Explainer 84: Jabidah Journey

Explainer 84:  Jabidah Journey

Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more;

Or close the wall up with our English dead!

In peace there’s nothing so becomes a man

As modest stillness and humility:

But when the blast of war blows in our ears,

Then imitate the action of the tiger;

Stiffen the sinews, summon up the blood,

Disguise fair nature with hard-favoured rage;

Then lend the eye a terrible aspect.

KENNETH Branagh as Henry V orating Shakespeare’s famous lines. From neighbors to municipalities, cities to provinces, to nation-states, the question of territory and borders can be so heated, it leads to bloodshed.

If you will kill to protect your private property, think of what it means for nations that claim property, too. And think of what it means when those propriety claims overlap with still others, involving not just land, but ethnic and religious concerns.

Forty years ago, it all came to a head with what’s come to be known as the Jabidah Massacre.

So in commemoration of that event, tonight is Map Night on the Explainer.

We’ll look at how what constitutes the Philippines may not be as permanent and as clear-cut as you think.

I’m Manolo Quezon.

I. An evolving Philippines

THIS photograph, taken in 1948, shows Diosdado Macapagal raising the Philippine flag in the Turtle Islands. It was his first claim to national fame.

This photo is significant, because it reminds us that what we consider to be the Philippines, has been evolving –and more recently than we think.

macapagal turtle island

In this article, published in the Philippines Free Press Centennial Book in 2000, historian Patricio Abinales argued that we owe two things to America: the integration of the Cordilleras and Mindanao into what we know as the Philippines.

This article led me to ask a visiting Spanish historian what the Spaniards considered the Philippines during the colonial era. His answer, which he sketched on a map, would surprise you.


Here it is, a vast area extending from what we Filipinos consider the Philippines, but stretching as far as Guam and Saipan in the Marianas and the Caroline Islands.

This territory is commemorated to this day by one of the obscure titles of the King of Spain, Rey de las Islas del Poniente.

Up to 1815, we were considered, essentially, an extension of the Viceroyalty of Mexico, and after Mexican independence from Spain, we were a province directly governed from Madrid.

Manila, in turn, after 1815 had jurisdiction over the Marianas and the Carolines. Guam, in the Marianas, was the place that Spain exiled troublesome Filipinos, for example, like Tandang Sora.

According to the Spanish historian, the Northern Marianas had, as its last governor, a Filipino born Spaniard, Eugenio Blanco, who suppressed a local rebellion by means of volunteer troops from Macabebe, Pampanga, in a ferocious campaign called “El Tiempo del Macabebe” in the literature of the era.

What seems to have happened, when Spain was defeated by the USA in the Spanish-American War, was that the Americans only expressed interest in only part of the colonial real estate of Spain.

And so, in the Treaty of Paris in 1898, what Spain ceded to America was the Philippines and the Marianas, while America allowed Spain to retain the Carolines. The Carolines, in turn, were sold by Spain to Germany in 1899.

The Spanish historian said that the sale was contested in the Spanish Cortes by a friend of Rizal.

Now as for us Filipinos, our own conception of what constituted the Philippines was limited compared to the Spanish view. It’s commemorated in our flag: the rays of the sun representing the nucleus of our independent state, the eight provinces placed under martial law when our revolution began in August, 1896.

And the three stars representing the territorial aspirations of our founding fathers: Luzon, the Visayas, and Mindanao. The efforts of our first Republic in 1898 were to assert the sovereignty of the First Republic over these areas.

And they ranged from successfully encouraging the Federal Republic of the Visayas based in Iloilo to recognize the Republic, which it did, and the Sultan of Sulu to incorporate his realm into our Republic, which was less successful.

But aside from the Sulu Sultanate, from the start our Republic claimed the rest of Mindanao, over which Spain had already asserted its sovereignty.

Going back to the Treaty of Paris, the territory ceded by Spain became the working definition for our country, as it prepared for the restoration of independence by 1946. However, the delegates to the Constitutional Convention that drafted our 1935 Constitution noticed some problems.

