Written by cyberarnis
( Note: The writer was a Field Commander at Pata Island when the tragic incident happened)
February 12, 2006
The Pata Island Massacre, who cares?
(Published in the Jan/Feb’06 issue of The Cavalier Magazine)
The incident will turn silver this February 2006. Totally forgotten! Nobody remembers anymore the 119 souls who perished in Pata Island on the disastrous day of 12 February 1981, one day before Friday the 13th. I was then barely a year old 2LT at that time, who did everything to save them. I have kept silent about this incident through the years telling no one how it happened? Whenever asked, I had always shied away in narrating the heroism of my companions in 31st Infantry (Charge) Battalion, 1st Infantry (Tabak) Division in our efforts to rescue our besieged comrades. Many members from the battalion who were with me in Pata have already retired, have been killed-in-action, or have died in sickness. For some reason, I am still alive, healthy (neither crippled nor war-shocked), and doing well in the active service, something enough to thank God for. Maybe, one reason of my existence tells me that I still have to tell you about the tale, after 25 years…
This is a story not only about the massacre but also the bravery displayed by the men of 31st IB on that fateful day.
Sometime ago when MGEN ROMEO TOLENTINO’74 was the Chief-of-Staff of the Philippine Army, he had sponsored reunions for Sulu campaign veterans circa 1972-86, comprised especially by retired generals. The night was supposed to be full of singing but instead, the former generals held the microphone talking alternately and repeatedly about Patikul and Pata. I heard retired MGEN EMILIO LUGA JR ’54, who was the Division Commander of Tabak when Pata happened, saying that there was only one survivor.
When blogging in the Internet became my favorite past time at Fort Magsaysay, I joined the Philippine Defense Forum, among other fora. A blogger with a name Peso is asking, “What happened in Pata Island?” All discussants were groping in the dark. They even falsely identified the Philippine Marines as the victims, showing they really know nothing about the topic. So after a while, their discussion shifted to Patikul and Jabidah massacres, which they are more aware of and many stories have been written already about them.
I have used GOOGLE a lot. One time while into it, I tried to google the phrase “Pata Island Massacre”. I was indeed surprised many hits came out. The homepage of the Terrorism Research Center reports, “February 12, 1981: Pata Island Massacre. MNLF insurgents killed 118 government troops on Pata Island after persuading them to lay down their arms”. The Deke’s Diary Special Operations.Com, which records anniversary dates of terrorism incidents all over the world, says: “February 12, 1981, Philippines. Pata Island Massacre, 118 unarmed government troops killed by MNLF”. The website on the Overview of the Moro Struggle through History by Prof Datu Amilusin Jumaani tells us, “In 1981… Marcos lifts martial law (but keeps his dictatorial powers) in a bid to win further legitimacy for his regime. In May, opposition leader Benigno Aguino, released from prison and allowed to go into exile in the US, visits Misuari in Jeddah and promises to support the Tripoli Agreement. MNLF forces kill 120 government soldiers in Pata Island, off Jolo. In retaliation, more than 15,000 troops are sent to the island in a massive operation that infuriates Muslim local government officials.”
As Chairman of TRADOC’s Review Board, I was compelled to give another Battle Review Analysis (BRA) project to 18 students of OPC Class-50. This time, I made sure that they would not commit plagiarism anymore by “cut and paste”. So, I decided to give them a local battle scene that could not be found and downloaded from the Internet. I required them, as a group work, to research on the Pata Island Massacre. Do you know what? They could not find any story about it anywhere, even in our own PA Historical Archives. Consequently, the group divided themselves by assigning people to go to the Headquarters of 31st IB at Sipocot, Camarines Sur; Headquarters of 1st Infantry Division in Jolo; HPA in Fort Bonifacio; GHQ Library at Camp Aguinaldo; and different newspaper agencies (As I can remember, the story never made the headlines nor the front pages. The news was only a small column in the inside pages and published several days after it happened. I could even recall that some newspapers even reported: 124 government troops killed. I suspect that there was still censorship at that time because Martial Law was only lifted a month earlier before the massacre happened. President Marcos was determined to picture a stable country to Pope John Paul II, who arrived in Manila on 08 Feb 81 and went on tour around the country. The Pope was one of the many reasons why Martial Law was lifted). Going back to my story, for the students to complete their BRA, they interviewed a retired 2LT from 24th IB, who based his story on hearsay. In the BRA, the students wrote and pointed out that the battalion commander was a Dental Officer, not an infantryman.
LEST WE FORGET!
