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The real ‘fuse’ of the Muslim insurgency

I applaud the National Historical Commission for resisting President Benigno Aquino 3rd’s pressure to declare the Jabidah hoax as real.

However, the NHC’s claim, enshrined in the marker it approved for a “Mindanao Garden of Peace” on Corregidor, that the “reports of killings of Muslim youth served as a fuse that led to the national crisis in the 1970s decade” is patently wrong. In the first place, if these “reports,” as the NHC itself claims, could not be verified, why dignify these, when they could be proven false indisputably with just some investigation?

More importantly, though, the NHC’s claim that it was “a fuse for the Mindanao dispute” is hogwash.

The Jabidah controversy that erupted in early 1968 had burnt out and vanished from the front pages by the end of the year. Why?

The Liberal Party didn’t want to be pilloried as traitors who ratted on government’s clandestine plan for Muslim commandos to infiltrate Sabah and rouse an uprising against the Federation of Malaysia. The Marcos government, together with his Nationalista Party on the other hand, obviously wanted all talk about the secret plan buried, since it was supposed to be secret.

There was one group, though, that tried to keep the controversy alive: the then fledgling Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF). Indeed, it organized vigils for many nights in front of the Senate, even claiming that the massacre victims weren’t just 24 as the sole eyewitness Jibin Arula claimed but 200, a figure accepted by gullible writers and our peace negotiators.

In 1972, Marcos demanded that all Muslims give up their arms.  Above is the result of that colossal error.
In 1972, Marcos demanded that all Muslims give up their arms. Above is the result of that colossal error.

Why? First, because it roused the Muslim youth to outrage, to believe that such peaceful movements as the Mindanao Independence Movement organized by Muslim politicians were hopeless, as it was the Philippine state that was killing Muslims.

Most crusades and mass movements, in fact, try their best to glorify the martyrdom of their first adherents as a source of inspiration and militancy.

Jabidah secured Malaysian help

There was a more mundane reason, though, for the MNLF’s propagation of the Jabidah hoax. It reminded the Malaysians, in particular Sabah Minister Tun Mustapha, that the Marcos government was intent on getting Sabah that it was already training commandos in what was codenamed Operation Merdeka (Freedom) to infiltrate the peninsula.

Mustapha, in a way, simply aped Operation Merdeka: His Sabah state provided military training to the recruits of the MNLF, given by retired British Special Action Forces officers. There were two groups, a so-called “Batch 90” and a “Batch 120”: they would form the officers’ corps of the MNLF and now its breakaway group, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). Mustapha would also provide arms and finances to the MNLF.

As important as materiel, all successful revolutionary movements in history have required places of refuge—for example, the impregnable Yenan for Mao Tse Tung, the Cambodian and even Chinese territories for the Viet Cong. For the MNLF it was Sabah. Whenever our armed forces launched a campaign against the MNLF and the MILF, their leaders simply hid their arms and hid in Sabah until things cooled down.

Jabidah wasn’t the fuse for the Mindanao conflict. It was the fuse only for massive Malaysian support of the Muslim insurgency.

The MNLF, though, knew that “Jabidah” was a hoax. The MNLF frantically searched for even one relative of those purportedly massacred, as a crying mother or wife would have been a powerful propaganda image. The MNLF couldn’t. No MNLF nor MILF document refers to Jabidah now, since Malaysia had stopped its support of the insurgents in the 1990s. In order to squeeze sympathy from the gullible, though, while distancing itself from the hoax, the MNLF website merely posts the made-for-movie account of Jabidah written by two journalists.

We must note that in the analogy we use, there is a fuse and there is the explosive mix the fuse detonates. For the Muslim problem, this mix was made up of the poverty generated by the coconut industry in their lands (as in other provinces as Samar and Leyte), and the corruption of Muslim politicians made worse by a feudal datu outlook that government posts were mini-kingdoms they could use for their clansmen.

Most people, especially our negotiators, and the MNLF and the MILF as well, seem to be afraid to discuss the scale and power of corrupt political dynasties in Muslim Mindanao, which are worse than in Luzon and the Visayas. National-level political leaders of course are averse to discussing corruption in Muslim Mindanao, since it is these corrupt Muslim politicians, like datus — feudal lords that is — of old who can deliver at will command votes, for the right price that is, that could be crucial in tight political contests.

Just two dozen Muslim clans, in fact, account for all the local government posts up to the barangay level in Mindanao, the largest of which are the Ampatuans, Miditimbangs, Sangki, Sinsuat and Mangudadatu clans.

