For a change, this year I don’t want to look back on the Jabidah Massacre with morbidity, armed with an angry fist raised to the sky. I want to retell its story without fondness but with deference to those who professed to keep its memories for future generations of Moros and Filipinos, especially those who would want to look back and question history — on why and how it happened. I want to reconstruct the 1968 Jabidah Massacre like how it was passed on to me by those who came before me, my ancestors.
It is a story told in absence of something concrete such as printed historical data, empirical evidence that can stand for itself under a skeptic's scrutiny. A handful of veteran journalists — although known to be aligned with certain political personalities but nevertheless respected, albeit ignored by their own peers — claim that it was fabricated in 1968 by political rivals to tarnish the regime of former president Ferdinand Marcos. This is the story of the Jabidah Massacre, ladies and gentlemen. Unfortunately, 49 years after, among Filipinos it is still an incident in need of verification, still being subjected to authentication or worse, revision or erasure, if only to serve the interests of whoever is in power.
With the Marcoses back in power, Filipinos are now struggling to reclaim the history of the country under Martial Law. This part of the country’s history is now being revised — or reframed — to justify political affiliations, and to display an undignified gratitude to the Marcoses after the elections last year. The Jabidah Massacre and its narratives suffer the same fate as Philippine history under Martial Law, as it was the specter of Marcos and his cronies who were involved in this grueling murders of young Moros in Corregidor. All evidences of their deaths, even their identities, were kept hidden and then completely erased when the country was placed under Martial Law. It was lost in the consciousness of Filipinos and in the annals for the country’s history since then — a tragedy for Filipinos unmindful of the importance of historical memory in building a nation.
However, the Jabidah Massacre is still alive in the imagination of the Bangsamoro people as the incident is an integral part of the nation’s struggle for self-determination. I heard it first from the mouths of my relatives who were active in the struggle. It was my parents and old members of my clan who retold the stories relentlessly to us when we were young until it became part of my skin.
I can retell the Jabidah incident the way it was handed to me, even without an aide or reference to Philippine history. It began when Filipinos started to claim Sabah, which was part of the Sulu Sultanate; the territory was leased to the British when the sultanate was still independent from the Philippines. Then Malaysia was created and Sabah was integrated to the new country.
And after this the Philippine government would like to take it back; historically Filipinos can claim the territory as it was part of the Sulu Sultanate. It was Diosdado Macapagal who first raised the country’s legal claim to Sabah through legal and diplomatic means. When Marcos became the president, he wanted to reclaim the territory in another manner outside diplomacy with neighboring Malaysia.
So, the cunning Marcos decided to recruit young Moros in Sulu to be trained covertly in Corregidor. They were promised a salary, benefits, decent housing and dignified treatment given to regular Filipino soldiers. They were paramilitaries being trained to destabilize Sabah so our regular soldiers can enter the territory after the siege. A problem took hold when corruption entered the scene: funds for a promised salary, benefits, and decent housing were siphoned to the personal pockets of superiors who were cronies of the Marcos family. And so the young Moros wrote a letter; they want to return to their hometown.
Operation Merdeka, the project meant to destabilize Sabah, was a covert military operation to recover territory from Malaysia. It was a matter of national security if the plan leaks to public and reaches the Malaysian government. And in March 18, 1968, those young Moros recruits were killed in Corregidor. A lone survivor who jumped off the cliff and swam the waters of the Cavite until local fishermen found him; Jibin Arula lived to tell the story of the Jabidah Massacre. It was his exposé that prompted Moro leaders in Mindanao to establish the Mindanao Independence Movement in May 1968. MIM was the predecessor of the Moro National Liberation Front and other organized fronts that came after. And from thereon, Moro leaders and intellectuals decided to return to our past, our centuries of struggle against colonizers and then project the imagination of a free nation to the future where we chart our own destiny as a people.
The story of the Jabidah Massacre is not just historical; it is also the repository of all the dreams and aspirations of my people as a community and as a nation. It can be told from different perspectives but it will remain an important milestone in the history of the Bangsamoro struggle.
Only the Bangsamoro people can claim ownership of this narrative that served as the platform of the Moro’s struggle, armed or otherwise, for self-determination more than half a century ago. The Filipinos can and will always try to utilize it if they need to justify their relationships to the Marcoses while moving forward as a nation with dignity as a people. The Moros are accountable to the preservation of its memories and what it stands for in our communities if there’s a need for us to continue — or to abandon; the Filipinos will only consider giving it primordial importance if remembering the Jabidah Massacre will be useful in building a homogenous country for Filipinos. The memories of the Jabidah to Moros was nothing but an aberration in the history of the Filipino people’s struggle to become a real nation, and the only thing that can bridge these gaps is if we decide to start realigning our visions with each other as nations in negotiations. And that’s not going to happen real soon unless we reconcile our differences as people and the historical injustices to Moros are addressed by the present government.
On Sunday, the day after the 49th anniversary of the Jabidah Massacre, it is going to be the first day of preparation for its golden anniversary next year. It is going to be a rough year of struggle, of negotiations, and of managing uncertainties. But this has been the usual routine for us until we find what we have been looking for in several decades since 1968, in countless destructions and deaths left unaccounted for, until the time that our people can finally let go with their dignity and spirit whole.
Disclaimer: The views in this blog are those of the blogger and do not necessarily reflect the views of ABS-CBN Corp.