Mindanao (Philippines) was virtually an unknown spot in the world map until early 1970s when the Muslim pocket rebellion broke out and wreck havoc on lives, limbs and liberties. The Muslim rebellion, now generically known as the Mindanao problem or sometimes referred to as the Mindanao issue, was primarily triggered by the Jabidah massacre on March 18, 1968 which was highly suspected to be committed by Christian soldiers during the Marcos regime.
According to a well-guarded source, a handful of about sixty (60) Tausug Muslims were recruited to undergo military training in Corregidor Island – a small island located at the mouth of Manila Bay – the same island where Filipinos and Americans fought side by side during world war II and made the last stand to defend the archipelago from the Japanese invaders. After experiencing day and night bombardment from the superior Japanese forces, the Filipino and American defenders surrendered in what was more popularly known in history as the ‘Fall of Bataan’. General Douglas McArthur escaped by submarine but before he departed he made a pledge to return which eventually became the famous line “I shall return”. This line had become the source of inspiration for Filipino guerillas to continue the struggle against the Japanese occupation forces.
Corregidor Island has been a living witness at two major events in Philippine history – ‘Fall of Bataan’ and the ‘Jabidah Massacre’. But while the story of the gallantry of Filipino-American defenders in the ‘Fall of Bataan’ was an all-time inspiration, the Jabidah massacre was an exasperating desperation to Filipino Muslims.
The story had it that former President Marcos was bent on claiming Sabah (Malaysia) – an oil-rich small state located on the eastern tip of Borneo island. Borneo is shared by Indonesia, Malaysia and Brunei with the bigger chunk of the island belonging to Indonesia.
Marcos thought that these Tausug recruits, who speak fluent bahasa (a language common to Malaysia, Indonesia and Brunei) could be trained as commandos who will penetrate deep into Sabah to provide all the information that a Philippine invading team would need before it will carry out the actual military attack on Sabah. As such, the training was made highly clandestine. To shorten the story, the day has come when the ‘recruits’ were readied for the top secret mission and so it was time to tell them all about the purpose of their training.
Unfortunately, all sixty (60) ‘recruits’ were against the idea. Marcos and his co-plotters must have miscalculated the fact that you cannot use Muslims against fellow Muslims in such deceptive act because their loyalty to the ‘ummah’ (generic community of Muslims at large) is more profound than their patriotism for country. This was the biggest problem of Marcos and his military officials. At a time that the ‘Sabah claim’ was such an explosive issue as it brought the Philippines and Malaysia to a brink of war, this clandestine plan to send deep penetration agents to Sabah might finally ignite the war between the two countries once it leaks out to Malaysian authorities. And the probability of leakage is always there even if the mission will be aborted if the ‘recruits’ will just be allowed to go home. There is no better way of ensuring a no leakage than to kill all sixty ‘recruits’. The devious plot to eliminate all ‘recruits’ was carried out in the early morning of March 18, 1968. They were fired upon by three machine-gunners while in close-rank formation.
Incidentally, a lone but critically wounded survivor, named Jibin Arula, managed to run away and swam into the sea until he was rescued by Christian fishermen somewhere in Manila Bay. This man survived to tell the tale of that infamous Jabidah massacre – the incident that has significantly changed the course of Philippine history.
The resulting Muslim rebellion eventually found its niche into the OIC (Organization of Islamic Conference) which is more often, the final destination of important issues and concerns on Muslims everywhere in the world.
Damage and Consequences
The Muslim pocket rebellion, in a span of four decades (1972-2012), has already claimed about 150,000 lives, more than four billion Pesos (US$100M, more or less) in damage to properties and dislocated more than 10,000 families.
The armed fighting took only a momentary lull in 1976 when the Tripoli Agreement was signed between the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) and the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) through a Ghadaffi-facilitated negotiation. The main concession was that the MNLF agreed to drop its quest for complete independence and would settle for an autonomous type of government. For its part, the GRP recognized the MNLF’s ‘status of belligerency’ and agreed to continue the peace talks to be facilitated by the Quadripartite Ministerial Committee of the OIC (Libya, Somalia, Senegal and Indonesia).
