The saga of Bud Dahu looms tall in the myths and lives of the Tausugs in Sulu, even if a hundred years after, the process of story telling has only started. “Bud Dahu is only one of the many mountains in the world, but it has conquered world history,” proclaimed Prof. Sahie S.Udjah, a member of the Bud Dahu Coordinating Council (BDCC) at the start of the “Pagtibaw Sajahitra” (peace pilgrimage) campaign started by Sulu civil society and peace support groups in early March in Sulu.

The saga of Bud Dahu looms tall in the myths and lives of the Tausugs in Sulu, even if a hundred years after, the process of story telling has only started.

“Bud Dahu is only one of the many mountains in the world, but it has conquered world history,” proclaimed Prof. Sahie S.Udjah, a member of the Bud Dahu Coordinating Council (BDCC) at the start of the “Pagtibaw Sajahitra” (peace pilgrimage) campaign started by Sulu civil society and peace support groups in early March in Sulu.

This imagery was echoed at the same opening by Fatmawatti Salapuddin, the Tausug lead convenor of the Mindanao PeaceWeavers (MPW), who said Bud Dahu “still stands tall, along with the other mountains of resistance in Sulu.”

Up to 1,600 Tausugs lost their lives in Bud Dahu in March 1906, victims in a battle with some 740 American cavalrymen who were ordered to subdue their group which resisted the imposition of U.S civil policies in Sulu. The battle against the firearms-superior troops had ended in a massacre of Tausug women and children in a langgal (mosque) at the crater of the 2,000-feet Mount Dahu.

Even if the massacre was described as a “slaughter”, “a frightful atrocity”and “hideous” in American newspapers at the time, those who died were described in U.S. military reports as a “band of outlaws” and “renegades” who had deserved a “no taking of prisoners” policy.

A hundred years may have also erased the atrocities from collective American memory. Claimed Dr. Gerald Schenk, a history professor from California who had joined the campaign and climbed Bud Dahu in a historic collective act done 100 years from the fact: “The Bangsamoro is completely absent from American history books.”

The “Pagtibaw” campaign by Sulu civil society and peace advocates and supported by the Sulu provincial government aims at getting recognition for the heroism of the Bud Dahu “martyrs”, extracting the accounts of the six Tausug survivors (all infants and children) and their descendants and hopefully obtaining an adequate measure of healing and peace for the historical injustice.

This advocacy had gained ground with the approval this month of Senate Resolution No. 70 authored by Mindanao Senator Aquilino Pimentel, Jr. which had declared the victims “martyrs of freedom” and proposed March 6 as Bud Dajo Day “in remembrance of the supreme sacrifice of the defenders of the Bud Dajo for love of their homeland.”

It’s the healing and justice part, however, that may need to be further defined by civil society.

“Kung healing lang, hindi puwede. Baka hindi tamaan ng gamot ang ugat. Dapat may hustisya, hindi lang healing na baka magiging hocus-pocus lang,” (Healing may not be enough, there should be justice) says Mike Mamento, a Moro delegate from Maguindanao.

Healing the historical wounds

How will healing come for Bud Dahu?

A panel discussion on “Healing and Solidarity Action”, held on March 7 at the heels of a “Sulu Solidarity Conference” that was part of the Pagtibaw event, offers some perspectives.

Jon Rudy, an American who represented a Christian organization, the Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) for Asia and the Pacific, said that healing has two parts: taking the poison out of the wound; and the wisdom of learning. “It’s not healing if it leaves out remembering. We need to know about the truth; we need truth telling, ” said Rudy. He said that for the healing to be completed, a vision and a reconnection (“finding out how we are related to each other”) is needed. At the forum, Rudy had also offered his fanciful wish: for the ancestors of the American cavalrymen to somehow be able to come to Sulu and swap their stories with the Tausugs.

Adds Gus Miclat, Executive Director of the Davao-based Initiatives for International Dialogue: “The healing starts with remembering what happened and telling it as it happened.”

A sentiment of caution had however crept into the proceedings. In his remarks earlier, Sulu Bishop Angelito Lampon had confronted the participants with this question: “If our Bud Dahu ancestors could stand in our midst today, what would be their message for us? Would it be revenge for blood? Would it be forgiveness and reconciliation? Would it be a healthy tolerance and respect for each other’s belief?”

Lampon had then advised the proper balance between the two extremes and emphasized that the commemoration intended not only to keep the memory of Bud Dahu alive, “but also to search for genuine and lasting peace in Sulu, Tawi-tawi and the whole of Mindanao.”

The welcome address of Sulu Governor Tupay Loong had acknowledged the need to collectively pay tribute to the martyrs of Bud Dahu, but he had also appealed to the delegates “to put decent closure to this painful chapter in Sulu history.”

A representative of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), another Muslim revolutionary group, had delivered this message: “Reliving the past by mere rhetoric or even a trip to the crater of Bud Ddajo is not enough.. Much more things concrete are desired.”

At the core of discussions on healing for Bud Dahu is the question of the appropriate measure to follow: an apology, remuneration or indemnification from the Americans?

The Tausugs present at a “Bud Dahu Talking Circle” during the conference said an apology from the U.S. Government — as a propitiatory measure — is not appropriate to their culture. “We don’t force our enemies to say sorry. We let them think about what they did to us, ” said Edmund Gumbahali, the BDCC’s Information Officer.

