By Dr. Najeeb M. Saleeby.Published 1908, Manila.Classic Book Section: Sulu Online Library

Moro Pirates

Chapter III

Moro pirates

Sultan Israel was poisoned in 1778 by his cousin Alimud Din II, the son of Bantilan. During the reign of Sultan Alimud Din II, hostilities between Sulus and Spaniards increased, and for the period of ten years or more traffic between Luzon and the southern islands was paralyzed. About 500 Spanish and native Christians were every year carried into captivity by the Moros. The government was greatly exercised over this grave situation, and in 1789 the Captain-General Mariquina reported to the King that “war with the Moros was an evil without remedy.”

In the latter part of 1789 Sharapud Din, the son of Alimud Din I, ascended the throne of Sulu. While a youth he was imprisoned with his father in Zamboanga and accompanied the latter to Manila. Very little is known of his reign except that he was animated by the same spirit and principles which characterized his father’s reign and that of his brother Israel. He coined money, and one of his coins which was obtained from Jolo bears the date 1204 A. H., which was probably the date of his succession. Sultan Sharapud Din was followed by his sons Alimud Din III and Aliyud Din I.

The continued presence of the Moros in Mindoro, where they haunted the bays and rivers of both east and west coasts for months at a time, stealing out from this island for attack in every direction, was specially noted by Padre Zuñiga, [192]and indicated how feebly the Spaniards repulsed these pirates a hundred years ago.

It was the last severe phase of Malay piracy, when even the strong merchant ships of England and America dreaded the Straits of Borneo and passed with caution through the China Sea. Northern Borneo, the Sulu Archipelago, and the southern coasts of Mindanao were the centers from which came these fierce sea wolves, whose cruel exploits have left their many traditions in the American and British merchant navies, just as they periodically appear in the chronicles of the Philippines.

Five hundred captives annually seem to have been the spoils taken by these Moros in the Philippine Islands, and as far south as Batavia and Macassar captive Filipinos were sold in the slave marts of the Malays. The aged and infirm were inhumanly bartered to the savage tribes of Borneo, who offered them up in their ceremonial sacrifices. The measures of the Spanish Government, though constant and expensive, were ineffective. Between 1778 and 1793 a million and a half of pesos were expended on the fleets and expeditions to drive back or punish the Moros, but at the end of the century a veritable climax of piracy was attained.

Pirates swarmed continually about the coasts of Mindoro, Burias, and Masbate, and even frequented the esteros73 of Manila Bay. Some sort of peace seems to have been established with Jolo and a friendly commerce was engaged in toward the end of the century, but the Moros of Mindanao and Borneo were increasing enemies. In 1798 a fleet of 25 Moro bancas passed up the Pacific coast of Luzon and fell upon the isolated towns of Baler, Kasiguran, and Palanan, destroying the pueblos and taking 450 captives. The cura of Kasiguran was ransomed in Binangonan for the sum of 2,500 pesos. For four years this pirate fleet had its rendezvous on Burias, whence it raided the adjacent coasts and Katanduan Island.74

Governor Aguilar assumed command in 1793 and made every effort to remedy this condition of affairs. He divided the Archipelago into six divisions, each of which was provided with a fleet of six gunboats. He repaired the forts of the Bisayas, Mindoro, Tayabas, Batangas, and Zamboanga. While preparing for defence, he negotiated with the Sulu and Mindanao Moros for peace and partially succeeded in establishing a condition of truce with Sulu.

In 1798 he convened a council to consider further measures for the suppression of piracy. All records pertaining to Moro affairs were submitted to Rufino Suarez, “Asesor del Gobierno,” who was directed to report on this subject. The report was rendered in April, 1800, and contained full information and recommendations as to the best measures and methods that the government could undertake for that purpose. Aguilar, however, did not act on the recommendations of Suarez, but continued his negotiations with the Moros who became peaceful and [193]remained so until 1803. In this year the English attacked Zamboanga unsuccessfully, instigated hostility between Sulu and Spain, and reoccupied the Island of Balambangan, which they held for three years only.

In 1805 a treaty was made between Sulu and Spain whereby it was agreed that no foreign resident would be permitted in Sulu without the consent of the Spanish Government, and that in case of war between Spain and any foreign country, the Sultan’s ports would be closed against Spain’s enemies. Between 1805 and 1815 detailed accounts of piratical raids are infrequent.

Sultan Aliyud Din died in 1808 and was succeeded by his pious brother Shakirul Lah. It is related that Shakirul Lah slept on boards and covered himself with sarongs only. He used to leave his home at night, search for the poor and needy and feed them.

In 1815, the raiders took 1,000 native prisoners and captured several Spanish, British, and Dutch vessels. In October, 1818, a Spanish fleet under Pedro Esteban encountered 25 Moro vessels in the vicinity of Albay, seized nine of them and sank the rest.

Sultan Shakirul Lah was succeeded in 1823 by Sultan Jamalul Kiram I, the son of Alimud Din III. In the same year, Governor Antonio Martinez, impressed by the superior policy and success of Corcuera, organized an expedition under Alonso Morgado and attacked the pirates in their home lairs, at Basilan, Pilas, Sulu, and Mindanao. The Spanish fleet consisted of 2 schooners, 4 gunboats, 6 tenders, 2 junks, and 1 transport schooner. The expedition reached Pilas in March, 1825, took the fort by assault and killed 50 Moros. At Jolo it cannonaded the town for ten hours and then left for Mindanao, where it inflicted considerable damage. It destroyed Moro boats at Illana Bay, Pollok, and Dumankilis Bay.

General Ricafort sent another expedition, in 1827, to Jolo, consisting of 20 vessels and 500 troops; but Jolo was so well fortified and the Moro forces so numerous that the Spanish soldiers could not disembark, and the expedition returned without accomplishing any results.

The seal of Sultan Jamalul Kiram I bears the date 1239 A. H., or about 1823 A. D., which in all probability indicates the year of his succession. He issued regular appointment forms for his subordinate officers of state and dated his communications, using the current Malay and Mohammedan dates combined. In the estimation of the Sulus he was a strong and very prosperous sultan.

On the 23d of September, 1836 A. D. or 1252 A. H., he signed a commercial treaty with Capt. José M. Halcon as the representative of [194]Captain-General Salazar.75 The principal part of the treaty was an agreement regulating boat licenses and the duties to be paid by Sulu boats in Manila and Zamboanga and by Spanish vessels in Jolo. In another document bearing the same date and signed by the same parties, an alliance was declared guaranteeing general peace and safety to Sulu boats in Philippine waters and to Spanish and Filipino craft in the Sulu Sea. The sultan further consented to have a Spanish trading house constructed at Jolo for the safe storage of merchandise under the charge of a Spanish resident agent.

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