The Bangsamoro: Keepers of History and Shapers of Memory
Most days, especially in this year’s national electoral campaign, discourse regarding the Bangsamoro is at a low, except when candidates are asked for their stand on the Bangsamoro Basic Law.
March 18 is one of those rare days when the discussion expands to accommodate the Bangsamoro history and identity. On this day, the Bangsamoro people remember how, 48 years ago, Moro men recruited to be a part of an elite commando group called Jabidah were lined up in dozens along the Corregidor airstrip and killed by their military handlers.
The Jabidah Massacre isn’t the first crime committed against the Bangsamoro, nor is it the last. Threats to the Bangsamoro aspiration of lives lived in peace and justice continue until today.
In his statement, ARMM Regional Governor Mujiv Hataman described the Jabidah Massacre as an event in history that has left “a mark akin to a wound that has never fully healed, as its scab is picked over and over again with every other act of injustice committed against the Bangsamoro people.”
The Power of Film
In this year’s commemoration of the massacre, a documentary entitled The Crescent Rising was shown to the ARMM contingent in Corregidor. Norhaiya Macusang, the film’s line producer, said that the documentary will not show what most people would want to see, but they will see reality — the reality of their struggle not in the way historians and political leaders usually speak of the struggle, but in the way the people themselves experience it.
She said that the film speaks of many realities including “the reality of unity in the Bangsamoro aspirations, and the absence of it among our national leaders” and that “the reality that from whatever lens one may look at our struggle, nobody can ever fully grasp how it is to be us.”
Macusang, who also represented Anak Mindanao (AMIN) in the event, said that “people can continue their denial of the Jabidah Massacre’s place in history, but its effects on Moro consciousness cannot be denied. It led to the establishment of the Moro National Liberation Front an, eventually, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.”
There was a steady buzz as Bangsamoro men and women boarded the open-air trams that will take them around Corregidor. It was March 18, and many have travelled from different provinces in Mindanao to attend this year’s commemoration of the Jabidah Massacre. It is but one of the many massacres committed against the Bangsamoro, but it is the one widely believed to have sparked the Bangsamoro struggle for self-determination.
Throughout the day, a tourist guide assigned to one of the buses talked about Corregidor in the context of World War II in the 1940s — how the small island displayed strength that betrayed its size and eventually bore witness to the Filipino and American troops’ last stand against the Japanese.
But as the bus neared the site of the massacre, the tourist guide suddenly had less to say. She excused herself, saying she does not dare talk of the massacre to those who know more about it than her, before making an awkward but well-meaning compliment to a president who first recognized the massacre as part of Philippine history.
There was no program at the site and people were left to explore the area on their own. Many took pictures, some discussed the massacre amongst themselves, while only a few bowed their heads in prayer as they stood along the airstrip or as they looked at towards the open sea.
Tirmizy Abdullah, an assistant professor of history at the Mindanao State University in Marawi City, was among those who were praying for the souls of the Bangsamoros killed in the Jabidah Massacre.
Abdullah notes the improvements in the massacre site that can help visitors gain a better understanding of its importance. “Things are better now; there is a marker, and the tour guide mentions the massacre, at least. The last time I was here in Corregidor for a tour, there was no mention of Jabidah. In fact our tour guide back then had no idea about it and I felt that there was a tendency to evade questions related to Jabidah,” he said.
“I don’t know the massacre site is part of the regular tour’s itinerary o we were brought here only because of today’s event, but if this were a regular part of the itinerary I think that would be good for visitors,” Abdullah adds.
Meanwhile youth representative Johnlypee Mokudef from the Maguindanao Youth Network says the Jabidah Massacre is one of those things he used to take for granted.
“I have always heard of Jabidah, but I never fully grasped its relevance until I was finally able to come here and see where everything began,” Mokudef said. “Today I earned a greater appreciation of our struggle, and how important the right to self-determination is to our people.”
“I hope more of us will take part in tracing our history so that the youth will know the reasons behind the Bangsamoro struggle. Personally, our group will share our experiences here in Corregidor to our fellow youth back in the ARMM so that in our own way, we can help in pushing the struggle of our people forward,” he said.
Memory as Responsibility
Abdullah notes points of improvement in the conduct of the commemoration, saying that the history of the place will remain mysterious in part if the participants are not briefed regarding the context of the site and if they are not able to share their personal experiences in relation to the Jabidah massacre.
“It should not stop at mere description. It must be comprehensive. It would help if the tour guides here in Corregidor also know the context ng massacre and its history,” he said.
The MSU-Marawi professor likened the journey to the Jabidah Massacre site to a pilgrimage, adding that when people go to sites that have historical and cultural significance to them, there must also be a spiritual aspect, so that people can better appreciate its relevance to their lives and history.
“People shouldn’t just be taking pictures and then leave. It’s not just a tourist site. We should remember that the narrative of our struggle, in one way or another, began in this place,” Abdullah said.
Hataman, in a statement, described “this difficult task of remembering” as “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.”
Apart from the annual program commemorating the Jabidah Massacre, the regional government has also been observing the Bangsamoro Week of Peace every March for the past five years.
After extensive lobbying by the regional government, civil society, and non-government organizations, he Philippine government has recently recognized the Jabidah Massacre as a part of the national narrative.
President Benigno Aquino III, during the commemoration rites on the 45th anniversary of the Jabidah Massacre, said, “Though we cannot undo the wrongdoing of the past, today, we have the responsibility of ensuring that this does not happen again. May this remind us that we could have all avoided the deaths of our countrymen; God willing, in remembering these events and the lessons they can impart, the deaths of our countrymen will gain meaning.”