Third of a four-part series
The clearest indications that the “Jabidah massacre” – claimed to this day to have sparked the Moro rebellion – was nothing but a hoax are the contrasting fates of the alleged perpetrators and the supposed sole witness, Jibin Arula.
The “Jabidah” killings purportedly occurred under the clandestine “Operation Merdeka” in 1968, in which young Muslims were being trained to infiltrate Sabah to foment an uprising against adjacent Malaysia, so the Philippines could intervene and claim it. When one batch mutinied because of low pay, they were killed, as the made-for-movie narrative went.
Although an Air Force major, Eduardo Martelino, headed the entire operation, the training was being undertaken by the Army’s Special Forces, its elite unit established by then Capt. Fidel Ramos.
Other than the president himself, therefore, command responsibility for Operation Merdeka would have been on the armed forces chief of staff at that time.
Who was he? Gen. Manuel Yan, the youngest to be appointed to the post, and considered to have been the best and most principled Chief of Staff the country ever had. He resigned his post when martial law was imposed, declaring that he could not implement it as he thought it unconstitutional. Because of his prestige, though, Marcos convinced him to become ambassador to Thailand. President Cory Aquino subsequently appointed him as ambassador to Indonesia and then to the UK Court of St. James.
Distinguished as Yan was, would he have allowed a whitewash of an alleged Jabidah “massacre”?
Well maybe, it was the Army commanding general who was the rascal?
The Army commander then was as distinguished as Yan: Gen. Romeo Espino, who went on to become the armed forces’ longest-serving chief of staff. Despite working under from 1972 to 1981, Espino had totally not been tainted by the human rights abuses during martial law. Do you think such a principled military officer would have covered up for his men’s atrocity? I don’t think so.
What happened to the officers accused by the sole witness of murdering or having ordered the killing of at least 24 Muslim youths in Corregidor?
If there were really a massacre of Muslims, you would think that Major Martelino — whom then Senator Aquino demonized as an evil kind of James Bond, the blockbuster movie at that time — would have emigrated to the United States or anywhere in the world to escape Moro wrath. After all, the thousands of MNLF fighters and relatives of those allegedly killed in Corregidor would be going after him, a fatwah in effect declared on him, right?
Martelino converted to Islam
Far from that. Martelino, after his acquittal by the court martial, went on with his military career, becoming full colonel. Even years before Jabidah, he had married a Muslim, Sofia, and converted to Islam, taking the Muslim name Abdul Latif.
After retirement, of all places to live for a man who was supposedly responsible for the Muslim youths’ massacre, Martelino settled down with his Muslim wife in the midst of the Tausugs in Simunul island in Tawi-Tawi, where he first recruited and trained for the Merdeka Muslim infiltrators.
His involvement in Operation Merdeka apparently wasn’t just another military assignment for him, but was part of his life’s cause.
He wrote a book in 1959 entitled “Someday Malaysia,” published in New York, which even United Nations General Secretary Carlos Romulo prefaced and called a “valuable contribution” to scholarship. By “Malaysia,” Martelino wasn’t referring to the Federation of Malaysia, which would be founded only in 1963. He referred to a “Union” he said President Manuel Quezon first conceived: “A prosperous world unit comprising the nations of Southeast Asia inhabited by the Malayan race. Burma, Thailand, Annam, Malaya, Indonesia and the Philippines leagued in an integrated commonwealth.”
And the other officers who were accused by the sole whistleblower Arula of killing the Muslim recruits?
They all went on to have distinguished military careers, the Jabidah accusations against them forgotten. Other than Martelino, Arula — a barely literate former farmer — had filed charges against five officers, who were then tried in a court martial and acquitted. We were able to trace what happened to each.
Then captain Teodoro Facelo, whom the alleged witness Arula claimed recruited him, became a full colonel, and served as the second commander of the Army’s 503rd infantry brigade in the late 1980s. This brigade had been distinguished for its successful campaigns against the New People’s Army — with not a single human rights case filed against its members.
