It wasn’t good news that these intrepid men brought to my celebration that day. They were hurting. They suffered casualties hours before, but honorable men that they were, four of them showed up to represent the FSRR even when they were two hours late, bringing with them the apologies of some who had been sent to Jolo earlier that week.
I was hoping to see a dear friend, but I don’t think the invitation got to him. He had orders to move his unit to Jolo to beef up the Philippine Marines in running after the Abu Sayyaf Group, and this he did early September right about the time I sent out the invite. His comrades told me that my friend’s unit got to Jolo close to midnight and in the morning as the sun came up they were already engaged in a skirmish that left four elements dead in its aftermath.
Safe in the halls of the Ateneo and still floating on the euphoria of a successful launch, I could not even begin to fathom then the seriousness of the Jolo theater. On hindsight, it was pretty obvious that our men did not have the luxury of time to case the territory and plan the campaign before engaging the enemy. I doubt if these guys had the time to unload their baggage or get a good night’s sleep before the bullets started flying.
Four men before noon is to my mind a massive price to pay. I wondered at the weight of decision to commit our men to battle when it seemed obvious that the unit was not under attack. On the contrary, it was doing the attacking. Yes, I was reminded enough times that a civilian might not see the situation on the ground exactly as the ground commander would. Still, that’s four elements. Probably four husbands. Four fathers. I have to bite my tongue lest I call out the Lord’s name in vain for the pain and anguish of all the widows and all the orphans of war.
What’s my dog-with-a-bone obsession with decision-making in combat situations? Well, I was shopping around for a topic for my doctoral dissertation. Yes, I’ve been told to look elsewhere. I’m still looking. The interest is, I’d like to think, purely academic (though that’s somewhat rendered suspect when I start viewing it with the pain and anguish of the widows and orphans of war), which is why I don’t write about it here yet.
Oh, okay, I don’t write about it on this column because it has a potential for treading issues of national security. Addressing the matter requires incontrovertible proof and such is hard to come by where I am at the moment.
But now that the Janjalani furor is all over the papers, let me add my two cents’ worth.
Janjalani’s death is an opportunity for America to redirect RP-US relations back on a track more appropriate to meeting the foreign policy objectives of the Bush administration. America seems to be committed to award that prize money as soon as possible to underline its priorities. When it’s about going after our nationals that prey on their nationals in our land, you can hide six feet under and they’d still get you in the end. It’s another thing though when it’s about their nationals preying on our nationals in our own land. Terrorism or rape? No contest.
The speed at which America wants to divest itself of the prize money seems to make some quarters go along and forget to ask the Janjalani question: Marines or SR? When did Janjalani — if it indeed is Janjalani — die and who caused that to happen? The official line says he was killed engaging the Marines. How do they know for sure? He was not ID’d among the fallen in any battlefield in early September when the SRs came to town and when the autopsy report said he would have died.
For some time now, the perception I’m getting is that the American bounty is encouraging mercenary motives. It gives me a lot of pain to say that out loud over the echo of Jack Nicholson’s tirade in A Few Good Men still playing in my ears (Thank you, all – those of you who sent me the full script to that scene).
I am sorry to say that and I truly hope it is not true of our fighting men of the Marines, the SR, and the AFP. I am coming at that with the notion that the loss of a trained soldier, let alone four or more, is too high a price to pay for paydirt.
But I am a civilian and, as I had been and continue to be constantly reminded, I am not likely to see the situation on the ground as a ground commander of elite combat units would. True enough, I have never been in a position to decide that the sacrifice of the lives of a few would save the lives of many.
Still, it often is the case that filthy lucre is the motivation. It is why it gets offered up for grabs in the first place.