Gumbahali said the U.S. should instead give back the independence of the Bangsamoro that was lost in the treaties which ceded the Philippines to the U.S. and unfairly included Mindanao and Sulu. “If not for the Americans, we would now be a free people. If you want to heal us, give us back our freedom and independence.”

In the same vein, said the other Tausugs at that session, monetary remuneration or indemnification would be meaningless because it was independence that they had lost.

Dr. Schenk also opined that an official apology from the U.S. Government would be difficult, citing the histories of the Native Americans (Indians) and the American-Africans (blacks) in his country. “The U.S. government has not even apologized to their own Native Americans or to the black people for the historical injustices done to them.”

Despite this, a working group on “Peace and Human Rights Advocacy” had committed at the close of the solidarity conference “to intensify our campaign demanding an apology from the American government.”

Facing the Americans

The “American factor” will play heavily in the healing process. Even if the stories of Bud Dahu may be dug out and ultimately mainstreamed, healing may be interrupted in an insular society where American presence is anything but neutral. The American is called “milikan” in Sulu; in fact, any big object or thing is often referred to as a “milikan” (thus, a “milikan” papaya or a “milikan” guava).

And the American certainly looms big in Sulu – and Bangsamoro – history. Aside from Bud Dahu in 1906, there were other major battles involving Tausug resistance against the U.S colonial “pacification” campaign in Mindanao like the Battle of Bud Bagsak in 1913 over the disarmament of the Moro population; Bud Talipao also in 1913; Bud Langkuwasan in 1927; and in Gumbo.

According to Ferdinand C. Llanes, a History teacher at the University of the Philippines in Diliman, in his essay “Destroying Moro Communities: Remembering Bud Dajo and Bud Bagsak (Two Accounts of U.S. Intrusions in the 1900s )”: “The military campaigns against the Moros were part of the overall plan of the Americans to assert complete control over the archipelago after the establishment of civil government in 1901. They however found formidable day-to-day resistance from the Moros. Before the massacres at Bud Dajo and Bud Bagsak, no American was safe, armed or unarmed, away from the garrisons in Moslem Mindanao. The creation of the Moro Province in 1903 became the basis for campaigns of suppression in Islamic communities. In the years that followed, the Americans launched military operations against the Moros.”

Thus, any campaign for peace or healing in Sulu will have to deal with the reality that the Americans are back in Sulu a hundred years after. Herbert Docena, a Pagtibaw delegate who published an article “U.S troops in Sulu: Has the Wood Brigade returned?”, said more than 5,500 US soldiers will be in the Philippines this year in a continuing and uninterrupted deployment of US troops to the country since the global “war against terror” was launched after 9-11.

In Mindanao, several joint RP-US military exercises have been held such as the first Balance Piston held in Carmen, North Cotabato on July 26 to August 13, 2004; the second in Basilan on April 11-May 5, 2005 and the third in the Zamboanga Peninsula (Guipos, Zamboanga del Sur, Sirawai, Zamboanga del Norte and Ipil in Zamboanga Sibugay) on November 3-December 2, 2005.

The February-March 2006 joint trainings and humanitarian missions in Sulu involved 250 U.S servicemen. Their deployment resulted in both pro and anti-American rallies, with Sulu civil society warning about deeper U.S involvement and the possibility of actual combat for U.S soldiers in their anti-terror campaign in the island.

This opening of old historical wounds by the U.S troop deployments was emphasized by Prof. Udjah when he told delegates in the Sulu Solidarity Conference: “Sulu must not be a place of military exercise and operation of any foreign troops…otherwise we will not be at peace and harmony with them.” The Mindanao PeaceWeavers in a March 8, 2006 statement released in Sulu said the U.S. military trainings “are continuing acts of militarism and aggression against the Bangsamoro and the people in Mindanao.”

Lessons of Bud Dahu

Some 200 delegates at the “Pagtibaw Sajahitra” had promised: “Never again to another Bud Dahu!”

“Sulu needs solidarity so that the Bud Dahu incident will not happen again,” said Fatmawatti Salapuddin of the “Bantay Milikan” formed from Tausug women groups which had monitored the activities of U.S servicemen in Sulu this year.

Added Prof. Udjah: “This is our way of saying no to human rights abuses, no to genocidal killing. We in Sulu can contribute to the global peace process.”

Sulu’s political leaders meanwhile were hopeful that the year-long campaign would transform Sulu’s fearsome image. Jolo Mayor Alkramer Izquierdo said he hoped the commemoration “would grant the necessary vital steps for harmonious peace and development for Sulu”, while Sulu Governor Tupay Loong said the unity of the Tausugs in Bud Dahu could be a “weapon” for Tausug unity in the next generation. “Let Bud Dahu be our rallying point to transform a painful past to a future of progress
and development,” Loong had added at the solidarity conference.

At the close of the conference, the delegations had also approved a “Peace Pledge”. Said the working group of the descendants of Bud Dahu (the “Anak-Apu): “While honouring our ancestors, we commit ourselves to make Bud Dahu as a channel for peace and development and a vehicle for self-determination and independence of our Bangsa.”

Another working group had pledged “to facilitate confidence building measures at multiple levels, between descendants and U.S. government, people of Sulu and the U.S. government and the Bangsamoro people and the U.S. government as initial steps towards rebuilding relationships”.

Clearly, healing interventions in Sulu will need to deliver more.