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Analysis

Is ‘Jabidah Massacre’ a myth?

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(Concluded from Monday)

In his speech last March 18 at the 45th anniversary of the so-called “Jabidah Massacre,” President Aquino stood at loggerheads with his father, the late former senator Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino Jr., in their presentations of the event that triggered the Moro secessionist wars in the Philippines.

“It has been four and a half decades since the bloody events here in Corregidor,” the President said. “Members of the Jabidah unit were slain, and on top of that the ordeal has almost been forgotten. To this day the government has yet to officially recognize it.”

Apparently without fully realizing the import of his statement, the President stood on its head his father’s version of the tragedy. In his privilege speech at the Senate on March 28, 1968, Ninoy Aquino derided the Jabidah operation as having “all the trappings of a James Bond fiction.” Jabidah, said Ninoy, “is an operation so wrapped in fantasy and fancy … it is not at all funny.”  It is extremely important to draw on this privilege speech to determine whether the “Jabidah massacre” was a myth or an invention of an overactive  imagination. Ninoy said the story came to his attention six weeks before he exposed it in his privilege speech. Some Muslim leaders informed him of  “clandestine recruitment going on in the Sulu archipelago.” His  sources posed a number of questions to him: Why are our boys being recruited? Why are they leaving their homes? What is their mission in President Ferdinand Marcos’ service? Is the President organizing his own private army  to strike and seize the country if he senses, as he might be sensing, he will lose the 1969 polls?

Four weeks before the exposé, according to Ninoy, “a former head of the country’s intelligence service informed me of a plot hatched by President Marcos himself,” which struck him “as a gamble that would violate Constitution.” He refused to give it credence, as “it sounded so bizarre, so fantastic, so imaginative,” that he was moved to start an inquiry that led him to Sulu. His inspection in Sulu unveiled the existence of a secret training camp of the Jabidah project on Simunul island. Recruitment of Muslim youths began in September and ended in mid-December 1967. On Dec. 30, 135 recruits boarded a Navy ship that was to take them to Corregidor island. They arrived there on Jan. 3, 1968, for training as commandos to be integrated into the army’s regular forces.

According to Ninoy, Jabidah was the “code name of a supposedly super-secret operation of President Marcos to wipe out the opposition—literally, if need be—in 1969 and to set on a high foreign adventure. It is the code name … for Mr. Marcos’ special operation to ensure his continuity in power and achieve territorial gains.”

The recruits were not told about these objectives, or of the mission to infiltrate Sabah. Ninoy did not mention Sabah in his speech. Toward the fourth week of February, the recruits started getting restless. Since their arrival in Corregidor, they had not been paid their allowances of P50 a month. On Feb. 25-26, the recruits signed a petition addressed to Marcos demanding their delayed  pay for three months and improvement in their living quarters, food and clothing.  They asked him to visit them. Instead Maj. Abdul Latif Martelino, who was in charge of the Jabidah project, came to see them. Martelino told them their pay was forthcoming. And they could sign for it and the government would send them home.

On March 3 or 4, 1968, Martelino called for the four Muslim leaders of the petition and allegedly told them that they could go home ahead of the other boys. They were taken to Manila and never returned to Corregidor. The rest of the boys became restive and wanted to know what had happened to the four. They were simply told that their leaders had gone home ahead.  They became more restless. Some feared that their petition leaders had been “massacred.”  In the first two weeks of March, the recruits left camp in small groups. On March 18, 24 recruits left camp. On the same day, another batch of 12 was transported to the Corregidor airstrip, purportedly for evacuation to Sulu.  This batch was never heard from again.

In a sworn statement, Jibin Arula, the lone survivor of the alleged massacre, said that upon reaching the airstrip, they were told to get off the weapons carrier and to form one line. Arula presumably feared that his time to be killed had come. He made a dash on the airstrip. Told to halt by his armed escorts, he kept running. His escorts shot him in the legs. He kept going, hid in the bushes, and then escaped to the sea. He was rescued hours later by fishermen. Ninoy asked: What happened to his 11 companions? Were they really massacred?

Ninoy said: “Some say that when the firing started with Jibin Arula, his companions ducked. So Arula was correct when he said he saw his companions fall to the ground. But were they shot? Or did they duck because of the firing?”

Ninoy interviewed Arula after he was rescued. Were four of the recruits murdered? “All he said was they were taken by Major Martelino and they never returned. Arula said 24 were called and these never returned. He said that 12 were called, too, and these never returned,” Ninoy said. Were they mowed down?  The Manila Times quoted Ninoy in its headline story as saying: “I believe there was no mass massacre on Corregidor Island. And I submit it was not a hasty conclusion but one borne out by careful deductions.”

This is where the story has stood, and Ninoy asked for further investigation to tie up the loose ends.

Relevant to the revisionism debate, the question looms: Where does President Aquino’s narrative stand in the light of his father’s version?


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