SAILING THE SULU SEA
Belles and Bandits in the Philippines
Rear Admiral, Supply Corps, U.S.N.
E. P. DUTTON & CO., INC.
I The Bandits of Balabac 13
II On Sibutu Reef 115
III Bearding a Sultan 161
IV Pedro the Damned 183
V Opera Bouffe Warfare at Zamboanga 207
VI Moros and Knives along the Rio Grande
de Mindanao 227
VII Senorita Twinkletoes--and the Enforced
Dance at Surigao 257
Opera Bouffe Warfare at Zamboanga
IT WAS the capture of Zamboanga by the Manila and the Castine--- Thursday, November 16, 1899---that made possible the Bates Expedition to and about Mindanao. As Rugen had to be taken before Gustavus Adolphus could advance into Brandenburg, and Ulm had to be seized before Napoleon could press on to Vienna, so Zamboanga had to be cleared of the enemy before General Bates could occupy the coasts of Mindanao. And the old Manila was the principal instrument used for that clearing.
The necessity for the town's capture was as much political as strategical, as much moral as physical.
Zamboanga laid claim to being the lovelies town int he Philippines. It was situated on a bay's edge, and no ghastly slum intervened between its pleasant streets and the water. A wide esplanade led from the town proper to the old Spanish-built fort, moated, walled, and turreted. Through the main street of the village ran a little canal lined on both sides by coconut palms. Beyond the town lay rice fields, and beyond the rice fields rose the forest.
An army officer declared to me that during his thirty-two years of service he had never been stationed at a post as attractive as Zamboanga. However, as I learned that
nearly all of those years had been passed west of the Mississippi and east of the Sierras I am not sure that he had sufficient criteria for sound comparisons.
But certain it is that ballads have been written about Zamboanga, and songs have been sung of it! And, without subscribing to the claim of its being the lovelies town in the Philippines---for I remember Jolo, showered by the vermilion blossoms of its fire-trees and Surigao, linked to the seashore by its splendid rows of palms, and Davao, made glorious by the ten-thousand-foot bulk of Mount Apo behind it, not to mention the mountain capital of Baguio with its forest of noble pines---nevertheless, Zamboanga was pretty enough to charm the eye of the most fastidious.
The village lies at the extreme southwest point of Mindanao. In 1899, not only was it a depot for the copra country behind it, but it was the entrepot for the hemp produced about the Gulf of Davao in the southeast of the great island. Furthermore, and perhaps a more important thing in the eyes of the American higher command, it was the point of all others, barring only Manila itself, where the Philippines came in contact with the outer world.
Through Basilan Strait, which separates Mindanao from the not inconsiderable island of Basilan twenty miles to the southward, British, German, French, and Japanese vessels passed in appreciable numbers. Whenever streamers from Hong Kong, Chefoo, Saigon, or Nagasaki, visited Manila, and thence proceeded to Australia or New Zealand, to New Guinea or New Caledonia, they passed
through Basilan Strait into the Moro Gulf and on into the Celebes Sea. All such vessels came within a mile of Zamboanga even if they did not stop there. And yet, by the time our gunboat Manila was ordered to lend a hand toward the advancement of American interests thereabouts, the flag of the Filipino insurgents, commanded by "General" Vincente Alvarez, had flown defiantly over the town for six or seven months, and had flaunted in full sight of every passing steamer. The situation became a hissing and a wagging of the head!
For half a year, Zamboanga had been blockaded from the sea side by the United States Ship Castine. The Castine was a real man-of-war in design, although a gunboat of even less displacement than the Manila's. Her captain was Commander Samuel Very, well known in the Navy for his scientific attainments. He was the inventor of the Very signal pistols, a contraption something like a Roman candle. This fired colored lights so regulated as to form a code, visible at night for a long distance. During the World War, the Very lights became famous along the battlefront in France, although the inventor had been dead some years.
