Khalid, a member of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) who quit the Front shortly before the Battle of Jolo in 1974, recounts how Sulu became militarised when martial law was imposed in 1972.
Khalid describes Jolo before the imposition of martial law as “heaven”--a testament to how safe and prosperous the Sulu region was in the past. He fondly recalls walking the long distance between school and his home every day, especially the fact that it was safe to do so. Jolo in the present day, Khalid points out, was nothing like before. The decision by President Ferdinand Marcos to impose martial law in 1972 was what changed the fate and outlook of Jolo and the Sulu region. Tensions escalated between the Filipino government and leaders of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF).
Khalid points out that both the government and the MNLF were concocting and spreading all sorts of propaganda in order to undermine each other. The Front used the formation of ILAGA–a Christian extremist paramilitary group based in southern Philippines–to scare the Moro people into believing that the government was out to eliminate Islam and the Moro people. The Front preyed on the fervent religiosity of most Moro people, especially its youth, in order to attract them into its ranks. Khalid himself joined the Front as its inaugural batch of trainees as a result of being influenced by such propaganda. The government, on the other hand, was spreading black propaganda on how certain commanders in the MNLF were actually in cahoots with the Marcos regime, as well as how the MNLF were basically a communist organisation. The Front, according to such propaganda, was divided into two main factions: the Maoists who were communists, and the Masses who were Islamists. The purpose of creating such a narrative was to divide the Front. Such tactics worked: some of the commanders from the MNLF surrendered to the government. Those who surrendered soon participated in the same corruption that the Marcos regime was engaged in. The defection was a blow to the morale of people in the Front, especially because the conflict between the MNLF and the government became one that pitted Tausug against Tausug, and Moro against Moro.
Khalid’s father reasoned that the revolution by the Front would eventually amount to nothing, and convinced Khalid to quit the Front and leave Jolo for Tawi-Tawi. He told Khalid that it would be better if he focused on his studies, so that he could contribute to the betterment of his people in future by joining the government. Khalid took his father’s advice and left Jolo shortly before the Battle of Jolo broke out in 1974. Many of his relatives and friends, however, were not so lucky. Most of them only received news of the Front’s impending attack on the city the night before it began. Those who managed to escape made it into the mountains. Those that did not, such as his female classmate, was killed by a stray bullet while evacuating. His own uncle was also captured and tortured by the soldiers because they suspected that he manufactured explosives for the Front.
INTERVIEW 6: KHALID
Elgin: Good morning Sir!
Khalid: Good morning!
Elgin: This is Elgin and I’m currently teaching at the University of the Philippines Visayas. Is it okay if I record our conversation?
Khalid: It’s okay. But you are asking about the burning of Jolo?
Khalid: Here’s the problem. Although I can relate about the burning of Jolo in 1974, I’m not an eyewitness because I left Jolo on January 24, 1974, and the battle started on February 7.
Elgin: It’s okay. At least you know the background of the whole battle and you already have an idea on this topic. Shall we start?
Elgin: Okay. So for the first question. What’s your name, present address, and age? Khalid: My name is “Khalid” and I currently live in Zamboanga City. I am 62 years old. I was around 14 or 15 in 1974.
Elgin: Can you describe Jolo and your life before the Battle happened? What were your most unforgettable experiences?
Khalid: Generally, Jolo is like heaven. Goods were cheap. Then we traded with Sabah in Malaysia. That was why products in the city were mostly imported. I was studying at Hadji Butu School of Arts and Trades. I was from a poor family. At that time, a trade school was for less fortunate students. We normally walk around three (3) kilometers just to go to school.
Elgin: So, you did not live in the town proper?
Khalid: It’s in the center. Jolo is so wide.
Elgin: I see.
Khalid: I walked from Busbus to Hadji Butu School of Arts and Trades, almost three (3) kilometers. By 11:30 am, we walked home for lunch, and then went back to school at 12:30 pm. There were no incidents of theft or killing. Elgin: Okay so next question, what was your most unforgettable experience in 1974?
