The Corporate Slave Part One

After recent discussions on the RP-Rizal duscussion group I thought it might be worth posting a couple of articles about slavery in the Philippines


our order books are full, you can sell everything you can make and the forward orders might just get you into Forbes. The 500, not the park. Problem: you need warm bodies on the production line. So you call in your Human Resources Manager and he… does what?This is after all the late 1700s in Jolo and you’re the Sultan of Sulu, a Taosug aristocrat, and rule from southern Mindanao to North Borneo and the Celebes. There won’t be a classified page until, at best, 1811. You could wait until 1860 and get a free six-line slave wanted ad for free by subscribing to the Diario De Manila, but a century is an awful long time to wait for the hired help.You need people to produce deliverables. So, you indent for a kampilan from the company stores, get the transportation department to send 1,000 company bancas around to the front door, load up your lantakas with powder and shot and go off for some serious recruitment in Leyte, Samar, Luzon and wherever else doesn’t have kampilan, lantakas and customers screaming for product.

Don’t think of it as slavery, think of it as hard core recruitment.

In truth, the ‘Moros’ get a bad press when it comes to slavery… er… recruitment, everybody did it. Way back in the 12th century the Visayans were raiding for slaves as far away as Fukien province in China for much the same reason as today’s Singapore government asks big Singaporeans to make more little Singaporeans.

Many believe that Filipinos make too many little Filipinos these days but until the mid-19th century population growth rates in much of Southeast Asia ran at the 0.8-1 per cent mark for reasons still unclear. That’s fine in a stable, internally constructed economy but if the economy enters the global marketplace and runs with the bulls you need what used to be called ‘personnel’ (Before that they were called ‘employees’ but that really dates me) and is today called ‘human resources’. You need what computer geekdom calls ‘wetware’ and the rest of us call ‘people’. And thanks to the British cuppa, the folks in Sulu needed lots of wetware.

Hence the human resource managers of the Sulu Archipelago went off with their ‘made in Sheffield, England’ swords and krisses, manufactured on the other side of the world, so the Brits could get their Orange Pekoe and Earl Grey for breakfast and the Datus of the south could chase dragons in their dreams.Oops, sorry, lost you. I can tell by the ‘Huh? Brits… Cuppas… Made in Sheffield… chase dragons? What’s that got to do with slave raids in the Philippines?’. Do try to stay with me, please.

In the 17th century tea became big in Britain. I mean, really, really big, even bigger than Nokia ring tones and pirate DVDS. Tea came from China, so the Brits had to trade with China bigtime. The problem was that the British really didn’t have much the Chinese wanted, except opium produced in their other colonies on the Indian continent. Smoking opium was called ‘chasing the dragon’ (Ah, I saw the little light bulb go off).

Generally, the Brits had to pay for their tea with silver, hard cash (You know, of course that ‘cash’ originally referred to a Chinese coin?).The Chinese did, however, take to pleasantly smelly things like camphor and sandalwood, wanted to chew on sea-slug and drink bird’s nest soup, and look at pearls, none of which was produced in Britain but was produced in Sulu and elsewhere in what would one day become Philippine waters.

Oh, there was also beewax in the Philippines. Remember the old canard ‘Q: what did Filipinos use before candles? A: Electricity”. Well candles were even more important then than they are today. They didn’t even have brownouts then.

The Brits did, however, have excellent steel, mass produced in Sheffield in the British Midlands. Sweatshop factories there began churning out a variety of Filipino-style swords, knives and other paraphernalia. It also had good gunpowder and cannon. It was better than the local product and cheaper, just what your fashionable Taosug aristocrat needed to keep his minor Datus in line.

So, the Brits brought their stuff to Sulu, through a trading post in Balambagan, an island near Borneo leased to the East India Company thanks to a deal between Alexander Dalrymple and Sultan Bantilan of Sulu, aka, Muizz ud-Dinn. It was Sultan Bantilan’s son, Alimmudin II who granted Northern Borneo, Southern Palawan and the fiddly bits in between to the East India Company and laid the foundations for the Philippine claim to Sabah. Yup, it’s all the Brits fault, again.

In Sulu, the Brits exchanged their goods for stuff they could trade with the Chinese for tea without tapping into their silver reserves and all were happy. The Chinese got what they wanted, the British got their cuppas and the Sulu Datus were on a roll.Exports of sea slug from Jolo went from around 61 tonnes in 1761 to more than 600 tonnes in 1835. Wax went from 18 tonnes to 61 tonnes in the same period. Mother of Pearl exports zoomed from 121 tonnes to nearly 730 tonnes and cinnamon from 12 tonnes to more than 600 tonnes, a lot of coffee rolls.Everybody got well. Except for the slaves.

With business booming in Sulu, who was going to dive for pearls, collect the sea-slugs and gather the beeswax and camphor that the new booming market demanded? Sulu needed manpower and went out to get it.

The Iranun became the employment specialists for the Taosug. They were originally known as I-Lanaw-en and probably originated around Lake Lanao then migrated to the southern coast of Mindanao. The term Iranun, or Illanun, was later misused promiscuously to describe all slave raiders.

Also from the islands off the southern Mindanao coast came the Balangingi of the Samal island group. These and the Iranun traditionally raided for slaves to sell to the Taosug.

This was an international recruitment campaign. Thousands of ocean-going 30 metre long prahus surged across the Philippines hitting the Visayas, Luzon and as far north as the Batanes. They raided the west coast of Borneo, went through the South China Sea through the Straits of Malacca and the Bay of Bengal, the Straits of Makassar and hit
New Guinea and Java.

Spain had helpfully disarmed lowland and vulnerable communities throughout out the islands so few had the ability to defend themselves. As late as 1864 many communities had little more than sticks and rocks in their armouries. The only effective strategy against the slavers would have been for the Spanish to combine forces with the British and the Dutch, each of whom mutually hated the other as empires are wont to do. Think ABS-CBN and GMA or San Miguel and Asia Brewery. Or somebody big and somebody else equally big.

The economic effect was devastating. Samar’s tiny population lost some 500 people a year. Nueva Caceres alone lost up to 1,500 people a year. Even Manila Bay came in for trouble. Regular destruction of the coastal communities made the growing of crops, especially cash-crops a futile gesture. But the Iranun and Balangigi did quite well out of it, capturing around 300,000 slaves during the great days of slave-raiding, a fair chunk of the tiny Filipino population of the time.Being an employer in those days in the Sulu Archipelago had a certain simplicity, or did it?

After all, this was Filipino slavery. One wouldn’t expect Filipino slavery to be quite the same as anyone else’s and it wasn’t, as we’ll see

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