Datu Ali - The Unsung Heroes of the Philippines

December 29, 2017

Datu Ali,   a prominent Moro Chieftain, the brother of Datu Djimbangan and Sultan Tambilawan of Kudarangan, and was the Rajahmuda of Tinukop before succeeding his cousin, Datu Uto  as Sultan of Buayan from 1899 until 1905.

 

Back in 1886, Datu Ali and his cousin Datu Uto refuse to honor the Spanish Flag. Both Datu's sworn to leave no Spaniards alive in Cotabato. Some of Uto's cottas were destroyed but Spanish troops were unable to penetrate the Moro territory. Datu Ali attacked the town of Lepanto near the Spanish fort of Bugcaon, killing fourteen and looting the place, as the campaign ended. The fall of Datu Uto to Spanish advances in 1890 led to his excile. This created vacuum in the Buayan Sultanate that was filled by Datu Ali, Datu Djimbangan and Datu Piang who is a Chinese-Maguindanaw Mestizo, co-opted into the american establishment, while resistance to American Rule continued in Sar-Raya led by Datu Ali. Regardless of the fact that Datu Piang had served under Datu Uto as his "Minister of Lands", the apparent treachery of Datu Piang against Datu Uto, by declaring himself the Sultan of Mindanao, in spite of the fact that he had the least precedent by way of kinship and genealogy... led Datu Uto to "turnover command of his warriors" to Datu Ali.

 

Buluan, known to have wide expense of fertile plains, and an invigorating climate, gave good tidings to the ear of Datu Ali of the North, who at once proceeded to take control of the whole territory. On the other Hand, the people of the South, had viewed this luxuriant valley from the top of the mountain ranges at Tupi and Koronadal, under the leadership of Sultan of Talic, made up his mind to explore and take possession of this uninhabited place. When Datu Ali learned that the Sultan of Talic and his followers encamped in Talic, Datu Ali assembled his men and gave Sultan of Talic battle and easily put him to fight. By his victory, Datu Ali became the most powerful leader in the region between Koronadal in the South and Maganoy in the North.

 

Because of his undisputed bravery in battle and nobility among Datus, Datu Ali is then the able ruler of Cotabato Upper Valley and was the Mighty Leader of the Sultanate of Maguindanao in the 1900s. Acquiring all the prerogatives of a legitimate leader, he claimed the title "Rajah of Buayan", or "Rajah Buayan" translated as "The Kingdom of Buayan". Datu Ali came to be known primarily during the American occupation of the Philippines.

 

Datu Ali, who was again on the warpath, the terror of the neighborhood in his younger days and also just after the evacuation by the Spaniards. Ali declared that he would not yield to the Americans one iota of his independence, or liberate his slaves, and swore vengeance on all who went in his pursuit. Being the hereditary Datu, the inhabitants of the valley generally sympathized with him. He headed the revolt against the American government through open battle and guerrilla warfare for 3 years, beginning in 1903. To force him to surrender, the Americans captured his brother, Datu Djimbangan, at Fort Serenaya, but he did not fall for that trick. He continued to fight until his death on October 22, 1905 when he and most of his men were killed in the Battle of the Malalag River. 

 

Datu Ali  was the last, and most formidable Moro chieftain to oppose American rule on the island of Mindanao. For nearly two years, operations against Ali were carried out by several formations of the US Army and the Philippine Constabulary.

 

Ali eluded capture all that time, until finally surprised and killed by a Provisional Company of the 22nd Infantry, led by Captain Frank R. McCoy, the Aide De Camp of General Leonard Wood. Colonel John R. White, who spent 15 years as an officer in the Philippine Constabulary,sets the stage with a description of Ali's home land—the Cotabato District of Mindanao.

 

The Annual Report to the Secretary of War

The following passages illustrate the problems the US Army was having with Datu Ali. They are taken from the Annual Reports to the Secretary of War, and indicate encounters with Datu Ali during the year 1904.[6]

  • March 5, 1904 - Maj. Gen. Leonard Wood left Cotabato, Mindanao, with a force consisting of Companies K and M, Twenty-third Infantry (Capts. D.B. Devore and W.H. Allaire), Companies B and F, Seventeenth Infantry (Captains Cochran and R.O. Van Horn), Troop B, Fourteenth Cavalry (Capt. G. G. Gatley), and a small detachment of marines and sailors under Commander Coffin on an expedition against the Moros of the Rio Grande Valley, the object being to examine into the alleged war-like and hostile preparations of Datu Ali and his brother Datu Djimbangan, with whom were united many other datus of the Rio Grande Valley.

