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Scandals in history: Inputs for peace process Part (11)


As I disclosed previously, the unexpected, uncoordinated, and unlawful military occupation of the Sultanates of Sulu on May 19, 1899 by the American forces was a shocking and unpleasant surprise to the reigning Sultan, Jamalul Kiram ll for he had expected the turnover of the last Spanish garrison in Jolo to him as what was done in Siasi and Bongao. Because of this quirk turn of events, the Sultan distanced himself from the Americans and lingered at Siasi where he established a police force and garrison. Later however, according to the noted historian-researcher, Peter Gordon Gowing, he issued the following carefully worded warning to his subjects:

“The Americans have come here in exchange for the Spaniards. They are a different people from the Spaniards, and will not do good to ‘juramintado’ against them. They did not come to take our lands, religion, or customs. They leave us our law, and if you love yourselves and your country, avoid coming to blows with the Americans because they are like matches-you strike one and all go off.” – ( Peter Gordon Gowing, Mandate In Moroland, p. 29.)

But contrary to the expectation of the Sultan, the Americans did exactly the opposite. Immediately after the arrival of Gen. John C. Bates, he started his diplomatic spadework to convince the Sultan to sign a treaty recognizing U.S. sovereignty over the Sulu archipelago. Consciously or unconsciously, this was the first behavioral indication shown by a top American military officer that tended to deny the cession and sale of the Sultanates of Sulu and Maguindanao under the December 10, 1898 Treaty of Paris.

Sultan Signed Bates Treaty under Duress

As expected, Sultan Jamalul ll vehemently opposed the idea of signing the treaty prepared by Gen. Bates. For months, he tried all possible ways and means to avoid it. He even went to the extent of pretending to be seriously ill. But as narrated by Peter Gordon Gowing, General Bates used various persuasive and coercive tactics such as cajoling, intimidating with superior naval force, and “dollar diplomacy.” Finally with the assistance of some datus, the Bates Treaty was signed on August 20, 1899 by the Sultan after some amendments were made under conditions contrary to the universally observed, practiced, and recognized principles of treaty making, namely; (l) free consent, (2) good faith, and ( 3) Pacta Sunt Servanda. This was another big scandal which was committed by the Americans in placing Sulu and Mindanao under the sovereignty of the United States which violated the Law of Treaties. While historians generally attest to the fact that Mindanao and Sulu did not fall under the sovereignty of the Spanish Empire by force of arms despite countless bloody attempts for more than three hundred years, General Bates accomplished such daunting task in just a matter of months. What General Bates failed to realize however was, such diplomatic document contained provisions which explicitly denied or negated the sale and cession of the Sulu and Mindanao by Spain to the United States under Article lll of the December 10, 1898 Treaty of Paris, a confirmation by the highest American official that these two Sultanates were not in truth and fact colonial possessions of the Spanish Crown.

Unilateral Junction of Mindanao and Sulu

After the signing of the Bates Treaty, the Americans went on to commit another unilateral act of joining Mindanao, Sulu, and Palawan, a military government known as the Military District of Mindanao and  Jolo on October 30, 1899. Available historical sources reveal that this military organization whose command post was established in Zamboanga following the successful takeover of Fort Pilar by the American forces on November 16, 1899.This military government which joined Mindanao, Sulu, and Palawan was under the command of Brig. Gen. John C. Bates until March 20, 1900 when Brig. Gen. William Kobbe took over and elevated the command to the Department of Mindanao and Jolo. Notice that under this command, Palawan was removed. Why and for what purpose “Jolo” was used instead of “Sulu” by the responsible military officers is a matter that requires deeper and thorough historical inquiry and explanation.

From my point of view, it was the first official act committed by the Americans to dissolve or downgrade the status of sovereignty and statehood of the Sultanate of Sulu and annex it to the much bigger territory of Mindanao without prior authority from the American Congress as required by the 1787 U.S. Constitution specifically, Article 1V, Section 3 quoted as follows:

“New states may be admitted by the Congress into this union; but no new state shall be formed or erected within the jurisdiction of any other state ; nor any state be formed by the junction of two or more states, or parts of states, without the consent of the legislatures of the states concerned as well as the Congress..”

The above cited constitutional provision of the United States clearly prohibited the junction of the Sultanates of Sulu and Maguidanao to form the Department of Mindanao, Jolo, and Palawan without the consents of their respective Ruma Becharas and the American Congress, so it is safe to conclude that it was done unlawfully and arbitrarily by the concerned American military officers.

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