LTC DENNIS VILLANUEVA ’86 (+) was killed-in-action in Jolo on 10 February last year (http://content.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1056340,00.html). Upon hearing the news the following day, an eerie feeling crept inside me and realized that the next day would be again the anniversary of the Pata massacre. Then next year will be its silver anniversary!
Pata is an island. It is the second largest island in the Sulu archipelago and only accessible by watercraft. The island served as one of the immediate sanctuary of the MLNF terrorists whenever they met stiff resistance from government forces in the mainland.
In late 1980, there was an intelligence report that members of Civilian Home Defense Force (CHDF) and Special Para-Military Force (SPMF) at Pata were selling their government-issued firearms to a terrorist group.
By January 1981, COL RODOLFO CANIESO ’56, who was the Commanding Officer of 3/1 Brigade, opted to check the report on gunrunning and to account all firearms in Pata Island. The 31st IB, which was due for battalion retraining in Luzon, was tapped for this mission. For the battalion, this would be their last mission before they leave for Fort Magsaysay where the retraining would be held. COL CANIESO assured us by saying, “This will only be just a picnic!”
At the time the mission was handed down, 31st IB was already under LTC JACINTO SARDUAL. He took over on 16 Dec 80 from LTC DANILO OLAY ’65 (+) who was due for CGSC schooling in Australia. On that same month, the new Battalion Commander made me Company Commander of Alfa Company, the first one among my classmates to be CO.
Accordingly, a Task Force (TF) was created, composed of: Bravo Company under 1LT OSCAR DE VERA, Hotel (P) Company under 1LT PEDRO CAUAN (+) and Alfa Company under me. The turn to be TF Commander fell on 1LT DE VERA. The TF landed on the west side of Pata Island on 05 February 1981 with instructions to proceed eastward.
Our task in Pata was to support the elements of the Special Forces (12Coy, HDFG(A), SWBde). They would record and register all firearms of the CHDF and SPMF. Our rule of engagement was, “not to shoot unless fired upon”. Nonetheless, news in the island had spread already like wildfire that people with firearms would be disarmed; and the firearms registrations were only a ploy.
Echo Company under 2LT JOEL CAÑARES, which was the Training Company of the battalion, was chosen over the more seasoned companies – Charlie and Delta, to serve as security and escort of the Command Group. The trip to Pata would serve as Test Mission for the newly assigned privates, trainees and draftees to the battalion. The Command Group with Echo Company would only be anyway staying safe behind the Task Force. Ultimately on the 7th day, the whole battalion would pull out from the island – as easy as it sounds!
MSg Edralin Arellano, one of the three survivors, happened to be my man at the 7th Signal Battalion in Fort Magsaysay in 2002. During my stint as his Commander, I never asked him about Pata. I did not want anymore to hear the trauma he suffered. It was only during the time when I decided to write about the incident that I returned and asked him about some details. We compared notes. According to him, the Battalion Commander and his staff were already making their farewell call on the Barangay officials when they were deceived. A CHDF Commander took LTC SARDUAL surreptitiously as “hostage”. I learned later that the CHDF Commander was Unad Musillan. He was with MNLF/SPMF Commander Jimang Butoh. The latter was questioning LTC SARDUAL about the intentions and presence of soldiers in the island. In the process of trying to pacify and justify their presence, LTC SARDUAL relayed to them that they meant no harm. In order to prove his intentions and as a sign of good gesture, he would order his men to remove their magazines and empty their rifles. When the order was given, the privates, trainees and draftees, while still in formation, obeyed so. Those old-timers with higher ranks were very suspicious and distrustful.
Soon after the order was given but not before everyone could unload their rifles, an intense volume of gunfire came from every direction killing most of the members of the outfit instantaneously. Msg Arellano, who was still a Trainee, leaped instantly into the pit near the mosque to take cover. In the process, he got hit at his left thigh and shoulder. Many bodies fell on top of him as he played dead. He smelled gasoline. After almost like an eternity, he sensed later the enemy scampering away when mortar firing started dropping near their location.
But before the “peace talk”, 2LT CAÑARES disengaged from the group together with his radioman and some of his Assistant Instructors. He was able to radio us what was brewing. His pack together with those soldiers who were late in removing their magazines put up a fight. They were able to inflict casualties from the enemy.