This slim volume, part of the Constitutional Convention’s published records, includes a report signed by Nicolas Buendia, former Senator (and yes, of Buendia Avenue fame), who was Chairman of the Committee on Territorial Delimitation. He said that if you look at the Batanes Islands, the limit of our territory in that area should be the Bashi Channel.

But the Treaty of Paris, according to Buendia’s committee report, was based on erroneous Spanish maps used in an 1895 agreement between Spain and Japan, which then owned Tiawan, and so the quoted lines of latitude and longitude in Spain’s agreement with the USA  placed the border at the Balintang Channel.

Here’s a nifty old map from Wikepedia, to show you what Buendia meant:

Luzon Strait from Wikipedia

Buendia recommended that the Philippines, in its new Constitution, fix the error so as to remove all room for doubt.

But it seems the report wasn’t adopted in full, because instead of adopting the technically-complete list of revised latitudes and longitudes, the 1935 Constitution was quite brief:


The National Territory

    Section 1. The Philippines comprises all the territory ceded to the United States by the Treaty of Paris concluded between the United States and Spain on the tenth day of December, eighteen hundred and ninety-eight, the limits which are set forth in Article III of said treaty, together with all the islands embraced in the treaty concluded at Washington between the United States and Spain on the seventh day of November, nineteen hundred, and the treaty concluded between the United States and Great Britain on the second day of January, nineteen hundred and thirty, and all territory over which the present Government of the Philippine Islands exercises jurisdiction.

The result is that, to this day, Taiwan questions our border with it in the Bashi Channel, as this article from the Taipei Times in 2004 shows:


However, to their credit, what the Taiwanese want is an international agreement to settle the border question.

At least the question of the Turtle Islands was explicitly referred to in the 1935 Charter.

Which brings us back to Diosdado Macapagal and his finally raising our flag on the Turtle Islands in 1948, or eighteen years after the treaty signed by the USA and Great Britain recognizing them as part of our territory. But as for other territory, dealing with a new country and not the USA, the British would be quite cunning, indeed.

When we return, how Ferdinand Marcos dreamed of conquest and instead, unleashed a domestic war.

II. Savaged over Sabah

Robert the Bruce: [Robert the Bruce is visiting his leper father] Father?

Robert’s Father: Ah, come in. Come in.

Robert the Bruce: A rebellion has begun.

Robert’s Father: [pause] Under whom?

Robert the Bruce: A commoner… named William Wallace.

Robert’s Father: [another pause] You will embrace this rebellion. Support it from our lands in the north. I will gain English favor by condemning it and ordering opposed from our lands in the south. Sit down. Stay awhile.

[both men sit]

Robert the Bruce: This Wallace… he doesn’t even have a knighthood. But he *fights*, with *passion*, and he *inspires*.

Robert’s Father: [laughing] And you wish to charge off and fight as he did, eh?

[Robert nods slightly]

Robert’s Father: So would I, eh?

[he laughs again]

Robert the Bruce: Well, maybe it’s time.

Robert’s Father: [the elder man stops laughing] It is time… to *survive*. You’re the seventeenth Robert Bruce. The sixteen before you passed you land and title because they *didn’t* charge in. Call a meeting of the nobles.

Robert the Bruce: They do nothing but talk.

Robert’s Father: Rightly so. They’re as rich in English titles and lands as they are in Scottish, just as we are. You admire this man, this William Wallace. Uncompromising men are easy to admire. He has courage; so does a dog. But it is exactly the ability to *compromise* that makes a man noble. And understand this: Edward Longshanks is the most ruthless king ever to sit on the throne of England. And none of us, and nothing of Scotland will remain, unless *we* are as ruthless.

[he leans forward]

Robert’s Father: Give ear to our nobles. Knowing their minds is the key to the throne.

