Memorializing the 1974 Palimbang Massacre
Tomorrow, Sept. 24, 2019, is the 45th anniversary of one of the most gruesome atrocities committed by Philippine military forces against Magindanawn Muslims in Barangay Malisbong, Palimbang town, Sultan Kudarat province.
On Sept. 24, 1974, several barangays in the town of Palimbang were bombarded with shells fired from 105 mm cannons. These were aimed at flushing out Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) rebels who were believed to be holding out in these barangays.
Not contented with the results of the shelling, soldiers from four infantry battalions, the 15th, 16th, 19th and 27th IBs, forcibly herded 1,500 Magindanawn men inside the Tacbil Mosque in Barangay Malisbong, and slowly killed them, in groups of at least 10 every day.
The Armed Forces of the Philippines at that time was quite apprehensive that the MNLF will take control not only of Palimbang and the rest of Sultan Kudarat, but of all areas under the AFP’s Central Mindanao Command. In response, the AFP leadership, together with the civilian leader of Sultan Kudarat then, acting Gov. Gonzalo H. Siongco, ordered the bombing of Palimbang barangays and the massacre of suspected MNLF rebels herded at the Tacbil Mosque.
Under the terms of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro signed in 2014 by both the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and the Government of the Philippines peace panels, a Joint Normalization Committee (JNC) was created as provided for in the Annex on Normalization. The Transitional Justice and Reconciliation Commission (TJRC) was created as part of the JNC.
Stories of the Palimbang Massacre survivors are included in the three-volume report that the TJRC presented to the government, first during the previous presidency of Benigno Aquino III, and to the current administration of President Duterte. Both administrations have expressed support to the recommendations of the TJRC.
These reports can be accessed online through the TJRC website, www.tjrc.ph.
The United Nations defines transitional justice as the “the full range of processes and mechanisms associated with a society’s attempt to come to terms with a legacy of large-scale human rights abuses, in order to ensure accountability, serve justice and achieve reconciliation.” It is a framework for dealing with the dark past that a society has gone through, to help it transition to a more peaceful, brighter future for all.
As a framework for sustainable peace and conflict transformation, transitional justice has four pillars, namely: citizens’ right to know, right to justice, right to reparation and right to be given assurance that atrocities in the past will not recur anymore (guarantee of nonrecurrence).
Tomorrow, on the 45th anniversary of the massacre, the Conveners of the Independent Working Group on Transitional Justice-Dealing with the Past and their partners from the Palimbang local government unit and from national agencies like the Commission on Human Rights, will lead the memorialization ceremonies to honor victims and survivors of the horrible incident. A peace caravan starting today, Sept. 23, will precede the memorialization ceremonies.
Commemorations of violent incidents like the Palimbang Massacre are important, so that the succeeding generations of Bangsamoro and the entire Filipino nation will know of large-scale human rights abuses in the past. Knowledge of atrocities like these will lead to a collective demand for accountability, and for the victims and survivors to access justice and, eventually, claim for reparations. It will also prevent future historical revisionism.
Most importantly, memorialization events will promote consciousness among constituents to advocate for institutional reforms, especially in the security sector. Such reforms should guarantee that abuses from state agents like the police and military will not recur in the present or in the future.
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