Aquino delivering a privileged speech at the Senate
The Manila Times, March 19, 2013
The “Jabidah Question”: First of Three Parts
Contrary to many accounts, senator Benigno Aquino Jr. did not expose the so-called “Jabidah massacre” 45 years ago today, which the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) exploited to the hilt to rally Muslims to its secessionist cause.
What he revealed to the world, and asked for a stop to, was the clandestine plan of his archenemy president Ferdinand Marcos to train and send Muslim commandos to Sabah to organize a revolt against Malaysia, the first step for the Philippines to take over the territory.
This conclusion is incontrovertible based on the late senator’s privileged speech on March 28, 1968 titled: “Jabidah! Special Forces of Evil?”
The speech is posted at the archives section of the official government website and at my personal website as an annex to this column.
That there was a Jabidah massacre has been mostly uncritically believed, as indicated in the following Wikipedia entry:
“The Jabidah massacre . . . refers to an incident in which members of the Armed Forces of the Philippines massacred a number of Moro Muslim recruits who were escaping their covert training to reclaim Sabah . . . It is widely regarded as having been the catalyst behind the modern Moro insurgencies in the Southern Philippines.”
The entry continued: “Sources differ regarding the details, with the number of victims ranging from 14 to 68, and some sources assert that the massacre is a myth.” The “some sources” it referred to consist solely of University of the Philippines anthropologist Arnold Molina Azurin who investigated the episode intensively in his book, Beyond the Cult of Dissidence.
For starters, the Jabidah issue broke out after Cavite governor Delfin Montano, one of Marcos’ most vociferous critic, had one Jibin Arula file charges at the Cavite Court of First Instance against major Eduardo Martelino and 10 other army officers and soldiers whom he alleged were involved in the purported atrocity. Arula would be the sole person ever to allege that he witnessed the massacre.
Arula claimed that with about a dozen of his fellow Muslim trainees, he was ordered to line up at the airstrip in Corregidor in the wee hours of March 18, 1968, and then shot by their trainers. He claimed that he was hit in the leg, so he managed to run, hide in the bushes, and then escape to the sea to be rescued hours later by fishermen.
The allegations became the burning issue, with the two major newspapers at that time, both stridently anti-Marcos, The Manila Times and The Manila Chronicle, portraying Arula as a hero. A congressional investigation was undertaken, which months later would turn out to be inconclusive.
Then congressman Rashid Lucman of Lanao del Sur claimed that the massacre was motivated by Marcos’ greed to claim Sabah for his personal property. Lucman months later would organize the Bangsa Moro Liberation Organization, the MNLF’s precursor, and get Malaysia to secretly train its recruits. Aquino though didn’t jump in to demonize Marcos over the alleged massacre. He did not only go to Jolo and Tawi-tawi to seek out the alleged victims’ relatives but interviewed Arula himself. Aquino in his speech concluded:
“After interviewing the self-asserted massacre survivor, Jibin Arula, doubt nagged me that there had indeed been a massacre . . .”
Aquino explained his thesis (note his use of quotations, presumably on the official copy of his speech):
“Arula must have made a dash for his life, thinking that they had been brought to the airstrip for the ‘slaughter.’ Told to halt by his escorts, he kept running. His escorts shot him in the leg to force him to stop. He kept going—and the rest is his story. But what happened to his eleven companions? Were they really ‘ massacred?’”
Aquino went on: “Some say that when the firing started with Arula, his companions ducked. So that Arula was correct when he said that he saw his companions fall to the ground. But were they shot? Or did they duck because of the firing?”
The alleged “slaughter” Aquino referred to was Arula’s claim that he had suspected that 24 recruits who left two days earlier, whom their military superiors said were being brought to Sulu to be deployed to Sabah, were actually killed. But Aquino pointed out: “Meanwhile, in Jolo yesterday, I met the first batch of 24 recruits aboard RP- 68. This group was earlier reported missing— or, even worse, believed ‘ massacred’ . . . William Patarasa, 16 years old [ one of the recruits] denied knowledge of any massacre.”
Aquino in his speech elaborated his view (emphasis mine): “This morning, The Manila Times, in its banner headline, quoted me as saying that I believed there was no massacre on Corregidor. And I submit it was not a hasty conclusion, but one borne out by careful deductions.”
What were these deductions? According to Aquino:
• “What would have been the motive for the ‘massacre’? Some quarters have advanced the theory that the trainees were liquidated in order to silence them. But then, 24 boys have already shown up in Jolo safe and healthy. To release 24 men who can spill the beans and liquidate the remaining 24 ‘to seal’ their lips would defy logic.”
• “Arula’s fears, which in his place may be considered valid, may not be supported by the recent turn of events. Twenty-four recruits have turned up.”
Aquino emphasized that only a rigorous investigation of Arula’s allegations would arrive at the truth. He asked the military to “produce the eleven recruits” the lone survivor allegedly killed.
But if the eleven merely resigned and like the first twenty four returned to Sulu, or even deployed to Sabah, could the military have traced them and asked them to testify? Indeed, one of the strangest aspects of the alleged “massacre” was that through 45 years, there hasn’t even one victim’s relative who has surfaced to condemn the purported killing.
So what was Aquino’s speech all about? Only 1,123, or 20 percent, of Aquino’s 5,734word speech, discussed the alleged massacre.
The biggest part of his speech exposed details regarding the Jabidah plan he boasted he uncovered through his investigation and disclosures by his moles in the country’s intelligence services.
“It is the codename for a supposedly super-secret, twin-goaled operation of president Marcos to wipe out the opposition . . .—literally, if need be—in 1969 and to set this country on a high foreign adventure,” Aquino said in his speech. While carefully not mentioning Sabah Aquino said: Jabidah “is the codename for Mr. Marcos’ special operation to . . . achieve territorial gains.”
Malaysia’ prime minister at that time, Tunku Abdul Rahman, probably called for a secret national celebration after Aquino’s speech. From then on Marcos scuttled all plans, militarily or diplomatically, to claim Sabah. No wonder his son 45 years later would also be a de facto Malaysian spokesman condemning Filipino Muslims’ effort to draw international attention to our Sabah claim.
Next week, we evaluate if the Jabidah episode was an atrocity, or one of the most successful propaganda coup in our history.
* * *
I’ve decided to name this column “Counterintuitive,” to give it an identity. The word is in the same conceptual family as “contrarian” or “against the tide.” It is the opposite of “common sense,” “conventional” and “orthodox.”
Readers of this column certainly would not be surprised over the choice. My favorite quote that uses counterintuitive is by philosopher and cognitive scientist Daniel Dennett: “Any theory that makes progress is bound to be counterintuitive.”