For whatever reason, after six months of blockade, the town of Zamboanga remained as untaken as Troy at the end of the ninth year of siege. Two things of importance, however, the hoverings of the Castine had brought about. First, they had kept up a blockade so effective that the food resources of the sub-province were much diminished, and, second, they had secured a sort of allegiance
from one faction of the Visayan inhabitants---Christians---of the hinterland and, also, from a tribe of Samal Lauts---Mohammedans.
On Tuesday, November 14, 1899, pursuant to instructions received by Commander Nazro during the Manila's last stay in the harbor of Manila, our good ship threw her weight into the scale of things Zamboangan.
About four o'clock that afternoon, we ran into a cove of the small island of Sakol, which lies to the eastward of the southern end of the Zamboangan peninsula. There the Castine lay at anchor. Commander Very came on board, and dined with our captain. At dinner he informed Commander Nazro of the situation of affairs.
An hour or two after dark, the Manila weighed anchor, and stood away to Malanipa, an island still smaller than Sakol and a few miles farther east. Here, with every appearance of secrecy, a canoe manned by Moros came alongside. From it there climbed to the Manila's deck a tall man who, although clad as a Moro chief, had the features, the complexion, and the bearing of a Spanish gentleman. The word was passed around among us juniors that the visitor was the renowned Datu Mandi himself.
Mandi was the son of a Spanish officer and of the daughter of a Moro datu or duke. He had traveled in Spain and France, and was equally at home in the culture of his father and in that of his mother. When a grown man he had chosen to share the lot of his mother's people---hence, he was regarded as a Moro. He was the only Moro I ever saw---and he was only half a Moro!---who im-
pressed me with the belief that the Mohammedan Joloanos and Maguindanaos and Samal Lauts might possibly become as civilized as the Christianized Visayans and Ilocans and Tagalogs were already.
At forty years of age, Datu Mandi was not only lord of his mother's---or rather, of his maternal grandfather's---hereditary islands of Sakol and Malanipa, but, also, he controlled extensive properties in Mindanao itself. Mandi's village, occupied by Moros exclusively, adjoined the town of Zamboanga on the north. In ordinary times, the datu himself dwelt in his own house there, a house like any other casa grande of a Spanish mestizo gentleman. Under his firm rule, his Samal Laut tribesmen lived on the outskirts of Zamboanga in perfect amity with their Filipino neighbors. This was a condition of affairs---thanks chiefly to the implacable character of the Moro people---unique in the Philippines.
As one of the results of his European education, Datu Mandi realized from the first that the insurrection of the Filipinos against the Americans was foredoomed to complete and bloody defeat. Hence, he had declined to join the insurgents of the sub-province of Zamboanga. But it was with great difficulty that he had maintained his neutrality against the pressure of the Filipinos, and when we of the Manila first saw him he was in the status of one proscribed. He had sought refuge among his islands until a better day should come. The Manila's presence was a harbinger of that day.
On the quarter-deck of the Manila, in the lee of Ma-
lanipa, Datu Mandi agreed with Commanders Nazro and Very to cast his lot with the United States, and to take an active part in an attack on Vincente Alvarez' insurgent forces. It was agreed that the next day Mandi should make his preparations. These were to include the conveying of information and instructions to one Miedel.
Miedel was a Filipino, a Visayan, not a Moro, and was the presidente, that is to say, the mayor, of Tetuan, a village situated a few miles inland from Zamboanga. This Miedel aspired to be more than a village presidente---he had long plotted to be the cacique or political boss of the entire district of Zamboanga. When the greater part of the Zamboangans joined the insurrection, Miedel saw his opportunity. He would not unite with the insurgents but he would hold back until the Americans arrived in force, and then would ride to political power on their shoulders.
We shall see more of this worthy hereafter!
After the conference on the Manila, Datu Mandi paddled softly away in the darkness, and the captain of the Castine returned to his own vessel.
Scarcely a light showed on Malanipa, either because inhabitants of the island were few, or because Mandi had given orders that they should go to bed early in order that his meeting with Americans might be observed by as few as possible until matters had been settled.
