Stories from The Tacbil Mosque Palimbang Massacre Survivors

The Tacbil Mosque can be found in the coastal barangay of Malisbong, located along the shores of the Municipality of Palimbang, Sultan Kudarat. It was constructed by the Tacbil Family headed by Hadji Hamsa in 1968, occupying roughly a thousand square meters of ground and made-up of hollow-block and yakal wood materials. Among the muslim faithful, the mosque – known also as a masjid – is a holy place of worship – a location for prayer, funeral services, marriage, alms collection as well as shelter for the homeless.[1] [2]

Today marks the 46th anniversary of the Malisbong Massacre, also known as the Palimbang Massacre or Tacbil Mosque Massacre. In light of this, almost a year after publishing a reader of resources on the incident, the Human Rights Violations Victims’ Memorial Commission will be sharing a brief synopsis of its current findings. Particular focus will be given on the narratives collected from a number of identified survivors and witnesses.

Cover of the HRVVMC Palimbang Reader

Elements of the Philippine Armed Forces commanded by General Fortunato Abat conducted a sizable amphibious operation across the coastal villages of Palimbang.[3] [4] What  was initially a counter-maneuver to halt increasing MNLF activities in the area met little to no resistance. In its place, a large population of residents from villages stretched along the Kraan-Kolong-Kolong-Baliango area were rounded-up by the Philippine Military.[5] All able-bodied and able-looking men were taken to the Mosque of the Tacbil Family in barangay Malisbong, where they were detained under heavy military guard.[6]

On the basis of being possible MNLF soldiers and sympathizers, these detainees were slowly and systematically taken outside in small batches and executed. This lasted for several days until the Municipal Mayor negotiated for the release of some of the trapped locals. Those who weren’t released were killed at the mosque.

Scanned portion of the Moro Kurier Article “Carnage at the Mosque” which was submitted to the Human Rights Victims’ Claims Board. The piece, written in 1987, is currently the earliest local news report found acknowledging the incident.

The incident was suppressed from official reportage, especially due to the then ongoing Mindanao separatist movement. A report two months after the event alleged the disappearance of 300 persons, but was dismissed in a military press conference.[7] Word of the massacre and interest in its investigation slowly resurfaced only after the removal of Ferdinand Marcos from the Presidency in 1986. In 2019 the incident was formally recognized by the Commission on Human Rights (CHR), supporting a recommendation making September 24 a commemoration day in memory of its victims.[8]

The true scope of the ordeal is still unknown, as with the total number and identities of all its victims. While initial allegations raised a figure of 300 persons, the Head of the Philippine Commission on Human Rights (CHR) in 2014 acknowledged the deaths of as many as 1,500 civilians.[9]

CHR Chairperson Loretta Anne Rosales (center) delivering a speech on the 40th anniversary of the incident, acknowledging the massacre at barangay Malisbong. Accompanying her is Atty. Glenda Litong (to her right) from the Human Rights Victims’ Claims Board, and representatives of partner organizations commemorating the massacre victims. (Screencapture taken from the CHR Documentary Video “Mga Kwento sa Malisbong”

What follows are brief retellings of oral testimonies gathered by the Memorial Commission. Research thereto was done in partnership with Sultan Kudarat State University and staff of the University of the Philippines Department of History. The images used and the full filipino transcript of these accounts can be found in the Memorial Commission’s reader on the incident.[10]

The survivors did not know why they were treated in such a horrendous manner by their captors. More than four decades have passed, and none of the perpetrators have been brought to trial. Efforts to deny such incidents even continue to the present day. But the memories of several communities, along with multiple investigations into the event, can only affirm that this massacre is a legacy of the violence the state was willing to unleash to enforce the Martial Law regime.

Dondo Edo Balabang

Dondo Edo Balabang recalls that naval ships opened fire along the coast on september. After soldiers landed and arrived at their barangay he and other men were assembled at the Malisbong Mosque to sign documents so that they could return to their homes. However, when the Governor arrived, the soldiers were told to kill them all.

