MARAWI CITY— More than a century after the first coming of the Americans here, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson hinted a second coming by US soldiers for “the real challenge.”
Native Maranao Moros and American troops fought fiercely in the Battle of Bayang in 1903. Days later, Camp Vicars was established a few miles away from the south lakeshore. The camp was named after First Lieutenant Thomas Vicars, the commander of Company F, 2nd Battalion of the 27th Infantry, who was killed in the Battle of Bayang.
A key figure in the US troops was Captain John Pershing, whose “mission was to bring the Maranaos of Lake Lanao under US jurisdiction.” Camp Vicar was later renamed Camp Keithley—and in more recent years to Camp Amai Pakpak, a legendary local hero.
Over 100 years later, Tillerson said: “The real challenge is going to come with once they have the fighting brought to an end, (on) how to deal with the conditions on the ground to ensure it does not re-emerge.”
At the very least, it would be likely that the “real challenge” in Tillerson’s statement is being able to address the threat posed by the terrorist group Isis with stronger regional security cooperation, to ensure this modern-day lake conflict would not be repeated.
Early in August, Tillerson declared in Washington that the presence of Isis-inspired groups here makes this security concern a global issue.
“I think our next steps on the global war to defeat ISIS are to recognize ISIS is a global issue. We already see elements of ISIS in the Philippines, as you’re aware, gaining a foothold. Some of these fighters have gone to the Philippines from Syria and Iraq,” Tillerson said in a press briefing in the White House on August 3.
Tillerson said the US provides the Philippines with surveillance capabilities, training, information and aircraft to help it fight the militants. He said the equipment includes a few Cessna aircraft and a few drones.
At one point, Tillerson was even quoted as having offered a US airstrike on pro-Isis militants’ lair in Marawi. This prompted reporters in Manila covering the Department of Defense to seek reaction from Armed Forces of the Philippines Chief of Staff General Eduardo Año, who said a direct airstrike intervention is not part of the Mutual Defense Treaty between the two countries.
On July 27, US Ambassador Sung Y. Kim and Lt. Gen. Bryan Fenton, Deputy Commander of the US Pacific Command, delivered to the AFP-Philippine Air Force two Cessna 208B Reconnaissance Aircraft.
Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano and Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, along with AFP Chief of Staff General Año and Lt Gen Edgar Fallorina, PAF Commanding General, received the new aircraft units. Fallorina said the new aircraft units will be placed under the custody of PAF’s 300th Air Intelligence and Security Group.
The first lake war
Brave Maranao ancestors were witness to the Spanish-US Naval War unfolding in Lake Lanao at the turn of the 20th century.
In his post-conflict report titled, “Amphibious Infantry: A Fleet on Lake Lanao, US Naval Institute Proceedings (1938),” Lieutenant Parker Hitt said retreating Spanish troops in Lake Lanao sunk American naval boats on the eve of the Spanish-American War.
Hitt wrote that the American troops “raised those boats and made them operational again for use in the Moro campaign around Lake Lanao.”
According to a report by Major J.S. Parke, in early December 1903, American troops of the First Battalion, 22nd US Infantry Regiment, arrived in Iligan. One battalion was temporarily stationed in Pantar, and the rest of the regiment set up camp in Marahui (Marawi).
On Jan. 23, 1904, the US troops boarded barges and native Moro canoes and coursed seven miles across the northern end of Lanao Lake to an expedition against the Sultan of Ramain.
Incidentally, the present top officials of Lanao Sur—Governor Soraya Alonto, Vice Governor Bombit Alonto Adiong, Assemblyman Zia Alonto Adiong, and Congressman Ansaruddin Alonto Adiong, as well as their uncles Abul Khayr Alonto and ARMM Vice Governor Haroun Al-Rashid Alonto Lucman (both cousins of Governor Soraya)— are fourth and third generation-descendants of Sultan Alawya Alonto of Ramain, who eventually became a member of the Commonwealth Senate.
Sultan Alonto’s son, Senator Ahmad Domocao Alonto was a second-generation senator elected in 1955, eight years after the sultan’s Senate term ended in 1947.
Hitt wrote: “Before reaching the main cottas, detachments were landed. On each side of the river, between the cotta walls and the stream was a narrow trail, along which the detachments, in single file, kept pace with the leading boat. While moving up the river, many armed Moros were seen running from cotta to cotta; they carried rifles, kampilans, and krises, and were evidently hastening to a large cotta at the upper end of the town.
“Led by two officers, a dash was made into the cotta. Hardly had they entered before the two officers were shot down. These were the first shots fired. The battalion had seen many armed Moros, but in pursuance of a peaceful policy, had refrained from shooting. Orders required the arrest of the sultan, if possible, without the shedding of blood.
“The few men that had gained entrance to the cotta gallantly covered the Moros until the wounded officers (were safely rescued); they then the detachment was reinforced, and immediately charged and captured the cotta.
“This method of attack was continued until there was danger of firing into the other command, which was slowly forcing its way through the swamps to the rear of the town. All firing then ceased; trumpet calls kept each command informed of the position of the other command until a junction was (achieved).”
Second Lieutenant Campbell W. Flake, who was killed in action, became the lone fatality in the Ramaien Expedition.
In her annotation of the papers of John J. Pershing, Dr. Faina C. Abaya-Ulindang wrote: “As an instrument of pacification, the governing philosophy of land settlements in Mindanao was traced to the homestead program of the American colonizers or as far back as the Spanish reduccion. Agricultural colonies were established in Cotabato and Lanao provinces during the first decade of American rule.” (Batis ng Kasaysayan, Vol I, No.1  Edited by Bernardita Reyes Churchill, Manila: National Commission for Culture and the Arts).
The Center for Philippine Studies at University of Hawai’i at MÄnoa in Honolulu, Hawaii introduces Dr. Abaya-Ulindang’s works as one that “presents a detailed annotation and analysis of the papers of John J. Pershing, currently housed at the Manuscripts Division of the Library of Congress, Washington, D.C., based on the materials collected from that repository and deposited to the library of Mindanao State University.”
In her study on land dispossession, Dr. Abaya-Ulindang “investigates the history of the Economic Development Corporation (EDCOR) settlement project as an instrument of counter-insurgency during the 1950s and its relevance to the contemporary Mindanao unrest.” (Three EDCOR sites were established in 1951 in Kapatagan, Lanao, and in Buldon and Alamada, both in Cotabato.)
“As an instrument of pacification, the governing philosophy of land settlements in Mindanao was traced to the homestead program of the American colonizers or as far back as the Spanish reduccion. Agricultural colonies were established in Cotabato and Lanao provinces during the first decade of American rule.
“These colonies were intended to assimilate the native Muslims with the Christianized Filipinos, or ‘to make a Filipino out of a Moro,’ according to Governor (Frank) Carpenter of the Department of Mindanao and Sulu.
“Settlements were laid in such a way that the Filipino would have a Moro as neighbor. While the initial impetus for these projects were economic in nature, i.e., to increase the interaction between the native Muslims and Christianized Filipinos, resulting in ‘cultural amalgamation’ was just as important,” Abaya-Ulindang wrote.
On March 18, 1935, Maranao leaders sent a manifesto to the US Congress. Better known as the Dansalan Declaration, Datu Hadji Abdulhamid Bongabong of Unayan and 189 other Maranao datus signed the manifesto, which stated, among others: “Should the American people grant Philippine independence, the islands of Mindanao and Sulu should not be included in such independence. Our public land should not be given to other people other than the Moro Nation.” That manifesto has remained unfulfilled until now.