A soldier in the Philippine military during the 1970s, Malik witnessed the burning of Jolo in 1974 when rebel forces from the Moro National Liberation Front invaded the city. He also provides insight on various abuses that the military did during the early years of martial law.
Malik was a soldier in the Philippine military when the Moro National Liberation Front gained ground in the south of the Philippines. He recalled that tensions between the MNLF and the authorities were increasing as early as 1973, when the armed forces deployed more military forces to the southern region. His family had received news that the Front was about to invade the city of Jolo the day before the Battle of Jolo broke out in 1974. He decided to escape to the nearby island of Siasi, just as the invasion began. He returned to Jolo soon after the initial attack on a small boat, and was confronted with a ravaged city in the middle of war.
Malik also recalled that soldiers from the Philippine military were involved in various abuses towards civilians, in contrast to how members of the MNLF interacted with the population in the south. The soldiers rarely engaged in sexual abuse, though they frequently massacred civilian populations up in the hinterlands. Civilians in towns and cities had a mixture of respect and fear towards the soldiers, although those living in the hinterlands bore much more hatred towards the military. Such frequent abuses by the military, as Malik pointed out, sowed the seeds of conflict between the Front and the authorities. He concluded that the Philippine government bore the most responsibility for the lack of peace in the area since its presence and actions there precipitated the outbreak of violence and conflict.
INTERVIEW 3: “MALIK”
Malik was a soldier when the Moro National Liberation Front gained grounds in Sulu, southern Philippines. He was in Jolo when he witnessed the burning of the town on February 7, 1974. His testimonies presented the abuses of the military during the early years of martial law.
Elgin: Hello? Salaam alaikum. Hello?
Malik: Alaikum as-salaam.
Elgin: Okay, good afternoon po. Are you Mr “Malik”?
Elgin: Okay po. Ah sir, can I interview you right now?
Elgin: By the way, where were you during the 1974 Battle of Jolo? Where were you during that time?
Malik: I’m in Jolo.
Elgin: Can I record our conversation?
Elgin: Okay, thank you very much. I’m Elgin Salomon from Zamboanga del Norte in Dipolog City
Malik: Ah, yes!
Elgin: Okay What’s your name Sir?
Malik: I’m Mr “Malik”
Elgin: Okay. Where did you live in Jolo (in Sulu)?
Malik: In the Port Area.
Elgin: Okay. But right now?
Malik: I currently live in Talon-Talon, Zamboanga City.
Elgin: Okay. Ahh, Talon-Talon, okay, okay. I lived in Divisoria when I was still a kid. How old are you sir?
Elgin: 71. What’s your work?
Malik: I’m a soldier.
Elgin: Ah, you’re a soldier. For my first question on the 1974 Battle of Jolo, what was the experience the night before the burning of the town? Can you describe Jolo before the 1974 Battle of Jolo?
Malik: Before the burning of Jolo, the military dominated the town. Obviously, it’s martial law and there’s no encounter within the town proper. But in other municipalities, it was already chaotic.
Malik: Just like in Parang, Patikul, and other towns. But in Jolo, there was no conflict.
Elgin: Can you describe the town? Can you describe its people?
Malik: The everyday life of the people was normal. It was normal; however, the military dominated the town. But it’s okay. The everyday life of the people was okay.
Elgin: What was the livelihood of the people?
Malik: The livelihood of the people depended on barter trade. Just like other towns, we had restaurants and schools.
Elgin: What was the relationship between the Christians and Muslim?
Malik: During that time, the relationship between Christians and Muslims was close. They didn’t fight each other. Both Christians and Muslims had good relationships.
Elgin: How about the Chinese?
Malik: The Chinese were okay. The Chinese established businesses in the town. That’s why we had banks, stores, and cinemas.
Elgin: What are they trading in the town and where did the products originate?
Malik: We participated in barter trade and the products came from Malaysia.
Elgin: So you already mentioned about life in the town. But how was your family? What’s the work of your mother and father during that time?
Malik: My mother and father were fruit vendors while my father-in-law was a police officer in the town proper.
