Animosity between the Moros and the tribes of Davao date back to the pre-Oyanguren period. Exaction of tribute, extortion, and threat were among the reasons why tension between the two groups eventually obliged the Mandayas of Samal under Datu Daupan to side with the Spanish-led expedition that overthrew Datu Bago, the Moro chief at the mouth of Davao River.
Fr., Quirico More, SJ, in his Jan. 20, 1884, letter to his superior, cites the massacre of the Moros at Olaniban, in Balut Island, Sarangani, as one of the bloody episodes that erupted between the two factions. The Moros mercilessly hacked to death the influential Manobos on a fishing boat: ‘The victims had been looking for tortoiseshell in Olaniban, the third and smallest of the Sarangani Islands. It so happened that the boat was manned by members of the most powerful families of both coasts of this gulf, San Agustin and Kulaman. Manobo-style vengeance came swift. This race slit the throats of all the Moros they could find living alone.’
The victims were mostly Moro Sanggils from Banus Point, not far from Sarangani islands.
Moreover, not all tribes paid obeisance to the Moros. The B’laans, Manobos, and Atas were among the ‘other races’ that opposed paying tribute to the Moros, who at the time were living ‘in the coast or the mouth of rivers navigable for their small boats’ as opposed to tribesmen who populated inner areas that were separated from any form of Moro harassment.
In the early 1840s, the sultan of Maguindanao ceded the gulf of Davao to the Spaniards. This meant the sultanate had allowed Spain to enter unimpeded the territory it once controlled. But this event did not sit well with the Moros who felt betrayed and wanted to launch a vendetta against the colonizers instead of earning the ire of the Maguindanao kingdom.
In an intent not to antagonize the Moros of the gulf, a letter of recommendation was secured from the sultan of Maguindanao, a shortsighted move the expedition failed to figure out. The letter, addressed to ‘the datos of the sea of Davao,’ was a gesture of goodwill so the trading ship San Rufo could be freed from harassment, but the Moros saw it as a form of intervention. After the sultanate gave up of the gulf, the Moros considered themselves ‘independent and separate from the rest of the Moros.’
Interestingly, the letter was not address to Datu Bago but to the datus of the gulf. This gives the impression Datu Ongay, who led the attack of the vessel, acted on his own, presumably angered by support of the sultan to the Spanish-led expedition. This also suggests he was not an underling of Datu Bago but only an ally who acted on his own volition. Don Jose Oyanguren’s information that the attack was ordered by Datu Bago could have emanated from Maria de Azaola, his ladylove, whose brother Antonio was a victim in the massacre.
The Moros’ lack of a central command can be deduced from Fr. More’s observation they did not reside in organized settlements but in patchy communities: ‘The Moros have never even formed an excuse for a village… but live scattered in tiny hamlets, or in miserable huts more or less contiguous to one another over a territory spread out over two or three leguas upstream.’
Living in dispersed homesteads has its attendant problems, namely: (i) the difficulty of securing a territory; (ii) problems in rule and authority; (iii) struggle in organizing people in time of emergency or looming attack; (iv) absence of a nerve center where activities can easily be managed; and (v) the hardship in checking loyalty among community members.
Underscoring the argument that Datu Bago was a mere ruler of a small Moro enclave can be deduced from the presence of several Moro settlements in the gulf. The Moro polity during this time was based on coercive collection of tribute from tribes in exchange for peace.