We are devoting today’s Sunday Read space to the Jabidah privileged speech of the late Senator Benigno S. Aquino Jr. because numerous reader have requested us to accelerate our printing in full of this speech that he delivered on March 28, 1968 in the Senate session hall to expose what he called was “a sinister design of then President Ferdinand E. Marcos” to invade Sabah and recover it for the Philippines from Malaysia. In the course of his expose the late father of President B. S. Aquino 3rd revealed that the so-called “Jabidah Massacre” of Muslim Tausug soldier trainees never happened. Notwithstanding, President Marcos was excoriated by local detractors, international commentators and human rights activists. The fictional “Jabidah Massacre” was a major element in the eruption of the Muslim insurgency in Mindanao.]
The tale, as it wove itself, had a girl, a girl named Sophia. And there was, as characterization demanded in fiction, a man, a man of some good looks, cunning, daring, ambition and, of course, a strong sense of romance, a certain Major Abdullatif Martelino.
For plot and setting, there were the secret recruitment, secret orientation, secret training and secret mission—things supposedly known only to a handful of men in the highest authority.
The girl, by the way, was beautiful, as beautiful as the camp was ugly.
And they were all—characters, setting and plot—hush-hush, top secret. Or supposed to be.
The Slip Showed
As it was, however, I found out they were far from a tightly guarded secret, as far from hidden under the cloak as was their dagger. And if they were a secret at all, they were an open secret in the Sulu islands.
In fact, as the newsmen who joined me and I found out, they were talked about as freely by the people on the islands as were smuggling and the other nefarious operations in the southern backdoor.
It all started, our findings went, in September, just before the last elections, when Major Abdullatif Martelino, otherwise known as Major Eddie Martelino of the
Philippine Air Force, arrived in Jolo, blended into the Muslim community and started recruiting the cream of the Muslim youth.
For your background, Major Martelino is the head of the Defense Department’s Civil Affairs Office — and a living legend of sorts. He is a man as much known for his romantic escapades as for his tremendous political staying power, things some may even envy him.
His unchronicled life’s story shows he worked for President Carlos P. Garcia, then surfaced as an undercover agent of President Diosdado Macapagal after Mr. Garcia lost the presidency in 1961. And so he stayed in the graces of power.
He was a top man of Defense Secretary Macario Peralta, supplying the Liberals with supposedly “damaging” items against then presidential challenger Ferdinand E. Marcos as Mr. Marcos and Mr. Macapagal battled for the people’s will and votes in the 1965 elections. When it was all over, with Mr. Marcos the victor and Mr. Macapagal toppled, Major Martelino surfaced as Mr. Marcos’ top political double agent.
And so he has stayed, holding the same post he held under President Macapagal in the defense establishment.
His name has been linked to many a major scandal personality — from Cavite’s smuggling lords to the Octopus of Cotabato. This, however, has failed to do him damage.
How he got himself to head the Marcos special forces, it seems, springs from his supposed forte: he is supposedly good in developing the minority groups, like the Ilongots and the Dumagats.
For reasons which he alone knows, Major Eddie Martelino renounced his Catholic faith, embraced the Muslim religion and took on the name Major Abdullatif Martelino. Soon after, however, he wooed and married the beautiful Sophia.
All this, of course, scandalized the Christian leaders in Jolo. And they denounced — discreetly, to be sure — with lay leaders in Manila.
They had a worse scandal to report, however, after they got word that Major Martelino had fled with the wife of a Philippine Navyman, also a Simunul beauty.
Happily for Major Abdullatif, all the reports failed to make an impression on Manila’s permissive society. Some even thought it was cute.
All this, Mr. President, you may say, comes up to a man’s romantic adventures over which we, in this chamber, ought not to waste valuable time. I submit, however, they must now be raised — not to vilify the man, but because the Corregidor Affair and all its consequences weave around Major Abdullatif Martelino.
Our Man, Abdul
For what transpired, prior to the Corregidor fiasco, are:
Major Martelino went into massive recruitment of Tausug young men, ages 18 to 30, in Jolo, in Siasi, in Tandubas, in Sanga-Sanga, in Bongao, in Bato-Bato and in Simunul — islands of the Sulu archipelago — in September, October, November and December 1967.
