Ninoy Aquino and the Jabidah massacre 1

Ninoy Aquino and the Jabidah massacre

Buddy Gomez — Cyberbuddy

Posted at Dec 12 2020 03:08 AM

(Third of a series)

On March 28 1968, Ninoy Aquino then the youngest and most junior senator of the land, summoning his well-honed journalistic skills, reported to the nation from the floor of the Philippine Senate a sensational crime story that was to rock the country and the Marcos presidency.

The event was to become the major flashpoint that triggered the bloody invigoration of the Muslim insurgency in Mindanao. History has an indelible title: “The Jabidah Massacre!”

Recalling this shocking carnage that happened fifty-two years ago, perpetrated and covered up by government, requires a bit of a history refresher; and a remembrance, more especially because the cover-up and denial continue to be a cocky and vainglorious endeavor pursued by Imelda Marcos’ well-funded revisionist cadre of trolls.

At the same time, I am able to share glimpses of what I recall to have been Ninoy’s trademark working style as a legislator. He was a “DIY” Senator, a do-it-yourselfer! He was very much hands-on, doing his own research and investigation, and personally consulting with his deep and wide confidential contacts. He wrote his own speeches, typewriting with left and right forefingers his own drafts. He would meticulously go through, line by line, the proposed national budget, detecting flaws, to the surprise and awe of his seasoned seniors.

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Briefly capsulized, let me share what I remember most. “Oplan Merdeka” was the overall mission with “Jabidah” as its code-name. Merdeka is “freedom” in the Malay language. The Oplan (operation plan) was a clandestine invasion, capture and occupation of Sabah in North Borneo, risking relations with Malaysia.

“Jabidah,” as I learned from Ninoy’s research, was an alluringly beautiful woman of “Muslim lore and legend.” Indeed there was a “woman” angle to the story, all of which the public came to know because the former journalist never lost his instinctive skill newsmen call “a nose for news.”

Senator Aquino’s investigation and conclusions revealed that the Sabah operation was conceptualized and authorized by Pres. Marcos, with master-planning assistance from leading generals of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP). Marcos secretly authorized an Air Force Major, one Eduardo “Abdul Latiff” Martelino, to be his principal surrogate and project point man. Maj. Martelino, who had converted to Islam, earlier lived among the Tausugs (perhaps as a component prelude to Oplan Merdeka, who knows?) and had taken a very young Muslim damsel, Sofia, not quite out of her teens, as his wife. Abdul Latiff named his original Jabidah camp-hideout in Simunul island, Tawi-tawi, Camp Sofia.

It was to be a secret commando-type of invasion utilizing the specially trained young Moslems recruited from Sulu and Tawi-tawi. They were attracted by the promise of enlistment in a supposedly Army elite corps and of being issued high-powered firearms!

For unknown reasons, the training venue was transferred to a cordoned-off section in Corregidor. Ninoy’s investigation revealed that the recruits suffered harsh camp conditions, physical maltreatment, starvation and non-payment of salaries. Reason enough not just to protest, complain and opt out but to rebel, for the dozens who were forcibly detained, as many others were ferried back to the South.

Definitive and complete circumstances continue to remain murky and unsubstantiated to this day. On March 18, 1968, the remaining dozen or so Moros were mowed down firing squad execution-style by members of the AFP. The public knew of this because there was a lone survivor, Jibin Arula. He managed to escape, swam to freedom, was saved by some Cavite fishermen and secreted to the custody of Gov. Delfin Montano.

Ten days later, Senator Benigno S. Aquino, Jr. took to the Senate floor and delivered a stunning revelation; confirming and correcting rumors; and substantiating headlines, of the bloody affair.

In preparation, Ninoy sought access to Jibin Arula. With the Jabidah survivor’s sworn affidavit, Ninoy flew to Tawi-tawi, investigating and verifying Arula’s testimony, which all panned out. Ninoy covered Simunul, Sanga-sanga, Bongao and Siasi. Before then, he did a spot investigation in Corregidor, also to verify claims made by Jibin Arula. Before the massacre itself, because Manila was rife with rumors of bizarre ‘spy-thriller’ elements, Ninoy was already in consultation with contacts in the Muslim community as well as with his resources inside the military’s intelligence infrastructure.

It had become routine for me to hang out in the Senate chambers of Senator Benigno S. Aquino, Jr. on many after-hour days. Senate sessions were in the afternoons and evenings. It was an occasion for the senatorial campaign staff and volunteers to recall and swap election anecdotes. And of course, be part of the Senate hall audience, especially during privilege speeches and the ensuing drama of interpellations. One such occasion was when Ninoy delivered his stunning Jabidah report. I still have a copy of that momentous speech.

The Jabidah’s Sabah objective still has to be fully researched, perhaps meriting a doctoral dissertation dwelling on the high palpability that Marcos had a secret predatory stake in the nefarious enterprise. It had been reported that Marcos secured a power of attorney from the surviving Kiram leadership of the Sulu Sultanate, the recognized ancient and hereditary beneficiary of the Northern Borneo territory of Sabah. That instrument was to have empowered Marcos to act, on behalf of the Sulu Sultanate, in matters of ownership claims over Sabah. Who knows, as early as his first term, the sociopath Ferdinand E. Marcos may also have been sallying deep into transnational megalomania!

Also, there is no doubt that as a consequence of Oplan Merdeka/Jabidah, the Army’s reputation suffered a black taint that time refuses to rinse. It can be deemed justifiably that the ill-repute of the country’s military establishment began during the first term of President Marcos. Jabidah was the root of a “legacy of lying and cover-up,” which sadly festers to this day.

Ninoy’s outstanding performance as a neophyte senator captured the attention and admiration not only of the public because of the publicity windfall Ninoy was reaping, but notably by his seniors and elders in the Philippine Senate. Soon after his Jabidah speech, cresting over two earlier exemplary revelatory privilege speeches plus ground-breaking legislative initiatives, Ninoy Aquino was earning unprecedented plaudits.

The Philippines Free Press, attractively illustrated by the eminent political cartoonist, Esmeraldo Izon, dubbed the young Senator: “Superboy!”


Tomas 'Buddy' Gomez III began his professional media career in ABS-CBN's (previously Chronicle Broadcasting Network) DZQL-Radio Reloj in 1957, after which he spent 25 years with the Ayala Group.

In 1986, the then Pres. Cory Aquino appointed him Consul General to Hawaii and later served as her Press Secretary.

During the Ramos administration, he was chairman and president of state-owned IBC-13 Network.

After government service, he became an ‘OFW’ in the U.S., working as front-desk clerk and then assistant general manager of a hotel. He also worked as a furniture and antique restoration specialist.

He is now retired and lives in San Antonio, Texas.

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