THIS insight into statescraft’s courtesy of Tobert the Bruce talking to his father in “Braveheart.” Is it better to fight, or to wheel and deal? The public likes a fighter; politicians prefer to wheel and deal.


Here is an official administrative map of the Philippines, published by the National Mapping and Resource Information Agency.

Note, over here, the Kalayaan Island Group, our claimed part of the Spratleys, which will be our topic next week.

And here, the Turtle Islands, our border with Malaysia.

And note the blank where Borneo is. Filipinos of an older generation will insist part of it is rightfully ours.

Our prehispanic rulers had blood ties to the royal families in Brunei and Malaysia, and to this day people like the President, who claim descent from prehispanic royalty claim affinity to Brunei’s ruling family; and this is also why, this day, the various Malaysian royal families recognize our Muslim royalty in Mindanao as part of their family of royal families.

Before the West subdivided our part of the world, they were all part and parcel of a web of interrelated kingdoms.

During World War II, Manuel L. Quezon actually proposed the union of Indonesia and the Philippines.


In the 1960s in principle, leaders in Malaysia, the Philippines, and Indonesia proposed a loose union known as Maphilindo; this was at the core of what has evolved to become ASEAN.

But the problem was that the Philippines and Indonesia became independent first, in 1946 and 1949 respectively, and Malaysia much later; and in the meanwhile, an old colonial power, Great Britain, maneuvered to marginalize both country’s claims on Malayan territory.

This led to the Philippines and Indonesia, who enjoyed warm ties among their leaders in the prewar independence struggle, to unite against Malaysia.

As we prepared to rejoin the family of independent nations in 1946, Great Britain made moves to take the North Borneo territory leased by the Sultan of Sulu to a private company in 1878, under its own authority.

What was land leased to the British North Borneo Company was declared crown territory instead. This was done

If the Philippines could claim to be the successor, as sovereign, of territories once owned by the Sulu Sultanate, by the late 1950s the future Malaysia was preparing to assert sovereignty over territories once ruled by Great Britain in its colony of Malaya.

Sabah has a total land area of 74,398 square kilometres and is only 10 miles from Sulu.

To be sure, we’d first asserted our claims to North Borneo in 1946, under the advice of former governor-general Francis Burton Harrison, working as an adviser to our new Department of Foreign Affairs. A Foreign Office spokesman said it was rather cheeky of the newly-independent Philippines to do this.

In this book, “A Diplomatic History of the Philippine Republic,” by Milton Walter Meyer, we learn that the House of Representatives not once, but twice, in 1950 and 1952, passed resolutions authorizing President Quirino to negotiate with the British for the recognition of the Sultan of Sulu’s rights.

When the Governor of British North Borneo visited Manila in January 1957, a 500 man strong delegation of Muslim Filipinos presented a petition to President Magsaysay for him to directly negotiate with the British to return North Borneo, not to the Sultan of Sulu, but to the Republic of the Philippines. The British government swiftly responded by saying it would not take Moro claims on North Borneo seriously.

But it was Diosdado Macapagal of Turtle Islands fame, who most vigorously asserted our claim to North Borneo, or Sabah as we call it, to the extent that he broke off diplomatic relations with newly-independent Malaysia and formed an alliance with Indonesia, pursuing its own quarrels at the time with Malaysia.

President Marcos went beyond asserting the claim. He wanted to become the Filipino Caesar. He came up with a cunning plan to earn martial glory.


A military force composed of up to 180 Tausug and Sama Muslims was secretly trained on Corregidor, with the objective of infiltrating Sabah and triggering a revolt that would cause Sabah to secede from Malaysia and allow the Philippines to annex it.

But they weren’t paid; and when they sent a petition to President Marcos asking to be paid, the response they got was: they were deemed resigned from the service.

Another version goes beyond the trainees complaining of poor living conditions and no pay.

The other, more romantic, version has it that forty years ago –ton his very day!- on March 18, 1968, the recruits discovered the purpose of their training and objected to being trained to fight not only fellow Muslims, but possibly their own relatives living in Sabah.

