The Moro Constabulary

"Outnumbered, Always; Outfought, Never"

(Motto of the Philippine Constabulary)

    The 5th District of the Philippine Constabulary, for Mindanao and Sulu, was established September 1, 1903 as an integral part of the creation of Moro Province. Efforts began immediately to recruit enlisted recruits to become constables, the equivalent of soldiers, from among each of the Moro peoples (formed into companies segregated by language). In recognition of the separate and unique status accorded Moro province in the colonial government, it was called The Moro Constabulary.

    Only two years older, the parent organization The Philippine Constabulary was also unique in American history. It had been a creation of the civil government, despite strong resistance from the US Army, who saw it as a rival to its own "native" force the Philippine Scouts. The new organization was the brainchild of Deputy Governor-General of the Philippines, Luke Wright. A native of Tennessee cited for gallantry under fire as a young 2nd Lieutenant in 1863 at the battle of Murfreesboro, Tennessee, Wright was the only former Confederate soldier to hold a top position in the Philippine territorial government. An attorney and former judge Wright had been a rare southern Republican and McKinley supporter. His models for the Constabulary were Canada's North-West Mounted Police (which later became the Royal Canadian Mounted Police), a native constabulary established by the British in Burma, and the famed Texas Rangers. Wright's goal was a highly disciplined paramilitary organization, flexible enough to pursue law enforcement, deal with larger scale armed resistance, or handle civil emergencies as needed.

    Wright had hoped to staff the top echelons of the new organization by tapping into the surplus of Regular Army officers resulting from the wind down of the Philippine-American War. However the Army was uncooperative and, under pressure, grudgingly agreed to make only five commissioned officers, all Captains, available for assignment. From this small group, Wright selected Captain Henry T. Allen, a 42-year old graduate of West Point, to be the first Chief Inspector. Allen advertised in Manila newspapers for new officers, targeting enlisted men from the about to be disbanded State Volunteer Regiments, either recently discharged or about to be mustered out. He attracted a surprising number of well-qualified applicants, mostly single young men in their early to mid twenties who were combat veterans and had led men in battle as Sergeants or Corporals. Recruiting officers soon came to include graduates of reserve officer training programs at land-grant colleges, graduates of private military academies, junior officers in foreign armies, and officers in state national guards and militias. Unlike the Army's Scouts, educated Filipinos could apply and were accepted for officer training, although at first only from the Roman Catholic majority. By 1902 the Constabulary totaled 193 Inspectors and 5,317 Constables. In a landmark for a colonial government, in 1917 a Filipino officer, Rafael Crame, was appointed Chief of the Philippine Constabulary and made a Brigadier General. On May 5, 1920 the Philippine Legislature abolished the Department of Mindanao and Sulu and with it ended the separate status of the Moro Constabulary. Moro soldiers were integrated into formerly all-Christian units. This did not mark an end to conflict in Moroland. Between 1920 and 1927 there were 124 official "conflicts", or major actions, between the Philippine Constabulary and various Moro groups, resulting in the deaths of 499 Moros and 22 Constabulary soldiers.

 

    The first chief of the Moro Constabulary was Lt. Colonel James Guthrie Harbord, 37 years old and a Captain in the Regular Army on loan to the territorial government. Harbord would later gain fame as Pershing's Chief of Staff in France in WWI and the commander of the US Marines at the Battles of Chateau-Thierry and Belleau Wood. Retiring from the Army in 1922 as a Lieutenant General, he became the first President the Radio Corporation of America (RCA), and was involved in forming NBC and RKO Pictures. Harbord's right hand man was another iconoclastic over-achiever, 23-year old Captain John R. White, who would later gain fame at the Battle of Bud Dajo. In the 1920's White was appointed as the first Director of Sequoia National Park and a is recognized as a pioneer environmentalist and wrote a landmark book on large trees.

    Over two years, Harbord and White assembled a highly capable and eclectic team of aggressive, independent-minded, young junior officers. Many were well educated, having gained their military experience as volunteer enlisted men during the Philippine-American War. All had to meet rigorous test of physical fitness, pass intense personal scrutiny, and then become proficient in one or more of the Moro languages, dead shots with a pistol, rifle, and shotgun, hand-to-hand fighting including with a barong or kris. All were attracted by the allure of adventure, challenge, and whiff of romance; certainly not the pay as it was well below that of their Regular Army equivalents. They were the same caliber of men who in the Old West became federal marshals or sheriffs and today are attracted to elite units in the military such as the Special Forces or Seals.

 

 

    Despite responsibility for territory larger than Ireland (north and south together) with some of the most rugged terrain and densest jungles found in Southeast Asia, at its peak from 1914 through 1917 the organization consisted of only eighteen companies, sixty officers, and a little less than a thousand men. From 1907 to 1910, some of its most active years with several hundreds small battles and skirmishes in addition to training and establishing and training several hundred village police forces, it totaled less than half that number. It produced a number of figures whom were easily the equal to if not the superior of the legendary sheriffs and marshals of the American frontier in terms of audacity, daring, nerves of steel, and a talent for up close and personal combat.