Before I turned in for the night, the tide was at its slack. Then, close to the dark shore, fanlike shapes of fire began to move here and there above the water. Torch in one hand and spear in the other, men were wading along the
fringing reef in pursuit of mullet and pompano left in the pools by the fallen tide.
As I stretched myself on my cot on the azotea, a tom-tom commenced to throb from the somber darkness that hid Malanipa. I realized that there must be a village not far away, and that Datu Mandi was calling his people together to inform them of the result of his conference with the American leaders.
At five o'clock the next morning, the two gunboats sailed for Zamboanga harbor. In less than two hours' time, they were lying at anchor a half-mile from the beach.
The arrival of the American warships attracted little attention in the hostile town. The Zamboangans were too accustomed to the presence of the Castine to be disturbed by the sight of her. And probably they assumed that an additional American vessel meant, at most, only a somewhat more effective blockade.
So, all that day---Wednesday, November 15, 1899---while Datu Mandi was busied in interviewing Presidente Miedel at Tetuan in the hinterland, and while Miedel's messengers were rallying the Americanistas---adherents to the cause of the United States or, at any rate, opponents of the dominant insurrectionary faction---the insurgents' flag snapped in the sea breeze on the ramparts of Fort Pilar, the citadel of Zamboanga. And the Manila and the Castine swung inoffensively at their anchors.
Although the crew of the Manila had not been informed in so many words of the plan to strike, yet the preparations necessary for a landing in force revealed our
captain's intention with sufficient clearness. Therefore, after the men's four o'clock supper, when they gathered on the forecastle deck for their usual smoke and gam, there was a current of glee among them, even of excited comment.
In that hardy group were heard the accents of Portland, Maine, and of Portland, Oregon; of Pike County, Pennsylvania, and of Pike Country, Missouri; of Donegal and of Kerry; of Gothland and of Jutland and of Christiansand; of Somersetshire and of Cornwall; of Hanover and of Wurttemberg; of Queensland and of New South Wales; of Normandy and of Brittany; and even of Finland, whose inhabitants some of the seamen of the year 1899 still believed to be possessed of the dark powers of wizards.
Presently, the sweet tenor of Swain, the English lad, floated aft to us who sat on the quarter-deck.
In fair Dublin City, where the girls are so pretty,
Oh! the fairest of all was sweet Molly Malone---
She wheeled a wheelbarrow through the streets wide and
Crying: "Mussels! fresh mussels! alive and live O!
Alive and live O!
Alive and live O!
Mussels! fresh mussels! alive and live O!"
She was took with a fever, and nothing could save her---
And that was the last of sweet Molly Malone!
Now her ghost wheels a barrow through the streets wide and
Crying: "Mussels! fresh mussels! alive and live O!
Alive, and live O!
Alive, and live O!
Mussels! fresh mussels! alive and alive O!"
Just after sunrise of Thursday, November 16, 1899, the Manila and the Castine steamed in as close to Fort Pilar as the depth of water permitted, and that was within pistol-shot. On the Manila, the guns' crews were at their stations, and we of the "rifle brigade" were crouched behind iron screens lashed to the vessel's rails.
Our captain was about to give the command to commence firing, when a hail came down from the crosstrees.
"Troops charging across the rice fields form the bosque, sir! American flag at the head, sir!"
Miedel and his anti-insurrectionary forces were not only on time but a quarter of an hour ahead of it. They advanced across the open country, deployed in fair order, straight toward the fort. It was impossible for the guns of the Manila or the Castine to fire on the fort without considerable risk of shells falling among our too-prompt allies beyond.
The Manila's landing party was immediately called away. In a few minutes, forty men in cutters, with Hough in command and with myself as second, were being towed by the steam-launch toward Zamboanga pier. Before we reached it, the insurgents, under the double danger of our landing and of the Americanistas' charge, began to rush
out the sallyport of the fort and even to drop from its sixteen-foot walls.
