Second of two parts
For all their self-righteous “Never Again” mantra, and their odium against Ferdinand Marcos, it was the Liberal Party and the Communist Party of the Philippines that gave the excuse for him to impose martial law, and to perpetuate himself in power beyond his constitutional term.
Perhaps in the recesses of Marcos’ mind, for this, he was so thankful at the height of his power and wealth in 1979 to Liberal Party leaders like Benigno Aquino, Jr. and Communist Party leaders Jose Ma. Sison and NPA supreme Commander Dante that he spared them from execution by musketry his court martial had condemned them to.
I asked last Monday: Despite its deep brainwashing by their US mentors in the values of democracy, why did our military support martial law when it was imposed in 1972 and throughout the 13 years it lasted?
The answer is this: the Liberal Party’s so-called “Jabidah” investigations in 1968 and the Communist Party’s bombing of this same party’s miting de avance on August 21, 1971 convinced the military — and even most of the Filipino body politic — that our democratic institutions were an utter failure, and the elites a traitorous, and opportunistic group..
I have written seven columns, in 2013 and in 2015, explaining in minute detail why the so-called Jabidah massacre of March 1968, supposedly of several young Muslims who were being trained to infiltrate Sabah and who mutinied against their Special Forces army officers, was all a hoax.
Dozens of hearings both in the Senate and in Congress in March and April were undertaken to uncover the supposed killings. The Liberal Party’s brightest minds such as Jovito Salonga, Ambrosio Padilla, and Benigno Aquino, Jr., and aggressive Muslim congressmen such as Speaker Pro Tempore Salipada Pendatun and Lanao del Sur representative Rasid Lucman grilled the military to admit the massacre. Even AFP Chief of Staff Manuel Yan and then Army commander Romeo Espino (who would become Chief of Staff in 1971) were summoned to the hearings.
The Jabidah circus
I’ve read the transcripts of the investigations at the hearings in the Senate and House of Representatives. They were a circus as much as they were a kangaroo court. Compared to these, Senator Antonio Trillanes IV’s investigations-in-aid-of persecution of Vice President Jejomar Binay’s alleged corruption look so distinguished.
The press was worse than today, and sensationalized every single allegation as true. A Manila Times banner story on April 18 screamed “I was there: Witness Bares Killings,” which even identified seven supposed military executioners of the Muslim recruits. The next day, in smaller headline types, appeared the story: “Ahid [the “witness”] changes story.” He never saw any killings, he just heard three shots in the evening.
The Liberal Party wanted to prove in the Jabidah hearings that the Army’s Special Forces massacred “many” Muslim trainees – even after searches could not find a single corpse and only a lone dubious witness claimed that there was such a massacre – in supposedly |botched operation called Merdeka. The operation was supposed to infiltrate commandos into Sabah to organize its Tausug residents to rebel against the Malaysian Federation.
Why would they do that? In 1968, Marcos became aggressive in pushing the Philippine claim that Sabah is part of its territory. The Sultan of Sulu gave Marcos the authority to pursue his proprietary claims, and talks with Malaysia were scheduled later that year on the claim – the last attempt before it would file a suit at the International Court. Marcos just was about to sign a bill that redefined the Philippines territorial baselines to include Sabah.
It was a 180-degree turnaround however for Marcos, who seemed disinterested in the Sabah claim compared to his predecessor Diosdado Macapagal whom he had defeated in the 1965 elections. Marcos in 1968 was instead portraying himself as a nationalist, and the Philippine president who would win back Sabah for the nation. That would have foiled the Liberal Party’s campaign – with the help of ABS-CBN and the Manila Chronicle after his vice president Fernando Lopez broke up with him – to portray him as corrupt.
The Jabidah affair torpedoed Marcos’ project. The allegations made so very public that the Army was training commandos to infiltrate Malaysia and even killed Muslims who purportedly refused to carry out the mission when they found out about it, gave Sabah’s first governor, Tun Mustapha, the ammo to convince his superiors to refuse all talks to settle the Sabah dispute. Worse, Mustapha retaliated by financing and training militarily the first officers’ corps of what would be the Moro National Liberation Front.
Sabah claim forgotten
Even after the hoax was exposed, Congress and the Press lost all interest in anything involving Sabah and the Philippine claim.
At the end of the day, the Liberal Party and its leader Aquino, supposedly the people’s hope at that time to defeat a corrupt president in the 1969 elections, demonstrated to the nation that they were more than willing to sacrifice national interests for their political ends, which at that time was to blacken Marcos’ reputation so much that wouldn’t even think of running for re-election.
Aquino was cunning: Even as he knew that there was no massacre as he himself interviewed the young Muslims who were supposed to have been killed, he still gave a sensational speech in the Senate, which bared to the world – and to Malaysia – that there was an army operation to claim Sabah by force.
That the military was disillusioned with democracy’s institutions was demonstrated in a full-paged ad in newspapers that expressed the accused military men’s anger and frustration, in the form of an Open Letter to the President. That such a manifesto was made public was something never before done by active military personnel.
