Moro Rebellion
Part of the post-war insurgency phase of the Philippine–American War

American soldiers battling against Moro fighters
DateMay 3, 1902 – June 15, 1913
Mindanao and Sulu Archipelago (today part of southern Philippines)

American victory[1]


 United States

Sultanate of Sulu
Maguindanao Sultanate
Sultanates of Lanao
Commanders and leaders
Leonard Wood
Tasker H. Bliss
John J. Pershing
Jamalul Kiram II
Panglima Hassan
Datu Ali
25,000 unknown
Casualties and losses
United States:
130 killed
270 wounded
~500 dead from disease
Philippine Scouts:
111 killed
109 wounded
Philippine Constabulary:
1,706 casualties[2]
Heavy; official casualties are unknown

The Moro Rebellion (1899–1913) was an armed conflict between the Moro people and the United States military following the Philippine–American War.

The word "Moro" – the Spanish word for "Moor"[3] – is a term for Muslim people who lived in the Southern Philippines, an area that includes Mindanao, Jolo and the neighboring Sulu Archipelago.


The Moros have a 400-year history of resisting foreign rule. The violent armed struggle against the Spanish, against the Americans, against the Japanese, and against the Filipinos, is considered by current Moro leaders as part of the four centuries-long "national liberation movement" of the Bangsamoro (Moro Nation)[dubiousdiscuss].[4] This conflict persisted and developed into their current war for independence against the Philippine state.[5] A "culture of jihad" emerged among the Moros due to the centuries-long war against the Spanish invaders.[6]: 16 

The ethnic Moro population of the southern Philippines resisted both Spanish and American colonization. The Moro areas of Western Mindanao have been the most rebellious areas in the Philippines along with Samar Island and Bicol Region. The Spaniards were restricted to a handful of coastal garrisons or Forts and they made occasional punitive expeditions into the vast interior regions. After a series of unsuccessful attempts during the centuries of Spanish rule in the Philippines, Spanish forces occupied the abandoned city of Jolo, Sulu, the seat of the Sultan of Sulu, in 1876. The Spaniards and the Sultan of Sulu signed the Spanish Treaty of Peace on July 22, 1878. Control of the Sulu archipelago outside of the Spanish garrisons was handed to the Sultan. The treaty had translation errors: According to the Spanish-language version, Spain had complete sovereignty over the Sulu archipelago, while the Tausug version described a protectorate instead of an outright dependency.[7] Despite the very nominal claim to the Moro territories, Spain ceded them to the United States in the Treaty of Paris which signaled the end of the Spanish–American War.

Following the American occupation of the Northern Philippines during 1899, Spanish forces in the Southern Philippines were abolished, and they retreated to the garrisons at Zamboanga and Jolo. American forces took control over the Spanish government in Jolo on May 18, 1899, and at Zamboanga in December 1899.[8]

The Moros resisted the American colonizers, as they had against the Spaniards before them.[9] The Spanish, American, Japanese, and Philippine governments have all been fought against by the Muslims of Sulu and Mindanao.[10]

Ottoman Empire's role

John Hay, the American Secretary of State, asked the ambassador to Ottoman Empire, Oscar Straus in 1899 to approach Ottoman Sultan Abdul Hamid II to request that the Sultan write a letter to the Moro Sulu Muslims of the Sulu Sultanate in the Philippines telling them to submit to American suzerainty and American military rule. Despite the sultan's "pan-Islamic" ideology, he readily aided the American forces because he felt no need to cause hostilities between the West and Muslims.[11]

Abdul Hamid wrote the letter, which was sent to Mecca where two Sulu chiefs brought it home to Sulu.[12] It was successful, and the "Sulu Mohammedans ... refused to join the insurrectionists and had placed themselves under the control of [the American] army, thereby recognizing American sovereignty."[13][14] John P. Finley wrote that:

