[OPINION] Jabidah Massacre: 51 years after, still vivid in memory

Sacrifice should never be forgotten. Especially not the sacrifice of lives.

The Jabidah Massacre is one of the memories we must keep alive, painful as it is. 

Before dawn chased away the darkness on March 18, 1968, Moro military trainees were shot on the Corregidor airstrip. The men who shot these young Moros were their training officers. 

Nearly 200 Tausug and Sama Muslims aged between 18 and 30 from Sulu and Tawi-Tawi were recruited for a military operation. From August to December 1967, the Moro recruits underwent training in Simunul, Tawi-Tawi before being brought to Corregidor Island in Luzon.

The trainees were brought to Corregidor on Jan. 3, 1968 to train in guerrilla warfare in preparation for Operation Plan Merdeka. Instead of a full course of training, they received a lethal rain of bullets on an island honored for the valor of its defenders in World War II.

On Dec. 30, 1967, between 135 and 180 Moro recruits boarded a Philippine Navy vessel headed for Corregidor for “specialized training.” If you visit Corregidor, a Tausug soldier left a piece of graffiti there: “Pvt. Plaza, Ladjasali from Bato-Bato Sulu was here in Corregidor on Jan. 3,/68.” 

The Moro recruits were promised an allowance of P50 a month, but received no payment. They ate dried fish and had to use leftover rice to make coffee while their commanders lived in luxury. 

The recruits sought the aid of then President Ferdinand Marcos, and the letter they sent may have been intercepted by their commanders – and it may have been the reason they were shot dead in a massacre that later lit the fires of secession in Mindanao.

I’ve been writing about Jabidah annually over the past 5 years because it is part of our narrative. We must keep the story alive. This will keep us grounded in our history as a people—not just the Bangsamoro, but all Filipinos who need to know what the roots of the war in Mindanao were.

The massacre was the grisly fruit of Oplan Merdeka, taken from the the Malay word for “freedom.” The late Senator Benigno S. Aquino Jr. spoke of this in a privilege speech delivered at the Legislative Building on March 28, 1968. Aquino said Oplan Merdeka was a secret operation to destabilize the disputed territory of North Borneo (also called Sabah), which had been ‘incorporated’ into the Malaysian Federation after the British granted the federation independence in 1957. 

The disputed territory in North Borneo belongs to the Sultanate of Sulu. It was rented out via  a padjak lease agreement to the British East India Co. in 1878 by the Sultan of Sulu. 

Dispute with Malaysia

The claim of the Sultanate remains active even now, though there is no progress in actually reclaiming the territory. 

The Malaysian government says this territory belongs to its federation, yet it pays annual rental to the heirs of the Sultan of Sulu as per the padjak. If that is not a tacit recognition of the sultanate’s ownership of North Borneo, I don’t know what it is.

This disputed parcel of land is part of the Moro homeland. It was given by the Sultan of Borneo to the Sultan of Sulu for the bravery of the Tausug warriors of the Sultanate of Sulu who helped the Sultan of Borneo put down a rebellion. That land was won with Tausug blood. 

Aquino said that if Oplan Merdeka resulted in a formal complaint by Malaysia before the United Nations, the Jabidah unit would be disavowed and the government would lie by saying these Moros were part of the private army of Sultan Kiram of Sulu. 

It took the Jabidah Massacre to push some Muslim leaders to establish the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF). It took that to spark a movement to create separate Moro homeland in Mindanao.

Twenty-three of the military personnel involved in Oplan Merdeka were court-martialed, as reported by the press then. The case found its way to the Supreme Court in 1970, on a preliminary issue. The number of deaths in the Jabidah Massacre varies between 10 and 68, depending on who tells the story. 

Five decades and a year have passed. There is no closure for this injustice yet. Now that the Bangsamoro region begins work to rebuild our homeland, we must remember the sacrifice in lives that has led to this moment: It will keep us focused on our goals of self-determination, peace and prosperity, even as we keep these brave souls in our prayers. – Rappler.com

 

Writer and former journalist Amir Mawallil is a member of the Bangsamoro Transition Authority.