THE NAME OF HONOR?
day in March 1968, a presidential helicopter swooped down on
Corregidor shortly after the killing of young Muslim men being
trained to infiltrate and destabilize Sabah. Officers and men
belonging to the Army Special Forces leaped out of the
aircraft and engaged in a clandestine cover-up mission to
erase traces of a key historical event that has come to be
known as the Jabidah massacre.
was the spark that lit the Muslim rebellion, the Plaza Miranda
of Mindanao. (Plaza Miranda, in the heart of Manila, was where
the Liberal Party senatorial candidates opposed to then
President Ferdinand Marcos were bombed in August 1971 while
holding a political rally. Nearly a hundred, including the
candidates, were wounded and nine were killed.) From then on,
Muslim Mindanao was never the same again.
was a forlorn, tadpole-shaped island guarding the mouth of
Manila Bay. Its tail tapered off toward Cavite, and on the
island stood ancient artillery, battle scarred fortifications
and ruins, and a tunnel bombed during World War II. A small
community lived in a pocket of the island, removed from the
comings and goings.
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.
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.
that time, under the iron hand and expansionist tendencies of
President Ferdinand Marcos, the killings on Corregidor were
never explained. If Marcos and his men were to be believed,
they never happened. The expose on Jabidah, they said, was
part of a grand plot by the opposition to discredit the Marcos
regime; furthermore, Jibin Arula, a survivor of the massacre,
was an agent planted by Malaysia after it had uncovered
Armed Forces top brass never ordered a search for missing
persons, living and dead. No real investigation took place,
except for a few Senate and Congressional hearings which
yielded inconclusive findings. The young and intensely
energetic opposition Senator Benigno Aquino Jr., using his
deft journalistic skills, put some of the pieces of the
Jabidah puzzle together, but the picture remained incomplete.
Nevertheless, given the period's secrecy and silence, Aquino's
was the most thorough investigation.
officers and 16 enlisted men were court-martialed in 1968. All
of them, however, were cleared in 1971. No qne was held
accountable for the gruesome killings on Corregidor that
forgotten day in March 1968.
the soldiers' quarters in Camp Crame, bored young lieutenants
watched another idle night go by. Fouryears of rigid training
at the Philippine Military Academy (PMA) and now this, they
grumbled to themselves: desk work, serving as aides to
generals, writing speeches forthe top brass.
1967. There was no big war insight. The Armed Forces of the
Philippines (AFP) were the most experienced in Southeast Asia,
having crushed the Huk insurgency. The economy was in good
shape, hurtling way ahead of the rest in Southeast Asia, and,
except for a tolerable number of .communist guerrillas, the
rest of the populace seemed content with life.
Abadilla was a second lieutenant then, fresh out of the PMA
(he graduated in 1965). Unlike his comrades, he was not bored.
He had just joined a secret mission led by an officer with
close linksto Marcos, Maj. Eduardo Martelino. Martelino was an
articulate and dashing officer who easily earned the
confidence ofhis bosses. He was a graduate of the Infantry
School in Fort Benning in the United States, the Pilot School
of the Philippine Air Force (PAF), and the Defense Information
School of the US Armed Forces, the precursor of the
psychological warfare school at Fort Bragg. The writer Nick
Joaquin later described Martelino, when he showed up at the
Congressional hearings on Oplan Merdeka in March and
Apri11968, as a tanned, middle-aging adventurer with a lean
face, mustache, world-weary eyes, domed forehead, and receding
hairline. He had a husky voice and generally kept his cool.
Abadilla was one of the initial recruits for the Jabidah
operation did not surprise his PMA batch mates. Like Marcos,
the young lieutenant came from Ilocos Norte. As soon as Marcos
became president in 1965, his first move as commander in chief
was to name fellow Ilocanos to lucrative posts in the armed
forces. In Marcos's time, to be an Ilocano in the military was
to hold a sure ticket to a good command.
gave Martelino a broad picture of his plans regarding Sabah.
The commando group that Martelino was to form had one mission:
destabilize Sabah and take over the resource-rich island.
Rather than wait it out in the corridors of international
diplomacy, Marcos was keen on an adventurous and risky option,
the swiftest and most direct means of claiming the Borneo
island. After all, he and his men believed, Sabah rightfully
belonged to the Philippines.
planned invasion negated Marcos's initial courtship of
Malaysia in 1965, when he assumed the presidency. That year,
he took the initiative of resuming talks with Malaysia and won
in the process a significant concession: an anti- smuggling
agreement which attempted to control the trade between Sabah
and the Southern Philippines. The pact did not sit well with
many Muslims, who felt that the agreement subordinated
minority interests for national interests, according to Prof.
Aruna Gorpinath of the University of Malaya. The border
agreement, for one, ensured higher revenues for the
government. It also implied that the Marcos government was
willing to maintain its silence over the Sabah claim, which
the previous Macapagal administration had pushed. Marcos
apparently wanted to play a role in efforts at the time to
form the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean).
the wily president was confident that, given this legal cover,
he could easily deny links with any illegal move against Sabah.
The style was vintage Ferdinand Marcos. His loyalists in the
military named the operation to invade Sabah "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 1ore. Martelino was
fond of women. In this case, Jabidah may have referred to
Sabah, likened to a woman desired by the army he put together.
In a way, it was an equivalent of Helen, "whose matchless
beauty," Aquino eloquently said in a Senate speech,
"launched a thousand ships and laid the great Greek
states to siege and waste."
night that Abadilla retreated to his quarters in Camp Crame,
which he shared with fellow PMAers, he would be cajoled into
telling stories about his mission. He wouldn't talk. But after
one drink too many, he boasted about how he and his commanders
were able to sneak into Sabah to deploy their own agents
there. It was sometime 1967, the start of the infiltration
was not limited to soldiers. Martelino also planned to form a
medico-legal team to go with the troops during the invasion.
In the summer of 1967, some officers of the Philippine
Constabulary (PO were assigned to recruit medical students for
the job, and they tapped as one source the Cebu Institute of
Technology, which ran a medical school.
(the PC officers) started asking us out for a friendly
shoot," one of the medical students then who was
recruited to the team recalls. A Christian, he was born in
Basilan and grew up there. That he was a Christian did not
matter to his recruiters; what mattered was that he knew how
to speak Tausug, the language of most of the prospective
Muslim recruits. He would not name the PC officers who
recruited him, however. One day while on a firing range in Cebu
City, one of the PC officers began talking to the medical
students about the Jabidah operation.” They never hid
anything from me, the former student who is now a
doctor says. "They said they needed my services for a
medical team to be brought to Sabah once the invasion took
place. I was thrilled. I had always wanted to be a soldier.
