The day I arrived in Jolo, it was announced that joint U.S.-Philippine
military exercises were going to be held on Jolo, among other
places in Mindanao. The plan is controversial, given the Jolo
residents' venomous relationship with the Philippine military.
Streamers protesting the joint U.S. military exercises had been
hastily strung in a number of prominent places. One reads, "No
to War. We Do Not Want a Repeat of History."
U.S. soldiers are scheduled to conduct training exercises in Jolo. The U.S.-Philippine military exercises, called Balikatan
("shoulder to shoulder"), are meant to quell Abu Sayyaf, another Islamic militant group with
alleged links to Al Qaeda that has degenerated into a kidnap for ransom gang.
This is not the first time American troops have come to Jolo.
In 1902, U.S. soldiers imposed military rule on the
island in an attempt to quell a brewing rebellion. In 1906,
a tax revolt culminated in the massacre of hundreds of Muslim
men, women and children who holed up in a mountainous area called
Bud Dahu. It took the United States almost 15 years to "pacify"
Muslim trouble spots in Jolo and elsewhere throughout Mindanao.
It was a brutal campaign that became known as the Moro-American
"We heard the Americans are
coming. We are sharpening our swords to slaughter them
when they come ... our ancestors are calling for revenge."
Jolo has largely been forgotten in U.S. history books, but the
people here have never forgotten the Americans. Residents are
reminded of the United States' past atrocities almost daily. The
local radio station plays mesmerizing ballads known as "kissa":
songs that recollect how Jolo's Tausug warriors fought the Americans
in Bud Dahu at the turn of the previous century. The songs, which
can go on for hours, weave current events with reflections from
the past. "We heard the Americans are coming," the lyrics will
go, the singer's voice rising with the melody of two violins,
"and we are getting ready. We are sharpening our swords to slaughter
them when they come ... our ancestors are calling for revenge."
These songs waft through Jolo's dense neighborhoods -- clusters
of ramshackle houses built on stilts above the swelling tides.
Jolo's inhabitants deeply resent the heavy Philippine military
presence and the U.S. occupation of 1902-1945. The second Balikatan
incited new tensions.
This is one of the few places in the Philippines where Western
pop music hasn't pushed out traditional songs. The people here
are proud of their intact culture and their independent spirit.
Spanish and American colonial troops portrayed the Tausugs as
sword-wielding warriors who charged into certain death in battle.
Today's perception hasn't changed -- the only difference is
that now the Tausugs are armed with M-16 rifles. People here
are proud of their martial tradition.
A traditional "kissa" singer performs a song of heroic
resistance. American forces are almost always the enemy in these songs.
But they are also worn down and tired of war. "America first
came to us in the name of war," says Julkipli Wadi, a history
professor from Jolo. "Now they're coming again in the name of
war. It is not fair. In the 21st century, they should come in
the name of peace." To win the hearts of the people of Jolo,
the United States has delivered medicines and hospital equipment
and has promised to start a number of civic projects on the
island. But the United States' alliance with the Philippine
military will likely stir trouble. Filipino soldiers are seen
as an occupying force here. Many on the island feel that the
American presence will only complicate matters, that it will
continue to militarize an island that has already seen enough
U.S. soldiers at a training camp.
"You cannot continue to intimidate a people who've long been
intimidated," says Wadi. "At best, what a military solution
can do is neutralize for a moment the agitation of a people.
But you cannot totally remove the sting that has been there
for a very long time."
NEXT: Hearing Voices
PREVIOUS: Arriving in Jolo
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