Kamlon

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Hadji Kamlon was a Moro and former WW2 guerilla hero, who from 1948 to 1955 lead a rebellion against the national government. He was considered by the Philippine military as the biggest threat to national security and a bandit to be feared but to the Tausugs, Kamlon was a folkhero, a local Robin Hood. He gathered a band armed with WW II rifles and pieces of the BAR (Browing Automatic Rifle) that could fire 20 bullets in one burst. Even with their heavy army tanks which rolled into the heart of the city daily, the military was still outdone by Kamlon, who had the support of the local population.

The exact cause for Kamlon’s rebellion had not been established but economic factors had been frequently blamed although conflict among local leaders contributed to it. For almost 4 years the government engaged Kamlon and, during the final assault, 5,000 ground troops were utilized along with naval, air and mortar supports. Logistical expenditures, after the final inventory, amounted to P 185 million. Despite all this cost, Kamlon could not be routed or captured. He finally gave up conditionally due to advancing age.

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Elusive Bandit or Local Robin Hood?

Sulu Sea was said to be terrorized by a band of pirates headed by notorious “bandit leader” Kamlon who carried his piratical forays with his men up to Borneo where he attacked merchant vessels fleecing the ship and its passengers of their belongings. The “bandit chieftain” eluded arrest for more than three years almost upsetting the military budget hunting him down in the vastly scattered islands of the Sulu Archipelago. He was feared for his ability to disappear like a mist before the soldiers very eyes. Kamlon used both talisman (anting-anting) and automatic rifle to confront the old Philippine Constabulary (PC), AFP battalion, and the Air Force. His hidden island and jungle fortresses were legendary.

To the inhabitants of Sulu, Kamlon was loved and revered. He considered a local Robin Hood who looted from the rich and gave it to the poor. Like the mythical Robin Hood, the poor islanders who felt neglected by the national government saw Kamlon as their savior.

Even when the military intensified its campaign appealing to the island inhabitants to help government in the capture of Kamlon, the Moro villagers were tight lipped and uncooperative. No amount of huge prizes and rewards offered to those who could lead to the capture of the elusive bandit leader even by just identifying him could convince the natives to cooperate. The only answer the troopers could get in their query was “diih” that means “no” or “bukon” meaning “not him or not the one in the picture.”

Magsaysay and Kamlon

An article published in Time Magazine in August 11, 1952 entitled The Philippines: Peace Under the Palms, relates the meeting of Philippines Defense Secretary Ramon Magsaysay and the infamous Kamlon. Magsaysay was said to have a secret meeting 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, finally sent feelers to imperial Manila with this message: He wanted fair treatment for his "people" and his family. He did not ask for financial rewards. If granted verbally, he would 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.

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."

Magsaysay asked Kamlon to surrender, stand trial and serve time in prison. He also granted the few conditions Kamlon had asked. Kamlon was tried and stayed a few months in prison before pardon was granted by Magsaysay. In Manila, the news media called him a little bandit who terrorized Sulu islands for years. But Magsaysay viewed the situation differently, and without the advice of the so-called experts in geopolitics. Magsaysay's promise to Kamlon was not "notarized" and did not resemble an executive agreement or treaty.

Magsaysay and Kamlon became friends. They also lived by their words. For years there was peace in the whole of Sulu archipelago that included Tawi-tawi, that was not a separate province in Kamlons time.

In Popular Culture

Kamlon’s story was the subject of a film with the same title in 1981. It starred actor Anthony Alonzo and was directed by Jose Yandoc.

References