“We, Bangsamoros, cannot forgive because those responsible for Martial Law have never been brought to justice.”
By DEE AYROSO
MANILA – Nostalgia came with bitterness and pain, as survivors of the Marcos Dictatorship gathered in Quezon City on Feb. 22, for the national launch of the Campaign Against the Return of the Marcoses to Malacañang (Carmma).
From as far as Northern Luzon, Panay island and Mindanao they came, hundreds of victims with their stories of terror and death in the hands of soldiers, paramilitary and company guards who wielded power, and committed human rights violations with impunity.
Among them were Moros from Maguindanao province who lost their loved ones in the numerous massacres by state forces in Mindanao.
“It was painful,” Moro educator Kedza Ukas told Bulatlat about the gathering. Listening to stories of other victims brings back the tragedy in his own family, said Ukas, 57, whose father and two older siblings were killed during Martial Law.“It’s painful if the Marcoses return,” he said.
His companion, Abunawas Kali, 65, a retired government employee of the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), said it would have been less painful if their kin died from natural causes. “It’s heartbreaking to remember… it was because of Martial Law,” he said.
‘They shoot whoever they pass by’
Ukas, now the principal of Mukamadali Elementary School in Cotabato City, recalled that the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) was then gaining strength in Maguindanao, and government troops were frantic to crush them. But instead of rebels, they were turning up civilian casualties.
Ukas was then a student, on scholarship in a boarding school in Adurkaman in North Cotabato when tragedy struck his family, who lived in Balauan, Maguindanao. On July 16, 1978, soldiers passed by some 15 farmers working in a field, and began shooting at them. Nine were killed, including Ukas’s elder brother Pajarodin, and father Mukamad.
“It was the 19th infantry battalion,” Ukas vividly recalled. Every day, people were getting shot by soldiers, he said: “They fired at whoever they passed by.”
As Kali described it: “Parang manok na pinagpapraktisan” (They had shooting practice on people like chickens).
The next year, in 1979, Ukas’s sister Hadji Sakia Ukas died from giving birth prematurely. She was among civilians who tried to run away from a military operation in Lutayan, Sultan Kudarat.
Staying at the boarding school, Ukas was spared from witnessing the violent deaths of his father and siblings, but not from the terror that then ruled the land. He recalled being held at a checkpoint as a teenager, as he travelled home from the boarding school.
“We didn’t have cedula (community certificate) because we were students,” said Ukas. To prove they were students, the soldiers made them stand on top of a table to conduct the singing of the national anthem. Some were made to crawl under the table. “They toyed with us,” Ukas said.
Another time he went home, he and his family had to encamp in the forest, to escape the soldiers’ atrocities. “People lost their belongings, their farm animals and home. There was no help from government,” Ukas said.
He said he was lucky to have finished school, unlike many Moro youths. “There were no classes then, because many schools were destroyed, students were displaced and had to stop their studies,” he said.
Massacred by the hundreds
Abunawas Kali was a young government employee in Maguindanao province during Martial Law. His two uncles, Amay Sandalia and Usop Kabalu, had survived the Manili massacre in Carmen, North Cotabato in 1971. The two men lost their respective wives — Pakutao Gani and Maysalam Kabalu, each with three children seven years old and younger — in the carnage by soldiers who shot dead 70 Moros inside a mosque.
Kali asked his two uncles to stay at his house and work in his rice mill in Bulibud village, Sultan Kudarat, along with another uncle, Hajitahir Rasul. Kali was then working in the municipal office in Parang and went home only on weekends. Rasul’s wife, children and sister also lived in Kali’s place.
In 1974, Kali was in Parang when soldiers of the 35th infantry battalion came to the house in Bulibud at dawn and fired randomly. They roused the sleeping residents, and made Kali’s three uncles line up on one side, and the two women and two children on another. The soldiers even wanted the 11-year-old boy to line up with the men, but his mother pleaded to keep him by her side. Then the soldiers shot the men, firing squad-style.