In 1996 the GRP and the MNLF signed the Final Peace Agreement but a breakaway faction, that was the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, was left out in the process. Consequently the government did the next best thing to do, that was to hold a separate peace negotiation with the MILF.
The peace talks between the GRP and the MILF has been going on since 2001 and after more than a decade no significant upshots have cropped up. However, both sides had expressed optimism that a peace agreement may be signed within the year.
The letter below gave face to the ugly consequences of the war in terms of the general polarization between the Muslims and Christians, displacement of people and their suffering, and their longing to claim back the peace that was once theirs.
Greetings of Peace!
I am writing this letter to let you know how much I value our friendship. We have suffered a lot. Since the day of our birth, we have witnessed how it was to live in fear, distrust and hatred. Our prejudices and biases got in the way of living in harmony with one another. Even our friendship is being questioned, under much scrutiny. Are you really my friend? Am I a real friend to you?
As we go through our lives, we have become victims of our differences. Rather than benefit from such diversity which offers a lot of good opportunities in terms of learning and understanding each other, it has instead brought us much pain and sorrow. We have seen how this misunderstanding took the lives of the very persons we dearly love – our fathers, our brothers, our uncles, some relatives and friends – we lost them along the way of the armed struggle which was not our own making but rather imposed to us to make us look like real enemies. Consequently, this trouble has successfully separated us.
Now I long for you my friend and I am terribly missing you. I am pretty sure that this feeling is mutual knowing you very well from our childhood days. Did you ever understand why we have to be separated and made to look like real enemies? I guess the general polarization between us Christians and Muslims brought about by homegrown hatred could be the main culprit. When my father was killed by people of your kind and your brother got killed by people of my kind, they had successfully made it appear like you and I are bent on annihilating each other’s tribe. What an exasperating situation we had been into and what is more lamentable is the fact that we are so helpless about the situation right now. We would like to tell the world that we had nothing to do with this situation, yet we cannot do so for fear that we can be suspected of betrayal which can possibly cost our lives.
We have suffered a lot my friend. From the very people who we feel must protect our well being comes great loss of lives, limbs and liberties. Our families have shed enough blood – more than enough to feel the hatred, ill will and animosity that are slowly engulfing us. Shall we allow these things to pass and pretend that we are just fine and okay? My dearest friend, you know it is not. But I don’t expect your answer too soon. I know you are as troubled and confused as I am.
You are as fearful as I am. There is so much uncertainty in what the coming days, months and years will bring us. What is certain for now is a bleak, cloudy and gloomy picture of tomorrow. We have seen so much suffering already. Are we going to allow our children and the children of our children to suffer like us? Please, let us spare them! Let us let them live more abundantly – abounding in love, respect and care – in harmony with one another.
My friend, there is a way to live in harmony. There are ways by which our children could have a happy life. Peace may be very elusive at the moment, but I am hopeful that someday we will live peacefully and harmoniously with one another. The same unperturbed situation, peace and calm that reigned before this trouble erupted. Let us rediscover the Culture of Dialogue, the Path to Peace. I know it is difficult but if we are to lay down the foundation of peace from a deeper and better understanding of life guided by the central teachings of our respective faiths, that is, the love of God and the love of neighbor, peace, prosperity and love for all humankind, anything is possible. You and I believe that each and every person is endowed with innate nature of goodness. Let us harness this power towards the Culture of Dialogue and Understanding, the Path to Peace.
For our own sake and for the sake of the generations to come, let us make a difference. Now is the time. Let us break ourselves free from this cycle of violence, hatred and fear by living in harmony, love, peace and joy. The ball is in our hands. You can spread the word to your relatives and friends over there and I will do the same. Yes, I feel that we can make it happen. Are you with me my friend?
As I was posting this, I chanced upon a comment on Facebook saying that President Aquino has just announced today (Oct. 7) the Draft Framework of Agreement in the on-going peace talk between the GRP and the MILF. I hope the peace that has been so wanting in Mindanao is now coming loud and clear. This could be the time that Dominic and his Muslim friend have been waiting for.