Beyond Government: Keeping Track of Bangsamoro History
March 18, 2016 marks the 48th year after the Jabidah Massacre, a tragedy in the Bangsamoro’s collective memory known as the spark from which began the flames of the struggle for self-determination.
However, despite its importance to the Bangsamoro people, the story of Jabidah remain glaringly absent from books and classes devoted to the discussion of Philippine history.
The story of Jabidah is just one of the many stories that speak of injustices committed against the Bangsamoro, stories that are central to understanding the heart of the Bangsamoro struggle. These stories form a lesson in history passed on from generation to generation, not in classrooms but in communities.
Jibin Arula and the Story of Jabidah
There are many ways in which the story of Jabidah is told, but crucial details remain the same: Bangsamoro men were recruited to be a part of an elite commando group named Jabidah. They were part of a group tasked to carry out Operation Merdeka, an operation that involved destabilizing Sabahin the hopes of strengthening the Philippines’ territorial claim over the area.
One night, they were taken their officers by the dozen to a remote airstrip. Here, they were massacred as they were shot at with machine guns, their killers making sure that not one of them survived. The reason behind the killing varies — from their complaints about just pay and compensation during their training to their refusal to be involved in anything that will pit them against their relatives and fellow Muslims in Sabah — but no reason can ever justify their untimely deaths in the hands of their fellow Filipinos.
They were all killed that night save for Jibin Arula who was eventually found by fishermen the morning after the massacre.
Since then, Arula’s testimony about his first encounter with death 48 years ago continues to be told, despite attempts at discrediting his lone voice that spoke of discrimination and injustice.
Not Just Government
Apart for some members of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM)’s Manila Liaison Office, the contingent for this year’s commemoration of the Jabidah Massacre in Corregidor were mostly from civil society (CSO) and non-government organizations (NGO), a shift from the usual roster of government officials and employees that visit the island for the annual commemoration.
”CSOs play a crucial role in promoting transitional justice to address past human rights violations committed against the Bangsamoro such as the Jabidah Massacre,” Executive Laisa Alamia said when she was asked about this change in the contingent’s composition.
Together with members of CSOs and NGOs based in the ARMM, sectoral representatives were also present in the commemoration.
“Today we continue this difficult task of remembering, a task that is necessary in the greater struggle for our rights as Bangsamoros, a struggle that we wage for lasting peace and genuine justice,” ARMM Regional Governor Mujiv Hataman said in a statement.
“After so many of our communities have been burned down, so many of our families torn apart by war, and so many of our children growing up while fighting injustice, the murder of our brothers who wanted only to fight for our country was the final straw. Jabidah became the spark which started the flames of our struggle,” Hataman says of the massacre.
The injustices committed against the Bangsamoro continue up to this day.
This year’s program started with an interfaith prayer. Liza T. Ugay of Balay Rehabilitation Center led the prayer in behalf of Christians.She said, “Bless our gathering here today, guide us as we pursue our goals, gather the hearts of each and everyone here today, the hearts of all Filipinos, so they may understand our history and the roots of the grief our Bangsamoro brothers and sisters face every day.”
Understanding history begins with acknowledging the past, and it took years of intense lobbying by the ARMM regional government and civil society for the Jabidah Massacre to be finally acknowledged by the Philippine government, says Norhaiya Macusang of Anak Mindanao (AMIN).
In 2013, President Benigno Aquino III attended the commemoration of the Jabidah Massacre, 45 years after it happened. There he said that, “we are opening the eyes of the Filipino people to the Jabidah Massacre. This happened. And it is our responsibility to recognize this event as part of our national narrative.”
However, things didn’t end there. For many Bangsamoros, this was just the beginning of asserting their place in a national narrative that has always overlooked their struggles.
Looking to the Future
The Jabidah commemoration has become an annual pilgrimage of sorts for the Bangsamoro people, and Johnlypee Mokudef of the Maguindanao Youth Network is one of the first timers in this year’s event.
He says the massacre was something that he has always heard of before, but never fully grasped until now.
“Activities such as the Jabidah commemoration are important in enlightening the people, especially my fellow youth. I hope more of us will take part in tracing our history so the youth will have a mindset that knows the origins and reasons behind the Bangsamoro struggle,”he said.
“Today I earned a greater appreciation of our struggle, and how important the right to self-determination is to our people,” Mokudef said.
“My group and I will help in making sure that our generation will recognize that this is our struggle too and, in our own way, we will find a way to let other people know that peace in our communities is what we truly stand for,” he said.