Faced with the demands of the recruits to go home, their military superiors proceeded to herd them to an airstrip and then liquidated them. Only one person, Jibin  Arula, survived and escaped by diving into the sea and making his way to Cavite.

Army Special Forces, led by Army Chief General Romeo Espino, then engaged in a cover-up. Burned bodies tied to trees near the airstrip was cleaned up and cleared of all debris, even bullet shells were picked. Bodies were wrapped in dark colored ponchos and were thrown into Manila Bay the next day.

But Ninoy Aquino exposed the coverup in a Senate speech; the armed forces subjected 8 officers and 16 enlisted men to a court martial; by 1971 they were acquitted.

The Jabidah Massacre, as it became known, helped fuel Muslim secession in Mindanao, with the backing of Malaysia.

There’s an interesting article freely available on line, which looks at the issues concerning the integration of Muslim Mindanao, into our Republic:


Atty. Zainudin S. Malang’s “The Nexus between Philippine Constitutionalism and the Mindanao Conflict” points to a precise time, when all these issues came to a head.

Christian colonization had become outright land-grabbing of Muslim lands by the 1960s, with the armed forces of our Republic taking sides against Muslims and for Christian settlers.

This is the background to Muslim Filipinos questioning their allegiance to the Republic, and to a war of secession in the 1970s. The Jabida Massacre was the last straw in a situation that had been rapidly deteriorating during the 1960s, where Muslim Filipinos saw little good faith on the part of their Christian countrymen, or a Republic that was supposed to protect Muslim and Christian rights equally.

When we return, we’ll meet two individuals who want every Filipino to reflect on the Jabidah massacre.

III. Interview




1965Marcos initially courted Malaysia by taking the initiative of resuming talks with Malaysia and won a concession: an anti-smuggling agreement that would control the trade between Sabah and the Southern Philippines. The border agreement meant higher revenues for the government and a declared silence over the Sabah claim. Marcos also played a role in forming the ASEAN. This legal cover would conceal the plans to invade Sabah.
Early 1967Major Eduardo Martelino was informed by Marcos of his plans regarding Sabah. The commando group that was to be formed had one mission: destabilize Sabah and take over the resource-rich island.

Sabah is historically part of the Sultanate of Sulu but came under Malaysia’s stewardship under a lease agreement[1]

The operation came to be known as “Project Merdeka” and the commando group “Jabidah.” Merdeka is Bahasa Melayu for freedom and Jabidah is the name of a stunningly beautiful woman in Muslim lore.

Mid 1967Recruitment Phase: Rolando Abadilla, 2nd lieutenant from PMA, was one of the first recruits. Recruitment was not limited to soldiers. Martelino formed a medico-legal team to go with the troops during the invasion.

In the Summer of 1967, Philippine Constabulary officers were tasked to recruit medical students and they sourced personnel from the Cebu Institute of Technology. The main prospects for the top-secret operation were Muslims from Southern Philippines.

In 1967, the Sabah infiltration process also started. Recruits from Sulu and Tawi-tawi traveled on one of the 50 or more fast-moving fishing boats owned by big-time smuggler Lino Bocalan. The mission of the infiltrating team of 17 men is to start indocrtrination and organization of communities that would support the invasion.

November 1967Capt. Cirilo Oropesa was designated as a special operations officer for anti-smuggling operations in the South. Oropesa received an order designating him training director and directing him to organize a provisional Specail Forces training unit, which aims to qualify recruits for unconventional warfare. Oropesa became the operations officer of the Merdeka project.
August to December 19671st Phase of Operation Merdeka Training: Around 180[2] young Muslims (mostly Tausug and Samal) underwent training in Simunul, Tawi-tawi.[3]

Ernesto Sambas was the first Simunul recruit to be commissioned officer with the rank of second lieutenant. Sambas joined the combat training at Camp Sophia in Simunul island, Tawi-tawi.