In his account, Dondo recalls that soldiers ordered the men assembled outside to rush inside the mosque in 15 minutes. Those who could not get in within the period were made to board a naval ship. Once they were at sea, they were thrown out and shot at. Captives in the mosque were starved. When soldiers decided to feed the detainees after several days, they did so by tossing pieces of dried coconut at the Mosque door. “Humingi ako ng pagkain sa mga sundalo ang kanilang ibinigay sa akin ay tinadtad na matandang niyug. Isinabuy nila sa pintuan, ginawa nila kaming parang mga manok. Napatulu ang aking luha.”

Eventually, men were brought outside in batches depending on where they were from or how educated they were. Dondo added that they heard screams and gunfire a few minutes after each group left. “Mga sampug minutos, nakarinig kami ng sigaw at tunog ng putok na matulin. Nailagay sa sarili ko na ‘iyon na ang mga taga-Pinol na iyon.’”

Dondo survived the incident and applied for reparations under R.A. 10368. He was granted reparations for his arbitrary arrest and injuries.

Abduladzid Tacbil

Abduladzid Tacbil recalled that he was still in highschool when he and other men from his village were brought to Malisbong and detained inside his family’s Mosque. He recalls how the soldiers selected the more knowledgeable and educated captives among them for liquidation. “Kinuha yung mga barangay officials na natira pa pati yung mga imam, ustadz, mga hadji at pati yung marunong magsalita ng Tagalog… at saka pinili nila yung mga malalakas ang katawan sa pagkaalam nila.”

While they were being told they would return to their families, gunshots soon followed each parting batch. Some detainees thought about running away or taking their captors’ weapons, but feared that the military would retaliate on the women and children they were separated from.

He recounts that after a storm, they found a number of dead bodies along the shoreline.

Mohammad Kanda

Mohammad Kanda states that he was thirteen years old at the time of the incident. He recalls that there were two military ships called the “Mactan” and “Mindoro” which were present. He remembers thinking that it would be difficult for him and others with him to take shelter in the mountains during the operation. Instead, since they saw that they had no fault in the matter, they were convinced to descend to the coast and meet the military.

While captive inside the Malisbong mosque, they were refused food for three days to reduce their strength. When they were fed, they were fed like chickens. “Tatlong araw kami na di pinakain – nong ikaapat na ng araw ang pinakain lang samin at makainum na din kami, tubig at asin. Nung makalipas ang mga araw pag pinapakain kami tinatapun na nila ginagawa nila kaming parang manok. Kumakain ng bulad.”

Each day men were selected from the detainees to retrieve rice, but would never return once they were brought outside. After a few minutes they could hear gunshots in the distance. “nakakarinig kami ng maraming putokan nag papaputok ng nagpapaputok nalang sila, ang aming hinala ay pinatay na sila.”

Madaki Kanda

Madaki Kanda was still studying at barangay Maguling when he was taken inside the mosque. At times, when detainees were taken outside of the mosque, he was taken by one of the soldiers to accompany them and do a number of tasks. “ako ang pinapasibak niya ng mga kahoy na panggatong ng niluluto, pinapahugas niya ako ng mga plato tapos kapagka hapon naman ay pinapasukan niya ako sa loob at dinadalhan niya ako ng tutong ng kanin na mula sa niluto ko.”

Because of this, he states to have seen how some detainees were toyed with and killed by their captors. In one instance, two were tied-up inside a house which soldiers set ablaze. “Bale, yung dalawa naming kasama ay pinapasok sa bahay at tinalian sila… sinunog na sila kasama ang bahay.”

In another instance captives were made to chase imaginary chickens. “Pagdating lang namin diyan ay yung dalawang tao ay pinaharap dito… sinabi nung sundalo na habulin mo yung manok na yun. Yung dalawang tao na iyon ay naghabol na sila ng manok na wala naman akong nakikitang manok… at sila ay binaril na ng mga sundalo.”

Madaki remembers that detainees were also being made to dig holes near the shoreline. “Pagdating namin sa bandang timog ay mag-a-alas sais na ng gabi.. na binigyan kami ng pala kasi pinapahukay kami doon sa gilid ng dagat.” However, he was taken aside by soldiers, beaten and stuffed into a sack. He states that he was nearly thrown into the sea by his captors, and would have died if he was unable to speak to one of the guards in Ilocano to spare his life.

