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British Expertise in Moroland

(Article published in the Sep 10, 2008 issue of Manila Standard Today)  

Senator Joker Arroyo’s recent critique that President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s plan to enlist the assistance of European leaders in putting back on track the peace process in Muslim Mindanao as “injudicious as it is misguided” is unkind.  The President, obviously after the glory of being hailed as the chief executive who solved the Mindanao problem, has a good reason for calling on the British and the Swedish.  They, at least the Brits, know Sulu very well.

 “English interest in the Pacific had began,” says British writer Nicholas Tracy in his book, Manila Ransomed, “with Francis Drake’s voyage around the world in 1577-80 and in 1600 the English East India Company had been established.”  In 1759, a certain Alexander Dalrymple, whom the great Filipino historian Fr. Horacio De la Costa, S.J. described as “a servant [an officer, in current language of independent India] of the Company”, sailed to Jolo from Madras, now known as Chennai, a city on the east coast of southern India.

 In Julo, Dalrymple liked what he saw, the promising prospects of establishing commercial relations with the Sultanate of Sulu that would enable the English Trader to ride the winds of trade as His Majesty’s Navy, whose capability no one could at that time doubt (Virtus Britanica quid non Dowat, boasted Brigadier General William Draper before he sailed to Manila to beat the hell out of acting Governor of the Philippines, Archibishop Don Manuel Antonio Rojo del Rio et Vieria), ruled the waves of the Pacific.  In other words, the English Trader with a base in Sulo would be able to evade, to his great profit, the legal restrictions on trade in the area.


In those times, “the Spanish laws of the Indies denied Europeans who were not Spanish subjects the right to trade at Manila”, says Tracy.  At the same time, the merchants of North China ports, such as Shanghai and Tsingtao (not named after the beer but the other way around),  were forbidden to trade with foreigners at home.  But East India Company wants to do trade with China and its love for commerce was not to be constrained by such legal inconveniences.

 So, what Dalrymple hoped to do in our area of the globe, according to his fellow English Tracy, was “to establish an entrepôt in Sulu where northern Chinese merchants could bring their silks and chinaware, thereby circumventing the restrictions on foreign trade at Canton [as well as, if I may add, the Spanish exclusivity in Manila] and replacing Spanish silver with English manufactures as the means of financing the trade.” 

 Dalrymple was able to get the approval of the Court of East India Company on the basis of that morally dubious scheme. It was the Romans, I understand, and not the English who invented the legal maxim, “what you cannot do directly, you cannot do indirectly.”

 In January 1761, when Dalrymple arrived in Jolo, he had authority not only to conclude “such a provisional treaty as at Sooloo with the Bugguese princes or any others” but also, in aid of beneficial commerce, “to find the place more free from inconveniences and best situated” for “an Establishment.”  He was given a warm welcome and before January was over, on the 28th, he was able to get on behalf of the East India Company a treaty of friendship and commerce with then Sultan Muissuddin and his Ruma Bechara, or council. 

 Comparing Alexander Dalrymple’s treaty with Muissuddin with Hermogenes Esperon’s MoA will immediately yield the wish that it was Dalrymple who dealt for the Government of the Philippines with the MILF, or Moro Islamic Liberation Front.  Just some examples.

 Firstly, Esperon gave up territory; Alexander Dalrymple was given territory.  Thus, Hermogenes Esperon agreed that the core of the Bangsamoro Juridical Entity (BJE) shall be “the present geographic area of the ARMM including the municipalities of Balai, Munai, Nunungan, Tantar, Tagoloan, and Tangkal in the province of Lanao del Norte.”    Dalrymple had “leave to chuse a proper spot of Ground for a Factory and Garden”. 

 Secondly, Darlymple made sure that disputes among Englishmen were to be settled by English law only and only where “the Sooloos and English are jointly concerned” is the matter to “be determined by the Sultan in conjunction with the English Chief.”  Esperon, on the other hand, conceded to the BJE the right to “build, develop and maintain its own institutions, inclusive of…[the] judicial system…”

 Most important, Darlymple made sure that “The Sultan engages to admit no other Europeans but the English to any Trade in his Dominions”.  In contrast, Esperon agreed that the BJE “is free to enter into any economic cooperation and trade relations with foreign countries…”

 The 28 January 1761 treaty in Jolo was followed by a confirmatory treaty in Manila on 23 February 1763, this time with Sultan Muissuddin’s elder brother, Sultan Muhammad Alimuddin I.  Alimuddin I was not in Manila on a junket; he was a prisoner of the Spaniards. 

A third one was negotiated by Dalrymple with Sultan Muhammad Alimuddin II, who was not the son of Alimuddin I but, instead, of Muissuddin.  Dalrymple was able to get additional territories in Northern Borneo and Southern Palawan, in contract with the Esperon’s promise to the BJE of additional domain after the formality of a plebiscite which the Government of Gloria Macapagal Arroyo committed to “conduct and deliver within (6) months following the signing” of the MoA. The third treaty was agreed to also by the three sons of Alimuddin I who were in Jolo, namely, Muhammad Israel, Muhammad Sharifuddin and Datu Jafar, and signed on 19 September 1763.

 A fourth treaty, born of interesting circumstances not relevant here, was extracted by Dalrymple on 02 July 1764, from Sultan Muhammad Alimuddin I,.  This one was Dalrymple’s “huling hirit”, a final effort to salvage whatever he could for the English East India Company after the lords in London, thinking of His Majesty’s greater interests worldwide, decided to return the country to Spain in the Treaty of Paris of 10 February 1763.  Pretty soon, the English, with their Indian contingent, mostly Sepoys, headed home; although some of the Sepoys decided to stay and settled in Cainta.

 The excursions of Darlymple in Jolo explains, to me, why, upon hearing of the Palace invitation to Tony Blair to come and help bring peace in Mindanao, Peter Bekingham, British envoy (from the French envoyer, to send) out-petered Peter the Apostle (from the Greek, apostellein, to send).

 Apostle Peter, according to 13 John 9, said, during the Washing of the Feet, “Lord, not my feet only, but also my hands and head!” Envoy Peter, for his part, in addition to Tony Blair, wants to send us the former leaders of the of Irish Republican Army, which led the separatist movement in Northern Ireland against Great Britain. 

 Thank you, Mr. Ambassador, but maybe bringing in the Irish may not be necessary.  There are rumors that a couple of suspected descendants of Darlymple and the sepoys have come back to take up senior positions in some foreign bank in the country.  They are, I am certain, are at the beck and call of her Majesty the Queen.  All you have to do is to send this dynamic duo to our own Princess of sunken Star and, with their expertise, show her how to come to a quick settlement with her tormentors.  They have been very good at doing that, I was told.