Khalid: You know what, don’t be surprised. I was an MNLF combatant at that time.
Elgin: Ah, okay okay.
Khalid: Yes, I was a combatant. I was trained as an MNLF combatant when I was young, for six months. It was ike military training. We were the first batch in the training. But in the 1970s, around November or December 1973 rather, there was a negotiation between the MNLF and the government. Some members of the MNLF, including the eight (8) commanders, surrendered to the government. When they surrendered, my late father told me to get out of the revolution. He told me to go to Tawi-tawi because it was quiet and peaceful there. He told me to continue my studies there.. So, I continued my fourth-year high school in Tawi-Tawi. I left Jolo in January, and by February Jolo became chaotic.
A: Sir, how was the Chinese population in Jolo?
Khalid: We still have some Chinese people in Sulu. However, some of them left. Most of the Chinese in Zamboanga City came from Jolo.
Elgin: Oh, okay, okay. My next question is, when did the Christians in Jolo migrate to Jolo?
Khalid: The Tausug loved their Christian neighbors because they were getting used to their presence. And in terms of their behavior, they are like the Tausug. They left gradually because of the evil deeds of some groups (amongst the Christians). These groups would extort affluent Chinese for money. That was the time when they left. But there are still many Chinese in Jolo. However, some of those Christians were beheaded by Abu Sayyaf.
Elgin: When did you notice that conflict was brewing in Sulu? Khalid: Actually, the conflict in Sulu began in 1972 when martial law was declared and the second and third marine battalions of Sulu were sent by the government. In 1971, Misuari started his offensive. There was a conversation in the “underground” regarding the revolution. But we children had no idea then. Suddenly, war erupted.
Elgin: So, you were still young when the MNLF came into the scene? Khalid: Yes. I was around 13 or 14 years old.
Elgin: I’m curious about your reason for joining the MNLF. I mean you were only 13 or 14 years old then.
Khalid: We were blinded by the propaganda of the MNLF.
Elgin: How did they convince you to join the MNLF?
Khalid: While we do not often display or practice Islam in public, deep in our hearts we will never surrender our faith. They (the MNLF) would always say that they (the Christians) will occupy our land and replace our religion. And, during that time, the ILAGA (a Christian extremist paramilitary group based in southern Philippines) emerged. They (the MNLF) derisively labelled them as the Ilonggo Land Grabbing Association. The MNLF spread propaganda that they (the Filipino government) would Christianize us. They vowed to replace our bangsa, our nation, with Moro. So, it was very lucrative or attractive to the Moro youth. Many Moro youth joined the movement. When my father later realized that this revolution would eventually achieve nothing, He told me, “You go to Tawi-Tawi and further your studies. You can help your people by pursuing your studies and work in the government.” That’s why I am now going back to Sulu. I am applying now to go back to my homeland so I can contribute something to my people. Because Jolo was devastated and it can never go back to its glorious past without good people there. I’m also inviting other Tausug professionals to go back to Sulu and help rebuild Sulu because we cannot just leave this province to the present people who are running the affairs of the society now. New generations of leaders from other places, provided they are Tausugs, should go back to Sulu and contribute to the province.
Elgin: We already discussed your membership to the MNLF at a young age. So, what was the connection between CPP and MNLF?
Khalid: Nur Misuari came from UP (University of the Philippines). They are batchmates with Joma Sison. Both of them are members of Kabataang Makabayan. They originally brought Maoist ideology–communism–to the MNLF. However, he could not gain ground if he used communism. So he created the concept of Hula, Bangsa, and Agama. Hula means homeland, which encompasses Mindanao and Sulu. Bangsa means nation, which is the Moro nation. Agama means religion or Islam. These are the battle cries of the MNLF. The MNLF was divided into two major groups: the Maoists and the Masses. According to the government, the Maoist subscribed to communism while the Masses were traditional leaders of Muslims here in Sulu that believed in Islam.
