I was a very young girl just starting school when I saw hostilities breaking out in the early 1970’s in my hometown in Sta. Clara, Basilan. Later in life I would learn that it was called the “Moro Conflict.” Yet in the eyes of us children and my kababayans, it was nothing less than a war.
Back then we had foxholes with entrances hidden under our bed. There was a company alarm to alert the community of possible attacks which we called “pito,” Three long alarms was red alert which meant we had to go down to the foxhole that was fortified with sandbags and coconut lumber built for such exigencies.
There were also times when we had to line up for rations of pan bakwit and yellow corn for food, or to wait for military choppers to drop rations.
Even if I didn’t understand much of the conflict, it greatly affected me as I watched my father cower in fear for our lives and safety. He had every reason to be afraid. He managed a company of about 500 families. I heard our security guards say extortion letters keep coming, with threats that our family members, along with other persons in a kidnap list, would be abducted if their demands for money were not met.
On the dawn of September 7, 1977, one of the company’s trucks carrying workers, foremen and guards (who were all employed by U.P.) on their way to work in the rubber plantations was blown apart by a landmine, killing 25 and wounding 37 others. Among those who were killed was a classmate who absented himself from class to go with his father to work, and a close family friend, Uncle Teddy Jawad, father of Dr. Arlyn Jawad Jumao-as of the Basilan Children of War Foundation.
I saw bloodied bodies piled on top of one another in trucks as they passed by our house. I would learn from Uncle Teddy’s daughter, Elite, that my father was supposed to inspect the plantations that fateful day with Uncle Teddy, but that my father went to their house the night before to say that he couldn’t make it the next day as he received a call from U.P. Diliman authorities to report to Manila. He was about to board a plane to Manila when he was informed of the tragedy.
A few days later, on October 11, Brigadier General Teodulfo Bautista of the 1st Division, Philippine Army, five of his top aides and 28 other soldiers were killed by MNLF rebels led by Usman Sali in a market in Danag, Patikul, Sulu. The general and his companions were supposed to meet with Sali to explore the possibility of the latter turning themselves in to the government. Such events in my childhood have left an indelible mark on many of us who experienced the conflict.
At first it was difficult to trust, until slowly reparations were made. Over the years and as we matured, we became friends with many Muslim brothers. Dr. Joma-as, in fact, was a scholar of Cong. Jerry Salapuddin who helped her finish medical school. ARMM Gov. Mujiv Hataman developed infrastructures and restored law and order especially in his birthplace Basilan, with the full support and cooperation of his brother Basilan Gov. Jim Hataman Salliman and the local chief executives of the province.
I have also seen for myself the hard work and dedication of the members of the Bangsamoro Transition Commission who drafted the Bangsamoro Organic Law, as well as the OPAPP. They have gained my respect. When the draft conference committee report was approved by the bicameral conference committee members on Thursday, I cried in happiness. I knew it was time to support the aspirations of the Bangsamoro people and to trust that we would be treated equally in the land of our birth.
-BEEN THERE DONE THAT NI JOSEPHINE CODILLA