Tuesday, August 2, 2011

The Terror Escalates

The off-and-on and yet bloody confrontations remained towards the last quarter of 1971. By this time, the Moros had been able to put up a more organized resistance against the onslaught of the IlagaPC tandem with the formation of the so-called "Blackshirts," said to be the army of the Muslims or more precisely of the Mindanao Independence Movement (MIM) of Ex-Gov. Datu Udtog Matalam. The Blackshirts, so-named because they wore black khaki, chevrons, boots, and name tags, first tasted prominent combat experience in the much-heralded "Battle of Buldon" in August 1971. Buldon is a border town next to Lanao del Sur, thus an ideal place for defence against the PC troops sent to blast the Blackshirts from the town.
The attacking PC troops, backed up by tanks and mortars, confessed that they could hardly move 100 meters forward without being pinned down by heavy enemy fire. After a few days of fighting, President Marcos sent a group of emissaries to negotiate the surrender of Bangon Aratuc and to forge a truce. First, the Mayor sent his son, Tomatic Aratuc, to Manila and then he followed to meet President Marcos. He denied there were Blackshirts in his municipality. "What I have are black teeth, 1121 he cracked. A few aging rifles of World War II vintage were surrendered obviously to save faces, especially for the government, which promised a consolation of P 75,000 to "rehabilitate" the town. Soon Buldon faded out of the limelight.
On August 20, 1971, news flashed that Ampatuan, Cotabato was under siege. llaga gangsters had swooped on isolated Moro villager. The Moros fought back to defend themselves. In Maneba, Ampatuan, a series of pitch battles were fought involving the llagaPC on one hand and the villagers on the other. Two of the "Malaysiantrained" Moro students, Abdulmanan Abas and Akmad Enampadan, saw action here.
In September 1971, the escalation of hostilities switched to Lanao del Norte between llagas and "Barracudas." Both Muslims and Christians evacuated in large numbers: the former to Marawi City and the towns around Lake Lanao, and the latter to Iligan City, Ozamis City, Cagayan de Oro City and, across the sea, to Dumaguete City. Estimated to have swelled to 50,000, the evacuees now became a major refugee problem, especially to the government.
As in Cotabato, the hostilities in Lanao del Norte were inflamed by local politics. A Christian governor, Gov. Arsenio Quibranza, was on one side of the political divide, against Cong. Ali Dimaporo on the other side. The Barracudas were labeled as the private army of the Dimaporos while the Ilagas were said to be at the disposal of the Quibranzas. This conflict peaked when a 40 unarmed Muslims were mercilessly mowed down at a checkpoint in Tacub, Kauswagan, Lanao del Norte on November. The victims were returning home after casting their votes in a special election set by the Commission on Election.
The massacre shocked the entire nation and the Muslim world, which denounced the carnage as another attempt of the Philippine government to make true its genocide campaign against the Muslims Mindanao. Malaysia, Libya and Kuwait adopted special efforts including calling upon the United Nations to intervene in the crisis. Libya offered relief assistance to the victims.
Towards the end of 1971 and up to April the following year, there was a lull in the fighting. No major confrontations took place. But suddenly in May renewed fighting raged in Balabagan, Lanao del Sur. The Ilagas were reported to have come to the town to rally the local Christians against the predominantly Muslim populace. The initial cause, in fact, was the bloody feud between a local politician and a Christian logging company. After some fighting, the result was the evacuation of some 5,000 Christians
Almost simultaneously, Iligan City, a predominantly Christian City, clamped a boycott of Marawi City, a city of Muslims. No food, fuel or communication could reach the city. Even the price of salt had sky-rocketed from P20.00 to P40.00 per sack. Sometimes, even if money was available, the stock was not on hand. The boycott was lifted only after the government sent in Marines and constabulary troops to replace the local police force and dismantle all e roadblocks.
After a while, the battles shifted to at least two towns in Zamboanga del Sur. First to succumb was Siay Mayor Maulod Puasa, a Subanon-Maguindanaon mestizo, who was cut to pieces right at the market place by rampaging Ilagas. Next to be attacked was Hadji Van Jadjourie, a Tausog trader; fortunately for him, he and his clan managed to beat off the 60-man Ilaga attackers. Then there was the free-for-all fight involving Dimataling Mayor Carmona and the Maguindanaon residents. In a hastily called peace dialogue by Gov. Jose Pecson, the two warring groups were told to appear in order to tresh out the roots of the problem. First to arrive were Governor Pecson and the Muslim group, and while the Governor and the Muslims were discussing some aspects of the conflict Mayor Carmona and his armed followers barged in. Alarmed by their sudden and threatening appearance, the Muslims opened fire and first to fall was Mayor Carmona himself. A firefight ensued. The Governor barely survived, although the casualties on both sides were heavy.
The Zamboanga incidents were not the end of the conflict. People looked toward Basilan and Sulu, expecting them to be the next battleground. Instead, the main event was the sudden declaration of Martial Law on September 23, 1972.

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