Friday, March 18, 2005


Sabah: Malaysia's or the Philippines'?

Today we remember the Jabidah Massacre, described as the turning point of the reawakening of the Moro people. It was happened when, between 28 and 64 Moro recruits undergoing training for sabotage, jungle warfare, and guerilla tactics in Corrigidor Island, just off Manila Bay, were summarily executed by their military trainers in late March 1968.

It was widely believed that the purpose of the training was a secret preparation for the Philippine Military operation in Sabah-code named “Operation Merdika” (Operation independence). This belief was substantiated by the revelation of Jibin Arula (the lone survivor of the carnage) that they were shot because they refused to follow the order of their military trainers to invade Sabah. The Philippine government had laid claim in the World Court to the ownership of Sabah, which belonged to Malaysia but historically was part of the Philippines before the Americans came, but Marcos was impatient with diplomatic channels.

Sabah from the air

From Simunul in Tawi-Tawi, where the secret training began in 1967, the commando team composed of about 180 trainees, moved to Corregidor in January 1968. The training exercises were rigorous, but the trainees were fed miserable meals, mainly burnt rice and tuyo (dried fish), and were promised P50 monthly pay--which they did not receive.

Eventually, the trainees grew restless and a core group of about 60 wrote a letter to Marcos asking for their pay. The letter was intercepted by the training leaders, and from then on, tension and suspicion started to poison the air in Corregidor.

The whole episode ended in March 1968 with the killing of about two dozen Muslim trainees by the military. A military officer was also killed. A surviving trainee who was shot in the leg managed to swim to safety on the nearly island of Carballo. He told his story, and then-Senator Benigno Aquino launched an investigation into what came to be known as the Jabidah massacre. What was once a tightly kept secret was becoming known to the public.

Sabah's seal

The repercussions on both the domestic and external fronts would prove to be enormous. At that time, Muslim activists, led by Nur Misuari, were restive. The Jabidah massacre would mobilize them further, resulting in the formation of the Moro National Liberation Front.

Relations between Malaysia and the Philippines reached its lowest point. Malaysia withdrew its embassy staff from Manila, and Sabah police picked up Filipinos for illegal entry but Malaysia would exact the sweetest revenge when it used Sabah to provide succor to rebels from the secessionist MNLF, aiding them with arms and military training. The Muslim rebellion reached its peak in the 1970s. Funny enough, the peace negotiations between the MILF and the GRP are currently being held in Kuala Lumpur.

An MILF soldier rests

The Senate and congressional inquiries into the Jabidah massacre in 1968 yielded inconclusive findings. No one was held accountable for the horrible killings. The officers and enlisted men who were court-martialed were all cleared in 1971.

Informed about the sinister plan of the Philippine government, the then Sabah Chief minister, Tun Datu Mustapha Haron, later openly supported the 1970's Moro Nationalist Liberation Movement.

Peace talks in Kuala Lumpur to resume on April 6, 2005

Indeed, the incident aroused the anger of almost all sectors of the Moro people. Two months later, Datu Udtog Matalam, the then Governor of the undivided Empire Province of Cotabato declared Mindanao Independence Movement (MIM) aiming at the establishment of an independent Islamic Republic of Mindanao. Proposed monetary bills of this new Republic were circulated during that time, and we got hold of some during my High School days in Cagayan de Oro, in 1991.

Before Datu Matalam succumbed to the Philippine authorities, the MIM is credited for the armed resistance to the Philippine army and the fanatic Christian movement, Ilaga, which was organized by the Christian political leaders in Cotabato and Upi, Maguindanao, to protect their political interest in Central Mindanao.

The hunt for Abu Sayyafs begin

With the recent killing of Abu Sayyaf men in Camp Bagong Diwa, is there hope for the entire Filipino society to simply settle this matter of Christian-Muslim relations?

Nur Misuari's case should be resolved as early as possible to ensure continued peace in the region


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