Elgin: Can you describe your life or your family’s life before the 1974 Battle of Jolo, and what was your most unforgettable experience in Jolo before that chaos happened?
Malik: I never forget the time when we (family) were told that the rebels might invade the town. On my initiative, I went to the island of Siasi because my relatives live there. My mother-in-law and father-in-law are in Jolo then we went to Siasi. That same night, Jolo was invaded.
Elgin : So you were in Siasi during that time?
Malik: During that time I didn’t believe that they would enter the town although someone told me that it’s possible. When we went back to Jolo, the war was already chaotic. We drove a lansa (small boat) but someone said that we should not dock in that area since the war was ongoing. So we stayed in the middle of the sea, near the Navy. We were like watching the war and it’s unbelievable that we witnessed it. While the war was ongoing, we could not dock in the port.
Elgin: We can go back to that story later. Let’s go back to Jolo during martial law. For you, is it possible for the town to go back to normal like before 1974 where peace and development existed?
Malik: For me, it’s difficult. From my observation, when the war started and even in the present, it’s really difficult to go back to our daily lives before martial law. Trading seems impossible. It’s hard to walk alone without fear. But life really depends on luck.
Elgin: Did you miss the Old Jolo?
Malik: I really missed the life before martial law was declared in Jolo. Fruits were abundant and it’s really cheap. The fish were also fresh. Because the military was absent and the only institution that existed was the Constabulary (present day Philippine National Police).
Elgin: You said a while ago that Jolo was beautiful, then it changed when martial law was declared. When did you observe that the tensions started to arise?
Malik: I noticed that conflict started in Jolo around 1973. By that time, violence started to erupt.
Elgin: In what way? Kindly describe your observations.
Malik: I expected that war was inevitable since the military continues to send the military, army, and marines in Jolo. On the other hand, their gun station and the rebels were so strong.
Elgin: So going back to the start of the conflict, you already expected the war because of the continuous entry of the military in Jolo. How’s the life of people when the military entered the town?
Malik: When the military went to the island, it became difficult for the people to harvest their fruits and vegetables. Same in the town proper. The military totally guarded the traders.
Elgin: So for the next question, what were the experiences of the MNLF in the hinterland during that time based on what you have witnessed in Jolo?
Malik: Every time the military passed through their area, war would be non-stop. It’s really difficult for the military because their force is so strong!
Elgin: Can you describe their recruitment process in the mountains?
Malik: I heard some of them were foreign trained. The elders recruited young men to join the group. They had information drives. They informed people on the purpose of why they created the movement. They used religion to justify the war to convince people. If they use religion, it’s easier for them to persuade them (people). They (people) would really join. That’s why even before they trained people abroad, there were many people who were already waiting to be recruited.
Elgin: For my next question, were the MNLF rebels during that time abusive? I mean abusive to the civilians.
Malik: They’re not abusive to the civilians because they were their hope. The civilians gave them support, food, and medicine. The civilians were very supportive to them because the MNLF protected them, and they were not abusive.
Elgin: My next question is were the soldiers abusive towards the civilians?
Malik: Yes, they were abusive. They would not show their bad side in the town proper (Jolo) but in the hinterland, they were very abusive.
Elgin: What were the stories you’ve heard about their abusive behavior?
Malik: Because we had many relatives in the hinterland and I had classmates who joined the rebel group, the soldiers really committed abuses here in Sulu and Tawi-tawi. As long as they (soldiers) saw a walking civilian, they would kill that person. They don’t even bother to ask.
Elgin: As in? Have you heard more specific cases about those abuses?
Malik: . Because of the abuses of the military in Sulu and Tawi-tawi, it triggered the conflict between the military and the Muslims.
Elgin : Have you heard of massacres?
Malik : Yes.
Elgin: Were there rape or sexual abuses?
Malik: Sexual abuses were rare. But there were many massacres.
Elgin: For you, what was on the mind of the soldiers as to why they committed these abuses?