After due consideration of these facts, the Sultan, as Caliph caused a message to be sent to the Mohammedans of the Philippine Islands forbidding them to enter into any hostilities against the Americans, inasmuch as no interference with their religion would be allowed under American rule. As the Moros have never asked more than that, it is not surprising, that they refused all overtures made, by Aguinaldo's agents, at the time of the Filipino insurrection. President McKinley sent a personal letter of thanks to Mr. Straus for the excellent work he had done, and said, its accomplishment had saved the United States at least twenty thousand troops in the field. If the reader will pause to consider what this means in men and also the millions in money, he will appreciate this wonderful piece of diplomacy, in averting a holy war.[15][16]

President McKinley did not mention the Ottoman Empire's role in the pacification of the Sulu Moros in his address to the first session of the Fifty-sixth Congress in December 1899 since the agreement with the Sultan of Sulu was not submitted to the Senate until December 18.[17]

Cause of the war

See also: Kiram–Bates Treaty

After the American government informed the Moros that they would continue the old colonial protectorate relationship that they had with Spain, the Moro Sulu Sultan rejected this and demanded that a new treaty be negotiated. The United States signed the Kiram–Bates Treaty with the Moro Sulu Sultanate which guaranteed the Sultanate's autonomy in its internal affairs and governance if they stayed out of the Philippine–American War. This allowed Brigadier General John C. Bates to concentrate his forces on repressing the Filipino resistance in Luzon. Once the Americans defeated the northern Filipinos, the treaty with the Moros was canceled by Bates, the sultan was betrayed, and the Americans invaded Moroland.[18][19][20][21][22][23]

After the war in 1915, the Americans imposed the Carpenter Treaty on Sulu.[24]

Philippine–American War events

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First Republic forces in the southern Philippines were commanded by General Nicolas Capistrano, and American forces conducted an expedition against him in the winter of 1900–1901. On March 27, 1901, Capistrano surrendered. General Emilio Aguinaldo had been captured a few days earlier captured in Luzon.[25] This major victory in the war in the north allowed the Americans to devote more resources to the south, and they began to push into Moroland.

On August 31, 1901, Brigadier General George Whitefield Davis replaced Kobbe as the commander of the Department of Mindanao-Jolo. Davis adopted a conciliatory policy towards the Moros. American forces under his command had standing orders to buy Moro produce when possible and to have "heralds of amity" precede all scouting expeditions. Peaceful Moros would not be disarmed. Polite reminders of America's anti-slavery policy were allowed.

One of Davis' subordinates, Captain John J. Pershing, assigned to the American garrison at Iligan, set out to better relations with the Moros of the Maranao tribes on the northern shore of Lake Lanao. He successfully established friendly relations with Amai-Manabilang, the retired Sultan of Madaya. Although retired, Manabilang was the single most influential personage among the fragmented inhabitants of the northern shore of the lake. His alliance did much to secure American standing in the area.

Not all of Davis' subordinates were as diplomatic as Pershing. Many veterans of the American Indian Wars took the "only good Indian is a dead Indian" mentality with them to the Philippines, and "civilize 'em with a Krag" became a similar catchphrase.[26][27]


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In March of 1902, relations between American troops and the Moros seemed to be good. However, on March 9, an American soldier was killed by unidentified assailants. outside the port of Parang. Three days later, an 18-man cavalry detachment in the same area was ambushed by Moros and one of their number killed. On March 30, another American was hacked to death by Moros outside the nearby port of Malabang.[28]

These ambushes of American troops by Moros, one of which involved juramentados, occurred to the south of Lake Lanao, outside of Manabilang's sphere of influence. These events prompted Major General Adna Chaffee, then the military governor of the Philippines, to issue a declaration on April 13, 1902. The declaration began, "Under the Treaty of Paris between Spain and the United States, ... the Philippine Islands, including the island of Mindanao, were ceded by Spain to the United States.", and demanded that the killers of American troops and stolen government property be handed over to the United States.[29] Chafee's declaration was an attempt at a peaceful resolution. However the Moros, had never heard of Paris and considered that Spain, which had never successfully conquered Mindanao, could not cede their land to anyone. They considered Chaffee's declaration arrogant and rejected his demands.[30]

