Editorial: Resurrecting the Jabidah Massacre

GAY ribbons drew the eyes of those who pushed open the glass doors of the College of Mass Communication at the University of the Philippines (UP) Diliman.

The ribbons were tied to a printed message remembering the Jabidah Massacre.

Given our blood-saturated past, a person might wince at “another” unresolved massacre, distinguishable perhaps only by variations in the accompanying proper noun: Balangiga Massacre (1901), Patikul Massacre (1977), Escalante Massacre (1985), Mendiola Massacre (1987), Ampatuan Massacre (2009), Mamasapano Massacre (2015), the ongoing War on Drugs Massacre…

The ribbons one at first took as decor have become a rebuke about forgetting and a reminder of the dangers of apathy.

What was the Jabidah Massacre? “Considered by many as the founding moment of Muslim separatism in Mindanao, the Jabidah massacre, which took place on Corregidor Island, involved the killing of Muslim trainees who were being prepared by the Philippine military in 1967 and 1968 to infiltrate and sabotage neighboring Sabah,” wrote Syed Muhd Khairudin Aljunied and Rommel A. Curaming in their paper, “Mediating and consuming memories of violence,” published in the March 3, 2012 issue of Taylor and Francis Online.

It is not the passage of years alone that buries the 50-year-old event so deep, the popular consciousness no longer glimpses it. It is also the terrors resurrected by a combination of words and constructions that recreate resistance and rejection: “Muslim separatism.”

Both the writing and the study of history is never innocent. Aljunied and Curaming wrote that, “The ways by which the Jabidah massacre is remembered and appropriated reflect the contestations between civil society and the government in the Philippines, as well as the intense rivalry among the political elites both within and between the Christian-elite– dominated Filipino polity and Muslim communities.”

In this contestation of narratives, the role played by “contentious vectors,” the term used by Aljunied and Curaming to refer to mass media, is crucial for the recasting of memories, specially those belonging to the generations born after the occurrences.

The Rappler website published first in March 2013 and then again on March 18, 2018 an account, which first appeared as a chapter, ”In the name of honor?,” in the book, “Under the Crescent Moon: Rebellion in Mindanao,” written by Marites Dañguilan Vitug and Glenda M. Gloria and published in 2000.

On March 18, 1968, at least 23 Muslim trainees were shot in Corregidor Island after Oplan Merdeka (“Freedom”), a “special government operation” to destabilize Sabah and seize back this contested territory, was abandoned by President Ferdinand Marcos.

One version asserts that Marcos ordered government forces to massacre the Muslim recruits to bury all traces of the plot to “Take Back Sabah.” Marcos denied such a plot existed.

This alleged plot was exposed by then opposition senator Benigno Aquino Jr. In March 2013, his son, President Benigno Aquino III, was reported by Rappler as the “first president to commemorate” the Jabidah Massacre, then on its 45th anniversary.

Rigoberto Tiglao dismissed the Jabidah Massacre as the “biggest hoax foisted” on the nation in the first of a three-part commentary in yesterday’s issue of “The Manila Times.” He dismissed the “yarn” as “propaganda” spun by the Liberal Party to foil Marcos’s reelection bid in 1969.

Before one can remember, one must have accurate information. The news media must contribute to the historical challenge of “recasting memories” by unearthing information and providing context to make Filipinos critically understand the significance of the forces shaping society.

Despite controversies surrounding the Jabidah Massacre, scholars validate its centrality in the struggle of not just Mindanao but the whole nation to reconstruct peace and unity from the discourse on conflict, war, and death.
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