Thousands are killed and more than two-thirds of Jolo, capital of Sulu province, are razed during intense fighting between Islamic Moro rebels of the MNLF and AFP troops, which started February 4. The DSWD says 10,000 people in Jolo are either dead or unaccounted for. “The dead were just left to decompose on the road or thrown into the sea,” says a government employee witnessing the battles. He says troops and civilians are afraid to pick up bodies because of snipers in the burned town. Col. Alfonso E. Alcoseba, deputy commander of AFP SOWESCOM describes Jolo as two-thirds gutted, although PC chief Maj. Gen. Fidel Ramos mentions a lower estimate, saying that 1/4 to 1/3 of the town was burned. Defense Secretary Juan Ponce Enrile says on 12 Feb that Jolo is under “full control and the rebels are on the run.” Other military sources say fighting continues in at least five pockets within Jolo.
A big MNLF rebel force (estimated at some 400-strong in the Jolo area) led by Nur Misuari had earlier captured Jolo on or about 7 Feb. AFP forces counter-attacked on the weekend of 9-10 February and drove out the rebels. AFP accused the MNLF of razing the town to cover its retreat, while MNLF accuses the AFP of burning Jolo as part of its counter-attack, with PAF planes on bombing and strafing sorties. Among those razed to the ground were the Roman Catholic cathedral and the Notre Dame College building. Military sources say the Air Force launched its own attack on Jolo after rebels overran the airport, captured the nearby 1st Army Brigade headquarters and almost took a military communications outpost in the Notre Dame College building on 7 Feb, with a total of 19 AFP soldiers killed. By 11 Feb, thousands flee from burning Jolo, and fighting continues outside town. Other sources say the MNLF launched the Jolo attack simultaneously with attacks on at least two towns in Zamboanga del Sur.
Prior to the fighting, the population of Jolo doubled to more than 80,000 as refugees from the interior sought shelter during 16 months of rebel activity. The Red Cross says the refugee situation is worsening, with some 250,000 people having been displaced. [This figure appears bloated, as the Jolo population then was less than 100,000, unless the Red Cross is referring to a Sulu-wide figure.] On 11 Feb, some 6,000 refugees land by boat in Zamboanga city. The government says it has enlisted the help of the US Special Forces, mainly for medical and civic action.
(AP wires, The Windsor Star, 12 Feb 1974; Ottawa Citizen, 15 Feb 1974; St. Joseph News-Press, 16 Feb 1974; Spokane Daily Chronicle, 12 Feb 1974; Lakeland Ledger, 17 Feb 1974)