The Americans, unaware of a long history of internecine Moro feuding which could have moved one Moro group to attack American troops friendly with another group, sent an intermediary to open talks with a local group. Also unknown to the Americans, the leader of that group had a personal dislike of the intermediary. The intermediary was told that Americans were intent on proselytizing the Moros away from Islam and taking their lands. The Americans viewed this as defiance.[31]

The Moros being not compliant, a punitive expedition under Colonel Frank Baldwin set out to settle matters with the south-shore Moros. Although an excellent officer, Baldwin was "eager", and a worried Davis joined the expedition as an observer. On May 2, 1902, Baldwin's expedition attacked a Moro cotta (fortress) at the Battle of Pandapatan, also known as the Battle of Bayan. Pandapatan's defenses were unexpectedly strong, leading to 18 American casualties during the fighting. On the second day, the Americans used ladders and moat-bridging tools to break through the Moro fortifications, and a general slaughter of the Moro defenders followed.

The expeditionary force built in Camp Vickers one mile south of Pandapatan, and Davis assigned Pershing to Baldwin's command as an intelligence officer and as director of Moro affairs. As director, 'Black Jack' Pershing had a veto over Baldwin's movements, which was an unstable arrangement. This arrangement was tested when survivors of Pandapatan began building a Cotta at Bacolod. Baldwin wanted to move on the hostile Moros immediately, but Pershing warned that doing so could create an anti-American coalition of the surrounding Datus, while some patient diplomacy could establish friendly relations with most of the Moros, isolating the hostile minority. Baldwin grudgingly agreed. On June 30, Pershing assumed command of Camp Vickers, and Baldwin returned to Malabang. A command the size of Camp Vickers would normally have gone to an officer with the rank of major, and a careful shuffling of personnel would be required to ensure that reinforcements to the Camp did not include officers that were senior to Pershing.

On July 4, 1902, President Theodore Roosevelt issued a proclamation declaring an end to the Philippine Insurrection and a cessation of hostilities in the Philippines "except in the country inhabited by the Moro tribes, to which this proclamation does not apply."[32] Later that month, Davis was promoted and replaced Chaffee as the supreme commander of American forces in the Philippines. Command of the Mindanao-Jolo Department went to Brigadier General Samuel S. Sumner. Meanwhile, Pershing settled down to conduct diplomacy with the surrounding Moros, and a July 4 celebration had 700 guests from neighboring rancherias. In September 1902, he led the Masiu Expedition, which resulted in a victory that did much to establish American dominance in the area. On February 10, 1903, Pershing was declared a Datu by the formerly hostile Pandita Sajiduciaman of the Bayan Moros (who had been defeated at the Battle of Pandapatan) – the only American to be so honored. Pershing's career at Camp Vickers culminated in the march around Lake Lanao during April and May 1903. Dansalan also known as the Marawi Expedition, it included the Battle of Bacolod and First Battle of Taraka but was otherwise peaceful. This expedition quickly became a symbol of American control of the Lake Lanao region and was regarded with dismay by the Moro Maranao inhabitants of that region.

While Pershing was working to the south of Lake Lanao, Major Robert Lee Bullard was working to the north, building a road from Iligan to Marawi. Although never officially declared one, like Pershing, he was regarded as a Datu by the Moros. Because of the Lake Lanao Moros' very personalistic style of leadership, they had troubles seeing them as two officers in the same army. Instead, they saw them as two powerful chieftains who might become rivals. During Pershing's March Around Lake Lanao, one Moro ran to Bullard, exclaiming that Pershing had gone Juramentado, meaning berserk and that Bullard had better run up the white flag (signaling that they had no quarrel with Pershing's troops). Bullard was unable to explain to the Moro why he was not worried about Pershing's approach. On another occasion, a powerful datu proposed an alliance with Bullard, for the purposes of defeating Pershing and establishing overlordship over the entire Lake Lanao region. On June 1, 1903, the Moro Province was created, which included "all of the territory of the Philippines lying south of the eight parallel of latitude, excepting the island of Palawan and the eastern portion of the northwest peninsula of Mindanao."[33] The province had a civil government, but many civil service positions, including the district governors and their deputies, were held by members of the American military. The governor of the province served as the commander of the Department of Mindanao-Jolo. This system of combined civil and military administration had several motivations behind it. One was the continued Moro hostilities. Another was the Army's experience during the Indian Wars when it came into conflict with the civilian Bureau of Indian Affairs. A third was that the Moros, with their feudal, personalistic style of government, would have no respect for a military leader who submitted to the authority of a non-combatant.

