindanao Guerrillas, and the Maguindanao “civilian swordsmen.”


President: MANUEL ACUÑA ROXAS May 28, 1946 to July 4, 1946 [as last President of the Common-wealth]
Chief of Staff: Major General Rafael Jalandoni, Philippine Constabulary  December 21, 1945 to May 28, 1948

The Philippine Army, its headquarters located back in Manila, was reorganized into an autonomous unit outside the United States Armed Forces in the Far East (USAFFE). The Army was once more reorganized in 1948. The country’s 10 military districts were deactivated, and in their stead, were instituted four Military Areas (MAs): first military area, or I-MA, headquartered in Camp Ord, Tarlac, covering the 12 provinces and two cities in Northern and Central Luzon; the II-MA, based in Canlubang, Laguna, with 18 provinces and seven cities in Southern Luzon in its area of responsibility; the III-MA, headquartered in Cebu City, covering 10 provinces and four cities in the Visayas; and the IV-MA, headquartered in Cagayan de Oro, Misamis Oriental, with jurisdiction over the 10 provinces and two cities in Mindanao.

After WWII, Luis Taruc and seven other leaders of the Marxism-inspired Huk guerrillas were elected to seats in the House of Representatives. However, the government of President Roxas, whom the Huk accused of collaboration with the Japanese, did not allow Taruc and company to take their seats in Congress.


One summary of internal population movement at this juncture said: “There has been serious crowding of the rural section since early in the present century in northwest Luzon, the Central Plain, southern Luzon, and some sectors of southeastern Luzon. Similarly, the coastal littorals of Panay, western Negros, Leyte, Cebu, and southwest Bohol have been overcrowded. Many of the small islands of the Visayas have suffered serious crowding. The government has encouraged internal migration in various ways since about 1913, but the complementary developments of interisland water-transport and road systems into island interiors have been inadequate. Few strong population movements took place in the years prior to 1948, though the Ilocanos of northwest Luzon and the peoples of Cebu, Bohol, and Leyte were learning the pioneering tradition and tending to move more easily than did other Filipinos. Perhaps the experience of ‘refugeeing into the jungle’ while fleeing from the Japanese during World War II helped…”

The Second World War left a substantial number of arms in private hands in Mindanao, especially owing to the involvement of both Muslim and settler volunteers in anti-Japanese guerrilla warfare. However, armed families were not the only outcome of the war as it played out in the Philippines. Former Huks and other ex-guerrillas of Pampanga, Tarlac, and Iloilo and other Panay provinces, which counted among them the poorest farmers of these provinces, made up a majority of the settlers into Mindanao in the post-war period. Their war experiences informed their sense of resettlement as a fight for survival.