Elgin: So, the concept of Maoism was used by Misuari and his comrade? Khalid: No. They did not use that label because it would be a disadvantage for them. But it was black propaganda by the government to divide the MNLF. It was using divide and rule strategies to weaken the enemy. One of the bedrocks of Maoism is atheism. That was one of the reasons why the Moros never liked Maoism. Misuari was aware that the people of Sulu and Mindanao would not like communism. In addition to that, did you know there was even a conspiracy theory that Misuari and Joma Sison were coordinating with President Marcos to create havoc all over the nation, just so that Marcos could perpetuate his power? One of Misuari’s aides said that before the declaration of martial law, they had a conference with President Marcos in Malacanang. That’s why there were no Muslim students that got arrested in Manila because they knew that Marcos would declare martial law.
Elgin: Were there negative perceptions of the Tausug towards the MNLF? Khalid: You mean before 1974?
Elgin: Yes, before 1974.
Khalid: Yes. First, the leaders of the “Masses” surrendered. Then it led to the creation of CHDF, the Civilian Home Defense Forces. They fought against the MNLF with the help of the soldiers. So, the conflict transformed into one that pitted Tausug against Tausug.
Khalid: This is the bad part of the revolution. The struggle became Moro vs. Moro. That should not have happened if not for the government’s propaganda that divided the MNLF. Marcos really fought the people. It’s like cockfighting. Before, Tawi-tawi was part of Sulu. The municipality of Looc was made into three municipalities to accommodate those who surrendered to the government. We can really see the greedy deeds of Tausug leaders because they were given positions, monetary rewards and other incentives. They were even given logging concessions. That’s why Tausug leaders became greedier. Marcos taught the Moros to copy their style (of corruption).
Elgin: Let’s talk about the abuses of the military. How abusive were the soldiers during that time? Khalid: They were very abusive.
Elgin: In what ways?
Khalid: My wife’s cousin’s husband witnessed an incident where the soldiers exploded grenades in banks, pawnshops, and some stores. They looted gold. The soldiers put the gold in their helmets.
Elgin: As in?
Khalid: I asked my cousin, who was a soldier, if they had really committed all those atrocities. He said yes, not the MNLF. And you would think, how could the MNLF burn Jolo given that their relatives live there? And, they would shoot anybody they encountered, whether it was civilians or rebels. They would immediately shoot them. They shot whatever they saw, whether it be a human or even a dog.
Elgin: So next question sir. Why did civilians join the MNLF? Khalid: One of the reasons why people joined the MNLF was because the soldiers were abusive. Instead of just accepting the situation, people choose to take up arms. So many people became members of the MNLF.
Elgin: What was the reception of civilians towards the soldiers? For example, if they encountered a soldier, how would they feel?
Khalid: They would be frightened. They became antagonistic to the soldiers, especially during the early part of the revolution. There was a commander at that time. His name is Commodore Fernandez. He once declared that he would conquer Sulu in 24 hours, but it has already been more than 24 years now and they are still struggling.
Elgin: [Laughs]. Maybe because they faced many difficulties?
Khalid: Yes. They thought that Sulu is just like any other place in the Philippines. They were getting used to war.
Elgin: Maybe you can narrate the experiences of your friends. Can you tell us about their experiences during the Battle of Jolo in 1974? You can narrate the stories of your friends or relatives.
Khalid: During the early part of the war, I was in Jolo. When I left, problems occurred. The MNLF entered a municipality and conducted offensives so that they could take over the area. It’s like the New People’s Army. The first municipality that they went to was Talipao. However, because of the superiority of the military forces stationed there, they were not able to conquer Talipao. The MNLF began to experience low morale since its leaders were joining the government. Out of anger, they went to Parang, but were also defeated there by the combined forces of the government and their former comrades. They then invaded Jolo, out of desperation.
