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Only Aquino was fooled by ‘Jabidah’ hoax

Second of Three Parts

It’s not just former police chief Alan Purisima and Special Action Force (SAF) chief Director Getulio Napeñas—key characters in the Mamasapano drama—who have managed to fool President Benigno Aquino 3rd, leading to the massacre of 44 elite police commandos.

This arrogant, yet gullible president, out of all five chief commanders of the country’s armed forces after Marcos, has also fallen hook, line and sinker for the hoax called the “Jabidah massacre.”

According to this yarn, “24 and even as many as 200” young Muslims who were being trained under “Operation Merdeka” were massacred by Army Special Operations troops when they mutinied.

Merdeka (Freedom) was purportedly a Marcos plan to infiltrate Sabah with Filipino Muslim guerillas to foment an uprising against Malaysia.

Aquino, in his speech at the very first “commemoration” of the Jabidah fiction on Corregidor island in 2013, ordered the National Historical Commission to put Jabidah in our history books and to install a commemorative marker on it in Corregidor, together with a Garden of Peace.

Two years later the Commission has done neither, and it hasn’t authorized whatever is there. There is an unauthorized plaque on “Jabidah,” though, in Corregidor stuck on a World War II bunker, with the tasteless annotation: “Donated by Hon. Majiv Hataman,” with a facsimile of his signature. Hataman is a Liberal Party stalwart who was elected as governor of the Autonomous Region for Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).

It didn’t cross the minds of those nincompoops who participated in the “commemoration” in 2013 and last March 18 that of all massacres in modern history, not a single victim has been identified as having been killed in the so-called Jabidah carnage.

Foreground, unauthorized marker on “Jabidah” screwed on (background) a World War II bunker in Corregidor with the ‘epal’ “donated-by” note.
Foreground, unauthorized marker on “Jabidah” screwed on (background) a World War II bunker in Corregidor with the ‘epal’ “donated-by” note.

There were four named martyrs in the “Battle of Mendiola Bridge” that sparked a student uprising in the 1970s. There were 13 identified martyrs killed in the Mendiola Massacre during Cory Aquino’s watch in 1987. There were 58 killed, all with names, in the Maguindanao Massacre in 2009. There were 44 police commandos killed in the Mamasapano massacre, and the six civilian casualties were identified.

Not a single Jabidah victim identified

There is not a single identified victim in the “Jabidah Massacre.”

No one has claimed that his brother, husband, son, a kinsman of the nth degree, or even a friend was among those killed in the purported massacre. Moro propagandists would not even dare paying a scoundrel to claim to pretend he had a Jabidah-massacre relative.

This is astonishing, especially because of the well-known and feared practice of rido among Muslims in Mindanao. Either based on religion or just tribal culture, this tradition requires the family of a murdered person to exact vengeance, even against just the relatives of the perpetrator, and runs across generations.

Neither the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) nor the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) sent congratulatory messages for the 2013 anniversary when the “massacre” supposedly occurred and the government’s position on it.

Even as so many writers have routinely claimed—falsely—that Jabidah sparked the “Moro war of liberation,” the two organizations knew full well that it was a fabrication, but have opportunistically remained silent on the issue as it has roused anger among the Muslim youth. The rhetoric of a Jabidah massacre has vanished in official MNLF and MILF documents, although it has been resuscitated by younger Moro politicians notably ARMM governor Hataman.

Not Aquino’s mother Cory, not Ramos, Estrada, nor Arroyo had ever talked about Jabidah, much less order it put in our history books.

When she assumed office, Cory Aquino called for an official investigation into the Jabidah massacre. Nothing came of it, not even the organization of a body to do the investigation. An official close to Aquino had told me: “It didn’t take too long to realize Jabidah was a propaganda hoax, that it was best to keep quiet about it, though, so as not to rile the Moro militants.”

Former president Fidel V. Ramos would have known what really happened, as he was Presidential Assistant for Military Affairs from 1968 to 1969. The Jabidah accusations were officially hurled not at then President Marcos, but the armed forces. The accusations, if true, would have been really personal for Ramos: He founded the Army’s Special Forces Regiment, whose officers were accused of the alleged massacre in 1968, only a few years after he ended his stint as commander of the elite force.

Ramos could have made his negotiations for a final settlement with the MNLF in 1996 easier if he had played to the Moro insurgent gallery—as Aquino is doing now— and declared that his peace pact made the sacrifice of those killed in “Jabidah’ worthwhile. He didn’t, for he knew Jabidah was a hoax.