We of the Manila piled out on the pier, formed fours, and double-quicked up the pier which debouched direct into Zamboanga's main street, the inevitable Calle Real. But the enemy from the fort, perhaps three or four hundred strong, ran across the esplanade, dodged into the alleys of the town, and reached the thickets which then came close to the northeast side of Zamboanga. Thence they managed to escape northeastward between the closing jaws of the pincers formed by Hough's bluejackets and by Miedel's irregulars.
Parenthetically, it may be remarked that Alvarez' troops never troubled the town of Zamboanga again. Working up the peninsula, eventually they appeared on the north coast of Mindanao. There, months later, we took an active part in their final overthrow and int he capture of Vincente Alvarez himself. But that is another story.
On the day we took Zamboanga, a few shots were fired by the fleeing insurgents and a good many by our advancing allies. But, if I recollect aright, there were no casualties on either side.
The Americanistas swarmed into the fort shouting and brandishing their weapons. The bearer of the American flag---I think it was Miedel himself---ran up the ramp to the top of the seaward wall, and capered along it in an ecstasy of valor and triumph, waving the Stars and Stripes in greeting to the Manila and Castine. In response, the semen leaped into the shrouds, and cheered enthusiastically.
If the king of comic opera of the robuster sort, Mr. De Wolfe Hopper, had been present, he would certainly have stalked along the wall of Fort Pilar, chanting "I am El Capitan."
In the meanwhile, our Manila party hurried up Zamboanga's Calle Real, on the alert for snipers. The flicker of flames from the aduana---customhouse---caught someone's eye. Several of us rushed in---to find that the retreating enemy had poured kerosene across the floor, and had touched a match thereto. The flames were rising ankle-high, but the arson had been too hurried to be effective. We easily trampled out the fire at the cost of a few pairs of scorched leggings.
Running up the street, we saved the cuartel---barracks and city hall---in the same fashion. These two were the only buildings set on fire by the insurgents; but they would have been amply sufficient to cause a general conflagration if the flames had been allowed to spread.
As soon as Hough was certain that the insurgents had cleared, he directed me to establish sentry-posts on the landward side of the town, two men to a post. I tramped away with twelve men, and circled the village. At suitable observation points, where the thickets gave way to rice fields, I left men on guard against the possible return of the enemy.
After I had stationed the last pair of my squad, I returned alone toward the town. In doing so I followed an obscure path through the bamboos, and thus stumbled on a native who, old rifle in hand, stood peering up the path
in the opposite direction. At the sound of my footsteps he whirled about to face me. But I was already within six feet of him. Thrusting my rifle-muzzle fairly against his chest, I thundered at him in my patois of Spanish: "Baja las armas, hombre!"
Thoroughly taken aback, the fellow dropped his rifle. I picked it up, and drove him before me up the path. In a minute or two we reached the Calle Real. There I proudly displayed my prisoner, the only one made that day.
"He looks like a Moro," said Hough. "We'll turn him over to Datu Mandi when he gets here."
"Yes," I declared. "And Mandi will probably execute him as a traitor."
One of the sentries i had just posted, Chief Yeoman Harrison---now a prosperous manufacturer on Long Island---ran up, and reported that a hundred or so armed men were advancing from Mandi's village. We deployed quickly, ready to meet a possible danger. But a glance showed us that the newcomers were our Moro allies, Datu Mandi's feudal levies. They were nearly an hour behind their appointed schedule, but for people of such undisciplined habits, they were practically on time!
They afforded a quaint spectacle to our American eyes.
Although they must have known that the last of the enemy had long since vanished into the forest, the Moros gave themselves the pleasure of waging a sham battle. Crouching behind their wooden shields, they thrust fiercely over them with their spears. Or, leaping from
side to side, they made their krises---the Moro word is lantiks---flicker in wicked slashes. Their eyes glared, and their mouths dripped with the red juice of the areca nut. Their warlike behavior was made the more formidable by the circumstance that, contrary to custom, they preserved absolute silence.