December 30, 1967Around 135 (Aquino’s count) – 180 (Oropesa’s count) Simunul Trainees boarded a Philippine Naval Ship to Corregidor for the 2nd Phase of Operation Merdeka’s specialized training.[4]
January 3, 1968Jabidah troops reach Corregidor. Before troops docked, Defense Undersecretary Syquio and Gen. Espino, Army commander, inspected the campsite. The old hospital was declared a restricted area and converted into military barracks.

Tausug recruits were discriminated. While Sambas got his pay, those from Sulu did not. The Sulu recruits were restless over their salaries.

February 1, 1968Secretary of National Defense issued a special order assigning a PMA graduate, Lt. Eduardo Nepomuceno to the Special Forces training on Corregidor.
last week of FebruaryTrainees were not paid since their arrival in Corregidor. They were promised a monthly pay of P50. Food was miserable and every day, they ate dried fish with burnt rice. They complained and wrote a petition addressed to President Marcos, and signed by 62 trainees. The petition asked for their salaries and a better living condition. The four leaders of the petition were brought to Martelino at the bottom side of Corregidor to talk about their complaints. After their dialogue, the leaders never returned to the camp.
March 1, 1968The 58 signatories to the petition were disarmed and considered resigned by March 1.
1st week of MarchAround 60 to 70 trainees from Corregidor were sent to Camp Capinpin in Tanay, Rizal for the “advanced phase of training” according to Gen. Espino. These men were a cut above the rest and were not signatories to the petition.
March 16, 1968Another batch of trainees left Corregidor. 24 recruits who were unable to withstand the rigors of the Corregidor training were sent home to Sulu and Tawi-tawi, according to Gen. Espino. On the other hand, Sen. Aquino’s investigation showed that the recruits are proud of their achievements and are able to survive tough conditions.
March 18, 1968Another batch of recruits was told to go home. At 2AM, the 12 recruits left camp. Another batch of trainees also left camp by 4AM. Around 14[5] to 23[6] (possibly 28)[7] Muslims aged 18-30 years old were massacred near the airstrip of Corregidor.

Jibin Arula, the lone survivor of the massacre, ran off and swam out of the island. At 8AM, he is rescued by two fishermen on Caballo Island, near Cavite.

The Muslim recruits were executed for defying an order of then President Marcos to launch attacks on Sabah.[8] When the men found out about Merdeka, they refused to participate and were promptly slain by the military.[9]

Some say the victims were executed because they mutinied against their officers in protest over the delay in payment of their allowances. But a more popular version of the story is that these young Moros, hoping to be members of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, found out that their mission was to invade Sabah, where many of their fellow Muslims, friends and families are living in
peace. They protested and decided to back out of the training. Since the mission was a top military secret, and to prevent it from being exposed, their trainers brought them to a tiny airstrip, in groups of twelve and subsequently gunned them down.[10]

March 19, 1968An officer, Lt. Eduardo Nepomuceno was also shot dead in unclear circumstances.
March 1968Immediately after the massacre, Army Special Forces, led by Army Chief General Romeo Espino, engaged in a clandestine cover-up mission to erase traces of the event. Burned bodies tied to trees near the airstrip was cleaned up and cleared of all debris, even bullet shells were picked. Bodies were wrapped in dark colored ponchos and were thrown in Manila Bay the next day.
March 22, 1968Gen. Segundo Velasco, AFP Chief of Staff, said that Dugasan Ahid, one of the four leaders, surrendered to defense officials. Ahid said he escaped with the three others in a pumpboat from the Corregidor landing. After reaching Bataan, they took separate ways.
March 1968-1971As a result of the Jabidah Massacre, Muslims organize groups to fight for the complete separation of Mindanao and Sulu Islands from the Philippine Republic. Nur Misuari revives his group under the new name Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) and creates its military arm, the Bangsa Moro Army. Datu Udtong Matalam establishes the Muslim Independence Movement.[11]

