In a story written two years after the vicious 1974 battle of Jolo, an old graveyard caretaker told a young man and his father, “Jolo is not yet dead. People who lived through the battle, like you and me, make Jolo dying, but not dead. Unless battle wounds are healed, memories forgotten… our town continues to live a suffering life.”
Forty four years hence, Jolo continues to suffer. Barely nineteen months after the twin bombing of the Jolo Cathedral on January 27, 2019, two bombs again exploded in downtown Jolo on August 24, 2020. The usual suspects have been named, the usual stale analysis given, and the usual odd mix of victims mourned by their love ones, in tiring déjà vu too surreal to comprehend. Bomb blasts after all are planned violence that are not susceptible to logical explanations, and contain neither a sender’s nor a receiver’s address.
The town of Jolo, and Sulu Province as a whole, have a long history of conflict beginning with the Spanish intrusions into the islands that were once governed by a sovereign Sultanate that had diplomatic and trade relations with its neighboring countries and European nations. Most of the huge land and maritime battles fought by the Spaniards in this part of Asia were against the Bangsa Sug and its allies. So with the Americans in the infamous Battles of Bud Dahú and Bud Bagsak, and the martial law Philippine government in the Battles of Jolo and Pata. All these battles, and the ominous martial atmosphere that periodically clouded the Sulu horizon contributed to the instability and backwardness that now reigns over Sulu.
But then, can you really blame the Bangsa Sug for resisting and fighting a war brought to their shores? Can you fault their warriors for clinging to their cherished religion and culture, and choosing freedom over subjugation? These are people who knew peace when the clouds of war would sometimes dissipate; and longed for the peace once enjoyed by their ancestors, and for the enjoyment of their future generations. But then, the war keeps coming with impunity, the cannons would roar again, the killings would begin again, wasting livelihood and generating widows and orphans of war who will rise to become the next generation of warriors, whom the guardians against extremism will call terrorists. The cycle should make us pause and ask ourselves who started this cycle of violence, and who the real terrorists are.
These are primordial questions that must also be asked across the other Muslim-dominated provinces that now comprise the BARMM. The terror that has gripped Jolo is a common actual and potential terror in these areas, and the proposed solution of re-imposing martial law has been proven by history and field reality as an ineffective solution to a problem that is deeper than the mindset of warmongers and harbingers of war.
In a fiery place like Jolo, burnt to the ground many times over in its history of fighting against intruders, you do not put out a fire by starting another fire. Jolo and its islands have stood proud protected by the waters of the Sulu Sea from time immemorial. As a folksy song goes, “Let the water come and carry us away.” Let the native water of Sulu carry its land and people to peace, as it has always done so, before all these fighting and killings began.