And I was also convinced that Sabah was ours.
was on his third year in medicine proper then. When the
massacre took place, he was already in his last year in
medical school. By that time, he had been enlisted into the
medical team. “There was no promise of pay. But we were told
that we would get a piece of land if the invasion succeeded.
That was already okay with me,” he says. At least
three medical students underwent training in Cebu for the
operation. The training included physical exercises. After the
massacre, they were called in to join a military team that
conducted the mopping-up operations in Corregidor. They saw
the lifeless bodies.
(the PC officers) checked the list of recruits. They wanted to
make sure no one would survive. Then they found out that at
least two had escaped, he says. One was Jibin Arula, the other
was a recruit from Basilan. Since he was from Basilan, the
doctor was assigned the task of silencing the other survivor,
whom he refuses to name. He says he readily accomplished the
17 men, mostly recruits from Sulu and Tawi- Tawi, entered
Sabah as forest rangers, mailmen, police. Oil-rich, blessed
with fertile soil, pleasant weather, and what at the time were
lush forests, the disputed territory covers about 29,388
square miles. The Filipino agents blended into the island's
communities. Their main task was to use psychological warfare
to indoctrinate and convince the large number of Filipinos
residing in Sabah to secede from Malaysia and be a part of the
Philippines. Part of their job was to organize communities
which would support secession and be their allies when the
invasion took place. They also needed to reconnoiter the area
and study possible landing points for airplanes and docking
sites for boats.
himself went to Sabah three times on secret missions as head
of the Jabidah Forces, he would reveal in a newspaper
interview on August 1, 1968. Thelanding points he used were
Tambisan Point, lahad Datu, and Semporna, a string of islands
belonging to Sabah. Among other things, he wanted to make an
assessment of the attitude of Sabah residents who originated
from Sulu towards the Philippines. These Sabah residents
helped him, he said, despite the fact that the Sabah police
had his picture posted as a wanted man. He concluded that, in
the event of an armed conflict between Malaysia and the
Philippines, a majority of the Sabah people would side with
recruits traveled on one of the 50 or more fast-moving fishing
boats owned by big-time smuggler Lino Bocalan. Some of his
boats were painted gray, similarto the Philippine Navy fleet.
They frequently traveled from Cavite to Sabah, where they
loaded thousands of cases of “blue-seal" cigarettes,
like Salem, Chesterfield, Union, and Champion and smuggled
them to the Philippines. At that time, imported cigarettes
were not allowed into the Philippines, where the local tobacco
industry was tightly protected. The goodies were available in
Sabah, which was, informally, a free port, a haven for
31 years old, Bocalan was already a millionaire. He kept a
couple of houses on the US West Coast and was hounded by a tax
evasion case in Manila. He was a much sought-after election
campaign donor, and he eventual~ entered politics and ruled
Cavite as governor during the martial law years (1972-1980) .Bocalan
had also been among the financiers of Operation Merdeka.
his coastal home in Cavite in 1998, Bocalan, 70, hesitates to
talk about his ON participation in Operation Merdeka. Halfway
through a bottle of whisky on a Sunday midmorning, he relents
a bit. "Marcos told me he needed help for sabah,"
Bocalan says in Filipino."My duty was to finance the
operation. I spent millions (of pesos)...I fed the Filipino
trainees in Sabah, paid their salaries. I supported them. I
sent my brother and my people to Tawi- Tawi and Corregidor to
give food and money (to the recruits)."
small office in the Department of National Defense (DND) had
made the connection to Bocalan and arranged for his boats to
ferry the agents. This was the Civil Affairs Office (CAO)
headed by Maj. Martelino, and itwas the core group that
planned and implemented Operation Merdeka. The CAO later
distanced itself from Jabidah, claiming that Martelino had
gone on leave a year before the killings. After the expose,
Marcos abolished the CAO. Martelino reported to only two
people: Defense Undersecretary Manuel Syquio and President
Marcos. Syquio supervised Operation Merdeka while Martelino
carried it out.
later, in March 1968, the killing of at least 23 trainees on
Corregidor island for that mission sparked the Muslim
rebellion and gave birth to the Moro National Liberation Front
(MNLF). An officer, Lt. Eduardo Nepomuceno, was also shot dead
in unclear circumstances.
legacy of lying
a small group in the Armed Forces may have been involved in
Operation Merdeka but it tainted the reputation of the AFF: To
this day it is kept as a dark secret which many in the
military refuse to talk about. Those who participated, either
in the actual training or in the clean-up operations, have not
fully come clean. In the end, it may have left a legacy of
lying and cover-up.
1971, all officers and men charged in military court for the
Jabidah massacre were acquitted. The major actors are by now
all dead. This chapter in Philippine history will continue to
have missing parts. After Jabidah, Rolando Abadilla gained
notoriety as head of the Military Intelligence Security Group
that arrested and killed political activists under Marcos.
After his retirement, he ran and won as vice governor of
llocos Norte in 1988. In 1996, after several years of
surveil)ance and failed attempts, communist guerrillas shot
him dead while his car was held by traffic at a busy
intersection along Katipunan Avenue in Quezon City. Abad(lla's
immediate commander in Oplan Merdeka, Eduardo Batalla, had
been killed much earlier in 1989, when he bungled a hostage
a bandit, Rizal Alih. Batalla, then an army general, was
commander of the Southern Command.
Martelino, the flamboyant military officer who executed Oplan
Merdeka, was reported to have been imprisoned in Sabah in
1973. Martelino returned to Sabah after his acquittal to
attend to "unfinished business," his daughter Pat
Martelino Lon recalls. Martelino wrote his family a letter.
They believe he is dead, but a few of his former colleagues
think he may still be languishing in a Malaysian prison.
Martelino, some intelligence reports say, was in touch with
Tun Mustapha, then chief minister of Sabah, who may have
turned him over to the police. Manuel Syquio, defense
undersecretary who supervised the project, has died. And
lastly, Ferdinand Marcos, who knew it all, died in exile in
Hawaii in 1989.
some senior military officers and men, both retired and still
in active service, talked to us to fill in the gaps of this
story. A-number of them participated in the operation as
leaders who gave orders or followers who implemented such
orders. Others knew or were close to the people who were
recruited to Jabidah,
it was a special government operation, details of Oplan
Merdeka were known to only a few people. But the general
concept was explained to the officers who were involved in it.
