Part I: Sacrifice of the 19
GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews/7 Nov) – Provoking, shooting, blaming each other – that’s playing a dangerous, costly game. The government and Moro rebel armed forces never learn. They had done it many times before. They have just done it again. And many in the country – particularly Manila – cried for blood. Foul! Murder! All-out-war!
From the Manila media according to military sources: 19 of the 40 troops of the Army’s 13th and 19th Special Forces Company were killed in an eight-hour clash with MILF forces in Sitio Bakisong, Cambug, Al-Barka in Basilan last October 18. Three of the slain were junior officers – two first and one second lieutenants. Seven of them were executed after they had been captured alive. And, mutilated, too!
The troops were on patrol about four kilometers from the perimeter of the MILF 114th Base Command when they clashed with – other reports said ambushed by – the rebels led by the deputy base commander, Dan Laksaw Asnawi a.k.a. Ustaz Asnawi and Hassan Asnawi. One report said that the troops were out to arrest Asnawi; another, that they were verifying a report about kidnappers and their victims in the area.
Luwaran, the MILF official online publication, has a different story. The MILF forces had been alerted of the impending attack by their agent within the military. They intercepted the government troops at about 5:30 in the morning; fighting lasted until 4:00 in the afternoon. They reported killing 22 SF troops and capturing 22 guns; six of their own fighters were killed. Artillery and air strikes supported the government troops.
Luwaran reported the Basilan encounter as the continuation of the military attack of the MILF 113th Base Command in Sitio Taeb of Labatan, Payao, Zamboanga Sibugay on October 15 which started with artillery bombardment at 2 p.m. The gun battles were stopped by the Government and MILF Coordinating Committees on Cessation of Hostilities and the International Monitoring Team. Manila media had no report of this Luwaran account.
By October 26, hostilities had recurred, intensified and spread. Luwaran reported the repeated attacks against MILF 113th Base Command on the ground on October 19 and 22 with artillery, naval and air support. The Philippine Star and Philippine Daily Inquirer reported escalating MILF attacks in Basilan and Zamboanga Sibugay and ambushes in Lanao del Norte – the MILF on “a rampage”.
In Basilan, the Asnawi-led rebels ambushed a truck carrying workers of a rubber plantation, killing four workers and a militia man. In Zamboanga Sibugay, MILF rebels ambushed soldiers and police in Alicia and Kabasalan killing six and wounding eight. The MILF admitted the ambushes in retaliation for the continuous shelling of the 114th Base Command area. (The Philippine Star, October 21)
Two hundred armed men, later identified as MILF, “stormed” the town of Olutanga on the island of the same name and occupied two schools. MILF rebels landed in Migpulao, Dinas, Zamboanga Sibugay. The whole province was reported “living in fear”. (The Philippine Star and Philippine Daily Inquirer, October 23 and 24)
Reports on October 25 and 26 said that full-scale land and air operations with naval support have pushed the group of Waning Abdusalam – identified as rogue MILF – in Payao, Zamboanga Sibugay toward the coast. Operations were still being planned against the killers of the SF troops in Basilan – identified as Abu Sayyaf and rogue MILF.
By October 28, after three days of intense ground, air and naval operation, the camp of Abdusalam fell. The military declared victory but had not captured Abdusalam and his men. They recovered some guns and dead bodies. Two rebels surrendered with their guns. Abdusalam was speculated as having been wounded – or even killed.
Reading newspaper and other accounts would reveal the same drama played over and over with different characters and place settings but of the same plot before the same audience. In fact, the comments and reviews are essentially the same.
The military and MILF accused each other of violating the ceasefire. While the MILF said government troops intruded into MILF territory, the military denied this, claiming that in Basilan, the troops were four kilometers from the MILF base perimeters. The MILF said that in Payao they were bombarded as early as two o’clock in the morning or when they were saying their prayers at dawn.