You’d be surprised at the wealth of Muslim politicians. The Ombudsman claimed that Andal Ampatuan, Sr., accused of the Maguindanao massacre, had “unexplained wealth of P183 million and that he and his family had 161 properties totalling 5 million square meters in size. The Ampatuan’s arch-enemy, Maguindanao governor Esmael Mangudadatu, according to a report of the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ), had a net worth of P391 million in 2011, based on his statement of assets and liabilities.

This isn’t surprising given the billions of pesos allocated to the autonomous region for Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) every year. From 2011 to 2013, Maguindanao got P15 billion for its internal revenue allotment, bigger than similarly sized provinces like Ilocos Sur and Tarlac.

In 2012, ARMM, in fact, got a humongous budget of P20 billion, P9 billion more than what the budget law gave it because Aquino allocated that much money through the Disbursement Acceleration Plan (DAP). Its governor, Hajiv Hataman, has the power to disburse these funds, and was even scolded by Aquino in 2013 for not disbursing it quickly enough. I hope the PCIJ gets his latest SALN and makes it public.

Things like these make up the explosive mix for Mindanao insurgencies, not religion nor culture, most certainly not “Christian oppression.”

Martial law proximate cause of insurgency

But what was the fuse of the Mindanao conflict?

Marcos’ martial law, but you’ll be a bit surprised—or maybe not—why it was.

It is, indeed, one of the tragedies of our nation. One factor that convinced Marcos to go ahead with his strongman rule was the fact that the Jabidah episode exposed an opposition so unpatriotic that it even exposed his plan to reclaim Sabah for the Philippines. In Marcos’ mind, whether self-serving or not, he had the right to wipe out such an unprincipled opposition, through martial law. Indeed, his declaration of martial law on Sept 22, 1972 was justified as a move not only to protect the Republic from the communists and the rightist opposition but to stop the “secessionist movement in Mindanao.”

The Muslim insurgency in 1972, however, was really so puny. As University of California scholar Thomas McKenna* explained why it grew:

“The imposition of martial law was, in fact, the proximate cause, not the consequence, of an armed Muslim insurgency against the Philippine state, and it led to an unprecedented level of violence and disruption in Cotabato and all of Muslim Mindanao. By 1977, the government estimated that there were as many as million displaced civilians in the South and at least two hundred thousand additional refugees who had fled to Sabah.”

But the one major reason for Muslim outrage against Marcos didn’t have anything to do with a Bangsamoro nonsense, nor outrage over a fake “Jabidah hoax:

“The martial law regime immediately moved to collect all unauthorized guns in the Philippines by ordering the surrender of civilian firearms. Three weeks after declaring martial law, President Marcos announced that he was prepared to commit an entire division of troops to the South to “annihilate” outlaws if all guns were not turned in by the 25th of October.”

“A few days before the deadline, Marawi City, in the province of Lanao, was attacked by more than four hundred armed Maranaos. They held strategic positions in the city for three days until overpowered by superior army forces. One week later, fighting began between Muslim rebels and government soldiers in Cotabato, and in mid-November Marcos sent thousands of troops to Mindanao. By late November, fierce clashes between government units and separatist rebels were occurring throughout the South.”

In short, Marcos made the colossal error of demanding the Muslims to give up their arms, and even gave them a deadline to do so—forgetting that old adage since the Spanish period that a Muslim would give up his wife first rather than his kris, in modern times, his Armalite.

The rest is history. As radical students rallied to the Communist Party and the New People’s Army to protest a dictatorship, Muslim youths rushed to join the MNLF, and the myth of Muslims fighting for their homeland Bangsamoro was invented, and propagated.

The big difference between the two insurgencies, though, and why one has become a clear and present danger to the Republic, is the waning and rise of their different sources of international support and their ideologies. China stopped its support of the communists by the 1980s, and Marxist radicalism among the Filipino youth has waned, if not vanished.

What replaced Malaysian support for the MNLF and MILF is now much bigger and much more dangerous: the global Islamic jihadist movements financed, ironically by rich Muslims, like Osama bin Laden, from such affluent countries as Saudi Arabia. The MILF in particular has embraced jihadism, and the notion that Islam requires establishment of Islamic caliphates.

(*McKenna, Thomas M. Muslim Rulers and Rebels: Everyday Politics and Armed Separatism in the Southern Philippines. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1998.)

This Post Has One Comment

  1. vj alano

    The real fuse to the Muslim rebellion is the group of Moro politicians who lost power when Marcos became president and in their ambition to return, organized armed men to incite clashes between Christians and Muslims. You know their names but avoided to cite them in your article.

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