Hussien discusses how his experiences from the Battle of Jolo in 1974, together with his father’s death from an aerial strike by the Filipino Air Force in the late 1970s, prompted him to join the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF). He is currently the administrator of one of the biggest mosques in Metro Manila.
Hussien affectionately refers to Jolo before 1974 as “Little Hong Kong”, due to the fact that there were many ethnic Chinese businessmen in the capital during that era. The Christians and Muslims also got along well with each other then, according to Hussien. This harmonious state of affairs changed when the Philippines government declared martial law in 1972. He recalled that the Moro National Liberation Front intensified its military training in response to martial law. The authorities responded with even more repression: the army committed more atrocities in the region, including all varieties of abuses. Hussien still vividly remembers the fear he felt whenever the GHQ (the General Headquarters of the Armed Forces of the Philippines) was mentioned in that time.
Hussien even became a victim of the abuses committed by armed forces personnel. One time when he went fishing with his friends, he was attacked by a group of soldiers and was nearly killed. Later it transpired that the group of soldiers had suffered defeat from an encounter with MNLF forces. The defeated soldiers were looking for people to vent their frustrations at, and Hussien and his friends were unfortunate enough to be in the vicinity. Such instances were common: the residents of Jolo learnt to build foxholes beside their homes in order to protect their families from soldiers, in addition to hiding from aerial bombings by the Filipino Air Force.
Hussien was only a student when the Battle of Jolo broke out in 1974. He recounted how everybody was scrambling for their survival, regardless of their socio-economic status. Some fled to the mountains to escape the aerial bombings, while others rode pump boats bound for neighbouring islands. One challenge that all of them faced was in terms of cooking: the smoke emitted from cooking would attract the attention of the Filipino Navy and reveal the places in which they were hiding at. The Navy would, in turn, bomb those places. They were so fearful that they only dared to cook at night.
After the sacking of Jolo, Hussien and his family returned to Patikul in Sulu. Along the way, they saw flies hovering over the dead bodies that were strewn all over the streets. Violence continued in the region. Four years later, his house was bombed and his father died as a result of the bombing. His experience of violence, together with his father’s death, convinced him to join the MNLF.
Interviewer: Elgin Glenn R. Salomon
Interviewee: Hussein 2
What would Hussien’s experience and observations on the martial law period tell us about how domestic conflicts shaped the Cold War in the Philippines.