DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/13 February) – Jibin Arula survived a hail of bullets and became an instant celebrity as the lone survivor of the Jabidah Massacre on March 18, 1968. He died in a vehicular accident in Trece Martires, Cavite, sometime in August or September last year, his death made known only recently.
Bai Siti Djalia Hataman, Executive Director of the National Commission on Muslim Filipinos (NCMF), relayed the information that Arula, 69, died in a vehicular accident, likely during the Ramadan or between August 11 and September 9 last year, Edd Usman, a reporter of Manila Bulletin based in Manila posted in the kusogmindanaw e-group.
Usman said Hataman linked him up with Ronilo Benadero, resident island manager of the Corregidor Foundation, Inc. who confirmed Arula’s death.
“Benadero said he was informed by a son of Trece Martires City Mayor Melan de Sagun about it, but could not remember the exact date, but most likely during Ramadan. He said he then informed retired Colonel Artemio Matibag, CFI executive director,” Usman said in his e-mail to the e-group.
“Benadero said Arula was riding a motorcycle which when it got entangled with a truck, causing his demise,” he added.
In 1968, Arula, then 27, and several Moro youths were being trained by military officers during the regime of then President Ferdinand Marcos, for a top-secret mission called “Operation Merdeka” (Operation Freedom).
Their mission: to invade, destabilize and grab Sabah from Malaysia. Jabidah was the name of their first training camp in 1967 on Simunul Island, then still part of Sulu.
Arula spent the last days of his life in Trece Martires City, where he first found refuge after the massacre, staying there until he was advised by Cavite Governor Delfin Montano, who lost in the November 1970 elections, to hide in the Visayas because the Marcos administration wanted him dead.
Arula left for Antique in January 1971 and was not heard from until 1997 when then ARMM Governor Nur Misuari employed him as “consultant” in the Southern Philippines Council for Peace and Development, until 2001.
He moved to Manila in 2005 and to Trece Martires in March 2008, on the 40th anniversary of the massacre.
In March 2009, Arula was on an 18-day speaking engagement in Davao and Cotabato, organized by the Mindanao Peoples’ Caucus (MPC) to commemorate the 41st anniversary of the Jabidah Massacre.
In an interview with MindaNews (see four-part Arula interview at www.mindanews.com), Arula said he was one of the personal bodyguards of then Mayor Melencio de Sagun, Jr. whose father, Melencio de Sagun, Sr. was the chief of police who helped him and brought him to Cavite Governor Delfin Montano in 1968.
Although his built was not bodyguard material, the mayor took him in after he heard Arula went to Corregidor to attend the 40th anniversary of the Jabidah Massacre in 2008.
The mayor of Trece Martires now is Melan de Sagun, son of the former mayor.
In the 2009 interview, Arula told MindaNews that usually, when one faces certain death, one calls on either one’s mother or God/Allah but on that cold, early morning at the airport on Corregidor island on March 18, 1968, not one of his 11 companions managed to utter “mother” or “Allah.”
“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), he said.
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 told MindaNews he regretted having reported what happened and regretted 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.
“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,” Arula said. (Carolyn O. Arguillas/MindaNews)
Q and A with Jibin Arula: 41 years after the Jabidah Massacre (1st of four parts)