The bodies of Moro insurgents and civilians killed by US troops during the Battle of Bud Dajo in the Philippines, March 7, 1906. The bodies of Moro insurgents and civilians killed by US troops during the Battle of Bud Dajo in the Philippines, March 7, 1906.

KRIS-CROSSING MINDANAO: History beyond Bud Dajo obscured Featured

IT WAS the Maguindanao Moro filmmaker Teng Mangansakan who alerted me to a forgotten past. Last August, Teng revisited the place that had become rather obscure in the Mindanao mind. It is called Malisbong, but few would want to remember the name, let alone inconvenience themselves with a Google map for a search. Even the remaining living survivors would rather blur their memories of a ghastly carnage that only men who don’t believe in human dignity can carry out without mercy.

The Malisbong Massacre, also known as the Tacbil Mosque Massacre, left 1,776 Moro men aged 11 to 70 dead in the coastal hamlet of the same name in the town of Palembang, Sultan Kudarat. They were killed inside the mosque, where 3,000 women and children were also being detained, some of them even raped. On that horrifying day of Sept. 24, 1974—that is, two years to the day after then President Ferdinand Marcos announced that martial law had been imposed on the entire Philippine archipelago, or exactly 42 two years ago last Saturday—elements of the Philippine Army razed to the ground 300 houses.

Malisbong was an overture to what was to become a long thunder of massacres against the Moro people that at one instant had reached almost genocidal magnitude, such that it caught the attention of Islamic countries and helped shape what later emerged as the flamboyant Imelda diplomacy during the dictatorship years—a kind of diplomacy that was more fashion niceties than mediation.

The film “Forbidden Memory,” based on the Malisbong Massacre and directed by Teng Mangansakan, was screened as a finalist in the 12th Cinema One Originals film festival. Recalling Malisbong, a statement by a student of mine bothered me no end—“martial law is taught in neutral terms.”

The murder of 1,776 men can never be neutral; 1,776 deaths committed to the memory of survivors as the most abysmal nightmare of their lives can never be neutral. So were the other deaths caused by the Marcos dictatorship. There is only good and evil; any in-between is pseudo.

Mohagher Iqbal, the “magus” of the Bangsamoro, a learned person of great wisdom, writing as Salah Jubair in “Bangsamoro, A Nation Under Endless Tyranny,” adroitly enumerates the list of Moro massacres committed by proxies of the authoritarian barbarism under the aegis of Ferdinand Marcos.

In a prelude to martial law, a Kinaray-a settler, Feliciano Luces, known by the alias Commander Toothpick, led an attack on an isolated Moro village in 1970. The victims’ ears were cut off, nipples slashed, eyes plucked out, and cross markings left on their mutilated bodies. That was the start of the so-called Ilaga Wars (Ilaga for rat, the “voracious creature infesting crops,” Jubair writes, but which others had deciphered as “Ilonggo Land Grabbers Association”).

Of the Moro massacres, the patriot Joe Burgos’ Pahayagang Malaya reported: “The list is long, but it can be compressed into one single horrifying theme—a near absolute lawlessness armed and protected by government officials and the military in remote corners of Mindanao to look for and kill Muslim rebels, and whoever they believe to be their sympathizers.”

The rampage took place in various places:

Alamada (North Cotabato), Dec. 3, 1970, 13 killed; Midsayap (North Cotabato), Dec. 16, 1970, 18 killed; Alamada, Jan. 17, 1971, 73 killed, 36 houses burned; Carmen (North Cotabato), April 6, 1971 and June 19, 1971, 88 killed, 42 wounded; Wa-o (Lanao del Sur), Aug. 5, 1971, 36 killed; Buldon (Maguindanao), Aug. 9, 1971, 60 killed; Magsaysay (Lanao del Norte), Oct. 24, 1971, 66 killed. I have to cut short the list for want of space.

Archival research at the National Library and at the UST Miguel de Benavides Library can be an excruciating ordeal: There just was hardly any national news on these massacres; Mindanao was boondocks to Manila then. (It still is?) Everything was filtered; the name Ilaga hardly surfaced because its existence was deliberately denied. There was only one source of news—Moro congressmen like Salipada Pendatun.

A pattern was observable in the old periodicals—each time a team was sent to Mindanao, the only source was Carlos Cajelo who was behind the Ilaga. Marcos later appointed Cajelo as deputy defense minister for civil relations. Marcos knew everything about the Ilaga Wars—he even invited Toothpick to Malacañang and hailed him a hero.

There were many more massacres, but there are scant data about them for research. One, the Bingcul Village Massacre of 1977, had government forces raiding and burning houses, killing 42 Moro villagers. In most cases, the Ilaga fighters not only conspired with the government’s Philippine Constabulary (later integrated into the civilian police force that was renamed Integrated National Police, the forerunner of today’s Philippine National Police), they were also supported by seven thug settler-mayors who each were backed by an army of private goons.

Filtering the news out of Mindanao during the martial law period was made difficult by the “blitzkrieg” Marcos launched against media the day after declaring martial law in 1972: Nationwide, the “casualties” were eight major English newspapers, 18 vernacular newspapers, 60 community newspapers, 66 television channels, 312 radio stations. By the time the Mindanao wars raged, a news blackout was almost in effect.

There was more to Mindanao than just the 1906 Battle of Bud Dajo where a thousand Moros were slain in America’s pursuit of colonial hegemony. A massacre is a massacre; whether committed by colonials or by a Filipino dictator like Marcos, an accounting is demanded.

Justice is color-blind. Neutrality is only for cowards who aspire by mere idiocy.

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