Jabidah recruits plotted standoff

Like most Tawi-Tawi residents, it was not the first time that Musa had gone to Sabah. Aurelia said Musa had gone to Sabah twice this year to visit his siblings in Lahad Datu.

At the height of the second Malaysian assault on Lahad Datu on March 5, a police official told us: “Kapag si Musa ang nawala o nahuli, wala na, dun na mabubuwag iyan, (If Musa dies or is captured, that’s when the forces will be defeated)."

A few hours after, the Kiram family declared a ceasefire – an appeal that Malaysia rejected.

Musa’s wife said she has not talked to Musa since he left because Musa didn’t own a cell phone. 

Frustrated soldier

Sambas has a slightly different narrative.

When news broke about the Jabidah massacre on Corregidor Island in 1968, Sambas’ father, a former barangay chairman for 20 years, quickly travelled from Tawi-Tawi to Manila to fetch his son from Fort Bonifacio.They returned to their home in Barangay  Manuk Mangkaw on Simunul Island.

FAILED DREAMS. Ernesto Sambas rarely left his home after grudgingly leaving the military. Photo by Karlos Manlupig

FAILED DREAMS. Ernesto Sambas rarely left his home after grudgingly leaving the military.

Photo by Karlos Manlupig

“His father brought him home to show our neighbors that he is alive,” Sambas’ wife, Rubia said in Sinama, the language of the Sama.

After Sambas left Fort Bonifacio, he was never able to do what he has always aspired for – to become a soldier again.

A framed certificate that shows Sambas had completed his initial Jabidah military training course hangs on the wall of Sambas' house. Aurelia said his husband served as 2nd lieutenant of the Jabidah commando unit. 

"Under the Crescent Moon" tells Sambas' story as the first Jabidah recruit to be commissioned officer by the Army. "[Sambas] remembers that day in 1967 when he saw [then Maj Eduardo] Martelino's recruits jogging on the rugged streets of Simunul. 'They looked like they were having fun.' One morning, Martelino passed by Sambas' house, looking for the latter's father who was then a municipal official. Martelino ended up talking with Sambas who signified his interest in joining the troops he saw."

"It didn't take much on Martelino's part to lure Sambas into joining the Sabah mission. Sambas claimed they were told early on about this plan even while they were still in the training camp in Simunul. He was thrilled by the prospect of becoming a soldier and joining an elite mission at that. In August 1967, Sambas joined Martelino's men in their combat training at Camp Sophia, which overlooked the sea."

Sambas lived his post-Jabidah life hoping that he could one day return to the army.

Promises were made but none pulled through, including one by the late Brig. Gen. Eduardo Batalla, then commander of the Philippine Constabulary in Western Mindanao, whom Sambas’ wife said was his contemporary in the military.

Battalla had supposedly said he would help Sambas return to the military once he became a general. Batalla had reason to make such a promise; he, too, was one of the young officers assigned to train the Muslim recruits on Corregidor Island, according to the book.

But Batalla was slain in Zamboanga City in a 1989 botched operation against gang leader Rizal Ali.

“He became frustrated and disappointed. He suffered from low self-esteem,” Sambas' wife told us.

Sambas spent most of time at home and was never able to get a decent job. None of his 3 kids were able to finish schooling. 

Failed dreams

At 64, Sambas still held on to his dream of going back to service, and his wife continues to question why none of those who said they would help him ever got back to them.

Unlike Musa, Sambas did not tell his wife that he was going to Sabah. Aurelia said Sambas quietly and hurriedly packed his things on the day of February 14. 

“I asked him where he was going but we couldn’t talk to him. He wasn’t answering,” she said.

She only learned about the Sabah standoff after watching TV news, the main source of information for Simunul residents. The family was able to contact Sambas during the first two days of their stay in Sabah. 

But they have not heard from him since.

Would Musa and Sambas repeat history and live to tell another Sabah story? - Rappler.com