01 June 2020
Everyone in Davao knows the Bolton Bridge and many also know that there is a Bolton Street in the city. A few people know that there is even a Barangay Bolton, near Malalag, Davao del Sur.
But who was Bolton and why should we remember him?
Edward C. Bolton was a Second Lieutenant in the US forces that invaded the Philippines in 1898. During the fighting around Manila, Bolton distinguished himself as a capable scouting officer and Corcino* tells us that when he was transferred to Mindanao, he was assigned to survey the Cotabato-Davao area.
He must have been good at his job because when the Americans formed the Moro Province in 1903, they appointed the now Lieutenant Bolton as the first military governor of Davao district. This was a huge area, running all the way from Saranggani Bay to just south of Bislig. The district was still mostly primary forest and had very few roads.
It was not a quiet district though, especially around Davao Gulf. Many American soldiers had realized that there was money to be made from growing abaca and selling the renowned Manila hemp. Within a very short period American-owned plantations were set up all around the Gulf, starting with James Burchfield, who set up a 270-ha. plantation in Daliao, now part of Toril. Bolton also wanted a piece of the action and acquired lands in the Malalag area. By 1905, there were 45 abaca plantations around Davao Gulf and all the way to Mati.
Where did they get the land from and how did these Americans develop the plantations? Basically, they took whatever land they wanted from the ethnic groups living in the forests: Manadayas, Tagacaologs, Manobos and Bagobos, forcing these people to move ever deeper into the forest or to live in special settlements that were created. The Moros living along the coast of Davao Gulf were also affected. The settlements were especially useful for the Americans, for there they could find the workers for their plantations. This was a continuation of a favourite Spanish approach: the creation of reducciones where people would be concentrated so that it was easier to levy taxes on them and convert them to Christianity. Malalag was in fact one of those reducciones, created by the Jesuits in 1884.
It is understandable that there were growing tensions in the region as people lost their land and were forced to work on the plantations, although compared to other parts of the Moro Province, Davao District was relatively peaceful. The Americans were attracted by this and by the opportunity to get rich quickly. For this reason, they were prepared to put up with the hardship of living in sometimes very isolated places. Macario Tiu* reports that by investing one-third of his salary to developing lands in Davao for five years, a government employee would become independent for life. The Americans encouraged white settlers as part of a larger plan to turn Mindanao into a white man’s country that would not be part of the Philippines.
From late 1905, there were several incidents in the Malalag-Malita area. Apart from land and labour issues, the payment of the cedula tax was another source of conflict between the ethnic people and the Americans. In November 1905, an American planter, Benjamin Christian, killed the son of Datu Sulutan, and in the fight that followed, Datu Sulutan and several other Manobos were killed. Rumours were going around that American planters were targeted for murder.
On 3 June 1906, Lieutenant Bolton went to Malalag to try and address the conflicts and investigate rumours of an uprising by the natives of Malalag. He had a personal interest in it as well since he owned land in the area and he had already announced that he was going to resign as military governor, presumably to manage his plantation. In Malalag he met the Manobo Mangulayon, the deputy headman of the recently created Tagacaolo (Malalag) Tribal Ward. It was said that Bolton even slept in Mangulayon’s house in Daul, Malalag. On 6 June, Bolton proceeded to Malita accompanied by the American planter Christian, and by Mangulayon and his brothers. On Lacaron beach, on the way to Malita, as they were drinking buko juice from coconuts, Mangulayon killed Bolton while Christian was killed by Mangulayon’s brother Kalibay. Mangulayon told his companions to put all the blame on him and fled to the mountains in upper Malita.
The Americans pursued Mangulayon for two months and during that period followed a scorched-earth policy (huwes de kutsilyo). Tiu interviewed older residents in the area who told vivid accounts of the many killings that took place during that time.
Mangulayon was killed on 3 August 1906 in the Dimolog mountains, nearly two months after the killing of Bolton and Christian. At least that is what the Americans claim and that was the headline in the Mindanao Herald of 28 August: Mangulayon Meets Merited Doom. Slayer of Governor Bolton Killed by Soldiers. However, stories kept circulating that Mangulayon had not died. After painstaking research Tiu established that Mangulaon‘s death was in fact staged to put an end to the American scorched-earth campaign. Mangulayon himself fled to Lupon, Davao Oriental, and died after the Second World War as an old man. His great grandson Datu Abdul Rashid Mangulayon lives in Macangaw, Lupon.
Why did Mangulayon kill Bolton? The American reports on the incident suggested various petty motives such as resentment of being only the deputy headman or the chafing at the restrictions imposed by the Americans. However, Tiu suggests that he (Mangulayon) fought the Americans to defend the interests of his people, interests that were undermined by land issues and plantation abuse. He was a hero who was not afraid to stand up to the mighty Americans. To quote Tiu: ‘Mangulayon is possibly the greatest Lumad hero’.
Why then are we honouring Bolton, a land grabber, and not Mangulayon? Isn’t it time that we honour those who have resisted oppression? Isn’t it time to rename Bolton Bridge as Mangulayon Bridge?
*Acknowledgements: Ernesto I. Corcino, Davao History; Macario D. Tiu, Davao 1890-1910: Conquest and Resistance in the Garden of the Gods; Macario D. Tiu, Davao: Reconstructing History from Text and Memory.
Gerry van der Linden is a former Vice President of ADB and is now active in microcredit and governance NGOs in the Philippines