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Commentary

Jabidah at 50: Reasons to remember

/ 05:02 AM March 18, 2018

With political distractions afflicting our front pages, I was surprised to learn that the 50th anniversary of the Jabidah massacre was upon us. As a millennial, I am often asked why history matters when I have neither memory of nor affiliation to the events. Oplan Merdeka and the Jabidah massacre happened two decades before I was born. It took another two decades for me to learn about them outside school, where they didn’t occupy space in our history classes—a folly of most histories written and practiced in narrow nationalist terms. It was an experience of discomfort when faced with prejudice against Filipino Muslims that caused me to wonder about the roots of our insensitivity as a nation. How can entire communities of people of a certain faith be deemed terrorists? Where did this notion come from? Why is this narrative so prevalent?

Here is what I’ve learned:

First, for all the symbolic importance of Jabidah, especially among Moros, it saddens me that no one to whom that feeling is paramount has written a historical account of it. I am indebted to journalists (Carol Arguillas, Marites Dañguilan Vitug and Glenda Gloria) whose rough drafts of history are the only materials from which to glean insight. They pieced the story together comprehensively from the perspectives of the military and the sole survivor of the massacre, Jibin Arula.

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Second, we forget that at the heart of any resistance is a profound sense of injustice. Fifty years after the fact, we’ve allowed ourselves to trust military solutions for the social, cultural and political issues that afflict Filipino Muslims. We’ve been so caught up in mistaking rebellion for terrorism that we actually widen the gap between us and the disenfranchised, making certain spaces ripe for rebellion to flourish.

Jabidah returns us to the essence of the resistance, reminding us that it was the state that militarized members of a minority (Tausug) and took advantage of their skills and knowledge to mount an offensive, supposedly in the national interest. In the end, when the operation was bungled and the truth of it became known, there was no formal recognition of the incident by the state whose preference was to practice “selective amnesia.” Acknowledgment came only during Benigno Aquino III’s presidency, feeding suspicion that the narrative had been coopted for political gains.

Third, the violence of Jabidah still sets the tone for engagement with Filipino Muslims. The state still abuses their impotence, living as they do in the margins of our society. Leaders on both fronts practice a willful ignorance that doesn’t recognize justice as a measure. The cycle of violence recurs, manifesting in events like the Zamboanga siege, the Mamasapano incident, and the war in Marawi. The conflicts continue, propelled by notions never challenged and fears yet to be faced.

The years of rebellion and war that trace their origins to the Jabidah massacre have cast a deep shadow on Mindanao, and it’s in the relative security of that darkness that monsters like “communists” and “terrorists” are conjured—national bogeymen kept alive in memories to suppress truths and stall demands for justice.

Half a century from now, I worry about what our history books will say. What would a young researcher like me rely on as proof when we accept the conditions of a post-truth world? People no longer challenge our participation in it. In accepting fake news as reality, we resign ourselves to the apathy that makes us complicit to injustice. We let petty politicians and their allies coopt our narratives and spit on the graves of those whose deaths helped define our liberties.

Today, as we mark the 50th anniversary of the Jabidah massacre, I keep in mind the narratives of many Filipino Muslims and take their struggle to heart. They remind me that we must press on even if the odds are seemingly insurmountable. Often, all it takes to be upright in this country is the insistence on memory. We have to keep remembering, and act accordingly.

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Nash Tysmans is an independent researcher doing work on Philippine narratives of resistance.

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