Tuesday, August 2, 2011

The Bloodiest Period

After the twin threats of the Dutch and the Chinese had passed, the Spanish Crown decided to refortify Zamboanga in 1718. Spain also reoccupied other garrisons in Mindanao and Sulu and, upon the insistence of the Recollects, Labo in Palawan was also fortified. Alarmed by this development, the Moros designed new power realignments to meet the renewed Spanish threat head on.
Initially, the Spaniards were cautious, adopting a friendly approach in dealing with the Moros. The new policy was especially felt in matter of religion. The Spaniards abandoned conversion to Christianity as an imposed requirement and to merely asked the Moros to allow missionaries in their areas in exchange for commercial partnership. As expected, the policy did not bear good fruit. The Moros refused to trust the Spaniards. Not long after, hostilities resumed with even more fury and bloodshed.
In 1751, Spain passed a Royal Decree known as the "Privateer System- which marked the beginning of the bloodiest period in the history of the Moro-Spanish War. The decree provided for the encouragement and enlistment of private individuals to organize expeditions against the Moros. The incentives were tempting and rewarding. It stipulated the total extermination of the Moros, burning of everything combustible that they owned, and the desolation of all crops and farmlands. Criminals who enlisted were granted unconditional pardon and all enlistees were exempted from paying tribute and were entitled to four-fifth of the booty. Thousands enlisted for the mercenary expeditions. As anticipated, the results were quick, telling and bloody.
In the face of this threat of liquidation, the natural reaction of the Moros was to meet fire with fire. After decades of lull in the fighting, the Moros had not failed to toughen their war machines, oiled and ever-ready to move into action. Evidently, they had prepared for this day and had much in store for the Spaniards and their allies. Instead of waiting for the adversaries to invade their lands, they conducted foray after foray deep into enemy territory. No place, either in Luzon or in the Visayas, was exempt from the terrible attacks of these fearless raiders. llocos, Catanduanes, Batangas, Manila, lloilo, Mindoro, and everywhere were frequently attacked. Consequently watch-towers and belfries began to dot the coastal lines of the Spanish-held areas to keep a round-the-clock watch for approaching Moro "pirates," whose approach brought that terrible cry: Moros en la costa. Mothers frightened their children to sleep by the mere mention of the word Moro. The name became so dreaded that it evoked such offensive meanings as "pirate," "traitor" or "heathen." For a span of a decade during this period, no fewer than 50,000 captives were taken and many coastal towns were totally destroyed, their population greatly reduced.
Roughly the same degree of destruction on the Moros also took place from both the offensives and counter-offensives of the Spaniards. There were many tales of decimation of lives and property. Sometimes a whole Moro settlement would be depopulated.
On February 27, 1851, Spain launched a massive assault on Jolo, employing of a fleet of one corvette, one brigantine, three steamboats, two gunboats, nine transports, twenty-one barangays, and other boats of different sizes. The attacking force was composed of 142 officers, 2,876 men and about a thousand native volunteers. On the defenders' side were about 10,000 Moro warriors. As usual, Jolo was bombarded first and then the ground assault followed. In the ensuing fighting, the Spaniards reported 34 dead and the Moros 300. Jolo was razed to the ground. However, the Sulu sultan disputed this by saying that only 100 Moros died.

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