IF THE JABIDAH MASSACRE WAS A HOAX, WHO INVENTED IT? AND WHY?
It is claimed that the so-called Jabidah Massacre is the one single spark that ignited the Mindanao conflict which continues to pester the country to this day. The formation of the MNLF, a separatist armed group led by Nur Misuari, was the first direct consequence of it, eventually precipitating the costly and bloody wars with the government in the 70s. The continuing violence of the present is still mostly attributed to it. Indeed, the story of the Jabidah Massacre, as written by two prominent journalists, Marites Danguilan Vitug and Glenda Gloria, appears on the MNLF website as if a constant reminder that the event started it all.
Yet many contend that the story is but a myth. Popular columnists like Rigoberto Tiglao of Manila Times call it a big hoax and Rod Kapunan of Manila Standard considers it a shameful lie. There is just no proof to back it up, they assert. The lone witness, Jibin Arula, was neither reliable nor convincing. Even then Senator Ninoy Aquino, President Ferdinand Marcos’ foremost nemesis who would gain much if he proved the massacre to be true, after conducting his own investigations, stated as much in his privilege speech at the Senate in 1968:
Now, about the so-called Corregidor massacre, Mr. (Senate) President. I would, if there were truth, be among the first to rise and articulate the indignation and revulsion of a nation sickened and shocked by such deliberate, purposeful and wanton killing of helpless and hapless men.
And I would, if there had been truth, be among those to voice my own nausea, my anger and my disgust.
I am afraid that many of us had been too quick to anger, too quick to deplore and denounce. For the truth, as I found it in Sulu, is: the probability of a mass massacre is dim. (emphasis mine)
I could make big political capital out of all of this. I could pillory, nail on the public cross and damn President Marcos and the men who served under him in this operation. I could rouse the people against them, all of them.
But, Mr. President, I say: Let us pin blame only where the blame is. And, by my findings, a wanton massacre is not among the things that we must hang on Mr. Marcos’ conscience and Mr. Marcos’ soul.
For where’s the logic in killing these young recruits?
What would have been the motive for the “massacre”? Some quarters have advanced the theory that the trainees were liquidated in order to silence them. But then, 24 boys have already shown up in Jolo safe and healthy. To release 24 men who can spill the beans and liquidate the remaining 24 “to seal” their lips would defy logic.
In truth, it seems like the only insistent claim that the massacre actually happened is coming from the article written by Vitug and Gloria. Yet, the article itself is not filled with proof that would put the unbelievers to shame, but with holes, conceding that, yes, there are many missing parts. In fact, careful reading of it would show that, aside from the flimsy testimony of the lone witness, the only part seeming to confirm that the massacre was real is this:
When they landed, the teams of soldiers found burned bodies tied to trees, near the airstrip, on the island’s bottom side. The order from Army Chief Gen. Romeo Espino was to clean up the place and clear it of all debris. From afternoon till sunset, they collected charred flesh and bones and wrapped them in dark colored ponchos. They could not keep track of how many bodies there were. They also picked up bullet shells lying on the airstrip. The trainees had been shot dead before they were tied and burned.
It was a swift operation. What the participants remember most is the strong smell of death and decay. That night, these soldiers burned their clothes which had absorbed the stench. At the crack of dawn the next day, they loaded the ponchos in the helicopter and flew over Manila Bay. They tied heavy stones to the ponchos before dumping them all into the sea. The remains sank, weighted down by the stones. The soldiers made sure nothing floated to the surface.
As to where this particular testimony came from, there is no clue. Who recounted this damning story with all the shocking gory details, it is not said. Notably though, the narration has an air of all-knowing certainty of a first hand account— which it is not. Strangely, there is not even a mention of “a source” or “a witness” or “an insider” (but whose identity must however be protected, as often invoked) who could have supplied such incredibly detailed blow by blow. It is like, hey, this is what happened, people… take it or leave it, but better believe it. For such a very significant episode of the narrative, this one takes the cake for reckless, gossipy reporting.
It is incumbent upon Marites Danguilan Vitug and Glenda Gloria therefore, to give account of themselves on how they came to this bits of information because, for one, it alleges a very serious crime, a shockingly horrible one at that involving the country’s armed forces chief himself. It also supplies the core narrative that lends credence to the entire tragedy. How did they put the pieces together? Who were the sources?
The Jabidah massacre— if true— is such a shameful, tragic event for the nation. Thus, it is important to give it closure and heal the wounds. The victims must be identified and families compensated, perpetrators named and the circumstances properly and fully chronicled. Then let it be written in our history. We could build a bigger marker, bigger than that which is already built, by which to commemorate the tragic event. But how could there be any closure if the event’s truthfulness is precisely the same one being given this huge question mark?
We are not taking the risk of erecting a marker for gullibility, are we?
To be sure, at least to me, this part of the narrative has a disturbing feel of unreality to it, like it is some contrived and imagined event, like it is too cinematic for comfort… Is it there to explain away the absence of any concrete evidence… and incite anger as well? Or, maybe it is just me.
It is disturbing because if it is not true, then, it is a hoax, a hoax invented by a very sinister mind, with a veiled intent. Worse. this hoax has now assumed the shape of truth!
The so-called massacre is significant for how it influenced the turn of events in our recent history and how it continues to haunt and affect us in such a profoundly ruinous manner.
In the old days, the involvement of our neighbor Malaysia in the Mindanao conflict was at best speculative. We suspected it but we could not prove it. Now, it is an established fact: Malaysia was actually aiding the MNLF in their rebellion, the purpose being to undermine our claim on Sabah. This new information is providing us with connecting dots that used to be missing, adding dimension to the entire issue. With the new connecting dots, even the case of the Jabidah massacre is gaining renewed attention, given a new perspective and better light.
If this was all fabrication, the implications are stunning. The fact that the event is considered the spark that started it all, it only means that a false story is the cause of all the trouble in Mindanao. That is not all, if we connect the dots. It also means that one with the intent to cause trouble in Mindanao could very well has been behind the fake story.
Who invented the story then? Was the intent precisely to start rebellion and destabilize Mindanao?
Even the credibility of the journalists who originated the story could be placed in serious question: what do Marites Danguilan Vitug and Glenda Gloria (of Rappler.com) have to do with propagating the ”myth”? The burden of proof that their story is accurate and true is now on them.