OPINION: Before Martial Law, there was the Tacub Massacre

Amir Mawallil

Posted at Oct 07 2016 04:37 AM

It was a story of how ordinary people were used as pawns between powerful political families and elites contesting for power and access to public wealth, a climate borne out of a regime fed by crony capitalism.

This November, the people of Kauswagan in Lanao del Norte will remember the Tacub Massacre of 1971. Forty-five years after the incident, family members and survivors of these hideous mass murders are still crying for justice.

What the story of the Tacub Massacre can show us now is an incontestable premise that the Marcos regime had started to murder hundreds of Moros even before the imposition of Martial Law in 1972.

In 1971 the local elections in the Lanao province was postponed due to escalated violence perpetrated by two opposing families running for the various positions. These families used their local para-military groups, predecessor of the "private armies" of the current politician-warlords. These groups were created to either protect their elite-patrons, to harass citizens, or simply build power infrastructures to protect their respective family’s positions in local government units.

Prominent among these para-military groups was the Ilaga, a clandestine organization backed up by the military. Ilaga’s influence has covered the whole of central, southern, and northern Mindanao. The national election was earlier scheduled at the first week of November that year in Lanao. Weeks before the incident in Tacub, several people were murdered in Magsaysay, a municipality in Lanao that prompted the government to transfer the people to several evacuation centers outside the municipality. The election was finally held in November 22 and local resident voters now displaced from various evacuation centers were carried back to Magsaysay to cast their votes.

Five truckloads of resident voters were stopped at a military checkpoint in Tacub, a small barangay in the municipality of Kauswagan in Lanao del Norte. Witnesses claimed that people aboard the trucks were asked to line up as if they were being asked to stand in a firing squad. As these common folks were unaware of what was going on, as military personnel were surrounding the areas, they were summarily executed in an open fire from armed men. There were dozens of bodies strewn all over the road of the barangay after the incident. Several reports were released by the authorities but nobody can confirm the exact body count. It was said that there were about thirty bodies that were accounted; local witnesses however claimed that more than sixty Meranaos were executed in the incident. An hour after, the media arrived and saw several military personnel inspecting the area, with them to their surprise were members of Ilaga. The para-military group was present in the checkpoint area during the incident.

What Marcos and his administration, even his surviving general post-1986 will deny is how the government then used local para-military groups such as Ilaga as counter-insurgency measure to contain operations by Communist revolutionary groups and Moro freedom fighters in Mindanao. These para-military groups targeted communities and were involved in several massacres of non-combatants, women, and children.

This was the Marcos regime in Mindanao even before the Martial Law period. Now imagine the horrors lived by Moros after September 1972, and how the systematic cover-up of several massacres and violent displacements in various provinces in Mindanao were being setup as part of the Marcos historical revisions and mythmaking even up to now.

As a young Moro, the Tacub Massacre was unknown to me until an old Meranao, a public school teacher if I can remember his introduction to me, who lived during the incident that I chanced upon in a conversation several years back in an event in Zamboanga City. He mentioned to me how he saw several dead bodies wrapped in colorful malong were being carried to Iligan from Kauswagan: the image haunted me for a time until I was able to reconcile with the horror when I started to read several online articles on Tacub Massacre. How unfortunate that I cannot even remember his name nor I was able to keep his contact details so I can ask more questions or named him as a living witness on this article. He was a random stranger who opened my eyes to the horrors of the Marcos era.

The narrative of the Tacub Massacre was silenced in our history textbooks. You seldom hear it in conversations among old folks; like other incident of mass murders in Mindanao during the Marcos regime, mainstream media hardly touched these narratives. 

In situations like this—where powerful families such as the Marcoses and their supporters who are keen on revising histories and narratives— living witnesses such as our grandparents and elders are held accountable as keepers of communal memories however small and painful. And it is for us, the new generation of Moros to access these narratives as we need a guide, a stable platform where we can begin writing our own histories as people. 

If the Maranao magbabayok, or epic chanters, refuse to be silenced for hundreds of years as storytellers of their communities, why should we let these Marcos historical revisionists, all apologists and loyalists, to tell our own stories as people.

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Amir Mawallil is a member of the Young Moro Professionals Network, the country's biggest organization of Muslim professionals.

Disclaimer: The views in this blog are those of the blogger and do not necessarily reflect the views of ABS-CBN Corp.