Tuesday, August 17, 2010

The Jabidah Massacre, Operation Mardeka, No Good, but Alot of Bad and Ugly

The Malaysian state of Sabah sits on the northwestern corner of Borneo, roughly 45 minutes by regular boat from the Philippine's southern most province, Tawi Tawi. This geographic proximity allows the regions ethnicities to come and go across international borders just as they always have. The almost half a century of insurgency in the Southern Philippines have also caused a huge influx of Filipinos to both the Malaysian AND Indonesian parts of Borneo, with the 3rd nation on Borneo, Brunei, having been spared because of its incredibly small area. Likewise, Sabah has played its own part in exporting that insurgency TO the Philippines. Indeed, in its own way that tiny corner of Borneo has had more to do with the bloodletting and torture that as afflicted the Southern Philippines this last half a century.

Brunei more than any other Bornean nation has had a deep historical relationship with the peoples and lands that now collectively make up the Philippines. It was this deep bond that led to the Sultan of Brunei ceding much of what is now Sabah, along with Palawan to the Sultan of Sulu. Though the history of what transpired both then and long afterwards is important, for the sake of brevity I will fast forward to Malasyian independance and that country's incorporation of Sabah into its fold.

Understandably the loss of Sabah has not sat well with both the Sultante of Sulu nor with the Philippines. This deep resentment came to a head not long after Malaysian independance when the Marcos Government gave considerable support to a plan floated by supporters of Sultan Kiram of Sulu, and more so by members of his own extremely right wing government. Using a combined pool of Illokano,Tausug and Sama (Samal) Tribesmen the civil Affairs Office of the Department of National Defense oversaw the formation of a guerilla force, comprised of almost 2,000 men, and given the code name, "Jabidah."

The Office of the Secretary of Defense, via Under Secretary Manuel Syquio created a protocol for destabilisation of Sabah. Destabilisation was desired because of the Philippine claims on Sabah, claims that were taking years to slowly wind their way through international legal channels. While President Marcos had backed off of earlier vows to take Sabah by any means neccessary and had played the good neighbour in spearheading the creation of ASEAN, a regional cooperative bloc, he never took his eyes off of Borneo. Not wanting to wait decades, and even then all that waiting would amount to nothing more than a gamble with steep odds against the Philippines, the Marcos Government gave its tacit support to a plan to forment unrest and dissent in Eastern Malaysia, and thereby bolster Philippine claims by pointing to such dissent and unrest as proof of disatisfaction (amongst the people of Sabah) with Malaysian Rule.

As Under Secretary Syquio set up shoppe in the Civil Affairs Office, a move designed to keep almost all AFP personnel out of the loop, he hand picked the Operations Officer for his enterprise based upon a book that had been written the decade before, in 1959. This book, "Someday Malaysia," envisioned a SE Asia with a pan-Malayan state. This monolithic nation would encompass all of the Philippines, Indonesia, Singapore, Brunei and of course...Malaysia. the books author happened to be a Sr, Officer in the Philippine Air Force, Major Eduardo Martelino. An ethnic Ilonggo from Aklan Province, Martelino was very familiar with the targetted area, in fact he was romantically involved with a Samal woman on Tawi Tawi, a woman he would later marry.

In the early Summer of 1967 Maj.Martelino had an underling travel to Cebu City, on Cebu Island to begin recruitment of non-military staff for the project, primarily Medical Technicians and Lawyers, concentrating their efforts in 1 institution, the Cebu Institute of Technology. At the same time, on Luzon, Jolo Island and Tawi Tawi recruitment efforts began with cursory background checks of prosepctive applicants. By autumn they had their preliminary lists in terms of manpower and refurbishment of Camp Sofia, the primary base of training on Tawi Tawi's Simunul Island began, then still a part of Sulu Province.

On December 17, 1967 recruits began arriving on Camp Sofia, in Barangay Tampakan on Simunul Island. Counter-intuitively the first of a 3 phased training regimen took place there, as opposed to the 3rd phase since the island approximated their Operational Terrain. where as they should have finished their training at Camp Sophia, they merely engaged in calesthenics and cleaning up the base compound. On December 30, 1967 Philippine Naval Boat #68 left the island due north carrying a full complement of trainees heading to Manila Bay for Phase II of their training.

