MANILA, Philippines – University of the Philippines Institute of Islamic Studies Dean Julkipli Wadi may be a regular fixture in fora and media reports on Muslim Mindanao, but Wednesday, March 18, marked the first time he set foot on the island that bore witness to the massacre that lit the spark for the decades-old rebellion in the south.
Born in 1968, Wadi is as old as the Mindanao conflict. Growing up in Mindanao, he said he saw the agony of war in the 70s that broke out in the aftermath of the Jabidah Massacre.
At the very airstrip where a still undetermined number of Moro recruits (numbers range from 28 to 200) were executed to cover up a botched plot to reclaim Sabah, Wadi pondered on the significance of the event in the midst of a peace process in Mindanao that is hanging in the balance.
"I feel that by stepping in this rather sacred ground of Corregidor, I felt there's some kind of connection. That's why for the past several years, I hesitated to visit this place because I felt that this is not an ordinary place. This is a milestone in the birth of the Moro rebellion and therefore, we have to be able to appreciate beyond the ordinary sense of appreciation. The new chapter of Mindanao was actually started here," Wadi said.
In 1967, Filipinos from Basilan, Sulu, Tawi-Tawi and Zamboanga were recruited to be part of a commando unit called Jabidah under a secret plot hatched by former president Ferdinand Marcos to invade Sabah and reclaim it from Malaysia. The plot was called “Operation Merdeka.”
The plan however did not push through. The trainees protested after the stipends that were promised them did not come. They only had poor living conditions as they were made to reside in ruins left behind by the World War II. (READ: Jabidah and Merdeka: The inside story)
It has also been said that the trainees were not informed that the real purpose of the covert military training was to invade Sabah.
To curtail the impending mutiny, the training officers of the unit transferred some recruits to other camps but shot and burned the others. It was the massacre, which Marcos had insisted never happened, that pushed then University of the Philippine professor Nur Misuari to form the Moro National Liberation Front and started the 4 decades of war in Mindanao.
Another tipping point
Wadi was one of the 400 supporters of the peace process that trooped to Corregidor Island on Wednesday for an annual pilgrimage to the massacre site.
He had been invited before but he only chose to go on Wednesday as the peace process in Mindanao reaches another tipping point.
The commemoration came on the heels of the release of the Senate report on the Mamasapano clash that killed 44 elite cops, 18 Moro rebels and 5 civilians. The Senate tagged the firefight as a "massacre" as it held rebel groups Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) accountable for the execution of some elite cops. (READ: ARMM Gov to Senate, BOI: What about the civilian casualties?)
Public outrage over the debacle resulted in a political fallout that has stalled deliberations on a law that would implement the peace agreement between the government and the MILF.
Abdullah Camlian, a member of the MILF and the Bangsamoro Transition Commission – the body that drafted the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law – could not hold back tears as he recounted his days as a young rebel.
Camlian was one of the first batch of 90 fighters of the Moro National Liberation Front who trained in guerrilla warfare in Jampiras Island in Malaysia to launch the Muslim rebellion after the Jabidah Massacre.
Camlian, who is visiting the island for the 2nd time, was in tears as he spoke of the conflict in the South that remains unresolved to this day.
"Forty-seven years, we have continued the struggle and we are still on it and hopefully, in the words of (Anak Mindanao Representative) Sitti Djalia Turabin-Hataman, it will not be in vain. For those who have perished... there are forces that do not like peace in Mindanao. For what reason, only Allah knows," Camlian said.
In 2013, President Benigno Aquino III flew to Corregidor Island to witness the 45th commemoration of the tragic event. It marked the first time that a Philippine president publicly ackowledged that the Jabidah Massacre occurred.
On Wednesday, a marker recognizing this dark period in the country's history was unveiled near the airstrip where the massacre occurred.
Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) Governor Mujiv Hataman said it took years of negotiations before a memorial garden could be built in the area.
It may seem like a small thing but Anak Mindanao Representative Sitti Turabin-Hataman said it means a lot to Muslim Filipinos.
"This is what we can't explain to those unfamiliar with the Bangsamoro struggle – (the importance of) acknowledging our contribution to the fight against oppression," she said.
"The acknowledgment of historical injustices that were committed against us is already a big deal," Turabin-Hataman said.
To this day, no one has been held liable for the massacre.
Most of the major players in the incident have passed, Rappler managing editor Glenda Gloria and Rappler editor-at-large Marites Vitug wrote in their book, Under the Crescent Moon.
For those who saw the effects of war with their own eyes, the only way to give justice to the Jabidah martyrs is to continue pursuing the peace process – even in the midst of calls for war in the aftermath of Mamasapano.
"It is, in fact, very symbolic the Moro rebellion started with a massacre and two months ago, there was a massacre. Message really is, we all have to embrace peace so that we will stop experiencing the same cycle again and again," Wadi said.
The future of the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law in Congress remains uncertain as the timeline to pass the law becomes tight.
Groups who attended the commemoration are calling on Congress to resume deliberations on the BBL. As the bill faces dilution in Congress due to issues on constitutionality, Camlian said he hopes the search for resolution of the conflict in Mindanao would not reach its end.
"Regardless of what type of BBL that they will give us, we hope that it will not be the end of the struggle of the Bangsamoro – much more if that BBL will not be in the manner that CAB and the Framework Agreement has been signed. We pray to Allah to guide us, give us more strength because we want to live in peace," Camlian said.
"I assure you that we are not yet tired for the defense of the Bangsamoro and our faith and Mindanao because we are not only defending ourselves, Mindanao, but we are defending the Republic of the Philippines because that is our homeland also," he added. – Rappler.com