The Philippines was to train a special commando unit-named
Jabidah-that would create havoc in Sabah. The situation would
force the Philippine government to either take full control of
the island or the residents would by themselves decide to
secede from Malaysia. Many Filipinos from Sulu, Tawi- Tawi,
and parts of Mindanao had migrated to Sabah. Oplan Merdeka was
banking on this large community to turn the tide in favor of
secession and ultimately join up with the Philippines.
project did not exactly start from ground zero. Even before
Martelino sent his men to Sabah, Philippine Armed Forces
intelligence was already eavesdropping on the island. The
National Intelligence Coordinating Agency (NICA) had an agent
in Sabah, watching any move to form a Muslim fundamentalist
group that would expand to the rest of Borneo as well as
Mindanao. In the early 1960s, there was concern over the
possibility that a Pan-Islamic movement financed by Libya's
Muammar Qaddafi would reach the Southern Philippines, where a
Muslim minority lived.
lleto, deputy chief of the NICA, had just attended an
intelligence training course in Israel in 1963. He arrived
with new communications technology, including a sophisticated
transmitter. He wanted to find out what was going on in Sabah
and, at the same time, to tryout the new gadgets. He sent a
Scout Ranger officer, Capt.Solperino Titong, who was skilled
in communications. “The mission was purely
information-gathering," Ileto says. "Titong was to
ingratiate himselfwith the (Sabah) government and be in a
position where he'd be trusted." Titong ended up as close
as anyone could get to the most powerful man in Sabah: he
became the driver of Tun Mustapha, chief minister of the
year later, Ileto left the NICA for a new appointment as
commander of a PC zone covering 19 provinces North of Manila,
including the area where the Huks thrived. But Titong stayed
on in Sabah. ln 1967, Martelino's CAO learned of Titong and
tapped him to lead the team of infiltrators, this time for
seemed an easy and vulnerable target at that time. The
Federation was new and still fragile, having come into being
only in 1963. It had barely taken off when Singapore, a member
of the Federation of Malaya, decided to break away in 1965.
Malaysia was engaged in a border dispute with its giant
neighbor, Indonesia. Manila wanted to pursue its claim to
Sabah at the World Court in the Hague and any discontent in
the territory might have encouraged the Philippines to abandon
diplomatic channels for more direct methods. True enough,
Marcos cast his covetous eyes on a country that was still on
its way to political cohesion.
the ground, though, trade relations between Mindanao and Sabah
picked up. Traders made regular clandestine visits and their
business was classified as "smuggling.” This phenomenon
used to be open and untrammelled. lt dates back to about 500
years ago, when maritime commerce thrived between Sulu and
Borneo, the Moluccas, Celebes, and China. It was a glorious
era. But the brisk business was not to continue. Western
colonizers carved up the region and drew boundaries that
blocked travel and trade. Exchanges became illicit and this
peaked in the 1960s, prospering to the extent that it
attracted the interest of the likes of Bocalan.
the need to reduce smuggling in that zone, the Anti-Smuggling
Action Center headed by Gen. Pelayo Cruz began looking for a
special operations officer. A young captain, Cirilo Oropesa,
was picked for the job. Oropesa had entered the Army in 1962
and had undertaken ranger and infantry courses at Fort Benning
and Fort Bragg in the US. He was asked to submit a project
proposal that was to be approved by Malacanang. Somehow, the
plan landed on Martelino's lap.
November 1967, Oropesa received an order designating him
training director and directing him to organize a provisional
Special Forces training unit directly under the headquarters
of the Philippine Army. Its aim was to qualify the recruits
for unconventional warfare.
involved sensitive operations, including the cutting of
commerce between Sabah and the Philippines," Oropesa
recalls. “He (Martelino) got hold of my proposal, started
recruiting people, and probably realized he couldn't do it
without me." Oropesa became operations officer of Oplan
Merdeka. Oropesa's executive officer was Capt. Teodoro Facelo.
Lt. Eduardo Batalla served as personnel officer, while Lt.
Rolando Abadilla took charge of supplies.
training program included mountaineering, survival techniques,
and the use of sophisticated communications equipment,
weapons, and explosives in their camp in Simunul, Tawi- Tawi.
The men conducted make-believe patrols, raids, ambushes, and
infiltration behind enemy lines. But they specialized in
demolition and sabotage, including incendiarism and field
became clear to Oropesa only later, in the midst of their
training in Tawi- Tawi, that Martelino had his sights on
three factors converged and became the context as well as
backdrop for Oplan Merdeka: the fear of a Pan-Islamic movement
creeping into Mindanao, a vulnerable Federation of Malaysia,
and an anti-smuggling operation. All these played into the
high-adventure scheme of taking over Sabah.
Simunul to Corregidor
training of recruits from Sulu and Tawi- Tawi was done in
Simunul, a picturesque isiand-town of Tawi- Tawi. One of Tawi-
Tawi's 300 islands, Simunul is a landmark in Philippine
history, being home to the first mosque in the Philippines,
built in the 14th century. It is also a breath away from
Semporna, an island of Sabah. On clear nights, Simunul
resjdents can see the lights of Semporna.
August to December 1967, Martelino, assisted by Batalla, set
up camp and trained close to 200 men- Tausugs and Sama aged 18
to about 30, A number of them had had experience in smuggling
and sailing the kumpit a wooden boat commonly used in
the area. What enticed the young men to Martelino's escapade
was the promise of being part of an elite unit in the Armed
Forces. It was not just any ordinary job. It gave them a
legitimate reason to carry guns-carbines and Thompson
submachineguns. It gave them a sense of power.
Sophia, named after Martelino's second wife, a young, naive,
and pretty Muslim, was inside a coconut plantation, fenced by
barbed wire. A hut housed a powerful transreceiver and served
as a radio room. Bunks were made of ipil- ipil and makeshift
twigs. A watchtower stood tall in the perimeter, facing the
sea. It was a world of their own making, with the trainees
wearing distinct badges showing crossbones and a black skull
with a drip of blood on the forehead. Their rings were
engraved with skull and crossbones.
Sophia became the talk of the town. Congressman Salih Ututalum
of Sulu had heard about it and paid the camp a visit in
October 1967. Martelino briefed him and convincingly talked
about the noble "civic action" of the trainees.