  • March 7, 1904 - General Wood's force operating against the Moros of the Rio Grande Valley, Mindanao, encountered a party of well-armed Moros, who fired on the column, but were quickly dispersed, with a loss of 2 killed and a number wounded. No casualties to General Wood's Command.

  • March 10, 1904 - Detachment of 50 men of the Forty-eight Company, Philippine Scouts, under First Lieut. Thomas F. Loudon, accompanied by 1 Officer and 10 men of the Philippine Constabulary, while in pursuit of 2 Moro murderers surprised a band of Moros with the murderers, and in the ensuing engagement 3 Moros were killed and a number wounded; 7 carbines, 2 revolvers, and 400 rounds of ammunition were recovered, and 7 rifles, knives, and spears belonging to the Moros were captured. Casualties, 2 men killed and 1 wounded. The force under General Wood operating in the Rio Grande Valley, Mindanao, was reinforced by Companies L and I, Twenty-third Infantry (Capt. M. C. Kerth and First Lieut. H.S. Howland), and Troop A, Fourteenth Cavalry (First Lieut. W.B. Scales), and the fort of Datu Ali having been located, a vigorous bombardment was kept up throughout the day.

  • March 11, 1904 - The fort of Datu Ali was captured by General Wood's force, the Moros having abandoned it during the night. Nineteen iron and 2 brass cannon were captured, also 45 lantakas and an immense amount of powder and military projectiles of all kinds. The fort was destroyed.

  • March 14, 1904 - General Wood's force returned to Cotabato from its expedition up to the Rio Grande Valley, Mindanao.

  • May 08, 1904 - During a reconnaissance to locate the whereabouts of Datu Ali, who had been sending in threatening messages and attempting to stir up trouble, a detachment of 39 enlisted men, Company F, Seventeenth Infantry, was attached by Moros, near Lake Liguasan, Mindanao, and 2 officers and 13 enlisted men killed, and 6 enlisted men wounded.

  • May 16, 1904 - Maj. Gen. Leonard Wood, with 450 officers and men, started on an expedition to recover the bodies of the men killed on May 08 by Moros near Lake Liguasan, Mindanao.

  • May 30, 1904 - Maj. Gen. Leonard Wood, returned from expedition to Lake Liguasan, Mindanao, with remains of officer and men killed in action on May 08. He reported that Ali with a small aggregation of outlaws were hiding and would be pursued until captured or destroyed. No casualties in expedition.

  • June 14, 1904 - The camp of Buluan,Mindanao, was attacked by a force of about 120 Moro under Datu Ali, who were repulsed without loss and driven from the trenches which had been constructed during the night. First Lieut. Frederick S. Young, Twenty-third Infantry, with detachments of Company K, that regiment, and Troop D, Fourteenth Cavalry, was sent in pursuit and encountered the enemy of Malangit. A sharp fight, lasting about forty-five minutes, ensued, when the Moros were put to flight and scattered, with a loss of about 29 killed and wounded. Our casualties, 1 Officer and 2 enlisted men wounded.

The Warfare over Slavery

When the Moro Province announced the anti-slavery law in the last months of 1903,General Leonard Wood and Taft thought that the Maguindanao would continue to follow the lead of colonial progress. Instead, the declaration of abolition destroyed the political and economic system of indirect rule over the whole valley through Datu Piang in Cotabato. Warfare over slavery began in March and April 1904, when Datu Ali, led his followers to battle in the northern half of the Pulangi River Valley, the sa-raya (Upper Valley) region that had supported the late Datu Uto’s resistance against the Spaniards in 1899. Datu Piang on the other hand used his political skill and control of long-distance trade through the Chinese merchants of Cotabato to bring the other major datus of the valley into an accommodation with the United States. Upon Datu Uto's declined in power, Datu Ali, the heir to the sultanate of Buayan, emerged as the dominant leader of the sa-raya region. He assembled the most powerful armed men expert in guerrilla warfare and constructed the largest and most heavily armed Kota in Mindanao in preparation for the American resistance. The Governor of Cotabato District knew through his reliable intelligence that Mastura, son of the last sultan of Maguindanao and the sultan of Talakuku and several allied datus including the important Datu Ampatuan pledge that if they would have to give up their slaves, they would rather fight and join Datu Ali. With Datu Ali’s efforts to recruit support from the Lake Lanao Region, several thousand followers had congregated in Ali’s Great Kota to revolt against the American. Datu Ali Married Datu Piang’s daughter, bonding their alliance in ties of kinships.