Then Capt. Oropesa rose to the rank of general. Following is the last report on him that I got: On June 26, 2014 – “The 11th Special Forces team, composed of Gen. Cirilo O. Oropesa AFP (Ret), Maj-Gen. Jose Magno Jr. AFP (Ret), Maj-Gen. Rodolfo Canieso AFP (Ret), Gen. Rodrigo Ordoyo AFP (Ret), was honored for their significant role in the training and organization of the 1st Special Forces Company led by then Capt. Fidel V Ramos.”
Lt. Eduardo Batalla got to be brigadier general, and in 1989 was the Philippine Constabulary Commander for Western Mindanao. He was murdered, together with several other officers, by Muslim rogue cop Rizal Alih who took them hostage in a prison break.
Capt. Ruperto Amistoso became a full colonel when he retired, and was recruited in 1990 by Gen. Jose Almonte as the Intelligence and Investigation Services chief of the crack anti-smuggling unit at that time, the Economic Intelligence and Investigation Bureau. Capt. Alberto G. Soteco wasn’t really a military man but a doctor, who, after volunteering for the Philcag contingent in Korea was assigned to the Special Forces’ detachment in Corregidor. He left the military right after they were acquitted by the court martial.
Are these the kind of officers who would undertake a ruthless massacre in Corregidor in 1968?
That a Lt. Rolando Abadilla was one of the accused has been taken by Jabidah propagandists as an indication of the ruthlessness of those who were supposed to be guilty of the alleged massacre, since he became notorious in the 1980s as Marcos Metrocom chief. But in Corregidor he was merely a supply officer. Would Marcos have taken as his top henchman a military man whose head would have been put by the MNLF on a bounty because of “Jabidah”?
The only really pathetic figure here in this entire saga is Jibin Arula, the only one who claimed he was an eyewitness to a massacre.
When the Jabidah controversy waned, in part because of the ridicule later heaped on it as “a massacre without the massacred,” Arula’s patron, Cavite governor (a Liberal) Delfin Montano, and the Liberal Party who exploited the issue for purposes of the 1969 elections, discarded him like a used rag after Marcos won the elections.
According to Arula’s own account, Montano gave him P20,000 to leave and fend for himself.
As the sole witness to what was supposedly a historic event that fueled growth of the Moro rebellion, he would have been taken in by the MNLF, even secured him in Malaysia, or for the MILF, to relocate him to one of its many camps in Maguindanao, right?
Nope. He settled in Antique with another woman, leaving his wife in Bonggao, an island in the Sulu archipelago. He would have seven children on that Visayan island and people there didn’t even know he was Muslim as he regularly attended mass in the village’s church.
That the MNLF, MILF, Senator Aquino and the entire opposition Liberal Party cared little for Arula, the only person who “exposed” the “Jabidah massacre” obviously means that they knew something the rest of the country didn’t.
MNLF chairman Nur Misuari, when he got to be ARMM governor, recruited him in 1997 for an assignment with a monthly salary of P7,000, to narrate when asked his Jabidah allegations at forums on the Moro issue. He spoke only at a few of those forums, though. He became jobless when Misuari ended his term in 2000.
Arula resurfaced in 2007, and was interviewed by several obviously gullible journalists (even featured in a documentary by Al-Jazeera) and invited to forums by NGOs at that time during the propaganda campaign for a peace settlement with the MILF.
When his wife died sometime in the mid-2000s, he went to Cavite and was given odd jobs by the son of Melencio Sagun, the chief of police in Naic, Cavite in 1968 who purportedly “found” him after his dramatic escape from Corregidor.
Arula died in a vehicular accident in 2010, which Aquino’s organizers of a planned Jabidah commemorative event found out only in 2011, when they were looking for him as their star participant.
Nobody even knows where he is buried; no relative of his has come out. Not the MNLF, nor the MILF has ever mentioned him again.
Conclusion of this series on Monday: The National Historical Commission resists Aquino’s pressures on the “Jabidah” issue.