Elgin: What were the stories of your friends or relatives, especially on their observation that chaos in Jolo was upcoming?
Khalid: That night, on February 6, they became intrigued when they saw many armed men entering the town. They went to the house of their relatives or their loved ones. Then someone advised them to leave Jolo immediately. Of course, they (rebels) advised their relatives or their loved ones as well. So, the civilians, including the Christians, went to the mountains to hide. The MNLF did not alert the priests and nuns. The situation was very abrupt. Many were not aware of the impending danger, especially those who were caught in the crossfires. There was a brigade that was nearly defeated by the rebels. Luckily, the airplanes and jet fighters helped them. Otherwise they could have been defeated. Many soldiers died. Tens of thousands of civilians died. Dead bodies were scattered on the road. It’s like Typhoon Haiyan in Tacloban City (Eastern Philippines in 2014).
Elgin: How did your family escape Jolo? Khalid: When they heard that the rebels would invade Jolo, they immediately escaped to the hills. The news spread through rumors. They left. That’s how they survived. Thanks to God, no one in the family got hurt except for my uncle who was the first cousin of my father. He was captured by the soldiers.
Elgin: Why? Khalid: . Because they suspected that he made bombs for the MNLF. In reality, he did not make bombs for the rebels. He made bombs for fishing. In short, dynamite! He was captured by the soldiers. He was not even a member of the MNLF. He was beaten up by the soldiers. He was electrocuted and tortured. His penis was electrocuted. He was abused in all forms. He shared his experiences, and this further amplified the anger of the rebels.
Elgin: Ahh, okay! So, for my next question, what kind of chaos did your relatives and friends encounter?
Khalid: Just imagine. Everybody went out to their houses while carrying their clothes and food in big bags. They don’t know where to go. They walked in groups. It seems like there was an exodus of all types of people going to the hills. While they were walking, explosions and gunfire from the bombardment of naval boats continued. The tough ones would survive. Whoever was lucky would survive, so long as he or she was not hit by stray bullets. The town was very chaotic. All corners of the town were chaotic. There were bombings. People don’t know where to go. These were the experiences of people.
Elgin: Can you describe the town after the war? What did the town smell like, as narrated by your narrators and friends? Khalid: Everything was so chaotic. You could see dead bodies, and empty bullet shells. You could also see cars and motorcycles that were destroyed and left behind.
Elgin: Did you know anyone who died during that time? Or anyone who got injured? Khalid: I remember my female classmate. She crossed the street on the way to evacuate from her house. Then she was hit by a stray bullet. She eventually died.
Elgin: How about those who were injured? Khalid: I didn’t know anyone who got injured.
Elgin: For my next question, were there civilians who helped the rebels or soldiers?
Khalid: No one helped the soldiers, but many assisted the MNLF because some members were their relatives or acquaintances. So, it was natural for them to help them since they were from Sulu.
Elgin: Where did your relatives escape to during that time?
Khalid: Some of them escaped at Mt. Cagay while others went to Mt. Tumatangis. They met with their cousins. They were able to escape despite the indiscriminate firing of cannons from naval boats. Jolo experienced a blockade. No one could enter and exit Jolo. It was a good thing that they were able to hide and escape.
Elgin: How was Jolo after the battle?
Khalid: After the battle?
Elgin: Yes. Can you describe the town?
Khalid: Practically all physical infrastructure was razed to the ground. Nothing was left. Everything was burned. Until now, the town has not recovered. Although there were new buildings, it’s not beautiful any more. Most of the buildings were one-storey because no one wants to invest in the town.
Interviewer: Elgin Glenn R. Salomon
What does Khalid’s experience as a former MNLF combatant reveal about the nature of the domestic conflict between the Moros and the Filipino government?
In what ways would Khalid’s observations about the hypocrisy from both the MNLF and the Filipino government shape the ways in which he viewed and understood the Cold War in the Philippines. How might those views be different from other participants in the same conflict?