 

The Hunt for Datu Ali

 
The First Hunt: The Pulangi River

In early March 1904,General Leonard Wood led a large military expedition up the Pulangi River against Ali  . At Kudarangan, General Wood consulted with Datu Piang (an influential political leader and informant who, as convenient, shared information with "both sides") , who described Datu Ali’s war preparations and intention to resist the implementation of the antislavery law in Maguindanao. An “Arab Priest” with Datu Piang  Sherif  Tuan, “also stated that the Moros Datus pledge to fight and obeisance that they would not submit to any interference with their slave trading and holding. On May 1904, Datu Ali ambushed seventeenth Infantry killing two officers and seventeen men.  Later, about forty soldiers headed by an officer who is ignorant of the terrain and local languange, guided by faithless moro. They hiked through the trackless swamps leading their men into the heart of an unexplored territory. The trail led through high Tigbao grass, black mud of a churned-up trail with occasional holes where the men sanks to their waists. They penetrated seven miles into the heart of the territory of Datu Ali's best general - Bapa ni Manakup. While officers moving forward, a sudden spurt of rifle fired from killing men and dying in the stinking mud.  They withdrew in disorder while the victorious Moros completed their work by beheading and disemboweling the head of dying Americans with their vicious kris and barong.   Yet, even then Datu Ali showed some spark of noble warfare. The two captured American soldiers were cared for and later freed and returned to Cotabato. The ambush where later called and known to Amerans as "the Simpetan Massacre" – A blood little affair, campaigning against hostile moros in the part of Mindanao.

 

As time passed by, a soldiers developed a grudging respect of their prey. Unable to truck down the elusive datu, General Wood tried to negotiate Datu Ali to surrender. Dr. Najeeb Saleeby, a former member of Wood's Legislative Council and Ali's old acquaintances, could not convince Datu Ali to surrender. Instead, Datu Ali a defiant letter addressing Wood "Which is better for you, to kill me or not?... Until I Die all the people will not submit to the government, because I will try to kill the people who are friends to Americans." General Wood responded the following day by posting a $500 reward for Datu Ali's capture, DEAD or ALIVE. Reasons for General Wood to declare war against Datu Ali and his followers as a struggle against slavery and “lawlessness.” General Wood analysis of Ali’s rebellion reinterpreted the recent history of Maguindanao to suit his identification of abolition with progress, civilization, and colonial authority. Failure to punish Ali will only leave the Moros with an undue sense of their importance to obey either the Civil Governor of the District or any other Authority.” While Datu Ali and his followers is still actively engaged in slave-hunting among the hill tribes, General Wood believes that Ali and his followers “the Moros” were still wild people, who is not yet properly conquered, discipline and colonize outside their selves. With General Wood's condemnation of Moros, he knew that the antislavery law  will provoke a great deal of opposition among the Moro Datus especially Datu Ali and Datu Djimbangan who’s making a good deal of money in slave trading.  Antislavery law ignited their general contempt for American Authority. General Wood also reported that all of the Datus were united to resist the American rule for the operation of the slave law  except Datu Piang. General Wood believed that Datu Ali’s Death could serve as the elimination of the only obstacles to “progress.” The American hatched a Series of assassination attempt killing Datu Ali was initiated including using his nephew, the son of Datu Djimbangan but with no luck.