Major Martelino recruited those with a working knowledge of the Tausug dialect, with experience in smuggling and kumpit sailing, with familiarity of the neighboring islands, with pleasing personality, and preferably with high school or college education. In other words, the cream of the Tausug young men.
Major Martelino, as come-on and inducement, promised the Tausug young men they would be integrated into the armed forces as paratroopers, as the elite nucleus of a new strike force under the personal command and direction of President Marcos, after a six-month crash training.
Major Martelino, as a ploy to get the Tausug elders behind him, promised to distribute land to the faithful once his special secret mission had been accomplished and he had proclaimed himself Sultan of the “liberated territory.”
Major Martelino set up a secret training camp on Simunul island, later another one on Corregidor. The Simunul camp, as I said earlier, he named after his wife Sophia.
A sneak inspection I made on Simunul, Mr. President, showed the camp deserted, save for a few enlisted men and some basic equipment. Simunul’s special forces group, I was told, had been shipped out aboard a Philippine Navy LSM, the “RPS Oriental Mindoro” — destination unknown, mission undisclosed.
In my first privileged speech delivered in this august chamber last February, Mr. President, I adverted to the sinister motives behind the civic action centers of President Marcos.
I said then:
“An obsession to create impact is behind the presidential project to create armed forces civic action centers in every province. One cannot avoid suspecting the AFP civic action centers are geared to brainwash the barrio leaders into blind acceptance and propagation of the so-called Marcos government achievements.
“Rapport between central authority is a must, I affirm. But I oppose, as I am sure you, Mr. President, will oppose, converting the barrio units of our government into tools and instruments of central authority.
“I do hope, sincerely, that I am wrong, that the Chief Executive is minded with aspirations more lofty than merely ensuring his continuity in power. But I fear the object behind the design is far from selfless.
“I shall be glad to be proved to be fearing out of nothing more than fear, but my fear builds before my eyes a disquieting evolution of our barrio councils — from the democratic simplest units of government they were intended by law to be, into cogs of a unipersonal political machine.
“As I see it, in the civic action centers run by the military, our barrio captains and councilmen will be herded and told in endless monologues of the greatness of the Great Achiever. Propaganda brochures depicting his life and labors will flood the centers in tons, all designed to condition the mass mind and build up the Marcos Cult.
“It will not take too much imagination to see how these centers will operate. All barrio leaders will be invited to attend ‘seminars’ in these civic action centers, there to be fed not only food for the body but also for the mind and the spirit. They will be told there of the greatness — false, true, or half-true and half-false — of the Great Provider.
“To complete the picture, imagine all these civic action centers connected by ribbons of communications and controlled by an operations center in, say, Camp Aguinaldo. Here is the beginning of massive thought control, all done in the name of democracy.
“In all these, I am reminded of how governments and countries were subverted and taken over by those with the will and the resolve in Eastern Europe, in Latin America, even in our own Asia. Always, it was done very covertly, very subtly.
“Again, I say, I hope I fear wrongly.”
Mr. President, my worst fears are being borne out by facts.
On Simunul Island, I saw the recruiting base for a special forces unit called “Jabidah” and their camp, “Camp Sophia”, named after the beautiful 18-year-old Muslim maiden taken for a wife by the commanding officer of the Jabidahs, Major Abdullatif Martelino. Camp Sophia was the recruiting station for the Jabidahs.
The Jabidahs are composed of some of the best young men of the Sulu islands. Young men with a good background in smuggling and knowledge of a neighboring country were given priority in enlistment.
The camp was located inside a coconut plantation off the beaten track, fenced in by some six strands of barbed wire. Watchtowers were built all along the perimeter line.
I brought with me, Mr. President, pictures showing the camp and all the things that went with it. I will refer back to these pictures as soon as I get through the details.
The boys were trapped by a bizarre plan and an even more bizarre mission.
Given unorthodox uniforms and brand-new carbines and thompson submachineguns, the recruits were told that they would form the nucleus of a special force, an elite group within the Armed Forces of the Philippines that would spearhead a mission to end all missions.
Sign language was the medium of communications, sinister-looking patches and rings with encrusted skull and crossbones were their distinguishing marks, the marks of their esprit de corps.
This is the badge of the Jabidahs. (Senator Aquino digs into his coat pocket, shows a military badge). It is yellow in background, with a black skull, with a drip of blood on the skull’s forehead, and with black crossbones.
(End of Part 2. To be continued tomorrow and succeeding days).