Arrived within five or ten yards of our deployed and watchful line, they halted, broke their formation, and began to wander about, talking and laughing in their ordinary fashion. Your Moro has none of the dignified reserve of the North American Indian.
Datu Mandi now came up. He no longer wore the headcloth, short jacket, and peculiar trousers of a Moro; but was clad in the white linen garments and straw hat of a Spanish colonial planter. Hough promptly invited the datu's attention to my prisoner. Mandi gave the fellow one glance---then turned to us, and spoke again in Spanish. "It is as I thought. He says that when the American lieutenant threatened him with a rifle, he dared not try to explain for fear he would not be understood. He feared the lieutenant might become angry and might kill him."
Needless to say, the fellow was promptly released. And
Just as my captive was freed, the Castine's landing-party put in an appearance. Lieutenant Commander John Sherman, with whom I had been shipmates on the ram Katahdin during the War with Spain, was in charge of the Castine's men. He used a part of his force to relieve the Manila's sentries, and marched the rest down the esplanade toward Fort Pilar with the intention of taking over its occupancy from Miedel and his redoubtables.
He had barely entered the sallyport when, by what soon proved to be a stroke of good fortune, Commander Very and Commander Nazro came ashore in the latter's gig. Hough and I met them on the pier-head, and when Commander Very learned that the Castine's men had gone to take possession of the fort, he suggested that we four repair thither.
We arrived, to find an awkward dispute had risen.
Miedel, a man of the arrogant temperament which often goes with ignorance, had declined to yield the fort. He was insistent that his "soldados" should be left in possession. Of course, for Americans to allow such unstable allies to hold the citadel of Zamboanga was quite out of the question. Miedel's force outnumbered Lieutenant Commander Sherman's by three to one, and he had speedily assumed a menacing tone. But Sherman was one of
the last men in the world to give way to threats. As we emerged onto the little parade-ground within the walls of the fort, we could hear Sherman's deep voice growling out an ultimatum to Miedel.
A situation of this sort was precisely suited to the exercise of certain of Commander Very's talents. Instantly he stepped between the opposing groups, and lifted an imperative yet benign hand for attention and silence. Then he spoke, in Spanish, with twice the deliberate sonorousness of an orator of the Cortes.
"Soldiers of Zamboanga! The forces of the United States of North America are proud to have as their comrades such brave men as you have shown yourselves today to be. Side by side, we have fought our mutual enemies, and have driven them before us in disgraceful flight. We have fought together under one flag, and we shall live together as comrades under one flag!"
Some shouts went up from Miedel's men. "Yes, yes! Why not?"
"And what is that flag under which you and we have just defeated the enemy?" went on the subtle orator. "Did not your dauntless chief, the illustrious Miedel, in that gallant charge made by yourselves not an hour ago---did not your noble general himself bear at your head the flag of the United States of the North?"
"Yes, yes, yes! Truly! It was the flag of the United States!"
"And does not that very flag now fly over the ramparts you so nobly won?"
"Yes, yes! It does! It does! It is the same flag!"
"My comrades of Zamboanga and of Tetuan, we have seen three flags here in Mindanao. One was the flag of Spain whose soldiers you yourselves drove out of the island." (This was stretching the truth, but the orator was in mid-career!) "One was the flag of the insurgents whom you have just driven headlong." (This was near enough to the facts.) "And the third is the American flag which you yourselves have just planted so courageously on these very walls." (This was manifest fact!) "Then, my comrades, since you have assaulted and captured Fort Pilar with the American flag in your hands, since you yourselves have hoisted the American flag over Fort Pilar, it can only be because you wish to present Fort Pilar to the United States. In the name of America, I thank the noble and illustrious Miedel and you, fellow soldiers of Mindanao, for this gracious and magnanimous gift!"
"Long live the United States! Long live the Americans!"
