Q and A with Jibin Arula: 41 years after the Jabidah Massacre (4)

Last of four parts:  “Sana wala nang gulo sa Mindanao”

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/18 March) –  As his fellow trainees to his right and left were felled by the hail of bullets, Jibin Arula started running but about four meters away, fell off a cliff, held on to what he could hold on to and rolled down as gunshots followed him.

Jibin Arula. File Photo by Keith BacongcoHe said he realized his left thigh was hit only when he was running. When he reached shore, Arula said he fainted. When he came to, he quickly took off his combat shoes (“they’re heavy), looked around and found a piece of wood, a 2 x 4 “poli china” (he meant palo china) about a meter long, to hold on to while swimming towards the direction of Cavite. He said he learned about the directions while under training.

“I swam and swam,” he said, until he heard a pumpboat at around 5 a.m.

The military was on the spot where he was. Arula said he dove even if his ears had ached, surfacing only when he could no longer hear the engine.

He said the pumpboat went around about four times. Then he swam and swam again until he saw another pumpboat, this time of civilians, at around 8 a.m. He waved at them and as the boat was approaching, about ten feet away, he let go the palo china and swam, his energy seemingly returning.

He told the fishermen in Tagalog that he got drunk and fell from a ship. Arula says he knew how to speak Tagalog because he grew up watching movies in Jolo, Sulu. He said he realized he was very hungry and asked the two fishermen for food. He finished all their food.

They told him they spotted him at 6 a.m. but weren’t sure if  what they saw was a man or a shark.

At around 10 a.m., a pumpboat with a Lt. Alcanatara on board approached them. Arula said before the boat could come nearer, he asked one of the firshermen if he could borrow his long-sleeved shirt and hat, claiming he was feeling cold.

He stood in the middle of the boat but the soldiers didn’t recognize him.

They arrived at Barangay Palangui in Naic, Cavite, at around 11 a.m.of March 18, 1968. There, he asked the fishermen if they had relatives in government and one of them said a relative was married to a provincial guard but was in Trece Martires.

Arula asked who was governor. He was told it was Delfin Montano. “Is he Nacionalista or Liberal? I asked because then there were only two parties. President Ferdinand Marcos was Nacionalista, so when they told me Montano was Liberal,  I said we have to get to him.”

The fishermen had no money so he gave them his Green Horse Rado watch, a gift from a smuggler-cousin, to sell. The watch fetched P800, half of which Arula gave to the fishermen.

The provincial guard was not home when they reached Trece Martires. The barangay captain, Pablo Katigbak, came upon finding out there was a wounded Muslim in the area. Arula said Katigbak told him “you’re probably a pirate” when he told him he would give his statement to the police early the next day but not that evening.

He said he was afraid because he learned the mayor was a Nacionalista member. By six a.m. the barangay captain returned, armed. He insisted on bringing him to the police but Arula gave excuses, hoping the provincial guard would arrive. But the latter didn’t so he went to the police station and said he would make a statement only when the police chief arrived.

A policeman struck his stomach with the butt of his carbine. Arula was pleading when the police chief came, berated the policeman and ordered him to bring Arula to a clinic for treatment.

The police chief, Melencio de Sagun, later brought him to the house of Governor Montano. It was 8:30 p.m. March 19 when they reached the governor’s house in Cavite City.

That night, Jibin Arula began a new life:  from a family man dependent on his mother to feed his family of three to a national celebrity – the lone survivor; a star witness in the congressional hearings that followed  — but a man wanted dead by the administration. Life was never the same again.

In the course of the hearings,Montano had Arula’s wife, Noring, brought to Cavite from Bongao. She spent nine months with him, got pregnant with their fourth child and returned to Mindanao. Arula was brought to Trece Martires, in the custody of chief of police Sagun, where he lived in a house beside his for about a year.

Arula says Montano told him Marcos wanted Arula in exchange for two million pesos and an ambassadorial post for Montano. Arula was then working as office server in the Capitol. Montano ran again in 1970 but lost. He then advised Arula that the best place for him to hide was in the Visayas. He asked him to go find a woman from Visayas and marry her.

