Jungle Patrol, the Story of the Philippine Constabulary(1901-1936) by Vic Hurley
by Vic Hurley
The Philippine police force that created law and order.
"To be outnumbered always; to be out fought, never."
….. the Philippine Constabulary
America’s first experiment with jungle guerilla warfare and America’s first experiment with the use of local native personnel as a police or military force under the command of American ‘foreigners’, occurred in the dense tropics of the Philippines after the end of the Spanish – American War. Hurley’s book recounts the origin, growth and development of this force that many credit with being the single most important element in the Philippines’ development of democratic self-rule.
Both of these military experiments are studied even today by West Point officers and cadets. Professional and amateur military historians and strategists, historians from both the West and the Mid-East, as well as the families of these mythically heroic men, often search in vain for this rare book.
When the U.S. Army occupied the Philippines with a force on the ground of over 75,000 troops in the early 1900’s, the military engagements with the native Filipino uprisings became so unpopular with the American public footing the tax bill, it was decided that a new national police force under the authority of the U.S. Philippine Commission, headed by William Howard Taft, should be organized.
Called the Philippine Constabulary it was composed of adventure-prone American officers (who interestingly had to resign from the U.S. Army to serve) and native police troops. The U.S. military had deep reservations about both the strength and loyalty of the troops and the competence of the American officers. As a consequence, the Constabulary was systematically handicapped by the military in terms of weapons and support – frequently the insurgents had better weaponry (won from the U.S. Army in skirmishes) than had the Constabulary.
Nevertheless, the Constabulary was charged with suppressing the insurgencies, banditry, piracy and with the elimination of the individuals that fomented them. It was in reality the black force acting on behalf of an ineffective U.S. military and the politically infected Philippine Commission. (The Constabulary sometimes offered a bounty for every severed Moro head brought in.) Only on rare occasions did either the U.S. Army or its subsidiary force, the Philippine Scouts, aid the Constabulary in its virtually constant battle with native forces – the fiercest of which were the Islamic Moros of the southern islands.
In this period before the First World War, U.S. military tactics were essentially the advance of a line of armed soldiers against entrenched enemy positions. This, of course, was not an effective form of battle in the Philippines where ‘enemy’ insurgents and bandit bands fought on their own ground and in their own way – concealed in the tangle of the jungle or crouched in the tall cogon grass to swiftly attack by ambush with guns and kris (an infamous native bladed weapon) and then vanish back into the bush.
As a consequence, the Philippine Constabulary of necessity adopted the strategies of conflict and survival of the natives – they became small bands of deadly semi-military warriors guided by American officers in battle, who were in turn, guided by the native troops - consuming what they could forage for food and sustenance in the jungle – snakes, wild animals, strange fruits and whatever else might not poison them. Malaria was rampant in the officer corps, but like severe dysentery, was only an impediment, not an impairment.
Ambush was a weapon that the Constabulary learned and used too. Usually the native bands attacked in large numbers, often hundreds at a time, against Constabulary companies which rarely consisted of more than a dozen or so officers and men. The bravery of the officers, the trained use of firearms, and the discipline absorbed by the troops, more often than not turned the tide on behalf of the Constabulary – for every Constabulary life taken, dozens of Philippine insurgents. Moro pirates, and bandits died.
Adding to the difficulties for the Constabulary, were the Islamic traditions of juramentado and amuk. The former was the name given to a religious Moro Islamic zealot who prepared himself to die and achieve Paradise by the slaughter of as many Infidels as he could, before he was brought down as he expected to be. The latter was a Moro who seemed to ‘go crazy’ and run through settled areas in an attempt to kill any he could put a blade into – Filipino or non-Filipino. (Our term ‘running amok’ comes from this deadly custom.)
Vic Hurley, an honorary officer in the Philippine Constabulary, lived in the Philippines for seven years between 1927 and 1934. Initially he, as an isolated and solitary American, tried and failed to create a coconut plantation in Moro country. His vivid story of knife-edge survival is told by him in the book Southeast of Zamboanga, which is now out of print. Subsequently he wrote the comprehensive history of the Moros, Swish of the Kris which is still considered the most balanced account of the history and development of these fearless Islamic warriors and their continuing struggle for cultural and governmental independence – from the Spanish occupiers, from the American occupiers, and from the Philippine government, a struggle and resistance that continues.
The Philippine Constabulary continued from 1901 until it was once again integrated into the Philippine National Police in 1991. Long before 1991 it consisted entirely of native Filipinos. From its formation until the most recent consolidation it has been: an independent force; merged with the military; reconstituted; abolished by Philippine and Japanese authorities; reconstituted again, and most recently merged with the National Police, again. Today, the National Police are the inheritors of the Constabulary's proud traditions, history, and heroes including the legendary men, American and Filipino, so dramatically described by Hurley in this book.
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