WAYWARD AND FANCIFUL: Debacle in Patikul

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/31 July) — Approaching midnight on Friday, my cellphone bleeped. It was my sistah Joey at Xavier U. Earlier that day we had been exchanging text about Unbroken, that soldier redemption book we had yet to get for each other.

“Girl, soldiers beheaded. You watching ABS-CBN?”

I was writing a tract on resilience. After investigating the psychological hardiness of soldiers in Mindanao, I am moving on to studying resilient communities in Mindanao. While there isn’t much by way of research appreciation in my little pond on the matter, this has a bigger audience out there in a world that seeks to find ways to enhance the ability of homelands to prevent, protect against, recover from, and adapt to natural and human-initiated disasters. This research paper represents for me a return to the human ecology of communities.

I can’t have noise when I write. No radio, no TV, no guitar, no laughter, no singing. The ex-boyfriend is not allowed to seduce me into leaving my spot in front of the terminal for a DVD marathon on the newest season of House. And he doesn’t get to watch his DVD when I can’t.

“Where?” I texted back.

“Didn’t catch where. Try GMA. They run the news later.”

With a deep sense of foreboding, I went down to switch on the TV. It has been some time since I last analyzed military operations. All I know is that the soldiers who go to war are pretty young. Many among them have yet to take a wife.


“Hindi lima, two, I can confirm two, I can confirm two hacking,” said Philippine Navy spokesman LTC Omar Tonsay, of the casualties from the Marine Battalion Landing Team 11, 10, and 5.

The news report went on to detail that there were seven killed, 26 wounded. Taken together, that’s more than a platoon. And if the Marines were able to overrun the Abu Sayyaf camp near the vicinity of Tubig Magtuh in Barangay Panglayahan, there had to be more of them than just the platoon-strong casualty.

Why so many? A movement that size could not have been a mere routine patrol. The size suggests that it was a planned operation. Four hours fighting could only mean that the soldiers brought enough firepower to make the exchange last that long.

And indeed, Tonsay went on to say that, “In spite of these losses however, the government side prevailed on the said operation since movement of Marine troops was not initially detected and they were the first to get sight and subsequently engage the enemy which resulted to the capture of the ASG Camp at Brgy Panglayahan, Patikul, Sulu.”

Disaster. Catastrophe. Calamity. Fiasco, too. Tragedy. Misfortune. Debacle in Patikul.

Well, gee. I don’t know about you, but I really have a problem with this.

Nobody is saying anything on how exactly that encounter went, but the Marine firepower indicates that the planners did have an inkling as to enemy strength. Operations on that scale would always have quick reaction forces standing by. Where were they? Did they ever get to the battlefield in the four hours that enemy troops got close enough to perform brutal surgery on the engaging platoons?

Four hours after predawn would have been ideal flight conditions for air support. There’s no mention of air support, except that part where it says the dead will be airlifted. It seems like the planes could only fly when it’s safe already to pick up the bodies and not when there’s yet a body to save. Heck – where was that plane while the Marines were getting clobbered?

What happened to the command and control of this battlefield? Tonsay said the Marines maneuvered unseen until they got near enough to attack; but going by the body count it seems like things proceeded downhill from there. The Marines took the camp but paid an exorbitant price. Seven bought the farm.

Navy chief Vice Admiral Alexander Pama said, “It is indeed unfortunate that such incident transpired. However, as what had turned out, their sacrifices were not fruitless as the Marines in Sulu have proven that they are coming closer to attaining their goals against terrorism.”

I know Jojo Pama from long ago. From what I’ve heard through the years, he’s had his share of sacrifice in service. That statement, however, lacks serious reflection. It makes the Marines appear to stand alone in this fight against a human security threat in our national community.

In reply to my request for comment sent early Saturday, Western Mindanao Command chief Lieutenant General Raymundo B. Ferrer texted me a circumspect, “It does not matter how our Marines died in Sulu. What is important is that they fought gallantly in pursuit of peace and security.”

It was late afternoon and the WMC spokesperson had yet to email me a statement about Sulu as I had requested. I take that as the good general’s implicit request for me to get my information through official sources – the Navy spokesperson. Indeed, a disaster of this magnitude requires delicate information management. It really is bad taste to make kulit when people are mourning their loss.

And Patikul? Will it ever find ways to enhance its ability to prevent, protect against, recover from, and adapt to natural and human-initiated catastrophes? (Wayward and Fanciful is Gail Ilagan’s column for MindaViews, the opinion section of MindaNews. Ilagan teaches Social Justice, Family Sociology, Theories of Socialization and Psychology at the Ateneo de Davao University where she is also the associate editor of Tambara. You may send comments to gail@mindanews.com. “Send at the risk of a reply,” she says).