Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Massacre in the Rock

If there was one Philippine president who was close to the 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 less 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 other Moro students, mostly shy and unassuming, had little difficulty reaching him. Had such a moving personality stayed longer in power, the violence that rocked Mindanao in the 1970s would have taken place sometime much later. But he was defeated in the 1965 presidential election and the man who beat and succeeded him was Ferdinand Marcos, who like the other "Ferdinand," surnamed "Magellan," was instrumental in sowing the seed of enmity that finally made an already seething social volcano erupt.
However, in fairness to President Marcos, it was not he who first initiated the Philippine claim to Sabah. It was President Macapagal, himself, who formally put forth the Sabah Claim in 1962, based on the sovereignty once exercised by the Sulu sultanate over the northern Borneo territory. By all indications, however, President Macapagal was pressing the claim through peaceful and diplomatic channels. In the case of President Marcos, it was an open secret that, in addition to the normal procedure in international law that disputes between and among states be resolved through pacific methods, like negotiations and through the adjudication of the International Court of Justice, he resorted to extra-legal actions in securing the claim. It was in the light of this scenario and his obsession to stay in power beyond what the law allowed that the massacre of sixty-four Moro trainees, popularly known as "Jabidah Massacre," on March 17, 1968, on the rocky island of Corregidor could be appreciated. The victims were part of the 180 trainees, mostly Moros, who were undergoing training on jungle warfare, sabotage and infiltration. The training was purportedly part of a wider clandestine operation code-named "Operation Merdeka" for the invasion of Sabah, to which the Philippines had a pending claim. The word merdeka is an Indo-Malayan term meaning "to set free" or simply "freedom".
The real story behind the cold-blooded massacre was never made public by the government. There were explanations but at most those were intended to mislead rather than to inform. The lone survivor, Jibin Arola, however, made shocking and chilling revelations. He said that they were ordered shot because they refused to follow orders to attack Sabah: "How could we attack the Malaysians when they are our brothers and we do not have any quarrel with them?"' That he, survived by swimming the shark-infested waters of Corregidor and Cavite was in itself a miracle. Other reasons given were the nonpayment of their monthly allowances and the trainees' desires to resign.' Another version spoke of the mutiny of the trainees which forced their military handlers to order the massacre of the entire company, so that none could survive to tell the story of the horrendous nightmare.
When the invasion story hit the international news headlines, Malaysia, expectedly, reacted sharply to the point of going into a frenzy of war preparation. Already having a strained diplomatic relation since 1962, when the Sabah Claim was first filed, the two neighbors almost fell into a shooting war. President Marcos vehemently denied the alleged plan of invasion. But no one took his words seriously. Such a project of formidable magnitude and full of diplomatic dangers could not have been undertaken without his official go-signal. Besides the man in charge of this top-level project, Maj. Eduardo Martelino, was, like him, an llocano by ethnic affiliation. Moreover, the project was under the direct supervision of the Civil Affairs Office of the Office of the President of the Philippines.
Who was Maj. Eduardo Martelino? As above stated, Major Martelino was an llocano from the llocos Region. Once a Christian, he reportedly became a Muslim and adopted "Abdulatif" as his new Muslim name, after marrying a Moro lass by the name of Sofia or Safiyah. The wedding ceremony took place in Simunul, Tawi-Tawi, while he was posted there supervising another batch of trainees, also under the same project. Simunul is the last town before Sabah and, on a clear day, Sabah is visible from there. Whether he really became a Muslim or his conversion was merely a propaganda tool to win support or to cover up his real intention, nobody knew for sure. But before his stint with Project Merdeka, while serving as military attache' in Washington D.C., he proposed in a book for the federation of the states of Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines into a Pan-Malayan aggrupation; and to realize this, he thought of organizing an expeditionary force code-named jabidah to be based in Simunul Island.' Though his idea appeared fantastic, he earned some prominence for it.
This is the sketchy background of Maj. Eduardo Martelino who was made to appear as the man behind the ill-fated project and on whose shoulders all the blame, insult, curse and international ramifications were placed squarely. Obviously, he was sacrificed or had himself sacrificed to conceal and save the real brain behind the invasion plan. But the public perception was quite clear: If Martelino was the lead actor of the project, Gen. Romeo Espina, then AFP Chief of Staff, was the Director, and President Marcos, as Commander-in-Chief, was the Producer.
Had Project Merdeka succeeded and Sabah was invaded, the co

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