In addition to the executive branch, under the governor, the province also had a legislative branch: the Moro Council. This Council "consisted of the governor, a state attorney, a secretary, a treasurer, a superintendent of schools, and an engineer."[34] Although the governor appointed all of the other members of the council, this body was permanent and provided a more solid foundation for laws than the fiats of the governor, which might be overturned by his successor.

The province was divided into five districts, with American officers serving as district governors and deputy governors. These districts included: Cotabato, Davao, Lanao, Sulu, and Zamboanga. The districts were sub-divided into tribal wards, with major datus serving as ward chiefs and minor datus serving as deputies, judges, and sheriffs. This system took advantage of the existing structure of Moro political society, which was based on personal ties while paving the way for a more individualistic society, where the office, not the person holding it, would be given respect.

On August 6, 1903, Major General Leonard Wood assumed his position as the governor of Moro Province and commander of the Department of Mindanao-Jolo. Wood was somewhat heavy-handed in his dealing with the Moros, being "personally offended by the Moro propensity for blood feuds, polygamy, and human trafficking"[35] and with his "ethnocentrism sometimes [leading] him to impose American concepts too quickly in Moroland."[36] In addition to his views of the Moros, Wood also faced an uphill Senate battle over his appointment to the rank of major general, which was finally confirmed on March 19, 1904. This drove him to seek military laurels in order to shore up his lack of field experience, sometimes leading the Provincial army on punitive expeditions over minor incidents that would have been better handled diplomatically by the district governors. The period of Wood's governorship had the hardest and bloodiest fighting of America's occupation of Moroland.

Some of the Moros fighting against the American troops were women who dressed exactly the same as men. This led to the song sung by American troops called "If a Lady's Wearin' Pantaloons".[37][38][39][40][41][42]

Province under Leonard Wood (1903–1906)

Wood instituted many changes during his tenure as governor of Moro Province:


Major military campaigns during Wood's governorship include:

The Incident in the Philippines written by Mark Twain condemned the American massacre at Bud Dajo.[64]

The American general Leonard Wood responsible for the massacre of 900 Moro children, women and men at Bud Dajo was congratulated for his actions by US President Theodore Roosevelt who said "I congratulate you and the officers and men of your command upon the brilliant feat of arms, wherein you and they so well upheld the honor of the American flag."[65] After being hit with dozens of rifle and pistol bullets, Moros continued to fight and kill US soldiers with their bladed weapons. The Moros' tenacity led to the creation of the Colt M1911 pistol, which fires .45 caliber cartridges.[66][67]

Governorship of Tasker H. Bliss (1906–1909)

On February 1, 1906, Brigadier General Tasker H. Bliss replaced General Wood as the commander of the Department of Mindanao-Jolo, and replaced him as governor of Moro Province sometime after the First Battle of Bud Dajo. Bliss' tenure is regarded as a "peace era", and Bliss launched no punitive expeditions during his term in office. However, this superficial peace came at the price of tolerating a certain amount of lawlessness. Constabulary forces in pursuit of Moro fugitives often found themselves forced to abandon their chase after the fugitives took refuge at their home cottas. The constabulary forces were outnumbered, and a much larger (and disruptive) expedition would have been required to dislodge the fugitives from their hiding place. However, this period also demonstrated the success of new aggressive American tactics. According to Rear Admiral D. P. Mannix, who fought the Moros as a young lieutenant from 1907 to 1908, the Americans exploited Muslim taboos by wrapping dead Moros in pig's skin and "stuffing [their] mouth[s] with pork", thereby deterring the Moros from continuing with their suicide attacks.[68]

Governorship of John J. Pershing (1909–1913)

Cornelius C. Smith (far right), a recipient of the Medal of Honor, as commander of the Philippine Constabulary with Brigadier General John J. Pershing and Moro chieftains in 1910. Smith participated in expeditions against the Moro rebels for much of his time in the Philippines.

