Second of 4 parts
THE colossal hoax contrived in 1974 by the insurgent Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) of an alleged massacre of 1,500 Muslims in a barangay called Malisbong in Sultan Kudarat province, was intended to rouse to anger Muslim Arab leaders, especially the fiery Libyan strongman Muammar Gaddafi, so they would support, with their newfound oil wealth, the fledgling Moro insurgency.
The idea came from the propaganda success of the so-called Jabidah “massacre,” another hoax — that earlier case a concoction of then opposition leader Benigno Aquino Jr. — which had convinced many Muslim students in Manila to join the MNLF. Because “Jabidah” revealed Marcos’ secret plans to invade Sabah, it prodded Malaysia into throwing its full support behind the MNLF, giving it huge funds to buy arms, training its first corps of military officers, and providing its leaders refuge in their territory.
In the case of the Malisbong deception, the MNLF thought that such a “massacre” could further inflame Gaddafi against the Marcos government that he would convince Middle East Muslim nations to stop exporting oil to the Philippines. Indeed, it was reported at the time that Gadaffi, after listening to a BBC news broadcast that a Christian paramilitary group called Ilagas had massacred 70 Muslims, became so enraged that he announced that he would ask Muslim countries to impose an oil embargo against the Philippines. While that plan fell through, Gaddafi still sent financial aid to the MNLF, and provided refuge to its leaders, mainly its chairman Nur Misuari.
Ironically though, it was the MNLF’s efforts to fool the media into believing its deception of a massacre of Muslims in Sultan Kudarat that provides us — 45 years later — with one of the most convincing evidence that those killings never occurred.
The MNLF tried hard to sell the fake story of a massacre to foreign media. Only the New York Times bought it, but qualified it as a “rumor” in a March 25, 1975 New York Times piece that was a wrap-up of the entire Muslim insurgency. That was the first and last time foreign or local media referred to a “Malisbong massacre.”
Quoting an unidentified “Moslem,” the New York Times piece read:
“In Palimbang (municipality where Malisbong was) a detachment of marines systematically started executing Moslem noncombatants last October and 800 were slain, he charged. Non-Moslem sources said that they had heard of the Palimbang incident but that fewer than 200 were killed. The government denies that any such incident occurred, but it is already part of the popular history of the war to local Moslems.”
Fortunately for historical truth, there was one foreign correspondent who was in the area at the time who assiduously investigated the claim, and interviewed Muslims there who tried to sell him the yarn. This was Associated Press Manila Bureau chief Arnold Zeitlin, a very much-respected journalist who covered and filed many articles on the Moro insurgency in the early years of martial law.
In an email to me in June last year, Zeitlin said that while there were rumors that a massacre occurred, it could not be verified and there were no eyewitnesses, and he therefore did not file even a piece on such a rumor.
“We never found authoritative sources to determine the extent of deaths. We never had a story that met balanced journalism standards,” Zeitlin said.
Zeitlin’s testimony is impeccable, his integrity and capability as a journalist is unquestionable. He covered Mindanao in the early years of martial law. He wrote critical articles on the army’s campaign against the MNLF, including the naval bombing of Jolo in February 1974. Because of his intrepid coverage, the Marcos regime deported him in 1976, the first foreign journalist the Marcos regime banned from the country.
Zeitlin would have reported a massacre, and he was on the scene to have done so quite easily, if it did occur. But it didn’t.
Zeitlin’s Filipino deputy Guillermo Santos, also a respected journalist in that period, further explained: “I double-checked the (Malisbong) report with my AFP and PC-INP sources, our usual intelligence networks and they all had no information of the ‘massacre.’ The late Rommel Corro who was with us in the AP and had his own private sources throughout Mindanao drew a blank as well. So the AP didn’t carry that story.”
With its failure to fool foreign media, the MNLF soon abandoned its project to concoct a yarn about “1,500 Muslims massacred.” It also had become useless to do so. The Libyan strongman Gaddafi obviously stopped believing such tales: He arm-twisted the MNLF into agreeing to a peace settlement in 1976 with the Marcos government. Why would he do that if there had been such a gruesome, massacre of “1,500 Muslims”?
There is another account of that period that disproves that there was such a massacre of Muslims, and that instead, there was a massacre of non-Muslims.
This is a blog of the Our Lady of Perpetual Help Parish in Milbuk, which is just 10 kilometers away from Malisbong. The blog had a history of the parish’s area, which covers the entire Palimbang municipality. It does not mention at all that there was a massacre in nearby Malisbong on Sept. 24, 1974. At the scale it was claimed — 1,500 innocent Moros killed — to have occurred, it would have been impossible for the parish priests not to have mentioned it.