Malik: There were casualties and airplanes usually transported the dead bodies to Luzon and Visayas. Because of these casualties, I think they would have their revenge.
Elgin: What was the attitude or behavior of civilians towards the soldiers given that there were abuses? What was the general reaction or attitude of the people?
Malik: Around the town proper, there was a mixture of both respect and fear. But in the hinterland, they are angry towards the soldier.
Elgin: What’s the reaction of people? So many joined the rebel group because of these abuses?
Malik: Do you know why the rebels increased in number? Because many innocent civilians were affected or killed intentionally. Many relatives of the casualties would have their revenge.
Elgin: Let’s proceed to the next question. Can you share the instances where you have noticed that there’s brewing tensions in the town of Jolo and what’s the first thing you did?
Malik: As a soldier President Ferdinand Marcos and General Fidel Ramos sent us to a training center before we went to the hinterland. That’s around September 1973 in Silang Cavite. In the training, an official was looking for Muslim soldiers. As Muslims, our presence was really crucial since we were able to tell the officials to avoid these abusive actions. The abuses decreased.
Elgin: So we are now entering the 1974 Battle of Jolo. What’s the first thing you did when violence erupted? You have mentioned a while ago that you are in the middle of the sea when the battle happened.
Malik: The navy told us to avoid Jolo because there was an ongoing war. You can really see the war. So what we did was that we stayed in the middle of the sea and waited, hoping that we had relatives that we could evacuate. We went back to Siasi Island by midnight. The battle continued until the town of Jolo perished.
Elgin: What did you observe? Can you describe the condition of people?
Malik: People were running everywhere. Some of them went to the mountains, while others went to the sea. Some evacuated to faraway islands. People were scattered.
Elgin: Aside from that?
Malik: We saw airstrikes. Pres. Marcos tasked Admiral Romulo Espaldon to negotiate with the rebels. He arrived at the navy and told the navy to stop the bombing. If Admiral Espaldon was not there, more people could have died. You can really see the people along the seashore. Many people were walking. My wife also evacuated because she was in Jolo at that time. Almost all houses were destroyed by the airstrike.
Elgin: How did people evacuate from their houses to the pier?
Malik: They walked until they reached the pier, hoping that they could ride a boat to Zamboanga City. But most of the people went to the mountains. Many people died while they escaped the chaos. The friends of my wife died because of the bombs from the helicopter. Aside from that, my uncle also died when he was hit by a mortar while he went to the mountains.
Elgin: How did the civilians help the rebels?
Malik: They gave them food. That’s why they survived.
Elgin: Aside from what else the civilians gave to the rebels.
Malik: They also provided them food and medicine.
Elgin: How did the civilians help the soldiers?
Malik: Some civilians helped locate the MNLF.
Elgin: Were there looting while the town was turned into ashes?
Malik: Did you know that when Jolo was burned, the military looted the stores, pawnshop, and banks. I personally know this because some of my relatives worked as soldiers and they were assigned to Jolo that time. During that time, they already wiped out the MNLF in the town proper. My cousins got so much jewelry, that’s why I concluded that the soldiers looted. The jewelry was made of gold.
Elgin: What happened in Jolo after the battle?
Malik: Jolo was surrounded by soldiers. The town turned into ashes. There was no electricity in the town for a long time. There was no supply of water too although it was easier for the authorities to fix it.
Elgin: By looking at the 1974 Battle of Jolo, who was at fault?
Malik: If we are going to talk about accountability, Jolo was peaceful despite the fact that there were no soldiers. When they sent battalions, that started the chaos. In the present, the military is still around. That’s why even in the present, the war continues. The government is at fault here. The rebels don’t kill civilians.
Elgin: Did you feel the fear while staying in Sulu after the 1974 Battle?
Malik: Of course. But if you are from Jolo, you are immune to the sound of explosions, of canyons and guns. You are immune to those things.
Interviewer: Elgin Glenn R. Salomon
How did the differences in treatment by the MILF and the Philippine military towards ordinary civilians influence the way those civilians perceived or understood what exactly the Cold War in the Philippines was?