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Governor bliss and the Moro province

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More than 15 years after the fraudulent sale and cession of Mindanao and Sulu to the United States by Spain under Article III of the December 10, 1898 Treaty of Paris which led to the unwarranted occupation of Mindanao and Sulu by the American forces starting May 19, 1899,  Gov. Frank Carpenter of the Moro Province  still considered Mindanao and Sulu as separate territories from the Philippine Islands when he officially issued the following statement:

“Any study of the matter, however, superficial, cannot but bring forth convincing arguments that it is to the material interest of the Philippines that Luzon and the Visayas make whatever of present sacrifice maybe necessary to extend such financial aid to the public services in Maguindanao-Sulu that the latter may quickly be made in fact a part of the Philippines.” Source: Peter Gordon Gowing, Mandate in Moroland, 1983, p. 267.

This is another corroborative written statement by the top American administrator of the Moro Province pointing to the fact that Mindanao and Sulu were not colonial possessions of Spain and were not political sub-divisions of Las Islas Filipinas or Philippine Islands. Frank Carpenter, a civilian, served not only  as the last Governor of the Moro Province from December 15, 1913- July 23, 1914 but also retained the governorship of the moroland when it was renamed Department of Mindanao and Sulu which included the whole of Mindanao but excepting Lanao.

Gregorio F. Zaide who is popularly recognized as the Father of Philippine History and internationally renowned and multi-awarded historian, researcher, and author, confirmed the fact that most of Mindanao and Sulu were excluded from the Philippine Islands during the Spanish colonial period when he clearly wrote the following narration:

“Most of Mindanao and Sulu were excluded from Philippine territory during the Spanish times. Spain claimed sovereignty over them, but only a few coastal areas were really under its control. The Moros were not conquered.” - Source: Philippine History and Government, authored by Gregorio F. Zaide, Copyright 2004, p. 63.

While it was very evident that Governor Carpenter wanted the quick incorporation of the Sultanates of Maguindanao and Sulu into the body politic of the Philippine Islands, taking an entirely opposite political proposition was the second  Governor of the Moro Province, Tasker H. Bliss who  ardently and forcefully advocated for the creation of a separate politico-military government for these two ancient sovereign states. Governor Bliss’ administration of the Moro Province was popularly dubbed as “The Velvet Glove,” 1906-1909.

Governor Bliss was so convinced that the enmity between the Moros and Filipinos constituted an insurmountable roadblock if  the Moroland  would finally be incorporated into the body politic of the Philippine Islands. The conviction of General Bliss up to the present remains an incontestable socio- political reality in MIndanao and Sulu since he was appointed and officially assumed the governorship of the Moro Province on April 16, 1906 more than a century ago. This must be one of the reasons why the  Governor- General of the Philippine Islands at that time, John F. Smith, recommended for the exclusion of the areas inhabited by Moros and other non-Christian tribes from participating in a popular election for the choice of delegates to the Philippine Assembly which was approved by then President Theodore Roosevelt at the White House on March 28, 1907.

The Philippine  Assembly  whose  members were chosen through popular election from the different areas not inhabited by Moros and other non-Christian tribes was the first legislative body of the Philippine Islands created by the Philippine Organic Act of 1902  by the American Congress in the early years of the American occupation. The election was held on July 30, 1907 in compliance with the Proclamation issued by the Governor-General, James F. Smith about nine years  after  the Philippine Islands was sold  and ceded by Spain to the United States in Article III of the December 10, 1898 Treaty of Paris for $20-Million. Conclusively, the Philippine Assembly was purely composed of delegates coming from areas inhabited by Christians in the Philippine Islands which virtually prohibited the participation of Moros and other non-Christian tribes; again pointing to the fact that Mindanao and Sulu were not really component political sub-divisions of the Spanish colony called Las Islas Filipinas or Philippine Isands.

Governor Bliss’ idea of Mindanao and Sulu as independent and separate territory from the Philippine Islands under the American Flag was vigorously endorsed favorably by the Zamboanga Chamber of Commerce which  at that time was made up mostly of American businessmen. The Chamber presented   a Resolution to the Secretary of War, William Howard Taft and several visiting US Congressmen appealing that Mindanao and Sulu be formed into a territory  of the United States by act of Congress.

Based on  the historical accounts of Peter Gordon Gowing, noted American researcher and author of the book  entitled “Mandate in Moroland,”  in August, 1906, the Americans residing in Mindanao  expressed vigorously their collective desire not to be included in the government of the Philippine Islands. This was published in a strongly-worded editorial of “La Vida Filipino,” a Filipino newspaper in July 1906 which questioned the Americans for the creation of the Moro Province. Part of that editorial, is quoted as follows:

“ The Commission (Philippine Commission) in creating the Moro Province, evidently wanted Mindanao and Jolo considered separate and almost independent territories from Luzon and the Visayas. This has been accentuated by the passage of the Philippine Bill by Congress which specifically placed the affairs of the province outside the jurisdiction of the future assembly. Then there is this petition presented by the American residents of Mindanao to the members of Congress who visited the Philippines in August last, in which they ask for the creation in Moroland of a government independent from Manila.”

Although some contradicted the report that it was during the governorship of General Bliss that Mindanao and Sulu experienced relative peace, written accounts substantially tended to support the public persception that it was only he who manifested extraordinary and determined effort to put an end to the bloody confrontations between the Moros and the Americans giving his biographer the justification and reason to confer upon him the  honorific title as “The Peacemaker.”  (By Clem M. Bascar)




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