40 years after Jabidah, Moro struggle continues

Forty years, five presidential administrations, two Moro liberation fronts, two autonomous governments and two peace agreements later, the struggle for self-determination of the Bangsamoro people continues.

The victims of the massacre were part of 180 trainees, mostly Moro, on jungle warfare, sabotage and infiltration, reportedly as part of  a clandestine operation called “Operation Merdeka” (Set Free/Freedom) to invade Sabah in Malaysia, over which the Philippines had a pending claim.

A lone survivor, Jibin Arula, lived to tell what happened on Corregidor.

For lawyer Suharto Ambolodto, executive director of the Institute for Strategic Initiatives, the Jabidah Massacre “augured an enabling environment forging the rebirth of a nation.”

Ambolodto was referring to the Bangsamoro – the Moro nation.

Journalist Carmelito Q. Francisco of Business World and Mindanao Times, a Moro from Davao Oriental, told MindaNews that although he was born a month after the Jabidah Massacre, “that incident and the incidents at present only reinforce my believe that our national government of this country, despite its claim of pushing for Mindanao’s development will continue to treat us as second grade human beings that could be fed to the dogs in advancing its interests.”

For MILF peace panel chair Mohagher Iqbal, March 18, 1968 “was an eye opener for the bad treatment Moros got from the GRP (Government of the Republic of the Philippines).  Today, it means GRP has not really changed re treatment of Moros. It means the struggle must continue.”

Amirah Lidasan, president of Suara Bangsamoro partylist, said they commemorate the Jabidah Massacre “dahil naging hudyat ito ng pagkakaisa ng Bangsamoro at napukaw ang consciousness bilang  isang nasyon” (because it became a signal of unity of the Bangsamoro and awakened their consciousness as a nation).

“The Bangsamoro struggle against invaders and colonizers is long but not complete because there was not a chance for the two sultanates in Sulu and Maguindanao and Pangampong Maranao to unite. Unlike in Jabidah, as led by the youth and professionals, it gave birth or awakened the concept of nation among the Moro,” Lidasan added.

Lidasan said they commemorate March 18 “as a tribute to those who shed their lives for the Bangsamoro struggle against oppression and genocide.”

“We also pay tribute to the role of the youth and professionals that is why we set up Suara Bangsamoro on March 18, in 2002,” Lidasan said.

“Jabidah for the Moro gave us a collective memory that the state policy has not changed in responding to the please and struggle of the Bangsamoro for self-determination,” she said.

“This is why forty years later, the Bangsamoro cannot forget Jabidah  because the national government’s policy towards the Bangsamoro remains: we are being killed in numbers, as a population. Every year, our communities have their own tales of massacre. In Sulu, Basilan, Maguindanao and other Moro areas.  That is why the Moro’s idea to continue the fight is inflamed. At the same time, it also awakens the Moro youth to continue the fight for our own nation, genuine freedom and peace,” Lidasan said.

Lidasan also noted that the reason why Jabidah cannot be forgotten is “because it is a lesson for the Bangsamoro – that sometimes we are used as a tool by the state for their own interests, like the Sabah claim. And that we should be aware and we should expose the creation of Moro groups that are being used for covert operations whose aim is to destroy the genuine struggle of the Bangsamoro.”

Amina Rasul, executive director of the Philippine Council for Islam and Democracy, said she was a child when the Jabidah Massacre happened. “I remember the feeling of horror and disbelief  that a government can do unspeakable evil  to its own people.  Today, 40 years later, I am not as innocent. I have seen horrendous acts of government against the people it is supposed to represent and protect. Extrajudicial killings and massacres covered up as collateral damage, wholesale cheating of elections, plunder. Nothing surprises me anymore. On this Bangsamoro Day, I can only pray that ‘we the people’ will find the strength and courage to make the government account to us for the evil it does in our name.”

Dr. Danda Juanday, chair of the Bangsamoro Development Agency said the Jabidah Massacre “strengthened my resolve that the only way is freedom.’

Iqbal, writing under the pseudonym Salah Jubair, has written two history books, “Bangsamoro: a nation under endless tyranny” and November 2007-launched book, “The long road to peace: inside the GRP-MILF peace process.”

In “Bangsamoro,”  Jubair wrote that “if there was one Philippine president who was close tot he hearts of the Moros, he must have been Pres. Diosdado Macapagal.”

“In saying so, the author does not speak for other Moros, but only for himself. But he is quite certain that many others share this view. When he first came to Manila, as a student, barely les than a year was left of the term of President Macapagal. But even in such a brief period of time, he could not fail to feel the warmth and sincerity in the man, and even the other Moro students, mostly shy and unassuming, had little difficulty reaching him,” wrote Jubair.

It was Macapagal who first initiated the Philippine claim to Sabah,  in 1962, based on the sovereignty once exercised by the Sulu Sultanate over the northern Borneo territory. Sabah was leased in 1878 to the British North Borneo Company for 5,000 ringgits annually and some firearms to resist the Spaniards. The Sultan’s heirs had given the Philippine government the authority to pursue the claim legally in international courts.

Macapagal laid the claim through peaceful and diplomatic means. His successor, Ferdinand Marcos added extra-legal means.

In 2001, 39 years after Macapagal laid claim over Sabah, his daughter Gloria, who assumed the Presidency after Joseph Estrada was deposed by People Power II, sought the assistance of Malaysia to facilitate the talks between the Philippine government and the MILF.

Malaysia has been facilitating the talks since and since 2004, has led the International Monitoring Team that monitors the implementation of the GRP-MILF ceasefire. (Carolyn O. Arguillas/MindaNews)