Mariam G. Kanda

Mariam Kanda, former Sangguniang Bayan member of Palimbang, shared her account with the Memorial Commission in 2018. She narrated her experience as she was evacuated to Kolong-Kolong, and that of some of her relatives who were confined in the Mosque. She had been newly-wedded to her husband when the military came and they were separated during the operation. When she went to check on the men who were released from the mosque afterwards, she could no longer find him. Her cousins told her that he, her father and uncle were all killed.

“Nabigla po talaga kami bakit nagkaroon ng ganong kalaking patayan ng kalalakihan namin sa Barangay Malisbong. Lalong-lalo na po sa masjid ni Hadji Hamsa Tacbil” She recalled. It would take more time before they were allowed to return to the mosque to clean-up what was left behind. “Nakikita mo talaga, na kahit anong hugas mo doon.. Sa pinagyarihan ang dugo po ay lumalabas at lumalabas.”

Her grief and anger at what had been done to her family convinced her to join the MNLF, although she was eventually convinced by her brother to return to civilian life and pursue nursing. Her late husband is listed in the roll of Martial Law Victims under R.A. 10368.

Mohamad Panet Piang

Mohamad Piang was a municipal official in the local government of Palimbang during the incident. He was made a part of the disaster coordinating council created to address the situation during the military operation. Mr. Piang and his companions however suspected something was wrong as none of the muslim officials, including himself and the mayor, were allowed to examine the detainees inside the mosque.

One month passed before they were able to visit Barangay Malisbong itself. Mr. Piang recalls that they found exposed corpses in the local creek and what appeared to be a large, newly-covered hole near the mosque. A rotten stench overwhelmed them as soon as they uncovered it. The Mosque itself was no different. 

“Nakita namin doon sa dingding ng mosque, sa flooring ng mosque, makita mo doon ang dugo, nagkalat-kalat… Buhay na buhay ang dugo.”

After this however, Piang tells that he was forced to fabricate a testimony for the military, stating there was no massacre and that the locals were treated and fed well. When he stated that a massacre took place, the major interrogating him prodded him with more hostile questions. At the same time, an accompanying judge told Piang that he could not be helped if he insisted that the killings happened. “..Naisip ko din, sabi ko, kasi kahit saan ako tumingin sundalo, ang dami – daming sundalo… ‘Hindi ako makakauwi. Papatayin nila ako.’” Mohamad Panet Piang had no choice but to sign.

“Pamilya ko maraming namatay, tatlong tao ang namatay na kamag-anak ko.” he remarked during his interview.

He eventually played an important role in a 2010 municipal investigation about the incident.

                                                                               

–   O     –

 

The Tacbil Mosque still stands today as a silent witness of a past that the living still remembers.

[1] John L. Esposito, ed. (2014). “Mosque”. The Oxford Dictionary of Islam. Oxford University Press.

[2] Patrick D. Gaffney (2004). “Masjid”. In Richard C. Martin (ed.). Encyclopedia of Islam and the Muslim World. MacMillan Reference.

[3] Abat, Fortunato U. (1993), The Day We Nearly Lost Mindanao: The CEMCOM Story, Fortunato U. Abat FCA, Metro Manila. 132-133.

[4] Pobre, Cesar P. (2000), History of the Armed Forces of the Filipino People, Philippine New Day Publishing base, Quezon City, 527-528.

[5] U.S. Department of State. 1974 October 7. Weyerhaeuser Situation. Document number 1974MANILA12012, film number D740283-0659.

[6] Alojamiento, Sheilfa (1987), Carnage in the Mosque, The Moro Kurier, 1987.

[7] de Vera, Jose (1974), Ceasefire Ordered in Lanao, Bulletin Today, vol. 24 no. 9, p 1, 5.

[8] Resolution CHR (V) No AM2019-183, Recognition of the Palimbang/Tacbil Massacre and its Commemoration Every 24th September, retrieved online thru http://chr.gov.ph/wp-content/uploads/2019/09/Resolution-CHR-V-No-AM2019-183-On-the-Recognition-of-the-PalimbangTacbil-Massacre-and-its-Coommemoration-Every-24th-September.pdf

[9] 1,500 Moro massacre victims during Martial Law honored. Mindanews. 26 September 2014.

[10] Human Rights Violations Victims’ Memorial Commission. Tacbil Mosque Palimbang Massacre: A Reader, Manila: HRVVMC, 2019.