President Marcos And Sabah

Friday, March 08, 2013

Disclaimer: I write historical fiction. I am not a historian. What you read here are products of years of playing around with historical fact to create stories.

We all know that some time in the late 60s, Marcos planned to invade Sabah by training commandos who would slip into Sabah, sow chaos, and ultimately lobby politically to break the claimed territory out of Malaysia and into Philippine custody.  And we all know that during the training, the commandos mutinied and were culled in what would be known as the Jabidah Massacre, with only one survivor escaping the prison island of corregidor and living to tell the tale. The account was then made public by the then-opposition leader Benigno Aquino Jr. in the Philippine Senate, which then concentrated the dissenting clans of Mindanao into full-on rebellion that lasted for almost 40 years with the succession of the MNLF, MILF, and the more recent BIFF. We also know that Malaysia, in seeking to prevent another attempt by the Philippines to plan out another retake of Sabah, secretly helped the MNLF with their struggle by providing Libyan arms and funding in the Philippine backdoor. And finally, we know that first quarter of 2013, the Sultan's Royal Army, with the backing of MNLF, finally went to Sabah.

Those are the things that we do know.

But there are still some things that never really got clarified.

Most of what the public knows of Operation Merdeka came from Benigno Aquino Jr. who, the Bangkok Post cautioned at the time as, at the baseline, a politician with great rhetorical skill, and may have formatted the information in such a way that it would stir up greater emotions among the populace and the spotty Senate hearing that led to nothing but dead ends.

The Jabidah Massacre, on the other hand, being a top secret mission, was never declassified. Nobody in the military gave their official account of the massacre.This means the sole source of information is Jibin Arula, the only survivor of the massacre, who by his own account, never saw anybody die. Even then, the number of actual participants, and killed participants are inconsistent, even across Arula's multiple interviews.  Sociologist and author of " A local Church living for dialogue: Muslim-Christian relations in Mindanao-Sulu, Philippines : 1965-2000" Arnold Molina Azurin went so far as saying that the massacre is a myth.

And what of the reason for the massacre? According to what little information we have, the dissent came from when the commandos realized that they were going to fight with, potentially, other tausugs and muslims, as well as the non-payment of the stipend originally promised to them. On the other hand, Arula himself claims that the massacre came from when they tried to write a letter to Malacanang reporting concubinage and poor living conditions being given to them while in training, possibly intercepted, and then used as a reason to terminate the program. Given that everybody in the program was killed except for Arula, who actually gave the first reason? And is the second reason, at the height of martial rule, and given that the program was Marcos' personal project , justifying the program termination? 

The lack of information and the inconsistency of what we do have is important due to the pivotal effect that the incident has impacted our Nation's history. It's tantamount to having Rizal executed in private and having one of the Filipino executioners recount the tale for the rest of us.

That said, we can play a few more cards of what-if in this story.

The biggest wildcard here is the then-president Marcos. What role did he play in this whole fiasco? It's safe to say that he at the very least know of the operation, given its risky internationally diplomatic nature.

What if Marcos intentionally allowed the leak of the Jabidah Massacre to foment rebellion in the south? What if he  allowed Malaysia to train and supply armed groups for 30 years thinking theyre on top of the game when in fact they're just buying the guns they'll be shot with? What if he knew that the Tausugs will eventually try to reclaim Sabah on their own?

If one might recall the Sardraukar in Frank Herbert's novel Dune (which although unrelated, coincidentally is published a couple of years before the start of Operation Merdeka) are the toughest warriors in the universe and were secretly raised trained in a prison planet where only the toughest survive.

What if the entire rebellion in the south was part of Marcos' masterplan of arming and training those concerned with Sabah's  legitimate ownership with the full goal of having the Philippines gun for Sabah one more time without the government directly involved?

Operation Merdeka hope to train a few dozen commandos.

If any of this is actually true , the real Operation Merdeka trained an entire nation.

More disclaimers: I do not support any violence happening in the South as of writing. I believe there's no reason for blood to spill over political issues. And again, in case anybody ever stumbles upon this in the future, I wrote this with the full intention of creating historical fiction, nothing more.

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