"I addressed the trainees, encouraging them to do well. I
urged them to behave properly and to keep faith with the
government," Ututalum recalled in his speech in Congress
in March 1968. "I was inclined to give Martelino the
benefit of the doubt. I accepted his explanation." He
left Simunul somewhat appeased and a bit impressed by the
well-equipped camp and the training officers he met who had
overseas experience, primarily in Korea and Vietnam.
Sambas, now 48 years old, was the first Simunul recruit to be
commissioned officer with the rank of second lieutenant. He
remembers that day in 1967 when he saw Martelino's recruits
jogging on the rugged streets of Simunul:"They looked
like they were having fun." One morning, Martelino passed
by Sambas's house, looking for the latter's father who was
then a municipal official. Martelino ended up talking with
Sambas who signified his interest in joining the troops he
that time, Martelino had become famous in Simunul. The
residents adored him. He was a good-Iooking, generous, and
charming officer and gentleman. He had also converted to the
Muslim faith and called himself Abdul Latif. People knew him
to be close to the Marcos family, proof of which was his
ability to convince the President to visit Simunul in 1967. He
married a young lass from Simunul, 17-year-old Sophia Mirkusin,
after whom he later named the training camp.
didn't take much on Martelino's part to lure Sambas into
joining the Sabah mission. Sambas claimed they were told early
on about this plan even while they were still in the training
camp in Simunul. He was thrilled by the prospect of becoming a
soldier and joining an elite mission at that. In August 1967,
Sambas joined Martelino's men in their combat training at Camp
Sophia, which overlooked the sea.
no trace remains of a military camp in Simunul, not a single
marker. What was once Camp Sophia now looks deserted, planted
to palm and coconut trees and wild grass, with empty packs of kretek
cigarettes lying on the ground. But the lady after whom
the camp was named still lives in Simunul with her husband and
two children. Now 49 years old, Sophia is known by neighbors
and friends as Sophia Lazarato, a teacher who married a fellow
teacher in 1974 or six years after the event that turned her
first husband, Martelino, into a controversial national
Year at sea
was a forced marriage, Sophia recalled in an interview in June
1998. She was very young then, while Martelino was Mindanao's
most famous soldier and a veritable lady's man. Sophia did not
like him when they first met at a celebration of Martelino's
conversion into Islam. The soldier was smitten and used his
power with the local executives in Simunul to convince
Sophia's sister to agree to the marriage. They got married in
October 1967, after only their second meeting. Three cows were
served; Martelino gave a dowry of P5,000 plus high-powered
firearms to Sophia's family. Sophia's only remembrance of
Martelino now is a compilation of magazine and newspaper
articles about him.
December 30, 1967, anywhere from 135 (Aquino's count) to 180 (Oropesa's
count) recruits boarded a Philippine Navy vessel in Simunul
bound for Corregidor. For two days and one night, the troops
sailed from the outhernmost tip of the Philippines to
Corregidor. They spent the New Year at sea and reached the
island off Cavite on January 3, 1968.
was the last bastion of Filipino-American resistance against
invading Japanese forces. It was the site of many deaths and
some describe its history as written in blood. Today, it is a
tourist destination, with the ruins ofbattle well preserved.
However, Jabidah is never mentioned as part of Corregidor's
storied past. The hospital turned military barracks and the
airstrip where the killings took place are not included on the
routine tour. But graffiti of trainees' and trainors' names,
places ("all from Sulu," "Siasi market
site," "Tapul, Sulu'), and one memorable
date-"Jan. 3/68," when they arrived in Corregidor-bear
witness to Corregidor's connection to another island.
was also the site of other military training courses. Oropesa
told Congressional committees that he trained Fillipino Scout
Rangers and Special Forces, as well as foreign allies, like
Vietnamese and Laotian officers.
the recruits docked in Corregidor, Defense Undersecretary
Syquio and Gen. Espino, Army commander, inspected the
campsite. The old Corregidor hospital was cordoned off and
declared a restricted area. It was to be the military
barracks. The trainees were to stay inside the bombed-out
hospital on the topside of the island, the highest point on
Corregidor, surrounded by trees and bushes.
on the island, the trainees were ordered to cut the trees
surrounding the camp. They were taught to dig foxholes and use
parachutes. They kept a rigid schedule, and were up at 5
o'clock in the morning for a two-hour jog followed by drills.
Lectures took place in the afternoons.
Corregidor training sent Martelino away from his young wife who
lived in Sirmunul. But Sophia never asked what Corregidor was
all about. When the Jabidah massacre was exposed, she did not
know a thing and she never saw her husband again. "He did
not even bother to write. The trainees in Camp Sophia told me
he had another woman."
recalls seeing many other soldiers on Corregidor, but their
batch from Simunul was confined to one area in the
island."1 felt that they were hiding us from the
rest," Sambas says. He remembers the names of their
commanders: Facelo, Abadilla, Martelino; Col. Ciriaco Reyes
was in charge of finance while Nepomuceno took care of
personnel. Sambas was easily liked by his commanders and he
had no complaints at all.
appears that there was discrimination against the Tausug
trainees. Sambas said he got his pay but those from Sulu did
not. If stereotypes are to be believed, Tausugs are known to
be ferocious fighters, much disliked by the peaceloving Sama
because they bring their age-old feuds and confiicts with them
even if they migrate to places like Tawi- Tawi. Sambas is a
Sama from Simunul.
a commissioned officer, Sambas also noticed the growing
restlessness among other Muslim youths, notably those
recruited from Sulu. The recruits were getting impatient
because they couldn't send a single centavo back home. Their
promised pay of P50 a month was never given The officers were
aware of the agitation among the troops. They knew that it was
just a matter of time before a mutiny erupted. As a
precautionary measure, Abadilla and the rest took shifts
guarding their own barracks at night. Sambas remembers that
they sent at least 16 of the Muslims back to Sulu because they
were always complaining. He saw them board a naval patrol
invasion turns mutinous
Arula, from Sulu, and a survivor of the bungled training,
shares this account of the Corregidor training 30 years later:
were shown maps of North Borneo. They showed us where we were
going: Kota Kinabalu (Sabah's capital). We were going to be
issued passports so we could go to town legally and organize
Filipinos, our relatives and friends. Three hundred of us
trainees were to be divided among the three provinces of North
Borneo. 'lf war comes, with whom shall you side?' We were
supposed to ask them that. If they said that they'd side with
the Philippines, we would take them to the mountains of KK and
give them arms. We would demolish their communications
equipment, burn them, plant dynamite, and simultaneously
explode them. These would cause a blackout. Then we could rob
banks, we were told, and kill Malaysian police. We'd just
start it (trouble) and go home. We would need to look for a
boat to take us back. We'd grab any boat... It would be
when questioned in Congress, admitted that one of the subjects
taught at Corregidor was the invasion of Sabah. "I
wish to honestly say that I have a feeling that this
training... is purposely for infiltrating Sabah," Oropesa
said at a Congressional hearing. But he backtracked and
clarified that “any land or country or portions of a country
mentioned is only taken as a reference for instruction."