STANDING TO ITS MOTTO & BATTLECRY
At the time the massacre was happening around 0900H, the Task Force was about to move out from vicinity Timudas (GC 004443) by 3 temper boats belonging to the Seaborne Brigade (these temper boats were Viking-like fishing boats converted into a mini “warships” equipped with caliber .50 and .30 machineguns. Each of them had pumpboats, being pulled by ropes, used for deployment of passengers ashore. The Army’s Seaborne Brigade was under COL JAIME ECHEVERRIA ’57). Our group would be heading vicinity Likud (GC 986407) for the scheduled rendezvous with our Command Group, as our seven-day mission would be terminated at 1200H. “Paalis na sana!”
Before departing Timudas, 2LT EMMANUEL GONGORA, my Deputy/Ex-O who was serving as platoon leader under me, heard over our PRC 77 radio the anxiety of 2LT CAÑARES regarding disputes between the Command Group and the CHDF/SPMF. Suddenly, radio transmission was cut off. After several attempts of calling back 2LT CAÑARES, my Platoon Sergeant Peñera Paji, with his sullen face blurted, “Patay na ‘ata lahat sila!” I was quick to retort and could not imagine, “At paano mo naman sila mapapatay lahat?”
I suggested reinforcing by land but the TF Commander opted to go by sea. He said that the enemy might be waiting to ambush us and it would take us longer to walk 5 to 7 kms in tactical condition on unfamiliar terrain. For me, I was thinking that we could fight better in soil rather than coming from the sea.
Troops were shuttled by pumpboats in boarding the 3 temper boats, one temper per company. Along the way, radioman Pvt Damaso Calayan fell overboard due to violent waves. In order to save himself and his radio, he let go his rifle losing it to the deep blue sea. At about 1200H with vicinity Likud in sight, I was tasked to lead the expeditionary forces composed of 4 pumpboats with 8-person capacity load each to go ashore; but as we went nearer, we were fired upon by undetermined number of enemy hiding behind barricades. The situation made us sail back to the sea; and as we moved sideways, they kept on blocking our approach. Surveying the area, I decided to unload the troops on a small piece of corral island more than 300 meters away from the beachhead. It was still high tide. COL CANIESO, who was able to reach immediately the scene by speedboat, took over in directing the troops and advised us by megaphone to assault simultaneously but to wait for low tide, remaining troops on board the tempers were hauled down to the corrals. The enemy was firing on us. We planned for a Marine-type offensive attack.
When the water was ebbing, the small corral island became bigger and bigger and the gap closer to the beachhead. At 1500H, we heard COL CANIESO shouting through his megaphone, “31st this is the right time!” The tide had turned to its minimum height but we could still see water infront of us. After ten rounds of 60mm mortar bombardment of the proposed entry site by our mortar squad together along with us at the corrals, Alfa Company on the left and Hotel Company at the right facing the beachhead prepared for attack. Bravo Company would be staying behind as Reserve. Somebody at the back shouted our battlecry, “CHARGE!” but everybody reacted with hesitations. We all knew death was upon us! It would be suicide! As I looked behind, all eyes were on me. Thinking, we had to hurry up! I do not know until now what came into me but my prayers at that moment were total submission to God. I kept on praying the Act of Contrition over and over again as we ran in intermittent zigzag towards the beachhead. Pfc Mariano Reyes, who was near me, was very protective. He kept on pulling me down every time he heard bullets whizzing. I scolded him to stop doing so because I was starting to lose my nerve. Whenever I happened to look back, I could see my men falling down to the ground. I pleaded very deeply from Him to protect them. I did not know that my men were just dodging bullets and would stand up later to follow me. What if nobody followed me? I have written in my graduation book annual, “To conquer death you only have to die!” I told my men earlier, “Kung mamamatay rin tayo bakit natin ipapakita na tayo ay taray-taray”, no pun intended 33IB. We really never showed that we were cowering in fear. I am very proud of my men in Alfa Company. Let the crew in the temper boats and retired LTGEN CANIESO, who are eyewitnesses to all of these, come out and attest to our defining moment! Alfa Company advancing, inching its way, we pushed further, Hotel Company rallied forward until the line assault formation was attained. Both companies upon reaching