Dramatically titled, “Last Will and Testament of a Soldier,” the letter among other points, called Congress an “Inquisition” which judged them guilty before even given fair hearings, and that the “probes were pre-set” to make them “scoundrels.” It said that the Congress had put the entire “AFP on trial” and perhaps ominously that they would rather “accept death, not dishonor.”
With military men feeling that way, angry at one of democracy’s most important institutions, it wasn’t really difficult for Marcos to convince them to destroy that institution four years later.
Fast forward to after Marcos won reelection in 1969, and Jabidah – and Sabah —were all but forgotten. Massive student demonstrations on a scale never before seen rocked the country at the start of 1970.
It was called the First Quarter Storm, the term Communist Party Chairman Jose Ma. Sison gave it. Sison plagiarized from his Lord and God Mao Zedong who called the capture of the Shanghai municipal government by his Red Guards in 1967 at the height of the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution “the January Storm.”
However, unlike the Cultural Revolution that would continue for two more years, the revolutionary flow launched by the First Quarter Storm ebbed towards the end of 1970.
Big problem for Sison: Mao and his official in charge of exporting revolution, Vice-Chairman Kang Sheng, had ordered their arms industry to reverse-engineer and then manufacture 100,000 US M-14 rifles (so it couldn’t be traced to China) for delivery to the New People’s Army. The test-run for the arms shipment was scheduled in 1972.
But who would use the rifles? The youth of the First Quarter Storm didn’t turn out to be as many as the Red Guards Mao had. With things normalizing by the end of 1970, and so many “reformist organizations” rather than radical ones emerging out of that First Quarter Storm, the NPA wasn’t exactly really expanding by leaps and bounds.
Sison’s solution: Following Lenin’s teachings, exacerbate the “split within the ruling class” and help worsen their internecine strife so as to create a chaotic situation that would push the youth to the folds of the proletarian vanguard, and its army, the NPA.
That “operationally” meant worsening the fight between Marcos and his Nacionalista Party, on one hand, and Aquino and his Liberal Party on the other hand. The timing was perfect as senatorial elections was scheduled in November 1971.
Sison would create a scenario in which the fight every elections between the two elite parties would seem to turn bloody.
The Plaza Miranda bombing
In the evening of August 21, 1971, just as the Liberal Party was having its first speakers for its miting de avance for the senatorial elections that year, three two-man teams made up of urban-poor youth of the First Quarter Storm lobbed grenades to the stage. The explosives killed a 5-year-old child and The Manila Times photographer Ben Roxas, and wounded most of the Liberal Party’s candidates –except of course its star candidate Benigno Aquino since he wasn’t there.
The Communist Party the next day had leaflets and posters distributed which had cartoons of Marcos wearing a Hitler-moustache and dubbed “the mad bomber.” The Liberal Party of course blamed Marcos, and only one senatorial candidate, Eddie Ilarde, was intelligent enough – or had the integrity – to claim that Marcos couldn’t have been too stupid to do something he’d be blamed for.
I’m not sure if the bombing, as Sison thought, really exacerbated the split within the ruling class to create another revolutionary flow.
When the arms shipment on a rickety ship M/V Karagatan sent by Mao arrived in July 1972, the NPA could muster only two squads to get them so that they were easily beaten back by Philippine Army troops and had to escape with only 200 of the 1,500 rifles landed.
What the Plaza Miranda bombing did was to convince the military establishment that the communists had become so ruthless and so cunning it could not be defeated through the democratic set-up.
How could they exterminate the NPA when it could use Hacienda Luisita as a refuge, when it could forge alliances with anti-Marcos political warlords, when media was controlled by a faction of the elite that was against Marcos, and with the very popular senator Ninoy being — at least they thought – the communists’ patron and who was allowed to evade the Plaza Miranda bombing?
By early 1972 the military establishment – which included AFP Chief of Staff Romeo Espino, Philippine Constabulary chief Fidel Ramos, Army Chief Rafael Zagala, Air Force Chief Jose Rancudo, and Navy Chief Hilario Ruiz and five others who were with the group dubbed the “Rolex 12” — had already agreed to impose martial law in the second half of the year.
Marcos though was clever enough – with the help of intellectuals like Onofre Corpuz and Adrian Cristobal – to formulate a bigger vision for the country beyond the need to defeat the communists. As one who identified himself as Emilio Marayag wrote in the comments section of my column last Monday:
“I was a new cadet when Martial Law was declared. Looking back I believe the main reason why the military supported Marcos was that he had a clear strategy to make the country great again: the revolution from the center strategy. Military men love to follow leaders who have clear strategy to attain a noble objective.”
Rather than a revolutionary flow, Sison’s Plaza Miranda bombing gave Marcos the perfect immediate excuse to impose martial law on this date September 23. By 1979 at the peak of his power, popularity, and wealth the Liberal Party leader was in jail and so was Sison, thanks to the martial law they helped provoke.
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