This month reminds us of what happened in September 21, 1972 when the Philippines plunged into chaos and darkness because of human greed and lust for power.
This writer was in first year high school enrolled in a private school in Cotabato City when then President Ferdinand E. Marcos ascended to the presidency. By that time the Moro students who later on became revolutionaries; some of whom became leaders of the struggle where already studying in various universities in Manila. One of them is Mohaghir Iqbal, the Chairman of the MILF Peace Panel and many others.
Being a brilliant lawyer and an articulate speaker, he won the admiration of the Filipino people. As such, he challenged re-electionist, President Diosdado Macapagal and won. At the onset of his political dispensation, he was a good leader. He was known world-wide. To be fair with the late strongman, he made great achievements in infrastructure and in international diplomacy.
He also improved the economy. The Cotabato-General Santos National Hi-way was concreted during his term and installed electricity along that road. But never in the wild dreams of the Filipino and Moro people that in the later years he will transform into a corrupt, brutal and annihilator of his own people.
In summer of 1969, this writer went to Manila and studied in one of the prominent universities at the heart of the city. He was in fact, a witness to some student demonstrations held in Manila that time. Mass actions were prevalent and held with little interval. Students’ activism and radicalism were the order of the day at the greater Manila area. Marcos and his military henchmen were of the conclusions that those activists were indoctrinated on the teachings of Mao Tse Tung, Karl Marx and Lenin who ruled their countries with iron fist. The “Cold War” that time was at its height. It was a period of long years of mistrust between the west and the east that almost resulted into a catastrophic nuclear war.
Seriously disturbed by the deteriorating peace and order particularly in the metropolis and the insurgency by the communists, they designed a grand plan. It was the alleged ambush made on his defense minister, Juan Ponce Enrile, now the Senate President to justify his evil intent to place the country under martial law. And so the “storm” hit the country by surprise without any warning that perhaps only his wife, Imelda and his lieutenants know about it. Marcos declared martial law on September 21, 1972 under Proclamation # 1081 but was announced on the 23rd of the same month.
Reason given was to contain the communist insurgency and anarchists on the streets.
It was actually a ploy and designed to establish an authoritarian regime in the country and a government instrument to run after his political opponents; alleged left-leaning students and other individuals. Hence, the reign of greed and terror begins. President Marcos organized a “rubber Stamp” assembly subservient to him; ruled by decree, suppressed press freedom, other civil liberties and ordered the arrest of his prominent political opponents like Senators Benigno Aquino, Jr, the father of now incumbent Philippine President, Benigno “Noynoy Aquino; Jovito Salonga, Jose W. Diokno and many others including militant activists who were suspected of planning to overthrow the established order.
By that time, the Ilaga, a notorious band of highlanders and settlers had already sown havoc on the Moro territory particularly in the interior villages. They were fanatics who wore amulets to protect themselves from harm and danger. The carnage perpetrated by the Ilaga devastated the Moro land. Tens of thousands of Moro civilians reluctantly evacuated to safer neighboring municipalities or towns. They left their precious belongings, work animals and tilled lands only to be occupied later on by Christian settlers.
As an offshoot of the carnage; the heinous crimes committed against them and the prevailing authoritarian rule, the Moros were instigated to arise. The day of reckoning starts for the continuing atrocities and aggression were indeed a wake-up call if not a “blessing in disguise”. It unified them, awakened their spirit in the face of danger. The Moros who kept or hid their guns during the lull in fighting after the World War II, once again held their guns ready to fight.
Pushed to the wall, there was no option left to the Moros except to fight, otherwise an act of cowardice would tantamount to transgressing the Islamic teaching, “fight to the path of Allah” if Islam is obviously threatened. This was given emphasis by the late Amirul Mujaheedin Alim Salamat Hashim when he was still alive.
At first, the task of confronting the enemy was insurmountable due to the mismatch between the Philippines Constabulary-Ilaga tandem and Moro fighters, who were only armed with bolos and vintage weapons. They were ill-equipped to launch tactical assaults against their well-armed enemies. Given that reality, only a handful fought back not until the Moro National Liberation front (MNLF) was discretely organized and later on joined the fighting. From 1973 to 1975, major battles were already fought between army troopers and Moro rebels.
And Mindanao was once again an inferno reminiscent of the previous wars with colonizers. The Moro revolution started with impunity with well-armed Moro rebels fresh from a foreign military training in neighboring Malaysia fought fiercely all over Mindanao. The intensity of the fighting was perhaps similar to the tsunami that hit the Moro Gulf in 1976. On one instance, on July 14, 1974, Moro revolutionaries way-laid army troopers belonging to the 15th Infantry Battalion at the Biniruan-Kakar tributary resulting to the death of over 100 soldiers including one army major. The rebels also captured 86 high powered firearms on that single incident alone.
Marcos, his cronies and the military who were beholden unto him were shocked. He initiated a peace agreement with the MNLF on December 23, 1976 known as the Tripoli Agreement, and a ceasefire only to be dishonored and violated later on. He ordered the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) to shell and overrun mutually- recognized bivouac areas or camps in Mindanao right at the nose of foreign observers who were in the region that time.
This writer was with the group of about two (2) battalions or more Moro Revolutionaries with few civilians headed by top ranking MNLF officials and commanders who abandoned Camp Darapanan at Sultan Kudarat, Maguindanao during that ill-fated night of September 1977. The MNLF decided to make a tactical withdrawal and headed towards the rainforests of the Iranun territory in Maguindanao.
In the waning years of the “conjugal dictatorship”, the strongman Marcos remiss on his pledge to uplift the lives of the people because, he, his cronies and wife, Imelda willfully engaged in wanton and rampant corruption. They plundered the government coffer and in the end, the economy plummeted until he was overthrown in a people power; and coup’ de eta headed by no less than his defense minister Juan Ponce Enrile and Vice Chief of Staff Fidel B. Ramos, who in later years was elected to the presidency.
Marcos “in formidable ship” sank in 1986 and forcibly left for Hawaii in exile in disgrace and disgust. Later, on, he died of illness. In early part 1986, Corazon C Aquino, the widow of the late Senator Aquino, who was assassinated on August 21, 1983 at the tarmac of then Manila International Airport now NAIA had already assumed the presidency after being elected in an election called for by President Marcos. Finally, the luxurious life of the Marcoses was seriously affected.
The horrible experience of the Moros under martial law is now part of history. What is important is to look forward to the future but not to forget the past. They should always be ready to fight again if necessary to protect Islam, their culture, traditions and mother homeland nurtured and nourished with blood of their ancestors in the past centuries.
Hopefully, the on-going peace negotiations between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) could arrive at a comprehensive and long lasting solution to the Moro problem. Every Moro is challenge to play his role in every way or manner to fast track the negotiations nay the struggle. After all, only the Bangsamoro can re-shape his own destiny. Allah said in Suratul Anbia, “Verily, Allah will not change the conditions of the people unless they change it themselves.
(September 19, 2012)