Mar 022013

The battles of Bud Dahu’ and Bud Bagsak: Monuments to Tausug heroism and martyrdom

 Gleaned from the internet-accessed articles/comments of Hannibal Bara, Rony Bautisa, Renato Constantino, Vic Hurley, Madge Kho, John McLeod, Sixto Orosa, Michael Tan, David Woolman, and the Centennial Resource Book)



To be ignorant of what occurred before you were born is to remain always a child.


Lest we fall under the sharp end of the incisive wisdom of Cicero (Marcus Tillius Cicero — Roman orator, statesman, and philosopher, 106-43 B.C.), we might as well endeavor to understand the real significance of the battles of Bud Dahu’ and Bud Bagsak (some historians and researchers refer to them as “massacres”), two Sulu historical events which the initial controversy over the RP-US Balikatan Exercises has brought back to mind. Let us attempt to do this by putting them in proper context and perspective.

American forces first set foot in Jolo on May 1, 1899 (the same day the last Spanish troops left), almost five months after the signing of the Treaty of Paris on December 10, 1898, by virtue of which Spain ceded the Philippine archipelago (including Mindanao and Sulu) to the United States of America in exchange for $20,000,000. Despite that treaty, Gen. John C. Bates had to negotiate a new agreement with the then Sultan of Sulu, who refused the Americans’ demand to assume the Spaniards’ part in the Treaty of Peace. The latter treaty, signed more than 20 years earlier on July 22, 1878, had made Sulu a protectorate of Spain.

The Sultan’s decision to accept the Americans’ proposal several weeks later resulted in the signing of the Bates Treaty on August 20, 1899, the essential terms of which were: (1) respect for the religion, social and domestic customs as well in internal economic and political affairs to the Tausugs; (2) prohibition from ceding or selling Sulu or any part of it to any other nation; (3) protection of Sulu from other foreigners’ interference.

But right from the start “the people did not wish to come under American sovereignty.” (Orosa). They “became apprehensive when the US forces hoisted their flag” at key town centers and required them to “fly the US flag in their [own] ships.” (Bara). Tausug resistance gradually hardened when: (1) the American colonial authorities implemented the Policy of Disarmament in 1901; (2) the US President issued a proclamation of peace in all parts of the Philippines except in areas inhabited by the Moro tribes in 1902; (3) a head tax of P2 for each person was imposed in the Moro Province pursuant to the Cedula Act of 1903; (4) the US colonial government unilaterally abrogated the Bates Treaty in 1904 because the Sultan failed to quell Tausug resistance. (Arguing that the rebellion could not be stopped due to the imposition of the poll and land taxes to which his subjects were not accustomed, the Sultan succeeded in convincing the American authorities to re-institute the Bates Treaty, albeit partially, in 1906.)

To suppress the defiant Moros (generally the Muslim tribes in Mindanao that resisted US dominion), especially the Tausugs who were as strongly opposed to American rule as they had been to Spanish occupation, the US colonial government launched the Moro Campaigns, which lasted for 13 years (1902-1915). (Kho) There were about 10 encounters in Sulu during this period, but only two have acquired infamy as bloody massacres: the Bud Dahu’ (March 5-7, 1906) and Bud Bagsak (June 11-15, 1913) battles.

The Battle of Bud Dahu’ (Mt. Dahu’) involved about 900 (Kho) Tausug kuta’ (fort) defenders (many women and children among them) who were armed with krises, barungs, spears and some rifles (other sources put the figure at 600 or 1,000 rebels). The assault force consisted of 790 US troops (among whom were 51 Sulu Constabulary elements) who were equipped with mountain guns, rifles, bayonets, fast-firing pistols, grenades and supported by two quick-firing guns from a gunboat. When the three-day assault ended, all the insurgents were killed, except six who escaped. The Americans suffered 21 dead and 75 wounded troops. It must be emphasized, however, that peace overtures were undertaken by the American commanders several days before the assault. They sent native civilian negotiators to the mountain to convince the rebels to disband and turn in their weapons. The negotiators attempted several times to convey the American officials’ message but the defiant Tausugs refused to budge from their firm stand not to recognize American rule. (Barra) The negotiators translated the kuta’ warriors’ reply thus: “They say that they will never submit to America. They say that they will fight until they can no longer raise aloft the kris.” (Hurley)

