By Getsy Tiglao
Thanks to his Twitter addiction, US President Donald Trump inadvertently shone a light on the violent side of early Philippine-American history, which both sides would rather forget despite the many lessons that can be derived from it. Too bad he focused on a mythicized part involving a mean general, bullets, and pig’s blood.
Shortly after the terrorist attack on Barcelona, in which a van plowed into a crowd at an esplanade and killed at least 14 people, Trump tweeted his condemnation of the attack, for which the jihadist group Islamic State in Iraq and Syria has claimed responsibility.
Trump said the United States “will do whatever is necessary to help. Be tough and strong, we love you!” This is a conventional tweet, a welcome respite from his earlier controversial ones about the racial clashes in Charlottesville, Virginia.
But leave it to Trump not to leave well enough alone. His next tweet 45 minutes later was a doozy. “Study what General Pershing of the United States did to terrorists when caught. There was no more radical Islamic terror for 35 years.”
We know what Trump was referring to since he has told his mythicized story several times during his campaign. This is the yarn about General John “Black Jack” Pershing and how he dipped 50 bullets in pig’s blood, loaded them into shotguns, and executed 49 “terrorists.” The last one, Trump claimed, was spared and ordered to go tell others what had happened as a warning.
While Trump didn’t mention the Philippines in his tweet, he was obviously referring to Pershing’s tour of duty in the country to head the military campaign against Muslim rebels in the early 1900s, as the US began its occupation of the Philippines.
General Pershing was assigned as military governor to Mindanao in order to pacify the Moro residents who were opposing the foreign invaders. The Moros were tough fighters who continually repelled the invaders despite being poorly armed, mostly just short swords or that famous curved blade, the kris.
American historians have debunked Trump’s story and said there is no proof that Pershing was involved in the pig’s blood episode. However, Pershing did say in his autobiography that some Moros were publicly buried in graves with a dead pig, an act abhorrent to a Muslim and thus aimed at discouraging further resistance.
The Koran forbids those of the Islamic faith to eat “carrion, blood and flesh of swine” as they are considered impure meat. By burying the Muslim rebels, especially the so-called “juramentados,” with dead pigs, the American conquerors hoped to scare them with the prospect of going to hell instead of heaven.
But this wasn’t the worst of the American atrocities during its pacification campaign. There was the Bud Dajo massacre in Jolo, a real and not legendary incident which President Rodrigo Duterte has mentioned several times in his speeches, as he sought to give historical context to Philippine-American relations.
In March 1906, a group of about 1,000 Tausug villagers fled to Bud Dajo, a volcanic crater they had traditionally used as a refuge from foreigner invaders, including the Spaniards. The US Army attacked the Moros and killed 600, including men, women, and children. A historical photo shows US soldiers posing over the dead bodies, gruesomely piled one on top of the other.
This was the same photo shown by Duterte at the sidelines of the ASEAN Summit last year as he noted that the US has not even apologized to the Philippines for the atrocities it committed during the Philippine-American War and the Moro Rebellion.
Defenders of Pershing say the general was not even in the Philippines at the time of the Bud Dajo massacre, having left in June 1903. But he had another tour of duty in the country from 1910 to 1913, and he was a major participant in the Battle of Bud Bagsak.
Like Bud Dajo, the Moro fighters and their families were fortified in an extinct volcanic crater atop Mt. Bagsak in Jolo. The Americans with their superior arms easily overwhelmed the Moros and about 500 were killed, including women and children. This event marked the end of the Moro Rebellion. (The Luzon-based revolution ended even earlier, in 1902, after the surrender of General Miguel Malvar of Batangas to General J. Franklin Bell.)
President Trump should start reading real history and stop using erroneous legendary bits that he thinks will appeal to his core crowd. The Moros fighting the Americans at the turn of the century were fighting for their homeland that the foreign invaders had occupied and wanted to exploit.
The Filipino Muslims in Jolo were not terrorists. They didn’t launch attacks in American soil or in Barcelona in the same manner that ISIS has done. Trump needs to come up with a new strategy to combat ISIS that doesn’t involve tactics from a bygone era.