06 May 2013

Revisiting the "Tacub Massacre"

Ilaga Gang
The Philippine Government in October 2012 signed with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) the Bangsamoro Framework Agreement, a landmark deal that will pave the way for the creation of the Bangsamoro political entity to replace the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).

There are very minor but thorny issues left in the annexes that tackle Power-Sharing and Normalization. It is expected that the unresolved issues will be discussed when peace talks resume between the government and the rebel group.

The next question now is what will happen to the crimes that were committed before that has yet to be resolved in the courts. The Maguindanao Massacre has started, yet slowly and the Sabah issue has remained a thorny subject, but way back in 1971 another massacre has not found any kind of justice as of this time – the Tacub Massacre.

To help us get an idea, although it might be tinged with bias, of what transpired in during that year, we are furnishing our readers with an article written by a certain Taher G. Solaiman. Here is the full edited text of that account:

Thirty-five years have passed since the infamous Tacub Massacre on 22 November 1971. Yet, the memory of the barbarous killing of sixty Moro Maranaos that day still remain fresh in the minds of the Bangsamoro people.

Why and how did it happen?

The national election was held on 8 November 1971. But due to the harassment of the dreaded ILAGA, many Moro voters in Mindanao were not able to cast their votes. Many of them were in the evacuation centers then. A special election had to be set on November 22.

The ILAGA Terror Gang

The ILAGA was a terror gang backed by Philippine government officials, both civilian and military. Its members, composed mainly of Ilongos, a tribe in the Visayas Island, were notorious in sowing terror among the Moro populace in Mindanao particularly in the early 70’s. They massacred innocent Moro civilians and looted their properties. Their signature was the severing of the ears of their victims.

Ilaga is a Visayan vernacular that means rat. Some documents would reveal later, however, that ILAGA was actually an acronym for Ilongo Land Grabbers’ Association.

In his Revolt in Mindanao: The Rise of Islam in Philippine Politics, T. J. S. George quoted a confidential 1973 study by a Muslim activist on behalf of a government department, saying that the Ilaga was founded in Cotabato City in September 1970 by Wenceslao de la Serna of Alamada; Esteban Doruelo of Pigkawayan, who was then running for Governor in Cotabato Province; Pacifico de la Serna of Libungan; Nicholas Dequiňa, a former officer of the Philippine Constabulary (PC); Bonifacio Tejada of Mlang; Conrado Lemana of Tulunan and Mayor Jose Escribano of Tacurong.

Some members of the Teduray ethnic group also joined the ILAGA terror gang. Their leader was Feliciano Luces (a. k. a. Kumander Toothpick), an Ilongo protégé of Philippine Constabulary (PC) Captain Tronco who was then a mayoralty candidate in Upi running against Michael "Datu Puti" Sinsuat.

Both in Cotabato and Lanao Provinces, the terror sowed by the ILAGA was at its peak in 1971. In June 19 that year, in what came to have been known later as the Manili Massacre, some seventy Moro – men, women and children – were mercilessly killed by the notorious gangsters, with the backing of the PC, inside a mosque in Manili village in Carmen, Cotabato.

Aboard five trucks, a group of Maranaos went to Magsaysay town in Lanao del Norte to cast their votes.
When they reached Tacub village in Kauswagan town on their way back to the evacuation centers where they were staying, they came upon a checkpoint of the Philippine Army.

On the pretext of searching concealed weapons, the military men manning the checkpoint ordered those aboard the trucks to alight and lie flat on the road, face down. As soon as they were able to comply with the military men's order, the deadly command, "Fire!" was heard.

When the gun smoke cleared, at least 60 bodies, bathed in their own blood, lay sprawled on the ground. While some sources placed the number of those killed as thirty-nine or forty, most Muslim sources claim sixty persons were killed.

After an hour, a group of reporters, who covered the special election, arrived at the site of the tragic incident.

The reporters found a small group of soldiers in the checkpoint. Aside from the soldiers, they saw some civilians, apparently members of the much dreaded ILAGA gang, with white headbands checking the trucks.

T. J. S. George described what the reporters found, thus:

"They saw the small bands of soldiers lounging lazily about their checkpost. But a number of civilians with white headbands were rummaging about, inspecting the trucks – and markedly uninterested in the victims of the shooting who were lying in their own blood, a few of them still alive. An elderly man, badly wounded, prayed as his body twitched in spasms. One of the 'inspectors' asked him to shut up. As the old man went on praying, the man with the headband kicked him -- and there was silence. A bleeding man tried to stand up, uttered an unusual scream, then slumped, head first to the road."

The next morning, the story about the carnage spread throughout the country.

"It became painfully clear that there had been some collusion between the soldiers and the gangsters," as George would put it.

George further explained that "officials searched in vain for a convincing explanation. They faced the unsettling fact that, unlike the Magsaysay tragedy a month earlier, the troops in Tacub had neither the excuse of a siege emergency nor an arguable motive of vengeance. One explanation subsequently offered was that the ambush-killing of troops in Magsaysay in October had generally made soldiers so tense that at the merest suggestion of an attack they pulled the trigger in a reflexive act of self-preservation. But panic hardly justified the lack of attention shown the victims and the accommodation apparently extended to the mysterious civilians in white headbands."

Much as they wanted to, the government officials did not find any excuse for the barbarous act. No amount of explanations could exonerate them from culpability for that heinous crime.

"The fact that a local patrol could make common cause with underworld and mow down a group of unarmed people confirmed the feeling among Muslims that their persecutors enjoyed the support of the establishment," George claimed.

Till this day, the hapless victims of the massacre are still crying for justice.