 
The Final Hunt: The Malala River (Death of Datu Ali)

The Provo Company of the 22nd Infantry conceived and led by Captain Frank McCoy

On October 5, 1905, Captain Frank Ross McCoy of the 3rd Cavalry, and Aide De Camp to General Leonard Wood, formed the above Provisional Company consisting of volunteers from the 22nd Infantry, specifically to go after the Moro chieftain called the Datu Ali, who was The Last Major Chieftain to oppose American sovereignty on the island of Mindanao. Datu Ali consistently raided local villages, conducted hit and run attacks on US camps, and continued his campaign of insurrection through terror and fear. In September 1905, General Wood received intelligence that Datu Ali was encamped on his ranch deep in the mountains along the Malola (now known as Malala) River.

 

Due to Datu Ali's stubborn resistance to the Americans, Piang convince many of his fellow datus to end their support to Datu Ali and were no longer willing to put up with the misery and devastation that had been visited upon them. They wanted it ended before the unpredictable and vengeful General Wood returned. Piang had tipped off Captain Frank Ross McCoy that Datu Ali, was hiding out in a cabin near Lake Buluan within his large family and had sent most of his men back to their villages. This information had been relayed from Sharif Afdal, a religious leader, who had recently visited him due to sickness. Of equal importance, Datu Inuk, a sworn enemy of Datu Ali and Tomas Torres, the long-time head scout for the Americans in Mindanao, volunteered to accompany and guide Captain McCoy to Datu Ali's location to identify him in person since the few Americans who could recognize him at sight were no longer stationed in the Philippines.

 

General Wood ordered that an assault force be raised to find and apprehend Datu Ali. A large number of volunteers arose from the Regiment for the dangerous assignment, and from those volunteers Captain F.R. McCoy hand-picked 100 men provisional company from the 22nd Infantry Regiment, stationed at Camp Keithley in Lanao in secret; so as not to alert the residents of Cotabato that an operation was underway. They sailed October 11 from Iligan to the small town of Digos on the Davao Gulf with a short stopover in Zamboanga. Picking up two squads of Philippine Scouts, McCoy's party force-marched fifty miles across the high route he had traveled the year before, skirting the flanks of the impressive Mt. Apo, the highest mountain in the Philippines. As they descended into the valley, it was decided to leave the lame and exhausted behind, reducing the expedition to 77 men.

The Company traveled by boat to Digos, on the coast of the Davao Gulf. Upon landing on the 16th Of October, they were joined by 10 Filipino Scouts and began the hazardous journey into the interior. They crossed the jungle covered mountains in five days, reaching Datu Ali's encampment in the early morning hours of October 22. Quickly and quietly they surrounded the ranch buildings and waited. As the sun rose, Datu Ali and a dozen of his men came out of the main house unsuspecting and unarmed.

 

Lieutenant Philip Remington sent one squad forward and another around to the rear of the house. Datu Ali ran back inside and armed himself and began firing at the Americans. A bullet just missed Lt Remington but hit and killed Private Bobbs.[5] Remington then charged into the house firing his pistol, hitting Datu Ali and knocking the man down. Staggering to his feet, Datu Ali ran through the back door, only to be cut down by a hail of bullets from the waiting second squad.

With the death of Datu Ali, organized insurrection on a major scale ended.

 

Oral tradition asserts that the Americans obtained Piang’s assistance only by torturing him. The campaign against Datu Ali closed with the death of Maguindanao Chief who, betrayed by his own men. Datu Piang then reigned supreme in the valley, conciliating American Officials with gifts of brass, chicken, and eggs. The opportunist merchant chief lives with prosper.Nevertheless, as Beckett points out, “Ali’s death saw Datu Piang on the winning side, the authorities in his debt, and his aristocratic rival out the way”. Datu Piang then appointed as Muslim Provincial Board Member in Cotabato and in the following year appointed to the National Assembly by the American Governor General.

 

The two position with few formal responsibility with virtually no legal authority. Though armed resistance would continue by several Moro Leaders over the next six years, the major battles and campaigns of the Insurrection could now be considered to be over. Yet, when Maguindanao Moros gather for the rice planting or harvest, songs are sung and tales are told of Datu Ali -last, and perhaps not the least noble, of the maguindanao chief.[8] Even the brave American General Wood who became the Governor General of the Philippines at that time testify to the Bravery of Rajamuda Datu Ali by quoting "By Far the most capable Moro we have run into".

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