the waist-deep water portion, rushed to the shore, throwing everything we got while enemy trying to pick us up like sitting ducks. In the process of the desperate assault, my assistant radioman who replaced Pvt Calayan, Dft Ricardo Manlangit was fatally hit in the chest by a sniper. As we advanced farther, we encountered sporadic resistance trying to push us back to the sea. When my company was able to take the high ground, the big volume of firing stopped. Maybe the enemy conceded to withdraw when they saw many were coming in. Hotel Company, led by 1LT CAUAN, maneuvered to the right going to the mosque. His unit stumbled on the massacre site and his men found the three (3) survivors: 1CT Edralin Arellano, 1CT Benjamin Lausa, and 2CT Rogelio Cabcaban. Getting dark, we were bracing for a counter-attack from the enemy. The ammunitions of the elements of the first wave were low. The enemy was on the advantage on this aspect because we knew they have additional weapons and unused ammo of our dead comrades. It was getting dark but I managed to write a very long letter to my mother who had migrated to Canada with my 4 siblings without me when I was a cadet. Just in case! In the letter in closing I wrote: I am sorry Mama but I have the responsibility to lead my men and not to fail them…
The counter attack from the enemy never came. On the following day, platoons were sent out on patrol. The platoon from Hotel Coy had some skirmishes with the enemy and was able to recover the 2 base plates of the Command Group’s 81mm mortars. Maybe, some people were still trying to return to their homes but “Jose Rizal” had already razed their houses down to the ground. We continued looking and identifying the people we knew. Seeing our dead comrades whom we knew intimately, we were seething with vengeance. We lost count of the dead bodies, some women and children caught in the crossfire. We thought we lost 124 government troops because of the uniform; but as we aligned the cadavers along the shoreline and later crosschecked with the troop listing, the names that were unaccounted totaled to 118. So let me mention their names here in order for us to remember and honor them:
LTC JACINTO SARDUAL (CO, 31IB), 1LT ALFREDO REYES (S-3), 1LT CLAUDIO DAGATAN (CO, HHSCoy), 1LT COBAYAN TANDIONG (S-2), 2LT JOEL CAÑARES (CO, “E”Coy), 2LT TITO CASTILLO (Sig Ofcr), Ssgt Romeo Bartolazo, Sgt Dante Agne, Sgt Rolando Aroyo, Sgt Marcial Descallar, Sgt Emiliano Devera, Sgt Avelino Mabilangan, Sgt Mamerto Roxas, Sgt Nemesio Sumayo, Cpl Efren Bandong, Cpl Venus Castro, Cpl Leopoldo Hidalgo, Cpl Leopoldo Hidalgo, Cpl Avelino Nato, Cpl Rolando Pascua, Cpl Virgilio San Pedro, Cpl Leo Sagudang, Cpl Felix Timbreza, Pfc Rogelio Abo, Pfc Enrico Acado, Pfc Romulo Aguilar, Pfc Graciano Antonio, Pfc Rolando Cojales, Pfc Timoteo Cojas, Pfc Alberto Dahiwag, Pfc Robin Dayag, Pfc Fernan Gumaca, Pfc Antonio Ilumin, Pfc Wilfredo Javier, Pfc Francisco Lopes, Pfc Crisostomo Mateo, Pfc Apolonio Mateo, Pfc Manuel Moreno, Pfc Jose Mupas, Pfc Alberto Nicolas, Pfc Ernesto Nicolas, Pfc Benito Palatao, Pfc Flavino Pascual, Pfc Efren Pontanal, Pfc Federico Quinangon, Pfc Efren Reyes, Pfc Ernesto Rodolfo Pfc Rogelio Rufinta, Pfc Rogelio Sagun, Pfc Pablo Salonga, Pfc Conrado Samson, Pfc Nestor Tenollar, Pfc Federico Toledo, Pfc Wilfredo Viernes, Pfc Orlando Villanueva, Pfc Dante Villasita, Pvt Tito Bagao, Pvt Felix Baluyan, Pvt Henry Basilio, Pvt Miguelito Batarao, Pvt Eduardo Cuison, Pvt Efren A Cureg, Pvt Raul Dacudao, Pvt Dominador Duldolao, Pvt Mercedarios Gooc, Pvt Rodolfo Manangan, Pvt Ernesto Pescador, Pvt Aniceto Rodrigo, Pvt Fredie Sepnio, Pvt Marianito Suyat, Pvt Marcelino Valdez, 1CT Abraham Flores, 1CT Samuel Salunpid, 1CT Jose Viloria Jr, 2CT Joel Alag, 2CT Jaime Alfeche, 2CT Nestor Aliangan, 2CT Luis Aracheta, 2CT Al Cabanieros, 2CT Jaime Caprico, 2CT Darico Carlizo, 2CT Nestor Celestial, 2CT Ebenezer Corcuera, 2CT Santiago Daldalanin, 2CT Efrain Diocay, 2CT Santos Dioquino, 2CT Nestor Durato, 2CT Celerino Ewag Jr, 2CT Jose Fernandez, 2CT Raymundo Gabriel, 2CT Eliseo Guerrero, 2CT Romulo Hererra, 2CT Bobby Impeno, 2CT Juanito Jamera Jr, 2CT Danilo Java, 2CT Noble Jundon, 2CT Nestor Ledesma, 2CT Susanito Lutas, 2CT Madangan Mangoga, 2CT Perfecto Medel, 2CT Eric Mejares, 2CT Alberto Montes, 2CT Rogie Morales, 2CT Victor Napoles, 2CT Lauro Naritasan, 2CT Bernardo Ragudo, 2CT Pere Ranay, 2CT Nacito Tabaniag, 2CT Nestor Trinidad, Dft Bobby Calina, Dft Teresito Gonzales, Dft Emerson Gumtang, Dft Alejandro Masin, Dft Constantino Pascual. Dft Francisco Pasion, Dft Diamante Patron, Dft Rodolfo Ruiz, Dft Felix Santos, and Dft Ruben Sapad.
