THE PHILSOUTH LINE: Fighting for honor… and blood

ZAMBOANGA CITY (MindaNews/04 Feb) — It is a tragic time in some areas in Sulu, among warring groups of the Moro National Liberation Front and the Abu Sayyaf Group and their families, as the former seek vengeance over the merciless beheading by the ASG of five MNLF fighters and the murder of two others.

At the borders of the municipalities and affected zones, deployed police and military troops can just stand by and be on guard for the defense against civilians within the mountainous areas of Patikul.

Sunday seemed a long day—calls for inquiry, verification, confirmation—and the release of the two television crew men of Al-Arabiya TV Southeast Asia Bureau was good news enough, too overwhelming for media to realize that back in the outskirts of Patikul town in Sulu, two groups of heavily armed Tausugs—some very young and able-bodied enough to work for productive living—were fighting against one another for honor, and for blood.

For once, I reported on a conflict that could not let me quote a Philippine military or police officer.  And somehow, MNLF insiders gave valuable information that also required them to request me to shield their identities.  Since Friday morning, community folk have been most helpful in sharing information to this Mindanao journalist who could not even flag an ID card from a distinguished TV network or national daily. And after the long wait, patience paid off.  Somewhere in this armed conflict, the name of Baker Atyani, the Jordanian journalist and bureau chief of Al-Arabiya Southeast Asia who had earlier interviewed Al-Qaida founder Osama bin Laden, just had to come up.

And it did.

MNLF fighters and ASG elements were, and still are, after each other’s throats over the custody of Atyani, and over the alleged ransom money of ten million pesos, paid for the release of the two media workers.

Somehow, no official in the police and the military could confirm or deny the alleged payment.  The police merely picked up the freed victims Ramil Vela and Rolando Letrero, from ANR Hotel in downtown Jolo, following a call by Vela’s wife Nina to the Anti-Kidnapping Group on Saturday evening.

MNLF Commander Dr. Sammy Adju, whom I interviewed in Patikul, did say that when they organized the MNLF, “Dugo ang puhunan namin. (We invested with our own blood.)”  But of course, that was not meant literally but figuratively.  Every MNLF warrior is just too ready to give up his life for his desire for reforms, and for the emancipation of his honor, and his people’s honor. So do the followers of MNLF founder Prof. Nurullaji Misuari.

As the conflict rages on as of press time, the Philippine Red Cross and the Integrated Provincial Hospital in Sulu are appealing for blood supply, with several wounded victims needing treatment.

And one wonders, with the ASG nowhere to be appeased nor threatened by reportedly huge MNLF numbers, how many more lives must be lost in Patikul, Sulu?  (MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Frencie Carreon is editor in chief of the PhilSouth Angle in Zamboanga City)