Arriving late in the vening on Janurary 03 the Illokanos among them were ecstatic, knowing that they were very close to home. For the Tausug and Sama men involved however it was a different story. Though some were undoubtedly happy to be that much closer to becoming members of the AFP (Armed Forces of the Philippines), most had never been anywhere but Sulu and Tawi Tawi and so it came as quite a shock, in many ways, when they first arrived on Corregidor on Janurary 03, 1968. This period of adjustment was complicated by a lack of sensitivity on the part of their trainers. Issues involving a bland and unaccustomed diet, lack of religious materiels or allowances for observance, and perhaps most problematic for many of the men was the presence of females in their housing unit, a converted wing of Corregidor's Fort Mills Hospital. Things went from bad to worse when their pay vouchers, 50 Pesos a month (roughly 1 Euro or 1.25 US) were lost in transit after being delayed for almost 2 months due to funding issues owing to the covert nature of the endeavour.

Roughly 1/3rd of the Tausug recruits formed a clique and began agitating for better conditions. When their trainers ignored them, treating them much as they would any other AFP recruit, 87 men, all Tausugs, signed a petition to President Marcos demanding better conditions and their pay. Led by Dugasan Julkainan, a from Jolo City, the letter was entrusted to a a member of the Navy, a fellow Tausug named Abhoud Tay, who was about to pass through Manila. Tay promised the men that he would post the petition by mail as soon as he got to Manila.

The men handed the envelope to Tay on the afternoon of March 2nd while thanking him profusely for his assistance. Early on March 3rd, at 3PM, seven of the most antagonistic recruits were told to report to Lieutenant Eduardo Batalla, the Junior Officer who handled the administrative functions when Major Martelino was out of camp, which was most of the time. When the meeting concluded conditions showed a marked improvement and almost all trainees buckled down and began to adjust.

Maeanwhile, as the preceding had been transpiring, beginning on March 1st, fellow recruits had begun shipping out to Camp Capinpin in Tanay, Rizal Province, for the third and final phase of their training. Likewise, 24 who had flunked out of Phase II had begun shipping back to Sulu and Tawi Tawi. Therefore it came as no suprise when late in the evening, March 17th, their trainers read off of a short list of names and told those whose names had just been called to pack up their gear, they were shipping out.

Just before day break, March 18th, 12 of the men were told to carry their gear and get on a 6X6 truck idling outside the base gate. Not told where they were going but assuming it was onto to Luzon and the 3rd and final phase of their grueling training, the men excitedly complied. Happily riding in the rear of the truck as it took the narrow and twisting jungle track to the airfield below the base, they were unprepared for what took place. The lone survivor Jibin Arula recalled that the truck had also been carrying Ilokano recruits as well, and that they had been picked up prior to the Tausugs. Just as their truck emerged from Malinta Tunnel one of the Illokano recruits had inadvertantly hit the release switch on his carbine's (rifle) magazine release (the magazine being the detachable component that holds the rounds, the bullets). Although Arula himself found nothing strange about that an older recruit remarked that the magazine switch was situated next to the safety switch (the "safety" is a switch that keeps the weapon from firing by mistake). The unspoken message was that something might be amiss, that the Ilokano recruit's mishap may have been alot more than just another innocent mistake. As they say, hindsight is 20/20 vision...

Rolling to a stop at Kindley Airfield, roughly 3 kilometers down hill from their camp, they and and their trainers, led by Lieutenants Eduardo Batalla and Rolando Abadilla dismounted from the truck. As the Tausugs took their time happily getting their fallen gear together the trainers and the Ilokano recruits formed a group several meters away, between the tarmac and the truck. As the last of the Tausug men joined together in a small group the Ilokanos, who had their backs towards the 12 Jabidah soldiers, spun and opened fire.

