ZAMBOANGA CITY (MindaNews/30 July) — Perhaps, the Philippine military have yet to realize that for every blunder they commit, reporting the death of even a soldier, they project themselves further as a weakling force: incapable of handling the defense of the Western Mindanao region and that part of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao called Basilan. And for want of a sensible strategic operation to resolve a domestic conflict, then its present defense and military leaders should re-think, re-plan, or resign.
Those little old boys have not yet learned from military history that neither a staged conflict, nor an unprepared and ill-prepared intelligence and operative offensive, won’t do this country any good. Innocent lives of a few which, if totaled would still accumulate into a figure that would have qualified into genocide, are too much of a price.
With these Philippine military blunders is the emergence of an exceedingly gradual mass killing—and using war-oriented journalists as well to advance their propaganda that these killed and wounded soldiers are in a pathetic state, inciting further ire if not vengeance among bereaved family members, does not ease the Mindanao conflict. What about the civilians the rebels, and non-parties to this war but are Mindanao stakeholders–and human beings, too?
I don’t condemn the military at the battlefront, nor the rebels who fought for whatever their cause may be for that particular time of the week—freedom, self-preservation, or plain banditry. But I look down at cheapskates among military and defense leaders who still are mentally in an era where force of arms is seen as a convenient solution to a personal selfish need for a promotion, at the expense of Mindanawons and soldiers at the frontline as pawns.
For as long as non-Mindanawons rule the defense department and lead the Armed Forces of the Philippines, Mindanao will continue to be an arena for war, and Basilan a favorite war laboratory.
Even this strategy is media-projected in the guise of attainment of peace — when dialogue just awaits as a better option. (The government calls this “peace talks”. The Voice of Mindanao refers to this as “peace communications.”)
Adding salt to the injury is when fellow Pinoys in the metropolitan cities of Manila and Cebu react, “Giyera na naman sa Mindanao, ano? (It’s war again in Mindanao, right?)” The Mindanawon explains: “No, no, this is only in a town in one island-province—in Sumisip.” A momentary awkward silence follows. Topic is changed to gay talk on fashion and other metropolitan “churva” (a gay lingo equivalent of ‘whatever’, ‘miscellany’, or simply ‘et cetera’). Then realization hits hard: Mindanao is just seen by a few Filipinos in Luzon and Visayas as a mere conflict zone, where lives are loosely seen as “mere churva” and may be shrugged off as a subject of discussion when boredom sinks in.
Soon, Basilan will have 400 more soldiers deployed within its perimeters—but Philippine Army 1st Infantry Division commanding general, Maj. Gen. Rainier Cruz told reporters that this order for deployment was planned even before the death of the 19 soldiers in the recent Sumisip encounter. The 400, he said, are to guard the circumferential road construction. Cruz, certainly, is not at all expected to say, “Few of them are going to be the next sacrificial lambs for this hate campaign against the so-tagged Abu Sayyaf Group.” To remark so would be another blunder. After all, with the poverty of Basilan comes the wealth of the Enriles and the Menzis, to name a few who reaped profit from rubber, trees and paper from the “churva” Basilan could offer. (MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Frencie Carreon of Zamboanga City is editor of PhilSouth Angle and a candidate for PhD in Peace Journalism at The University of Sydney).