On December 8, 1899, the Americans led by Col. James S. Petit occupied the Spanish naval base of Isabela de Basilan. In Basilan, an increasingly old and sickly Datu Kalun (Pedro Cuevas) supported the new colonizers. Sovereignty over both Isabela and Lamitan then was effectively transferred from Spain to the Americans.
At that time, the Philippine–American War was raging in Luzon. So as not to spread out their forces, the Americans employed the classic divide-and-rule tactic. Maj. Gen. E.S. Otis, commander-in-chief of the US Forces, sent Gen. Bates to negotiate with the Sultan of Sulu. Known as the Bates treaty, the agreement provided for the exercise of American authority over the Sulu archipelago in exchange for the recognition of Muslim culture and religion.
The Bates Treaty of 1899 between Sulu Sultan Jamalul Kiram II and American Brigadier General John C. Bates, further acknowledged American administrative control over the Sulu Archipelago, including Basilan.
Initially Sultan Kiram was disappointed by the hand-over of control to the Americans and had expected to regain sovereignty over the Sulu archipelago after the defeat of the Spanish. Bates' main goal though, was to guarantee the Sultanate's neutrality in the Philippine–American War, and to establish order in Mindanao. After some negotiations, the Bates Treaty was signed.
This treaty was based on the earlier Spanish treaty, and it retained the translation discrepancy: the English version described a complete dependency, while the Tausug version described a protectorate. Although the Bates Treaty granted more powers to the Americans than the original Spanish treaty, the treaty was still criticized in America for granting too much autonomy to the Sultan. One particular clause, which recognized the Moro practice of slavery, also raised eyebrows in Washington, D.C. Bates later admitted that the treaty was merely a stop-gap measure, signed only to buy time until the war in the north was ended and more forces could be brought to bear in the south.
The peace created by the Bates Treaty did not last, however. This became evident when the Muslims repudiated the Moro province, a politico-military government in Mindanao lasting from 1903 to 1914, and the Moro Rebellion soon broke out. It is important to note that barely two months before the creation of the Moro province, the American colonial government declared and classified all unoccupied lands as public lands. Immediately after the declaration, American investments entered Mindanao and mass migration of Christians was encouraged. (Rodil 1985:4).
The American forces eventually arrived under the command of Capt. Wendell C. Neville, who eventually became a Major General, the 14th Commandant of the United States Marine Corps in 1929-1930. He was initially posted as Military Governor of Basilan from 1899 to 1901, and was tasked at the establishment of a civil government for the island of Basilan.
By July 1, 1901, the Municipality of Zamboanga was inaugurated under Public Act No. 135. This constituted Zamboanga and Basilan Island.
On September 15, 1911, the governing body of the Moro Province, the Legislative Council, passed Act. No.272 converting the Municipality of Zamboanga into a city with a Commission form of government. The ceremony was held on January 1, 1912 with the appointment of American Christopher F. Bader as the first City Mayor. With the island of Basilan as part of Zamboanga, this made the City of Zamboanga the biggest city in the world in terms of land area. Two years later he was succeeded by Victoriano Tarrosas the first Filipino Zamboangueño Mayor of the city when Bader resigned.
The Department of Mindanao and Sulu replaced the Moro Province in 1914, and its districts broken up into separate provinces, namely: Davao, Misamis, Lanao, Cotabato, Sulu, and Zamboanga, the city was then reverted to its original status as a municipality administered by a Municipal President and several Councilors. The municipality included the whole of Basilan Island and it remained as the capital of the Department of Mindanao and Sulu, with a civil government under an American civil governor, from 1913 up to 1920.
The Department of Mindanao and Sulu under Gov. Frank W. Carpenter was created by Philippine Commission Act 2309 (1914) and ended on February 5, 1920 by Act of Philippine Legislature No. 2878. The Bureau of Non-Christian Tribes was organized and briefly headed by Teofisto Guingona, Sr. With the enactment by the US Congress of the Jones Law (Philippine Autonomy Law) in 1916, ultimate Philippine independence was guaranteed and the Filipinization of public administration began.
Datu Kalun died in Basilan on 16 July 1904 at the age of 58, soon after his first contact with the Americans. His nephew Gabino Pamaran became his successor and adopted the name Datu Mursalun. Mursalun, also pro-American, led the town of Lamitan which became an American model of civil government and development. Mursalun worked for the material progress of Basilan, and sought ways to fight banditry and piracy in the area.
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