On November 11, 1909, Brigadier General John J. Pershing assumed his duties as the third and final military governor of Moro Province.


Pershing enacted the following reforms during his tenure as governor:


Pershing wrote the following in his autobiography about the juramentados:

[The] juramentado attacks were materially reduced in number by a practice the army had already adopted, one that the Mohammadans held in abhorrence. The bodies were publicly buried in the same grave with a dead pig. It was not pleasant to have to take such measures but the prospect of going to hell instead of heaven sometimes deterred the would-be assassins.[70]

Though this treatment was inflicted on captured juramentados, historians do not believe that Pershing was directly involved with such incidents, or that he personally gave such orders to his subordinates. Letters and memoirs from soldiers describing events similar to this do not have credible evidence of Pershing's having been personally involved.[71][72] However, some reports do say that Pershing was engaged in deliberate efforts to offend Muslim Filipinos' religious sensibilities, including an incident in which Pershing brought a pig's head to a ceasefire negotiation with a Muslim leader, though there is no evidence for the claim made by Donald Trump that Pershing executed Muslim insurgents with bullets dipped in pig's blood.[73][74][75]

Surrender of arms

The four-day Battle of Bud Bagsak on the island of Jolo in 1913

Law enforcement in the Moro Province was difficult. Outlaws would go to ground at their home cottas, requiring an entire troop of police or soldiers to arrest them. There was always the danger of a full-fledged battle breaking out during such an arrest, and this led to many known outlaws going unpunished. In 1911, Pershing resolved to disarm the Moros. Army Chief of Staff Leonard Wood (former Moro Province governor) disagreed with this plan, stating that the move was ill-timed and that the Moros would hide their best arms, turning in only their worst. Pershing waited until roads into the interior had been completed, so that government troops could protect disarmed Moros from holdouts. He conferred with the Datus, who mostly agreed that disarmament would be a good idea – provided that everybody disarmed.

Six weeks before putting his disarmament plan into action, Pershing informed Governor-General William Cameron Forbes, who agreed with the plan. Pershing did not consult or inform his commanding officer, Major General J. Franklin Bell. On September 8, 1911, Executive Order No. 24, which ordered the disarmament, was issued. The deadline for disarmament was December 1, 1911.

Resistance to disarmament was particularly fierce in the district of Jolo and led to the Second Battle of Bud Dajo (which, while involving roughly equivalent forces as the first battle, was far less bloody causing only 12 Moro casualties[76]), and the Battle of Bud Bagsak. The latter battle, fought from June 11–15 1913, was the last major battle of the conflict, and is usually considered as marking the end of the rebellion. Smaller skirmishes between Moro bands and U.S. troops were reported to have occurred in the months following the battle, with the last of these clashes occurring in Talipao in October 1913.[77][78]

Transition to civil authority

By 1913, Pershing agreed that the Moro Province needed to transition to civil government. This was prompted by the Moro's personalistic approach to government, which was based on personal ties rather than a respect for an abstract office. To the Moros, a change of administration meant not just a change in leadership but a change in regime, and was a traumatic experience. Rotation within the military meant that each military governor could serve only for a limited time, and civil governors were needed in order to provide for a lengthy tenure in office. Until 1911, every district governor and secretary had been a military officer. By 1913, Pershing was the only military officer to hold a civil office.

In October 1913, Francis Burton Harrison was appointed Governor-General of the Philippines, and relieved Pershing of his position as governor of the Moro Province, replacing him with Frank Carpenter, a civilian official. In March 1915, Carpenter came to an agreement with Sultan Jamalul Kiram, in which Kiram agreed to relinquish all claims of political power over territories within the Philippines, resulting in the dissolution of the Sulu Sultanate and the United States now having complete, uncontested control over the Philippine Islands.


