Q and A with Jibin Arula: 41 years after the Jabidah Massacre (1)

1st of a series: The trainees

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/15 March) – “Wala na akong narinig na nakatawag nanay, nakatawag ng Diyos, wala akong narining sa labing-isang kasama ko. .. ako pang-anim sa katapusan, halos kalagitnaan ako eh. Wala akong narinig na nakatawag sa nanay o sa Diyos. Tumba sila lahat. Pagtingin ko kaliwa’t kanan, natumba sila, duguan” (I didn’t hear anyone call  his mother or God. I heard nothing from my 11 companions. I was the sixth, in the middle of the line-up. They all fell When I looked to my left and right, they had all fallen. Bloodied).

Facing certain death, it is said, one calls on either one’s mother or God/Allah/Kabunian but on that cold, early morning at the airport on Corregidor island 41 years ago, Jibin Arula, lone survivor of the March 18, 1968 Jabidah Massacre, recalls not one of his 11 companions managed to utter  “mother” or  “Allah.”

On the way to the airport, all 12 of them – all trainees for a military contingent that would invade Sabah in Malaysia — had conversed in Taosug, so that the soldiers and the Ilocano trainees on board the same truck, would not understand. Earlier at 1 a.m. 12 of their fellow Moro trainees were brought to the airport, too. On March 3, three were also brought to the airport, purportedly to be flown to Manila.

Arula and his fellow Moro trainees were prepared to run or avoid a fight.

They were not prepared to die.

Arula, who now serves as one of the personal bodyguards of a Cavite town mayor, arrived in Davao City on March 1 for an 18-day speaking engagement organized by the Mindanao Peoples’ Caucus (MPC).

He told MindaNews he regrets having reported what happened and regrets he survived at all because “napakaraming taong napinsala” (so many people have suffered).

Arula says if he had not lived to tell his story, the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) which reckons its founding date to March 18, 1968, would not have been set up and there would have been no  200,000 or so deaths in the years the MNLF fought.

Now 67, Arula hopes narrating his story can help people understand that part of history and help bring peace to Mindanao.

MindaNews’ Carolyn O. Arguillas sat down with Jibin Arula for an interview conducted in Pilipino. The text has been translated to English although some parts will retain the Pilipino format.

Excerpts from the interview:

Q: How did you get into the training?
A: We first had our training in Simunul, Sulu (Simunul is now part of Tawi-tawi province. In 1968, Tawi-tawi was still part of Sulu).

Q: From where are you?
A: Jolo, Sulu. I was born on Dec 12, 1941.

Q: What was your work then? At that time, you were already 26. Were you married then? How many children?
A: Yes. Three children.

Q: Were you a fisherman then?
A: No. We lived in Jolo. But in 1966, I went to Zamboanga del Sur because my uncle had land there. I was helping him there. I and my family lived with him.

Q: From 1966
A: We stayed there a year. We returned to Sulu first week of December 1967 but when we reached Jolo, the elder sibling of my mother said mother was no longer there, they sold the house and moved to Bongao and told us to follow them to Bongao.  We stayed a week in Jolo then went to Bongao. When we reached there, I think two or three days later, I heard someone mention a military training center in Simunul. They said two of my cousins were there. I said how could they when they don’t even know how to write. They said it was alright, even if you don’t know how to write. They will just teach you how to hold a gun. So I said, that’s good because I had no education myself.

Q. Did you get to go to school?
A: Up to Grade 2. So I thought of joining the training. Before I could go there, a friend from the Philippine Constabulary visited me, Cpl. Isnaji. He asked me if I wanted to be a soldier. I said that was what I was planning to do but I only finished Grade 2. He said that’s alright.

Q: Alright?
A: Yes. He told me he had about 10 friends with him. Join us, he said, so I joined him. We were 13 or 14 who joined him.

Q: Going to Simunul?
A:  Yes. When we reached Simunul, Cpl. Isnaji presented us then they wrote down our names, asked us a few questions then we were accepted.

Q: Just like that? You were accepted?
A: Yes. We rested for a couple of days then we had a meeting – the trainees. We were told that if we were decided, we should go ahead but if we were not, we should back out already.

Q: When were you told this?
A: Around December 20 or 21. We arrived December 17.They told us if you are decided, go ahead but if you’re not, you can back out because this is your mission.

Q: What did they say was your mission?
A:  To claim Sabah, Malaysia.

Q: Was that how it was stated? Was it claim or attack? How was it stated?
A:  Kami daw mag-umpisa ng away. Pagkatapos, kung magkagulo na ron sa Malaysia, eh di ang Philippine government na, kung halimbawa mag-complain ang Malaysia sa United Nations, eh sumagot na ang Presidente ng Pilipinas na kine-claim ng mga Philippine Muslim ang Sabah, Malaysia kasi sa kanila. Pero palabasin daw ng Philippine government na hindi naman kami tunay na military kundi sundalo lang kami ng mga sultan ng Muslim. Kasi hindi naman..parang marking bungo lang ang mga patches namin eh. (We were told we would start the trouble. Then, when there is trouble in Malaysia, and Malaysia will complain to the United Nations, the President of the Philippines will say that the Philippine Muslims are claiming Sabah, Malaysia because it is theirs. But the Philippine government will make it appear that we’re not real soldiers but soldiers of the Muslim Sultans. Our patches in fact are only skull markings.

Q: No indication it is Philippine Army or Philippine Constabulary?
A:  No. But our officials were from the Philippine Army, Philippine Constabulary, Philippine Air Force.  (To be continued)

Part 2: Q and A with Jibin Arula: 41 years after the Jabidah Massacre: From Simunul to Corregidor