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THE PHILIPPINES: Peace under the Palms

3 minute read

By plane and ship, Philippines Defense Secretary Ramon Magsaysay hurried south from Manila last week to a rendezvous 600 yards off the shore of Jolo Island, where the storied swashbucklers of the Philippines, the Moros, were on the rampage. Magsaysay had a secret date with one of the toughest Moros of all—clever, poker-faced Bandit Leader Kamlon. Kamlon, leader of the most formidable of the scores of Moro bands that terrorize Jolo, had agreed to surrender.

First came a small boat from ashore with tokens of Kamlon’s sincerity—baskets of fruit, to show friendship, and Kamlon’s six-year-old son, to inspire confidence. Next came Bandit Kamlon himself, insistent on the pageantry for which the Filipino Mohammedans have always had a weakness, to request a formal surrender ceremony beneath the palms of Lahing-Lahing beach.

Knives & Wives. Some 200 of Kamlon’s followers were already there, revolvers and rifles much in evidence and their sashed waists sagging with an assortment of bolos, barongs, krises and daggers.Their youngsters darted happily across the sand with knives at their sides, and their womenfolk stood near in the holiday splendor of pink, yellow, and apple-green clothes. Among them was Kamlon’s faithful wife —some of the Moro leaders have as many as 80, but he is content with one. Kamlon, a peaceful farmer who had become something of a hero for killing Japanese during World War II, turned to banditry as a postwar vocation.

Solemnly chewing betel nut, he walked to Magsaysay, handed over his two pistols and a symbolic stack of 24 firearms, including BARs, carbines and old Japanese guns. In smooth tau-sog, Kamlon pledged the help of his band of 300 in Magsaysay’s new campaign to quell the Moros, who are second only to the Communist Huks in defiance of Manila’s rule. In English, Magsaysay praised Kamlon’s guerrilla fight against the Japanese and promised him possible clemency, even offered to help Kamlon make the pilgrimage to Mecca. Then came the feast—mountains of eggs, crabs, shellfish, washed down with beer, and a skittish sip of the strange brown beverage (Coca-Cola) brought for the occasion by Magsaysay.

Outboards & Outriggers. On the same day another important bandit leader, Ladrima Asmawil, surrendered on similar terms. It was a showy beginning for Magsaysay’s campaign; but not an ending. Kamlon formally surrendered once before, in 1948, but was soon back to his old plundering tricks. Some 50 other Moro bands still roam the southern islands and piratically ply the Sulu Sea. They are armed with 8,000 to 10,000 firearms salvaged from the war years.

Neither heavyhanded Spanish colonists nor U.S. troops under tough General John J. Pershing have ever been able to bring the proud, fanatically religious Moros to their knees. The Philippine government does not expect to, either. But Magsaysay hopes to take most of their firearms away, and thereby bring a measure of peace to the unconquered islands of the Moros.

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