During the Moro Rebellion, the Americans suffered losses amounting to 130 killed and 323 wounded. Another 500 or so died of disease.[79] The Philippine Scouts who augmented American forces during the campaign suffered 116 killed and 189 wounded. The Philippine Constabulary suffered heavily as well with more than 1,500 losses sustained of which half were fatalities.

On the Moro side, casualties were high as surrender was uncommon when Moros were engaged in combat.[80]

Tausug fighters used bows, spears, and barong or kalis swords against US troops with pistols, bolt-action rifles, pump-action shotguns, machine guns, and mountain artillery.[81]

Juramentados and stopping power

In the Moro Rebellion, the Tausug Moro Muslim juramentados in suicide attacks continued to charge against American soldiers even after being shot. Panglima Hassan in the Hassan uprising was shot dozens of times before his jihad was stopped. As a result, Americans elected to phase out the .38 caliber Colt M1892 revolver in favor of .45 caliber sidearms to continue their fight against the Moros. This led to a re-issuing of old .45 Colt M1873 Peacemaker revolvers and later the issuance of the M1909 revolver, essentially an M1892 rechambered in .45 Colt (which would later again be rechambered in the weaker .45 ACP as the M1917).[82] This contributed to the development and adoption of the .45 ACP M1911 semi-automatic pistol on March 29, 1911, after further weapon testing during the rebellion, beginning over 70 years of service by the pistol and cartridge in the US military.[83]

Arrows, bayonets, guns, and kalises were used in often suicidal attacks by the Moros during their war with the Americans. Suicide attacks became more popular among Moros due to the overwhelming firepower of the Americans in conventional battles. Moro women took part in the resistance at the Battle of Bud Dajo against Major General Lenard Wood in 1906.[84] Barbed wire proved to be of no impediment since Moro juramentado warriors managed to surge directly through it even as it ripped at their flesh and even as they were shot repeatedly with bullets. The Moros used barongs to inflict injuries upon American soldiers.[85] Moros under Jikiri managed to survive in a cave under machine gun fire and Colt gunfire.[43] Kalises and kampilans were used by Moros in fierce close-quarters combat against the Americans.[86] Muskets were also used by the Moros.[87] The Moros employed bayonets at close range when shooting was not possible according to the American journal The Field Artillery Journal, Volume 32.[88] Americans were even charged at by Moros using spears.[43] Moros fought to the death against Americans armed with rifles and artillery while they themselves used only kalises at the crater battle.[89][90]

Novels have been written describing juramentados deliberately impaling themselves on their bayonets in attempts to reach and kill American soldiers.[91]

In popular culture

See also


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  2. ^ Arnold 2011, p. 248.
  3. ^ "MORO | Definition of MORO by Oxford Dictionary on also meaning of MORO". Lexico Dictionaries | English. Archived from the original on March 3, 2021. Retrieved March 30, 2021.
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  5. ^ Banlaoi 2005 Archived February 10, 2016, at the Wayback Machine, p. 68.
  6. ^ a b Dphrepaulezz, Omar H. (June 5, 2013). "The Right Sort of White Men": General Leonard Wood and the U.S. Army in the Southern Philippines, 1898–1906 (Doctoral Dissertations). Retrieved August 11, 2015.
  7. ^ Kho, Madge. "The Bates Treaty". Retrieved December 2, 2007.
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  9. ^ Guerrero, Rustico O (April 10, 2002). MASTER OF MILITARY STUDIES PHILIPPINE TERRORISM AND INSURGENCY: WHAT TO DO ABOUT THE ABU SAYYAF GROUP (PDF) (Thesis). United States Marine Corps Command and Staff College Marine Corps University. p. 6. Archived (PDF) from the original on April 30, 2017. Retrieved November 14, 2015.
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  14. ^ Moshe Yegar (2002). Between Integration and Secession: The Muslim Communities of the Southern Philippines, Southern Thailand, and Western Burma/Myanmar. Lexington Books. pp. 397–. ISBN 978-0-7391-0356-2.
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  19. ^ Article title Archived April 13, 2013, at the Wayback Machine Luga p. 22.
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Further reading