the fourth week of February, some of the trainees started to
get restless. Since their arrival in Corregidor, they had not
been paid a single centavo. They were promised a monthly pay
of P50. Their food was miserable. Every day, they ate tuyo (dried
fish) with burnt rice. They slept on ipil wood and cots. They
were lonely and isolated. Meanwhile, their key officers
pampered themselves in comfortable, airconditioned rooms at
the Bayview Hotel, across the Manila Bay, a short boat trip
trainees decided to complain and secretly wrote a petition
addressed to President Marcos, signed by about 62 trainees.
Others placed their thumbmarks. They wanted their pay plus an
improvement in their living conditions. The letter was given
to a Tausug from the Philippine Navy. Somehow, it reached
visited the trainees and assured them of their pay. Then, in a
separate visit on the first week of March, he called the four
leaders of the petitioning group. Martelino told a
Congressional committee: "I sent for the four
trainees-Lt. Batalla fetched them-and spent about one hour
talking to them (about their complaints) at the bottomside of
the island. After talking to them, I sent them back to
these four men never returned to camp. Arula recalls they were
told they were returning home. Apparently, they were brought
to Manila. Martelino said they deserted. Dugasan Ahid, one of
the four leaders, later testified in Congress that his three
companions were shot by their trainors, including Martellno.
But, upon cross-examination, Ahid wavered. News reports said
he "began to falter and contradict himself. He admitted
that he didn't see the officers shoot his companions."
The three, to this day, remain unaccounted for.
Segundo Velasco, AFP chief of staff; later said that Ahid
surrendered to defense officials on March 22. Ahid said he
escaped along with three others in a pumpboat from the
Corregidor landing. After reaching Bataan, he and his
companions took separate ways.
Ahid and company left, the trainees were given fiesta food:
goat, beef, and Nescafe coffee with milk. Almost every night,
there was music and dancing. A few women were there. They also
had an amateur singing contest. Arula recalls belting out Sayonara.
But with the good food and entertainment came the bad
news: the rest of the signatories to the petition were
disarmed. Effective March 1, all 58 of them were considered
60 to 70 trainees, meanwhile, were transferred to Camp
Capinpin in the jungles of Tanay, Rizal, on the first week of
March. Gen. Espino testified in Congress that the group was
moving to an "advanced phase of training... and they
envisioned an exercise... all the way to the Pacific Ocean.
"These men, the Army commander said, were a cut above the
rest so they were chosen forthe more rigorous training in
Tanay. They were not signatories to the petition.
March 16, another batch was taken away from Corregidor. About
24 recruits were told that a Philippine Navy boat was docking
early that morning to ferry them back to Sulu. Espino said
that, in addition, two were returned home by Air Force plane.
This group, Espino said, "could not stand the rigors of
training" and thus were sent home. But Sen. Aquino, who
investigated the case, refuted this, citing some of the
trainees' letters to their families which he obtained while on
a visit to Sulu and Tawi- Tawi. Generally, the letters showed
they were proud of their achievements, having survived in
tough conditions and having climbed the highest mountain on
24 men gathered their personal belongings and shortly before
dawn they were brought to the island pier. They boarded the
same boat that had brought them to Corregidor in the New Year.
Aquino met this batch of 24 in Jolo when he did his own
sleuthing in late March, after the story of Arula broke out in
the press. William Patarasa, 18, one of the
trainee-petitioners, corroborated all the points raised by
Arula, Aquino said in his Senate speech.
on March 18, another 12 recruits were told to prepare for
home. At 2 a.m., they left camp. These men, till today, are
unaccounted for. Soon after, on the same day, another batch of
12 was told that they were going to leave at 4 a.m. Why a
dozen per batch? Because the plane, they were told, could
carry only 12 passengers. Arula belonged to this second batch.
memory of this day remains vivid: "Lts. Nepomuceno and
Batalla were the ones who picked up the two batches. They said
we were going for R & R.
went to the airport on a weapons carrier truck, accompanied by
13 (non- Muslim) trainees who were armed with M-16 and
carbines. When we reached the airport, our escorts alighted
ahead of us. Then Nepomuceno ordered us to get down from the
truck and line up. As we put down our bags, I heard a series
of shots. Like dominoes, my colleagues fell. I got scared. I
ran and was shot at, in my left thigh. I didn't know that I
was running towards a mountain. When I reached the mountain, I
clung to an ipil-ipil, my palm skin peeled off, and I rolled
off the steep rocky mountain. I closed my eyes. I temporarily
lost consciousness but when I regained it, I was lying on the
shore and I heard shots. Sand was bursting from the shots, as
if bullets were chasing me. I swam and I got a plank of wood
as my lifesaver. I heard the roar of a truck and two pumpboats.
By 8 a.m., I was rescued by two fishermen on Caballo island,
in a Congressional hearing, the training officers gave their
versions of what transpired. One of them was Capt. Alberto
Soteco, a medical doctor and graduate of the Special Forces
Course (Airborne) of the Philippine Army. He said that on
March 18, 3:30 a.m., he was on board the weapons carrier with
Nepomuceno, who was at the wheel. With them were seven
trainees, armed and in civilian attire, and three cadre
personnel. (This account, however, contradicts Arula's story
who said that they had been disarmed after they filed their
complaint.) They stopped at Kindley airstrip which was almost
surrounded, at the back and both sides, by thick ipil-ipil
trees. The front was clear and the rest, from the shed
westwards, was all ipil-ipil. They were supposed to do night
air infiltration exercises, mark the airfield for landing of
other troops, do simultaneous paradrops of personnel and
supplies, and provide security around the airfield. But the
trainees started to run towards the airport shed, about 25 to
30 meters away. Nepomuceno fired a warning shot.