The military justified their mission to arrest criminals or go after kidnappers. They would charge the MILF with violations of the ceasefire and file murder cases for the death of the soldiers. The MILF, too, would file charges of ceasefire violation. They said, “We were attacked, why blame on us the death of the soldiers?” (Luwaran, October 24)
The IMT, Government and MILF CCCH and the Ad Hoc Joint Action Group met together with Government and MILF representatives in Davao City on Sunday, October 22, to schedule a joint visit in Zamboanga Sibugay on October 24. Verbal orders were sent to military and MILF forces to cease hostilities. The “ceasefire mission” was suspended as both forces charged each other of resuming hostilities (Luwaran, October 24). Manila media said suspension was due to air strikes.
These reveal the bad blood between the military and the MILF. A slight misstep from either side is provocation. Perhaps, the provocations are planned and intended – as they are justified as “peace and order missions” by the military and “defensive actions” by the MILF. This appears to be the modus operandi of the provoke-shoot-blame game – dangerous and costly.
The killing of the SF troopers was nationally condemned as murder. Was it? It was most deplorable. Those responsible have to bear the blame – the wrath of Heaven. But the anti-MILF or, implicitly anti-Moro, bias and hate underlying the condemnation only deepen historical wounds and the Filipino-Moro national divide. This is the most condemnable and lamentable of all.
Despite legal justification, the SF troopers intruded into the MILF identified area in Al-Barka – ATS (area of temporary stay) to the military; controlled territory to MILF. The SF troopers were out to arrest Asnawi, who, instead of fleeing, led a force to intercept his “would-be arresters”. The fight and casualties were expected. Were the slain SF troopers murdered?
If blame were to be where blame is due, the military command in Basilan was most responsible for the “murder”. From the military’s own account, the 40 SF troopers were not yet fully trained – they were still undergoing scuba diving training. One of the officers slain, 2nd Lt. Jose Delfin Khe, graduated from the Philippine Military Academy in 2010. They were evidently ill-trained for the enemy and the terrain they were sent against. MILF reports said the SF troopers were on “test mission”.
Is Basilan the final training site for SF trainees? Ninety-one new SF graduates, one of them just 19 years old, were landed in Zamboanga City “to be soon deployed” in Basilan and Zamboanga Sibugay [Philippine Daily Inquirer, October 23, 2011: Never too young to go to war for peace]. Fresh graduates are no match to seasoned Moro fighters – MILF or Abu Sayyaf – fighting in the terrain they know so well and ready to die for.
The MILF rebels were fully blamed for the death of the 19 (22 according to MILF count; but the military figure should prevail) SF troopers. Treacherously killed! They were waylaid. The MILF fired first. If not for the tragedy, this sounds funny. Of course, the rebels waiting in ambush had to fire first! The MILF admitted it.
The MILF in Al-Barka as quoted by Luwaran were forthright: “We were the ones attacked, why blame us. The Special Forces, who were highly trained, were in full battle gear and their mission was to kill many MILF forces including Commander Dan Laksaw Asnawi. We were only very lucky because we have received an A-1 intelligence report earlier from our agent in the military that they were going to attack us that very early morning; so we prepared ourselves.” That was how they assessed their situation.
The nationwide condemnation expressed the anger of national leaders, Manila media and the majority Filipinos. The MILF are ungrateful to Government for granting them their ATS and favors they do not deserve. They are insincere in negotiating peace. They have become “untouchable” behind the ceasefire agreement which they abuse in shielding kidnappers and terrorists.
The outcry is all-out-war to annihilate the MILF. Eradicate (to pun: “erapdicate”) the Moro rebels.
(Next: Two Reports)
(“Comment” is Mr. Patricio P. Diaz’ column for MindaViews, the opinion section of MindaNews. The Titus Brandsma Media Awards recently honored Mr. Diaz with a “Lifetime Achievement Award” for his “commitment to education and public information to Mindanawons as Journalist, Educator and Peace Advocate.” You can reach him at [email protected])