This incident gave birth to various Muslim groups including the Muslim Independence Movement of Datu Udtog Matalam, the Ansar el Islam of former Senator Ahmad Domocao Alonto, the Moro National Liberation Front of Misuari and later, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front of Hashim Salamat.[12]

Moro student activism grows. Moro consciousness, based on Islamic revivalism and knowledge of a distinct history and identity, gathers steam. Political organizations emerge to culminate eventually in the establishment of the MNLF under Nur Misuari with the goal of carving an independent muslim nation in the Southern Philippines.[13]

A year after the Jabidah massacre, Malaysia took its revenge on the Philippines by providing arms and military training for secessionist MNLF. Malaysia also abrogated its 1965 anti-smuggling agreement with the Philippines.

March 1968The newly elected Senator Benigno Aquino told the Senate of a report that Christian army officers had shot dead a number of Muslim recruits on the island of Corregidor in Manila Bay.[14]
19688 officers and 16 enlisted men were court-martialed for the killings in Corregidor.
1971Court-martialed military personnel linked with the Jabidah killings were acquitted. The case was closed.
1973Eduardo Martelino was reported to have been imprisoned in Sabah.
1977Marcos announced his intention to drop the Sabah claim during the Asean summit in Kuala Lumpur.

* Dates and events are taken from Under the Crescent Moon unless indicated otherwise.

[1] http://newsinfo.inquirer.net/inquirerheadlines/regions/view_article.php?article_id=55141

[2] http://alaykayresilmojares.blogspot.com/2005/03/jabidah-massacre-1968.html

[3]  http://corregidor.org/Heritage_Battalion/jabidah.html

[4] http://corregidor.org/Heritage_Battalion/jabidah.html

[5]  http://www.atimes.com/atimes/Southeast_Asia/EC06Ae03.html

[6] Vitug and Gloria, 2000. Under the Crescent Moon: Rebellion in Mindanao. IPD, PCIJ and Ateneo Center for Social Policy and Public Affairs.

[7] Philippine Human Development Report 2005.

[8] http://newsinfo.inquirer.net/inquirerheadlines/regions/view_article.php?article_id=55141

[9] http://davaotoday.com/2006/03/18/38-years-later-jabidah-still-haunts-the-memory-of-an-angry-people/

[10] http://www.yonip.com/main/articles/commentary-update.html

[11] http://www.philippines-timeline.com/second-independence.htm

[12] http://www.yonip.com/main/articles/commentary-update.html

[13] http://www.bangsamoro.info/modules/wfsection/print.php?articleid=23

[14] http://content.cdlib.org/xtf/view?docId=ft0199n64c&chunk.id=d0e2169&doc.view=print

IV. My view

Our Sabah claim was enshrined in the bastardized 1973 Constitution but not as explicitly asserted in our present Constitution.

Despite President Marcos announcing, in 1977 in Kaula Lumpur that we’d do so, we’ve never dropped that claim, only shelved it, for the sake of peace with Malaysia.

Malaysia, on the other hand, pays rent to the heirs of the last Sultan of Sulu, recognizing it as their private property as a, in a sense, Malaysian royal family, but never recognizing our Republic’s claims.

We can only hope that Asean will find a way to reconcile the Philippine and Malaysian positions.

But of greater urgency is the need to reconcile Muslim Filipinos with their citizenship in our present Republic. This requires our recognizing their perspectives based on history, on ideology, and religion: perspectives that are still, sadly, alien to the minds of most Western-oriented Filipinos.

But never have so many Christian Filipinos been so exposed to their Muslim countrymen; and never has there been a corresponding opportunity for all of us to realize we aren’t so different from each other, as we once thought.



[6] Vitug and Gloria, 2000. Under the Crescent Moon: Rebellion in Mindanao. IPD, PCIJ and Ateneo Center for Social Policy and Public Affairs.

[7] Philippine Human Development Report 2005.

Manuel L. Quezon III.

1 thought on “Explainer 84: Jabidah Journey

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.