(Nepomuceno) requested me to help him search for
trainees," Soteco told a Congressional committee.
"After a few minutes, Nepomuceno found out that only
M/Sgt. Munar, myself and (Angel) de la Cruz were with him. We
continued the search but because it was too dark, we feared
being ambushed. Nepomuceno decided to return to base camp. We
arrived at 5:45 a.m."
his part, trainor Angel De la Cruz, in his testimony, merely
said that the trainees refused to obey the orders of
Nepomuceno for the exercise.
many of the soldiers involved in Oplan Merdeka, there was
nothing wrong with a plot to take back territory that they
believed the Philippines owned. It was
the patriotic thing to do. Looking back, they say that if not
for the bungled training, the killings would not have ensued
and Oplan Merdeka would have pushed through. lt was a
legitimate project with a worthy goal.
officer is murdered
the killings of trainees were not the end of the mayhem. On
March 19, Lt. Nepomuceno was killed on Corregidor. Nepomuceno,
a PMA graduate, was a Metrocom officer until February 1, 1968,
when the Secretary of National Defense issued a special order
assigning him to the Special Forces training on Corregidor.
The trainees had already been there for a month when
within the Constabulary, Batalla recruited Abadilla and
Nepomuceno into the special mission. Abadilla and Nepomuceno
were PMA classmates, inseparable since their cadet days. While
Abadilla was assigned to monitor the daily training of the
recruits, Nepomuceno took care of the logistics and personnel
supervision. There were to be two battalions of trainees for
the infiltration and invasion.
general Dictador Alqueza remembers those days because he was
actually about to replace Nepomuceno as the logistics officer
of Oplan Merdeka when the latter was killed. He had already
sought permission from his father, telling him that he was
going for one year's schooling in Malaysia. Alqueza remembered
that that was what Batalla and Martelino told him, that the
operation would last a year. In any case, Alqueza was all set
to replace Nepomuceno, because, Alqueza said, "I got the
impression that there were complaints against Nepo." (Nepo
is the nickname of Nepomuceno.)
a retired general who knew Nepomuceno, Romeo Padiernos, said
he doubted if Nepomuceno had a hand in the abuse against the
trainees. He believed that if Nepomuceno was killed at all it
had to have been because he was fighting for the right of the
trainees to be paid on time. "He was a very idealistic
young man," Padiernos recalls. "I can't imagine Nepo
abusing others... I can actually picture him taking the
cudgels for the trainees and speaking on their behalf. Maybe
somebody decided to silence him."
was pestered by his PMA classmates no end about who really
killed Nepomuceno. Padiernos himself confronted Abadjlla about
it, but the latter would not talk about his classmate's death.
Abadilla never discussed the details of Oplan Merdeka or of
Nepomuceno's death with any of his classmates, a silence that
angered some of them.
was shot in the forehead and the bullet came out somewhere in
the nape. The line of trajectory indicated he must have been
kneeling when he was shot. According to Sen. Aquino, the Army
wanted to bury Nepomuceno without an autopsy. He gathered this
information from Nepomuceno's parents. Lawyers from the Civil
Liberties Union handled this case but no charges were filed.
official story was that Nepomuceno, the commanding officer of
the training camp, discovered the plot to liquidate the
officers. On March 19, when Nepomuceno was taking the trainees
to a bivouac area to disarm them, he was suddenly abducted by
Alfonso Mamaroglo, a trainee from Camp Aquino, Tarlac, and
supposedly one of the leaders of the mutiny. He ran amok and
shot Nepomuceno in the face. This resulted in a gun battle.
Another trainee, Tagumpay de la Cruz, a former Huk, was killed
with Mamaroglo. One of the assistant trainors, Capt. Rosauro
Novesteras, also from Tarlac, was wounded, shot by Mamaroglo.
AWilfredo Pahayahay was also wounded.
versions, with slight variations from the official story of
Nepomuceno's killing, emerged during the Congressional
hearings. Oropesa, in his testimony, said that a "team
was out on a tactical exercise" on March 1.8, between
3:30 and 4 a.m. While the instructor was trying to form the
group in preparation for the exercise, somebody shouted "Magdagan
na kita. " (Let's run, let's go.) The group ran and
Lt. Nepomuceno, the instructor; commanded them to stop. He
fired a shot in the air after which he gave chase to the
fleeing trainees. In the process, there were several shots
heard. It was very dark.
the chase, Nepomuceno came upon only one trainee, De la Cruz,
who accounted for firing several shots. None of the other
members of the group could be located so they went back to
camp. After breakfast, Nepomuceno organized a search party.
The search took the whole day but no one was found. On March
19, another search was conducted. Shots were heard. Nepomuceno
was found dead and an assistant trainor, Novesteras, was
eyewitness account by Manila Times reporter Cesario del
Rosario who was on Corregidor on March 20, 1968, contradicts
the official story about the death of Mamaroglo, the suspect
in Nepomuceno's murder. Mamaroglo was shot on March 20, and
not on the 19th, as the generals claimed. Del Rosario wrote:
"A uniformed man carrying a rifle crouching and running
towards the hut was shouting, 'Sumuko ka na...' A voice
replied, 'Huwag na ninyo akong hulihin. Uuwi na ako sa
Tarlac.' Before the soldier could reach the hut, a bullet
hit his face and I saw him fall downward. He was identified as
Tagumpay de La Cruz of Tarlac. We were told later that he was
asked by his comrades to convince Mamaroglo to surrender as
they were townmates. The firing continued. About 3:15 p.m.,
Mamaroglo came out of the hutwith raised hands apparently to
give up but successive shots rang out and he fell dead."
various testimonies also revealed more of the nature of the
commando group. It turned out that a number of men from Tarlac,
part of a paramilitary group, were with the core of the
Jabidah forces. Most, if not all of them, were members of the
Civilian Commando Unit (CCU), the precursor of the civilian
Home Defense Forces. The CCU, says Eugenio Alcantara, who was
on Corregidor as a 31-year-old training assistant, was an
anti-Huk group. "We were informers," says Alcantara
of his work as team leader at the CCU. He was used as an asset
by the AFP j-2 or intelligence unit. "They chose us (for
Jabidah) because we were pro-Marcos, faithful to the
government. Our order was to help in training (recruits)
." De la Cruz, for his part, operated in Nueva Ecija in
1950. He was employed by President Magsaysay in the Department
of National Defense to help in the anti-dissident campaign in
Central Luzon. Subsequently, he worked as an agent for the DND.