Still defiantly unwilling to yield to American rule and military might despite the Bud Dahu’ debacle seven years earlier, about 5,000 Tausugs (Kho) engaged the US forces in the Battle of Bud Bagsak (other sources put the figure at 2,000 or 6,000 or 10,000 Tausugs), of whom 2,000 were killed. (McLeod; other sources say 300 or 500). The American troops suffered 340 dead. (Bautista) As in the March 1906 tragedy, the kuta’ defenders (many women and children among them) were armed with krises, barungs, spears and some rifles. The American commander of the assault force (composed of two infantry companies and four companies of Scouts equipped with mountain guns and the standard US armament of that period) was reported to have written that “the Moro women wore trousers and were dressed and armed like the men and charged with them.” (Tan)

Indeed, both the Bud Dahu’ and Bud Bagsak encounters were not really massacres of weak, innocuous and helpless natives; rather, they were fierce struggles of brave resistance fighters who rolled logs and boulders down to the advancing US troops and rushed at them time after time. They had no answer to the long-range bombardment, but they held their position stubbornly and refused to surrender. Their inevitable vanquishment was attributable only to their foes’ superior tactics and weaponry. They relied upon the kris and the barung, but “in the best of hands an edged weapon [was] poor defense against a Gatling gun.” (Hurley)

A contextual perspective of those two battles would therefore show that: (1) the Tausug resistance fighters knew they were up against a vastly superior force but still they firmly decided to oppose it; (2) they prepared for defensive battle by erecting mountain redoubts from which they also launched offensive raids; (3) they were determined to fight it out since they repeatedly refused the American’s peace overtures; (4) they preferred to die fighting for the values and principles they believed in rather than surrender to a perceived foreign oppressor, whose aim was “to continue the unfinished goal of Spanish colonialism.” (Bara) Thus, they staunchly waged what to them was a just war against the most powerful nation in the world. They pitted a kris against a krag rifle; they raised a barung against the fire of mountain artillery. (Hurley) Those two battles, therefore, symbolized a determined heroic defense by the Tausugs of the integrity of their society. (Constantino) Indeed, they were heroes because they displayed superlative courage in fulfilling a noble purpose against insuperable odds; they were martyrs because they willfully sacrificed their lives in defense of their inalienable rights and freedom as a people.

“A nation that has no past has no future,” it is wisely said. The Tausugs have a fascinating, heroic past and so could have a great future. They successfully defended their island empire for many centuries and proved too strong even for the Spanish conquistadores! Although they were soundly defeated by the Americans, their epic struggle in the early 1900’s accented their values of patriotism, commitment, unity and determination. (Centennial Resource Book)

Therefore, instead of remembering those two encounters as rankling reasons for vengeance, today’s inheritors of Sulu’s wondrous past shall more aptly serve the memory of the Bud Dahu’ and Bud Bagsak battles if they would erect votive stones to immortalize their forefathers’ heroism and martyrdom. They shall also be properly setting the inspirational guidepost for Sulu’s future if they would internalize the values personized by the heroes and martyrs of Bud Dahu’ and Bud Bagsak: patriotism, commitment, unity and determination.

Finally, they shall be heedful of an edifying lesson from the past if they would do these; as Cicero fittingly declared.

History is the witness of the times, the touch of truth, the life of memory, the teacher of life, the messenger of antiquity


The date posted here is due to our website rebuild, it does not reflect the original date this article was posted. This article was originally posted in Yonip on March 5th 2006


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