The New York Times
JOLO, the Philippines—People are slowly returning to this island town of ruins to try to begin their lives again. But nothing is settled.
The Moslem rebellion that lest to the destruction of most of Jolo by shelling and fires in February — In a fierce battle pitting the rebels against mdre heavily armed Government force — is still very much alilre. The insurgents, driven from the town, have once again taken to the thickly forested hills, breaking up into small bands and disappearing into natural caves and into the heavily reinforced bunkers and tunnels built by the Japanese during their World War II occupation.
Citing centuries of neglect and abuse by the Christian majority that rules in Manila, over 600 miles to the north, and by their own feudal lords in the south, the insurgents are demanding nothing less than a separate Moslem state under new leadership.
“They will be hard to locate and dig out,” says Jobe Island’s military commander, Col. Alteo F. Rillera. “They know the terrain. They can hide beside trails and lay ambushes,”
Now a National Problem
A war of attrition seems a certainty, and many Filipinos believe that the rebellion has now become pivotal to the success or failure of President Ferdinand E. Marcos’s rule by martial law, begun on Sept. 23, 1972.
Once a regional affair, the insurgency has ballooned because of fear that the Moslem countries of the Middle East, out of sympathy for the Moslems here, might deny their oil to Manila. That could strangle Philippine development and push the country into turmoil again.
No easy solution is likely, for the insurgents seem determined on secession, and the Government—at least partly because it believes there are valuable oil deposits in the waters around this island area—is, equally determined not to let the region go.
should have taught these pfople a lesson a long time ago,” said Secretary of Defense Jean Ponce Enrile in an interview in Manila. He added: “We have been too easy on them. They must be forced to give Up this foolish idea of dismembering a portion of our country.”
Mr. Enrile, who represents a hard‐line faction in the Philippine Cabinet, is said to reflect the attitude of his generals, who were embarrassed by their failure to prevent the Jolo attack and who now want to strike back and repair the army’s frayed image.
A Look at the Losses
The army has been suffering heavier casualties in the fighting than it admits. The highest figure given by any official is 36 soldiers killed in the Jolo campaign, But independent sources on this remote island of extinct volcanos, coconut groves and idyllic beaches say more than 100 in the army are dead, and that the toll in the jungle fighting outside the town is rising steadily.
The insurgents have taken heavy losses, too — the army says it has killed 200 to 300 rebels since early February. But there is no way to confirm these figures.
Many civilians were also killed in the four days of fighting in Jolo town — figures range from 200 to 400. Some were killed in crossfires. Again, there is no way of knowing how many were killed intentionally and by whom.
Now, with the rebels pushed out of the town, the army’s howitzers boom away through the day, sending shells toward the hideouts in the cloudwreathed hills that virtually embrace the town on three sides, and the air force’s F‐86’s jets swoop low over the hills to bomb or to strafe with 50caliber machine guns.
The noise doesn’t seem to bother those returning to Jolo. They have other things on their minds, such as salvage among the rubble of their houses—a handful of nails or a piece of charred pipe.
More than half of this oncebusy trading port, which used to have nearly 100,000 residents, is destroyed. Some skeletal remains stand here and there — a cracked wall of house, a cement pillar reaching to nowhere — but everything else is leveled.
“My heart is crying for the loss of all my possessions,” said Abdurasad Sabandal, a 42‐year‐old merchant. “I have eight children and I have nothing to feed them; I must leave it all to God.”
Mr. Sabandal is a Moslem, like most of the residents of Solo town and most of the more than 400,000 people of the Sulu island chain of which Jolo Island is the heart. Most of them take a fatalistic view of what has happened to them as something that Allah controls and only he can explain.
“I can do nothing but pray to Allah,” said Kabila U‐Dadjilul, a 63‐year‐old widow whose house is a pile of debris. “Thank Allah that at least my ‘children are all alive.”
The Government says that ‘the rebels, by trying to seize IJolo, the trading center of these ‘islands, have lost the support lof many civilians. This is possible, but random interviews with dozens of Jolo Moslems indicated that most are, if not active supporters of the rebels’ cause, at least a silent rebel majority.
One Chfrese merohant whose warehouse was looted of rice by the rebels said he was angry at them, but no one else, despite grievous losses, displayed anything akin to hostility. “People are not angry at the rebels,” said one middleaged man. “It is not like that.”
The Government says that the 200 to 1,000, rebels who entered Jolo set fire to the town as they retreated, and that this caused nearly all the damage. And there is evidence that some fires were set by the insurgents and that the blazes, fanned by a stiff breeze from the sea, swept out of control through the poorer shantytown neighborhoods.
But there is also evidence that at least some of the fires were started by Government artillery firing from a military camp in the northwest corner of the town and from cannon on naval gunships.
A few people in town said, without rancor, that the rebels did most of the burning; others blamed both sides and some blamed only the Government. The anti‐Government sentiment was strongest among young people.
‘They Are Not Maoists’
As a foreigner stood in the middle of a street taking pictures of the ruins, a young man slipped up to him and whispered quickly: “They are not Maoists, they are independents. All the damage was done by Government shelling.” Then he darted down a side street and disappeared.
The Marcos Government has branded the insurgents Maoists, apparently because it fears that if the rebellion is viewed as Moslem‐Christian conflict, the Islamic countries that provide most of the Philippines’ oilSaudi Arabia, Kuwait and Iran —will reduce or shut off supplies. A few of the known rebel leaders have Communist backgrounds, but most analysts of the five‐year rebellion believe that the insurgents are in the main young students radicalized by the struggle into die‐hard guerrillas — but not Communists.
Even the army acknowledges obliquely that they are not Maoists. One high military official here said: “Although we call them Maoists, many do not even know what they are fighting for. They are misguided. And some join for adventure. These Tausugs are born fighters. They love to fight.”
Most of the people of the Sulu Islands are Tausugs, an ethnic group renowned for ferocity and independent‐mindedness. No one has ever really subdued the Tausugs—not the Spanish who came in the 16th century, not the Americans who took over in 1898, not the Japanese who came in World War II. And not the Philippine Government.
The present rebellion — different in that it is apparently led by intellectuals and young idealists rather than bandits or tribal chieftains or pirates —stems from what the Moslems see as encroachment on their land, religion and culture.
Gun Search Touched It Off
Moslem culture has been neglected in the schools and by the Government and for some years now, Christian migrants from the more crowded northern islands have been nibbling away at Moslem holdings in the south, where almost all the 2.5 million Moslems in this country of 40 million live.
But what set off the recent resurgence of the rebellion was the Government’s attempt after the martial‐law declaration — to confiscate firearms. The program went well in the north, but was a disaster in the Moslem areas. “A Tausug would rather give up his wife than his weapon,” is a local saying.
The weapons sweep brought all the other irritations to the boiling point, and for the last year or so the rebellion has become fierce—with no end in sight.
“These young men and women are fighting a real revolution against the old corrupt style of Government,” said one of their sympathizers, who asked to remain unidentified to avoid Government retaliation. He added: “They’re a new force. They will not be crushed until the last man is dead.”