questions remained about who really killed Nepomuceno, it was
certainly Batalla, the immediate superior of Nepomuceno in the
camp, who was responsible for Mamaroglo's death. Sambas, one
of the recruits from Tawi- Tawi, witnessed the shooting. He
was still on Corregidor when the situation turned for the
worse. He was told by his commanders that Nepomuceno had been
killed by one of the trainees, Mamaroglo.
and pained by the incident, Capt. Batalla launched a search
for Mamaroglo who had by that time gone into hiding in the
jungles of the island. Sambas tagged along and, early in the
morning after long hours of search, he saw Mamaroglo trapped
in a makeshift hut. Mamaroglo refused to surrender, prompting
Batalla and his men to shoot at the hut. When he came out, he
was all bloodied but still alive. Batalla shot him right there
never denied to his colleagues that he shot Mamaroglo. The way
he shot the fugitive-the bullet entered Mamaroglo's forehead,
right above the nose-was the talk among the PMAers who were at
Nepomuceno's wake. Sambas saw nothing wrong with the killing
just as he saw nothing wrong in joining a mission to invade
Sabah. To him, the idea was a noble one. After the expose on
Jabidah, he was among the many court-martialed by the military
in a mock trial. He was later transferred to Nueva Ecija but
was not given any combat post again.
was hard to get to the bottom of Oplan Merdeka. All CAO
reports on the project were burned on orders of Martelino.
Documents were tampered.
were falsified. In Congress, the officers gave uncoordinated
testimonies and bungled accounts, especially about the missing
trainees and the killing of Nepomuceno. Basic documents
containing the names of all trainees were unavailable.
and an enlisted man, M/Sgt. Cesar Calinawagan, were later
charged before the military court with "feloniously"
preparing morning reports of the Special Forces Training Unit.
They made it appear that the morning reports for the months of
November and December 1967 were faithful to the dates.
Actually, they were prepared only in the latter part of
December 1967 in Fort Bonifacio. For the month of November,
which has only 30 days, 31 reports had been made. This little
error gave the officers away. Facelo was also partly
responsible for this oversight.
Facelo, and Abadilla were likewise charged with falsifying the
signatures of eight trainees. They made it appear that these
persons signed the payrolls of the Special Forces Training
Unit for the months of January to March 1968. However, these
trainees never received their salaries nor signed the
Malacafiang, President Marcos denied outright the opposition's
accusation that Project Merdeka was a sinister plot to invade
Sabah. He ordered the Armed Forces top brass to investigate
the incident. The orders were sent to Gen. Segundo Velasco,
AFP chief of staff; Brig. Gen. Espino, the Army commanding
general; and Maj. Gen. Manuel Yan, the Constabulary chief and
concurrent vice chief of staff.
their report, the generals said the training was part of the
“counterinsurgency" program being conducted by the
government and that the killings were caused by "simple
munity and desertion by trainees who had been kept under
sustained, simulated, adverse, and severe jungle
conditions." They surmised that the trainees must have
broken down under pressure from Nepomuceno, their commanding
officer, who, in the words of the generals, was a "hard
AFP leadership chose not to dignify the reports about the
Sabah invasion. It wove a tale that heightened the communist
threat: "Information from friendly neighboring countries
emphasizes the fact that communist agents were operating in
the general area of our southern backdoor and indicates an
upsurge in communist activities there. Additional intelligence
information indicates the communist agents have infiltrated
through our southern backdoor." Hence, the generals told
the public, the decision to organize "well- trained
counterinsurgency forces" such as the one on Corregidor
Espino told Congress the Army was "never involved"
in Project Merdeka. He said that his office received two
directives: one in September 1967 for I/special forces
training," and another in November in the form of a radio
message from the AFP chief of staff "to conduct not later
than the first week of January training on unconventional
warfare for counterinsurgency." He also admitted flying
to Corregidor twice, before March, to inspect the unit. Upon
deplaning from his 8-17, Espino was given planeside honors and
he was quite impressed by the trainees’ appearance. On his
second visit, he saw the trainees engaged in grenade throwing
refused to talk about Operation Merdeka in an interview. “The
less we talk about it, the better," he told us.
story, two versions
official story came in two conflicting versions. After the
generals came up with the "counterinsurgency"
account, Martelino, "case officer" of the
clandestine project, regaled congressmen with a fantastic
scheme of deception. The real intention behind the rather
unorthodox training of mostly Tausug men, he revealed in
Congressional hearings, was to stop the plans of private
armies to invade Sabah. These men, he said, were actually
members of armed groups in Sulu out to infiltrate Sabah and
grab it. The men were made to believe that they were going to
invade Sabah-but, actually, their training was just a cover to
keep them under control.
military parlance," Martelino told Congressional
committees, "the mission was that of denial, to deny
these people from pursuing their objective." Precisely,
Project Merdeka was, in fact, organized to try to dissuade
these groups from pursuing their plan. “The reason for this
was that any attempt at invasion of Sabah by Filipinos would
embarrass the government and create an international crisis
for our government, " the flamboyant Martelino said with
a straight face. Effortlessly, he turned around the facts.
Martelino referred to intelligence reports concerning separate
armed movements planning to launch an invasion of Sabah. They
were emboldened by the Philippines’ pending claim to Sabah,
Martelino said, so that they began to take their own steps.
to him, Oplan Merdeka had two phases as a mission of denial.
The first was in Simunul, from August to December 1967. The
training on Corregidor. The project was approved by the AFP
chief of staff and commander in chief and intelligence funds
a military court was trying the case, Martelino and other
officers were undertechnical arrest, confined to restricted
areas in Fort Bonifacio and Camp Capinpin in Tanay. But
Martelino was a special case. Often, he had important guests.
“My dad played poker with Marcos and Abadilla in Fort
Bonifacio at night while under house arrest in a heavily
guarded house, with grills," Pat Martelino Lon says.
had been obsessed with Malaysia since the 1950s. In 1959, he
wrote a book about it, published in New York, where he was
then serving as press attache of the Philippine embassy. In Someday
Malaysia, Martelino longed for the fulfillment of a dream
of the late Philippine President Manuel Quezon: the
integration of Burma, Thailand, Annam (now central Vietnam) ,
Malaysia, Indonesia, and the Philippines into a Commonwealth
of Malaysia. In Quezon's time, onlyThailand was independent.