The women and children took the chance to escape, jumped into the river and swam to the other side. It was Kali’s aunts, Saynab and Sawad Rasul, and the latter’s two children, Udin and Bakungan, who lived to tell Kali about what happened. Kali’s niece, Bakungan vividly recalled the soldiers used “a gun with a magazine belt” — an M60 machine gun — to fire at the three men.
The soldiers then looted the Kali family home, carting away the antique Muslim heirloom. Then they burned the house and the rice mill, razing 75 sacks of rice and all of Kali’s important documents and belongings. The soldiers were also seen carrying away Kali’s uncle, Hajitahir Rasul, whose body was never found.
“Grabeng pagmasaker, grabeng ginawa ng militar sa Muslim,” Kali bitterly said, recalling the sad fate of his uncles.
That same year, in September, 20 more of Kali’s relatives were killed in the gruesome “Kulong-kulong massacre” in Palimbang town, Sultan Kudarat province. Some 1,500 Moros were killed when soldiers attacked the coastal town and gathered thousands of residents of seven villages, and detained them in the Tacbil mosque.
“Every night they took 10 men, made them dig their graves, then shot them dead. Every night they also took 10 women to the boat, and raped them,” Kali recalled the story by one of the survivors, his cousin, Bainkung Buwisan. Buwisan was then 14, and was raped, along with other women who were herded into a Philippine Navy boat where they were assaulted and raped. Those who resisted committed suicide by jumping into the ocean, or were shot dead by soldiers.
Kali said his cousin still clearly recalled the name of the Navy boat “Occidental Mindoro” and had the number “99.” Buwisan is now one of the Moro claimants under Republic Act 10638, or the Human Rights Victims Reparation and Recognition Act.
Drunken soldiers at checkpoints
Kali’s experience was not as horrendous, but it does not make him rage less. He once spent six hours exposed under the sun upon orders of soldiers who held them at a checkpoint.
“There are a total of six checkpoints for a distance of 20 kilometers from Parang to Cotabato city. In each checkpoint, people were made to get off their vehicle,” Kali recalled. Commuters tried to avoid being on the road in the late afternoon, because by that time, soldiers manning the checkpoints would already be drunk. Some commuters were not able to make it back to their vehicles, and were feared to be killed.
“There was a passenger who walked ahead of me because I couldn’t keep up due to my baggage. The soldiers took him to their detachment, and he never got back,” Kali said.
“We can still remember these sad experiences. And now the Marcoses are coming back?” Kali blurted out.
Curing the ‘national amnesia’
“We, Bangsamoros, cannot forgive, because those responsible for Martial Law have never been brought to justice. On the contrary, they are back to where they were when Marcos instituted a brutal dictatorship that killed and maimed,” said Robert Maulana Alonto, member of the Central Committee of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), in a solidarity message that was read before the Feb. 22 CARMMA gathering.
“We cannot forget, because the tears of our widows and orphans of the 70s war have not dried,” Alonto said.
“The establishment of CARMMA is a welcome sight in light of this ‘national amnesia’ taking over the new post-martial law generation,” said Alonto, who is also a member of the MILF negotiating panel in the MILF-GPH peace talks, and a member of the Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC) which drafted the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law.
“The CARMMA will provide the small window through which one small ray of justice can seep through – the justice that was denied our people when the Marcoses were allowed to come back to power without so much as a question of their collective guilt,” his message read.
For survivors Kali and Ukas, theirs is the duty to keep on retelling their stories, no matter how painful, to their children and grandchildren.
“They know, because we tell them about it. ‘You should be grateful that you did not live during the time of your parents,” Kali recalled telling his children.
“We should not give a chance for the Marcoses to return. We should not give a chance to those who trampled on the Filipino people’s rights. Are the Marcoses the only ones who can run the country?” he said.
Ukas said the human rights victims claims are now even being used to get votes for vice presidential candidate Senator Ferdinand Marcos Jr. Some campaigners say victims will certainly be able to get their claims if Marcos wins. But other victims and survivors are also fighting for their rights, he said.
“We are fighting for our claims, not just for our benefit, but because we don’t want to have more victims among the next generation,” said Ukas. He lamented that many survivors are dying one by one, without justice or indemnification.
“What we have experienced is enough,” Ukas said.