At that time, Arula had a female friend from Antique but did not court her because “I had a wife and children in Mindanao. But I understood what the governor meant so I told the woman, Lilia, to marry me and we will go home to your province tomorrow.”

Before he left Cavite, he had a letter sent to his wife explaining that she should no longer expect the monthly salary sent to her (his salary was sent to his wife by Montano’s secretary) because he had to hide in the Visayas, that she can leave with her mother their four children and that she was free to marry.

Montano gave him P10,000, a huge sum then, and made sure he was paid his separation pay. Montano’s wife gave him P2,000.

Arula arrived in January 1971 in Antique, tried to learn farming and other means of livelihood, got his four children from Mindanao in 1973 and brought them to Antique.

He and his wife had three more children. His seven children grew up together in Antique. He was arrested by soldiers in Zamboanga in 1973, on his way to fetch his children, but he managed to escape. At that time, Arula said, there was a P20,000 bounty for his capture.

Arula returned to Antique.  He and Lilia had three children so altogether they raised seven children. All his children were baptized Catholics, because that was what Lilia’s parents wanted, he said.Lilia died in 1994.

From 1997 to 2001, Arula was under Misuari’s employ, as “consultant” in the Southern Philippines Council for Peace and Development (SPCPD).

He has been living in Manila since 2005. Three of his children are in Manila, three in Antique and one in Malaysia. Like Lilia, Noring, his first wife, was also a non-Moro. “I could not afford to marry a Taosug because I can’t afford the dowry,” he said. Noring married seven years after their separation.

Postscript Arula turns pensive as he talks about how he loved his first wife but how it was not possible to have a life with her anymore; and how he may not have loved the second wife as much as he did the first, but acknowledged having learned to truly love her because “she was very good” to him and treated his four children with Noring as he treated their own children.

But his own children will never know Sulu or Tawi-tawi nor can they consider themselves Moro or Mindanawon. His four children by Noring were still small when he brought them to Antique in 1973 and none of his three children with Lilia had ever visited Mindanao.

Arula says his having survived the massacre was a blessing but he also says he regrets having lived to tell the story. As a blessing, he says, “Kung hindi ako nakaligtas baka ubusin mga Muslim” (if I didn’t survive, they would probably have killed all the Muslims).

He said 24 Muslims were brought to a naval boat for eight days in the middle of the ocean before sailing to Jolo. The rest of the Moro trainees, he said, were integrated into the Navy, Marines, Philippine Constabulary and Philippine Army, upon the request of Senator Benigno Aquino.

More excerpts:

Q: How did Jabidah affect your entire life?

A: Very much. It destroyed my life and my children’s. My children by my first wife – the highest educational attainment is second year high school. With my second wife, it was already Cory Aquino time so I managed to send a child to college.

Q: You had at least P12,000 to start a new life in the Visayas. What did you to with the money?

A: I bought cows so that the money would be sustained. My in-laws had land but it was small.

Q:  You were the lone survivor in that batch. You hold the story.

A: Sa akin ho parang nagsisi pa ako kung bakit ako nagreklamo pa o bakit pa ako nabuhay pa eh kasi napakaraming taong napinsala eh. Hamakin mo, pagpunta ko roon kay Montano pumunta si Nur Misuari ang sabi, ‘Jibin wala akong maitulong sa iyo pera pero ito tandaan mo ipaghiganti natin ang Bangsa Islam sa panggobyerno ni Presidente Marcos.’ (I actually regret why I complained or why I had to live because so many people suffered along the way. When I went to Montano, Nur Misuari went there, too, he said, Jibin, ‘I can’t help you with money but remember this, we will avenge Bangsa Islam. We will fight the government of President Marcos).

Q: Nur said that?

A: Yes, in the house of Governor Montano. Around the third day I was there. He came daytime. In 1969, I heard about the MNLF.. and learned it was organized by Misuari.

Q: Why do you say you regret it?

A: Nagsisisi ako (ba’t nabuhay) kasi sa loob ng dalawamput walong taon, nagtatag ang MNLF lumaban sa gobyerno. Sa salita ni Misuari sa akin mahigit dalawang daang libo ang tao namatay hindi ko lang alam kung tao nya lang o kung pati na sundalo. Mahigit dalawang daan libong tao – sibilyan… (I regret that I survived because in the 28 years that the MNLF fought government, Misuari told me 200,000 died. I don’t know if it was just his men or this number inclues soldiers. Over 200,000 – civilians….