We saw LTC SARDUAL slumped at a foot of a tree where his lower torso burned. Most of the dead soldiers were found inside a pit beside the mosque – scorched. Overseeing the retrieval of our dead comrades was more devastating than the attack. Many from us were weeping but I was insensate. I withstood the smell of burning flesh while others were covering their nostrils with handkerchiefs. The 3 survivors all came from the pit hole were wounded. It seemed that almost everybody jumped into the pit to take cover, bodies on top of each other. Others were found towards the shore. There was no place to run. Directly above where the shooting came from, we found cal .30 empty shells and broken links. The perpetrators used a machinegun, telling us that the massacre was deliberately planned. There were soldiers with open wounds on their arms and bodies. Maybe, when still alive, the unarmed soldiers parried sharp objects such as bolos, barongs or kris, with their bare hands; and those soldiers who were laying still, the natives, including women, made sure they were dead. Recollection of the repulsive sight and noxious smell still pains me to describe!
On Valentine’s Day of that year, 32nd IB came and replaced us at 1330H from our position. Many troops came pouring in. LTGEN FORTUNATO ABAT ’51, who was the CGPA at that time, visited the massacre site. He talked to us. I remember GEN LUGA telling us the reason why he was pulling us out of Pata Island. He told us that he did not want anymore our battalion to incur more casualties. We had enough. We were already becoming careless and aggressive. Lastly, we were being blinded by our desire to get instant revenge. Away from the group of generals, COL CANIESO told me by saying but I know he was referring to the troops, “We need you alive not dead!”
Still in the island and later back to the mainland, seeing familiar faces was very soothing for me. I saw the Jolo Boys in the rescue: LIEUTENANTS LIM USMA’78, PURUGGANAN ’78, ABELIA ’79, ARADANAS ’79, BAMBAO ’79, CALALANG ’79 (+), DELA CRUZ ’79, DELLOSA ’79, PANGILINAN ’79, PALMEA ’79, PERALTA ’79, VALENTIN ’79, BOLO ’80, FRANCISCO ’80, MENDOZA ’80, NOBLE ’80, PASAMBA ’80, SUGON ’80, and YANO ’80. Then, an Acting Battalion Commander by the name of COL ABRAHAM MAGHARI, with a new set of staff, arrived and took over 31st IB.
Back at my company CP at Indanan, LT GONGORA and I wrote LTC OLAY, who was in Australia, an extensive letter narrating to him the massacre. We told him how we wished he was there. Perhaps, different things might have happened. I learned later that the Pata Island Massacre occurred on the exact date of GENERAL OLAY’s 37th birthday! The news became the worst birthday present he had in his lifetime.
The Pata Island Massacre will go down in the AFP history as its worst debacle. This is the encounter that has the highest number of casualty, specifically on KIAs.
Dedication: To CAVALIER JOHNNY CORCHA ’77, a highlander warrior – for saving and rescuing me from a vehicular ambush on 122030 July 1981 (Sunday) at KM2 going towards Tagbak, Jolo, Sulu. It was dark. My Battalion Commander, LTC EDGARDO PANGAN 68 (+), broke through the ambush zone and left my group to get reinforcement. I was bleeding. I ran out of ammo. I was just waiting for the enemy to find us but a 1LT CORCHA of 18IB found us first. I have never said this to him before: Sir, deep in my heart, I thank you! JVLJR
Acknowledgement: I also wish to thank LTC JIMBO OLLERO (Ret), SMS Efren Gervacio, and MSg Diosdado Pait for helping me recall names and some details…
-Pata incident as narrated by Cav Rey Lomeda in the Corps Magazine