Part of the Jabidah urban legend, a confusion even written about by scholars, is that Marcos, with his martial law, managed to suppress the controversy.

But the Jabidah accusations broke out in March 1968, more than four years before martial law was declared and during what was actually the golden age of Philippine democratic institutions—the Congress and the Press—which Marcos could not have browbeaten.

The best and the brightest probers

The Senate, in fact, at that time was not just opposition-dominated but manned by the most respected and intelligent senators ever, who could not be cowed by Marcos, among them — other than Senator Ninoy Aquino — Jovito Salonga, Gerardo Roxas, Arturo Tolentino, Jose Diokno, Lorenzo Tanada, Raul Manglapus, Emmanuel Pelaez, Eva Estrada Kalaw. There never, in fact, has been again such a more capable, articulate and principled Senate as they during the Jabidah controversy.

The professionalism, courage and sheer intelligence of journalists in newspapers and TV stations (despite their anti-Marcos biases) like the Manila Times, the Manila Chronicle, and the ABS-CBN network at that time have, in fact, not been seen again.

Tell me, would this kind of Senate and this kind of press – the best and the brightest in our history—be cowed by Marcos and let the issue die down?

Only if they realized it was a hoax. In fact, Jabidah swiftly receded from public consciousness by the end of 1968, with the report that a martial court in February 1971 acquitted the accused officers treated only as a minor inside-page news story.

As supported by facts, I have written in this series, what Jabidah was probably really about was the following, which I’ve deduced using certain details the sole witness Jibin Arula provided:

The Liberal Party around late 1967 learned that Marcos was covertly executing the clandestine military operation for the country to eventually wrest Sabah from Malaysia.

It was Liberal Party Cavite governor Delfin Montano who uncovered it, since it was Lino Bocalan who was providing the logistics and finances for the operation in Corregidor. Montano was closely monitoring Bocalan since his former crony he helped to become the biggest cigarette smuggler in Cavite had defected to Marcos’ side and planned to run against him in the 1969 elections. (Bocalan won.)

Liberal Party strategists thought it could be an issue that would be fatal for Marcos in the then coming 1969 elections. Malaysia would almost certainly protest the operation that risked a war, and even raise it in the UN, making Marcos unpopular.

The Liberals had one big problem, though. If they revealed it through the media, they would be accused of betraying the nation, exposing a secret operation against Malaysia intended, after all, to claim what was really Philippine soil.

However, they would appear to be merely doing their job as the opposition, if rather than just Operation Merdeka, they would protest the killing of Filipino Muslims who decided to leave their training course.

They were even careful not to call for a press conference for their “expose.” On March 25, 1968, just five days after Jabidah supposedly happened, Governor Montano and his lawyers accompanied Arula to file a frustrated murder case against the Special Forces officers in a Cavite court. It was reported only as a minor story first, until Muslim Liberal Party congressmen raised a howl over it, and Ninoy delivered his Jabidah speech March 28.

What an opposition Ninoy and the Liberal Party were! For politics they betrayed the nation, in effect ratting on our country to the Malaysians.

It, however, had two other terrible unintended horrible consequences for the nation.

First, it was really the main reason why the Moro problem has become such a huge one for the nation. It gave the Muslim youth a cause célèbre, indeed a casus belli that roused their anger to join the then secessionist MNLF. Upon learning that the Philippines was serious in claiming Sabah by fomenting a revolt against it, Malaysia similarly retaliated by funding and actively supporting a Moro uprising. The MNLF’s break-away group, the MILF, would grow into such a huge military force it was able to massacre 44 commandos at will, and now claims swathes of central Mindanao as its territory, which for our military to enter needs the group’s permission (“coordination”).

Second, it was an ingredient for Marcos to impose a dictatorship three years later. It convinced the military from its top brass down to the foot soldier that we have such an unprincipled opposition that would even betray the nation just to gain power. Together with the Plaza Miranda bombing two years later in 1971 – which the military was convinced was a communist plot that involved Ninoy, since he missed it — it became easy for Marcos to convince the armed forces, even then PC Chief Ramos and Chief of Staff Espino, that our style of democracy wasn’t working with that kind of opposition, and that they should support as they did, a dictatorship.

Next week: The fate of the sole Jabidah witness and the accused Special Forces officers, and why exposing Jabidah as a hoax is important for our nation’s future.