Malayans certainly have the means to collectively achieve
greatness," wrote Martelino."Togetherthey compose
one-fifth of the world's total population. Beneath the
surfaces of their lands lie vast untapped treasures of oil,
gold, copper, tin, manganese, and other rich metals."
son of the first Filipino superintendent of the PMA, Martelino
joined the PAF during the time of the late President Ramon
Magsaysay. When Ferdinand Marcos became president in 1965, he
was impressed with Martelino's skills and his penchant for
special operations. Martelino never hid from Marcos his stand vis-a-vis
the Philippine claim to Sabah. A newspaper interview has
him saying that he would often tell Marcos that the Philippine
military was in a good position to seize Sabah by force if the
Malaysians refused to return it to the Philippines through
word war erupts
Malaysia, the government raised the stakes with a display of
anger and anxiety. In a strident tone, the Malaysian
government lodged a formal protest with the Philippines
"over the report of the existence of a Philippine special
force to conduct infiltration, subversion and sabotage in
Sabah." They were taking
the report "most seriously" as they had just
arrested more than 20 armed Filipinos "who were unable to
explain their presence in Sabah. "Tun Mustapha, chief
minister of Sabah, denounced the Philippines for “Irresponsible
abrogated the anti-smuggling agreement it signed in 1965 with
Marcos, withdrew its embassy staff from the Philippines, and
demanded that the Philippines implement its announced
withdrawal of its own staff. It also ended its participation
in regional meetings that involved the Philippines.
Sabah, a sense of danger suddenly swept through the island.
Emergency security measures, some quite exaggerated, were put
in place "to counter threats of infiltration from the
Philippines." Young men from 18 to 28 years old had to
register for military training. A vigilante and local defense
corps was immediately formed "to watch illegal landings
and to report suspicious activities to the military, guard key
positions, and to assist police in territorial attacks."
Family members and occupants of houses in certain areas
considered sensitive were asked to register. Arrivals and
departures had to be strictly recorded. The state government
wanted to impress on residents the urgency of the situation
and enlist their help in tracking down movements of
"subversive elements, would-be saboteurs, and
a tit-for-tat, Sabah police picked up Filipinos for illegal
entry and seized a Philippine boat, claiming that the motor
launch, which had 15 Filipino crew members on board, had
intruded into Malaysian territorial waters. Not taking this
lightly, Marcos ordered the deployment of more troops and Navy
ships to the border area between the Philippines and Malaysia.
A word war ensued in the newspapers.
Corregidor fiasco, in a way, served as a wake-up call to Kuala
Lumpur. It could no longer take its eastern
"backdoor" for granted. Then Prime Minister Tungku
Abdul Rahman announced plans to hasten agricultural
development and increase investments in Sabah.
Philippine government stood its ground. Calling the Malaysian
protests a form of intervention in its domestic affairs, the
Philippines strongly denied the charge that Jabidah was formed
to invade Sabah. It also renewed its claim to Sabah. Marcos
instructed Philippine Ambassador to the UN Salvador Lopez to
meet with the UN Secretary General U Thant "for a
Malaysian agreement to an immediate settlement of the claim to
Sabah through the World Court." A Malaysian foreign
ministry spokesman said that they did not find it timely to
seek recourse with the World Court, stressing that preliminary
talks should first be held before any agreement was made on
the mode of settlement.
also reminded the Philippines of a UN survey in 1963 which
showed that the people of Sabah wanted to be part of Malaysia.
At that time, the Federation
of Malaysia was being formed to include Sabah and Sarawak. The
and Indonesia raised objections, prompting the U N to send a
team to the two potential members of the federation to
determine their sentiments. Secretary-General U Thant
announced the UN findings two days before Malaysia Day, which
would fall on September 16, 1963. He said that a sizeable
majority of the people of Sarawak and Sabah wished to join
Malaysia. Lee Kuan Yew has vivid recollections of this period
in The Singapore Story: "The next day (September
15, 1963), Indonesia and the Philippines recalled their
ambassadors from Kuala Lumpur and declared that they would not
recognise Malaysia, and on 16 September huge crowds gathered
in Jakarta for an organized display of 'popular rage,' then
the conventional Third World protocol for diplomatic
refuge for the rebels
later, in 1968, relations between the Philippines and Malaysia
soured, this time more intense than in 1963. Malaysia took its
revenge a year after the Jabidah killings. It provided succor
to rebels from the secessionist MNLF aiding them with arms and
military training in Sabah. For years, Sabah was home to the
MNLF. For Tun Mustapha, Sabah's chief minister who claimed his
paternal lineage from the sultans of Sulu, the issue had a
religious dimension as well. Committed to Islam, he was driven
by a mission to convert all residents of Sabah to Islam and to
propagate the faith among non-Muslim neighbors.
University of Malaya's Prof. Gorpinath cites reports in 1973
that Marcos, either directly or through Indonesia, had
proposed to the Malaysian government that Manila would
renounce publicly its claim to Sabah if Malaysia could assure
the Philippines that it would stop giving sanctuary to the
Philippine claim to Sabah remained a contentious issue through
the Marcos years. In 1977, during the Asean summit in Kuala
Lumpur, Marcos announced his intention to drop the Sabah
claim-in the spirit, he said, of regional cooperation. He did
not go beyond a verbal commitment, however, because
politicians back home denounced his statement.
Corazon Aquino became president in 1986, she did not revive
the claim but neither did she rehabilitate relations with
Malaysia. It was a dormant time for the two countries’
relations. It was only in 1993, when President Fidel Ramos
made the first official visit of a Philippine head of state to
Malaysia in more than 30 years, that ties between the two
countries flourished. The claim to Sabah was never mentioned
as Malaysians rushed to invest in the Philippines and as
diplomacy and trade intensified. During the first year of
President Joseph Estrada (1998-1999), the old claim to Sabah
did not figure at all.
31 years later, the memories of Jabidah may have faded and the
Philippines and Malaysia may have deliberately kept this
sensitive and regrenable incident under wraps, the better to
forget it and to keep relations placid
and trouble-free. One officer involved in the cover-up
operations on Corregidor calls the phenomenon "selective
amnesia." Former Executive Secretary Alejandro Melchor,
who worked with Marcos before the martial law years, says that
"It's about time we put a closure to this chapter in our
can a nation close a chapter as muddled as Jabidah ?