Commander Very from the one side, and "General" Miedel from the other, advanced, and shook hands, each with high appreciation of the dramatic figure he made.
Five minutes later, Miedel and his irregulars were out of the fort, and the Castine's men were in complete possession.
"Congratulations, Very," said Commander Nazro. "By George! that was the cleverest performance I ever saw!
The other wiped his still streaming face. "It was touch and go," he admitted. "Luckily I've learned something of
these fellows' reactions to sounding brass and tinkling cymbal!"
Our captain informed us that the Manila would sail for Jolo that afternoon. In Jolo he would ask the commander of the Twenty-third Infantry to detail a company or two as a garrison for Zamboanga. Hough assembled the battalion, and we left the town to the Castine's men.
But our morning's foray was not to end without the Muse of Comedy's playing another jape for my particular benefit!
As our column turned off the Calle Real toward the pier, we passed a shop which bore above it, in Spanish and English and German, the legend: "C. Wung. Ship-chandlery in all its Branches. Cargoes Consigned and Received. Bills of Exchange Negotiated in any Amounts." The sight of the last line of this tripartite pronunciamento served to remind me that I was the disbursing officer of the Manila and that the ship's supply of cash was decidedly on the ebb. I halted at the door of the shop.
A tall Chinaman, apparently about thirty years old, was lounging there, cigar in mouth, impassively watching our sections march past. His frogged jacket of purple silk, his stockings of immaculate white cotton, his slippers of black satin---these told me that this must be the proprietor of the establishment.
"'Allo, Chollie!" I said. "Velly fine day!" You catchee two thousan' peso of' me this aftelnoon? I bring 'um bill exchange, byme-by. You sabe? This aftelnoon, can do?"
The Chinaman removed the cigar from his lips. "Leftenant," he said, with a voice and accent that would have made a don of Balliol or Brazenose die of envy, "business conditions have been so unsettled that the parity of exchange is purely problematical. However, I shall be glad to obtain for you the two thousand pesos you have just mentioned. My charge will be nominal---merely the arbitrage for the day on which I may receive my next letter of advice from Manila. I hope that will be satisfactory to you?"
"Great Scott!' I stuttered. "I mean, I beg your pardon! I never dreamed------"
"Quite so!" said the Oxford don politely. "It's quite all right, Leftenant---quite all right, I give you my word."
Such was the taking of Zamboanga---an affair little short of opera bouffe in form but one whose consequences were important to the American cause. Before proceeding to narrate some of them, let me refer to the later careers of two of the principal actors in the Zamboanga affair: the Moro datu, Mandi; and the Filipino politico, Miedel.
Mandi continued to be the warm friend, and as nearly as possible, the disinterested friend of Americans. He was held in respect by all; his counsel was sought, and his advice was followed. He died some years ago, honored by Americans, Filipinos, and Moros, alike.
Of Miedel not much that is good can be said. As he had expected, he rode to political power on the shoulders of Americans, power unofficial but nonetheless recognized.
He became the cacique---the political tyrant of the kind described in Katharine Mayo's book, "The Isles of Fear"---of the Visayan part of the sub-province of Zamboanga.
A year or two ago, when I spoke of Zamboanga to an American long resident in the Philippines, Miedel's very name had been forgotten, while that of Mandi was still held in respectful remembrance.
We of the Manila learned to know Zamboanga well, and to like it only a little less than we liked Balabac. In Zamboanga, as the months slipped past, we attended fiestas both secular and religious, saw a bullfight or two, bore manful parts in battles of flowers with mestiza belles. There, too, we made warm friendships among officers of the garrison---officers of the Twenty-third Regulars and, later, of the Thirty-first Regiment of Federal Volunteers.
But my tale cannot linger on the delights of Zamboanga. It must press toward the somewhat sterner events that took place along the Rio Grande de Mindanao.
A TRUE COPY: "Opera Bouffe Warfare at Zamboanga," pp. 207-225
November 10, 1996