Q: But it wasn’t just because of what happened to you.

A: That’s the reason. Then, there was no MNLf, no MILF, no NPA. Everything started with that.

Q: You still feel that way until now? You still regret?

A:  In my media interviews, that’s what I always say, because aside from my relatives – my relatives are no longer in Sulu now, they’re not in Tawi-tawi also – just a few of them are left. The rest have died.  That’s how big the damage was to Mindanao.

Q: What does this mean to you now?

A:  Sa ngayon po, kaya ako pumunta rito, ganon na pinagsisishan ko ang nangyari noon na lumabas pa ako sa gobyerno humingi tulong sa iba para maipagtanggol ko sarili ko pero ngayon lumabas ako para humingi ng tulong at tumulong sa mga taga Mindanao, Muslim man o Kristiyano – na humingi ng katahimikan sa gobyerno. Ang gusto ko pirmahan na ng goberyerno ang agreement ng goberyno at MILF,  kung ano man ang napag-usapan nila (Now, that’s why I came here, I regret what happened before, when I sought help from others to defend myself. But now I am here to seek help and to help Mindanawons – Moro or Christian – to seek peace from government. What I want is for government to sign the agreement between government and MILF on what they agreed upon).

Q: You’re referring to the MOA-AD?

A:  Yes. I heard this was supposed to have been signed last year but until now it has not been signed.

Q: You attended the 40th anniversary of the Jabidah Masacre in Corregidor last year. But in August, there was fighting again because of the MOA-AD. Where were you then? You probably heard there was fighting here again?

A: Hindi. Kelan ko lang nabalitaan dyan. Nandito na ako nung nabalitaan ko na yan. Ngayon na lang yan. Pinaflash sa TV di naman ako marunong magbasa ng dyaryo, Abu sayyaf at gobyerno. (No, I just heard about it recently. I was already here when I heard about it. It’s just now. What is flashed on TV are usually the Abu Sayyaf and government. I don’t also read newspapers).

Arula’s appearance at the 40th anniversary of the Jabidah Massacre on March 18 last year opened another chapter in his life: his return to Trece Martires. Just as he was leaving Corregidor last year, somebody from the Coast Guard told him Melencio de Sagun was looking for him. But Arula said the police chief who helped him 40 years earlier was dead. The Coast Guard personnel said it was Sagun’s son, his junior, now mayor of Trece Martires, whlo was looking for him. From Corregidor, he said, he went to Trece Martires and has since been working for the mayor as his “personal bodyguard.” Arula’s thin frame, is not “bodyguard” material. Nonetheless, the mayor took him under his wings. Now 67, Arula says he remembers what happened 41 years ago vividly because “it happened…. It’s here in my mind. If I miss out on something, I thik it’s just a bit.”

Q: What do you tell those who listen to you?

A: Ang panawagan ko sa taga Mindanao, Muslim man o kapatid na Christian, na magtulong-tulong na magpatulong sa gobyerno na hingin ang pagpirma ng MOA para sa katahimikan ng buong Mindanao. Yan lang ang hinihingi ko. Kasi hindi naman ako importante na tao eh kaya lang naalaa ko ang pinagmulan ng gulo ito mula roon sa kaso na yon kaya baka sakaling makita ng buong tao ito sa Davao hanggang Cotabato na buhay pa ako ako na ang nakikiisa sa kanila para humingi ng tulong ang gusto ko, may idad na, ako mamatay man ako, wala nang gulo sa buong Mindanao. (My call to those in Mindanao, Muslim or Christian, to help each other seek help from government to sign the MOA for peace in Mindanao. That’s all I ask. I am not an important person but I remember this conflict originated from that [Jabidah] case so they might see from Davao to Cotabato that I am still alive, that I am with them to ask help. What I want, in my age, is that even if die, there would be no more conflict in Mindanao.” (Carolyn O. Arguillas/MindaNews)