The blog in fact reveals what really happened:
“It was the existence of [the US-owned] Weyerhaeuser Philippines Inc., a logging company that made Milbuk an abundant and peaceful place to live in. However, this situation did not last very long because of the conflict between the [Moro] “Blackshirts” and [Ilonggo] Ilagas in the ‘70s, which spilled over to Milbuk.
“An Infantry Brigade was sent to Milbuk to protect the people from the conflict. But on Aug. 6, 1974, the first ambush occurred that killed 11 employees of the logging company and nine Manobos. A number of employees were also wounded. Then on September 3, there was another ambush at Barangay Kanipaan where several company employees died on their way home.
“Milbuk was so tense that people didn’t know where to turn to. The only way out of Milbuk was through pump boats, but fearing that this would cost more lives, the company as well as the military ordered that people should remain calm and stay in their homes to avoid being hit by stray bullets.
“Because of the situation, the company was forced to close its operation for more than three months. Food and medicine, however, were provided by the company, and the Society of Oblates of Notre Dame Sisters helped in giving medical assistance to the wounded. During this time, the Church remained the center of faith and hope for the people because of its presence, in spite of the fact that almost 65 percent of the populace of Milbuk left and transferred to other places in Mindanao to seek for greener pastures.”
After several months of trouble, Milbuk was able to move on with the arrival of Greenbelt Wood Products Inc. (owned by a Chinese national) whose employees and workers came from Labasan, Zamboanga del Sur. The community was again alive and happy. The succeeding years up to 1995, when Greenbelt finally left Milbuk, was relatively peaceful and enjoyable.
If there had been a massacre of 1,500 Muslims just 10 kilometers away, the biggest such massacre of Muslim ever claimed in our modern history, the parish’s history would have reported it.
If there had been a massacre just 10 kilometers away, would that new company operate there and the Milbuk residents continue to live there, with the prospect of a Muslim retaliation?
A confirmation of this account of the parish history was in the form of a comment posted in my column last Monday, November 4, by Mr. Osias Moscoso: “I was a former member of an auditing firm that serviced Weyerhaeuser Phil’s. logging camp based at Milbuk, Palimbang, Sultan Kudarat until the logging firm closed operation. I will agree with you Mr. Tiglao that no massacre happened among our Muslim brothers and sisters in Malisbong. The massacred victims were Weyerhaeuser’s workers by armed groups.”
A horrific “massacre of 1,500 Muslims and the rape of 1,000 of their women” by soldiers would have been investigated and reported by scholars, who would have the time and resources to do so. No such scholarly studies reported such a massacre.
A University of California 1998 book by Prof. Thomas McKenna, “Muslim Rulers and Rebels” discussed several cases of atrocities against Muslims. It didn’t mention a “Malisbong massacre” or even rumors of such an atrocity.
A 2014 article in the International Organization for Scientific Research’s Journal Of Humanities and Social Science by Marjanie Salic Macaslaong titled “The Liberation Movements in Mindanao: Islām as a Thrusting Force” was clearly biased for the MNLF and the MILF. It listed 20 incidents of Muslim civilians massacred and even gave vivid details on the “Manili Massacre” of 70 “Muslims civilians — including women and children — mercilessly massacred inside a mosque.”
The study didn’t mention at all a “Malisbong massacre.”
Both studies even discussed the “Jabidah Massacre” as if it really happened, even as I had thoroughly exposed it as a hoax by the Liberal Party.* Yet both had totally no mention at all of a “Malisbong massacre.”
This propaganda project of the 1970s would have been long forgotten, and certainly would not be the subject of a newspaper column, if the Yellows and the Commission on Human Rights headed by Loretta Rosales, gullible or complicit in the scheme, had not allowed it to be resurrected in 2014, for unscrupulous people to use it as a scam to grab millions of pesos through the 2014 Human Rights Victims Compensation Law.
At our nation’s expense — that it is one where Christian soldiers are ruthless murderers of 1,500 helpless Muslims and rapists of 1,000 Muslim women, with its media complicit in hiding such atrocity.
We have never been that kind of people.
Next Monday: Anatomy of a deception.
*This hoax is extensively discussed in my book Debunked: Uncovering Hard Truths About EDSA, Martial Law, Marcos, Aquino, with a special section on the Duterte presidency, available online www.rigoberto.tiglao.com/debumnked or at amazon.com, and at Popular and National Book stores.