As his squadmates fell around him Jibin Arula remembers running blindly in the opposite direction, not even aware that he had been wounded above his knee. Coming to a precipice 12 meters above the rocky shoreline he threw himself over with abandon, the only thing on his mind was survival. Coming back to consciousness he found himself just a couple of meters from breaking waves. Grabbing a piece of wooden debris he stumbled into the surf and began swimming.

Arula sawm with abandon, not conscious of his pain, or even of his exhaustion, adrenaline taking care of all that. As the sun came up above the water he could hear the sounds of outboard motors, to his mind the sound of his trainers looking for him. Swimming onward he had made his way almost to Carballo Island when he was spotted by fishermen who hauled him aboard, saving his life. Incredulous, the fishermen, Tagalogs, asked him how he had come to be swimming in the middle of Manila Bay. Thinking fast on the cuff Arula explained that he was a crewmen on a local merchant vessel and had fallen overboard after a night of drinking with his fellow shipmates. Accepting his story at face value the fishermen decided to call it a day and made their way for port, in Naic, Cavite.

While Jibin Arula was thankful for having been saved he knew that his ordeal had only just begun. never having been off his home island of Jolo, and speaking very little Tagalog, or any language other than his native Tausug, he was terrified knowing that getting home was next to impossible. Thinking quickly he asked the fishermen that had saved him if anyone knew someone in government. Told by one that he had a cousin in the Cavite Provincial Guard, tasked with guarding that province's Governor, Delfin Montano, a well known member of the Opposition. Arula decided to invest his fate with this fisherman and the man's unknown cousin.

Back upon land Arula and the fisherman made their way to the cousin's home in the municipailty of Trece Martires only to
discover that the cousin was away, on duty. As they were trying to decide their next move the Barangay Captain, alerted to their presence, arrived with the local Barangay Guards, armed to the teeth. This was a time long before the Muslim neighbourhoods in Luzon even existed. There was no Golden Mosque in Quiapo, no Maharlika Housing Scheme, no Pasig City ghetto, a time when, aside from a hundred or so university students in Quezon City who wanted to assimilate and so for the most part lived and looked just like their non-Muslim countrymen. Most Filipinos on Luzon, certainly the working class, viewed all Filipino- Muslims as the slaveraiders and brigands of the Spanish Era "Moro-Moro" folklore, a perception that was unfortunately quite rooted in fact (in that the only Muslims Luzon had ever seen up until that point- apart from seafaring traders in Manila- had been those that raided their coastal villages though this was usually relegated to the Visayas Region). Therefore, the Barangay Captain suspected that Arula was a pirate who had somehow gotten separated from his fellow Suluanos, and demanded that he make an appearance at the local police station the very next morning.

Returning at daybreak with even more gunmen the Barangay Captain refused to listen to Arula's hastily made excuses and escorted him to the station, at gunpoint. Finally boxed into a corner Arula refused to give a statement, demanding that he be allowed to give it to the Chief of Police, who was away on business. The officers began beating him and only stopped once the chief arrived. The chief, Melencio de Sagun, who would soon become a lifelong friend and defender of Arula admonished his men for mistreating Arula, whom he reminded them, was not a prisoner.

After having Arula checked at a local medical clinic Chief de Sagun personally escorted him to the Governor's Residence in Cavite City, the provincial capital. Arriving in the evening of March 19th he was ushered into the govenor's antechamber where he proceeded to tell his tale. After a couple of days of consideration, on March 23rd, 1968, the Governor had Arula file a criminal complaint of Frustrated Murder against Major Martelino and 10 other AFP (de facto and otherwise) officers and enlisted men at the Cavite City Fiscal's Office, and so the story quickly became known.

The Cavite City Fiscal filed the appropriate charges and also named the AFP's Chief of Staff, General Benjamin Espino as a Respondant. On April 2nd the AFP's Captain Jose Magsanoc appeared at the Fiscal's Office to offer the AFP's Legal Response but also to try and convince the Fiscal to transfer jurisdiction to the AFP, to allow a Court Martial to take place in lieu of Civil Proceedings. Thus the stage was set for what would be a nearly 4 year legal battle...

I will continue in Part II.

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