AFP young soldiers – Pawns in the Philippine Game of the Generals

In October 18, some 40 Philippine soldiers, mere fresh graduates, were taken out of their scuba dive training and sent into the lions’ den – a remote and rugged village occupied by the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

This is the same town where Philippine Marines “entered” in 2007 which cost them 14 lives with 10 of them mysteriously beheaded.  (The report of the impartial investigating committee was not disclosed to the public in spite of MILF’s request for its public dissemination.)

These were the first news reports on the Oct. 18 incident:

 

3 soldiers hurt in Basilan firefight

abs-cbnNEWS.com

Posted at 10/18/2011 2:19 PM | Updated as of 10/18/2011 2:19 PM

MANILA, Philippines – Three Philippine Army soldiers sustained injuries during a firefight with armed bandits in Basilan Tuesday dawn, a military official said.

Col. Alex Macario, commander of Special Operations Task Force Basilan, said 3 soldiers were sent to Camp Navarro General Hospital after sustaining injuries during a firefight with suspected fugitives in Barangay Canding in Al-Barka town.

Western Mindanao Command (WesMinCom) Commander Lt. Col. Randolph Cabangbang said the firefight between the two forces is ongoing.

Two UH-1H aircrafts and an MG-520 helicopter have been sent to the area to reinforce the troops.

The military has yet to confirm if there were injuries on the side of the bandits. – Report from Jewel Reyes, ABS-CBN News Zamboanga

 ===========

 2 dead, 6 hurt in Basilan clash

abs-cbnNEWS.com

Posted at 10/18/2011 5:10 PM | Updated as of 10/18/2011 7:53 PM

BASILAN, Philippines (UPDATE) – Two soldiers died and 6 others were injured in a gunbattle between government troops and rebels in Basilan province early Tuesday morning, the military said.

Army Special Forces troops were on patrol in Barangay Canding in Al-Barka town when they encountered the rebels, according to Western Mindanao Command (Wesmincom) spokesperson Lieutenant Colonel Randy Cabangbang.

A firefight then erupted, killing 2 soldiers and leaving others injured.

Cabangbang said there were no reports on fatalities on the enemy side.

He said they also don’t know if the rebels are either rogue elements of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front or the terrorist Abu Sayyaf Group.

Wesmincom has yet to release the names of the fatalities and injured in the government side, as their families have yet to be informed.

Colonel Alex Macario, commander of Special Operations Task Force Basilan, said the injured soldiers were brought to the Camp Navarro General Hospital.

Two UH-1H aircraft and an MG-520 helicopter have been sent to the area to reinforce the troops. – reports from Jewel Reyes and RJ Rosalado, ABS-CBN News Zamboanga

================

5 Special Forces troopers killed in MILF clash

abs-cbnNEWS.com

Posted at 10/18/2011 7:55 PM | Updated as of 10/18/2011 9:24 PM

ZAMBOANGA, Philippines (2nd UPDATE) – Five soldiers were killed and 6 others were wounded in a clash with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) on Tuesday, the military said.

Fighting erupted at dawn between a military special forces unit and MILF rebels on the southern island of Basilan, said the regional military spokesman, Lieutenant Colonel Randolph Cabangbang.

“We were reacting to reports by civilians about the presence of armed men in the area,” he told reporters in Zamboanga.

“Troops came under fire and 5 of our soldiers were killed and 6 more were wounded.”

Colonel Alex Macario, commander of Special Operations Task Force Basilan, said the injured soldiers were brought to the Camp Navarro General Hospital.

Von al-Haq, spokesman for MILF, acknowledged its forces were involved in the fighting, which both sides said took place near the town of Al-Barka.

“Yes, they (military) attacked our forces. So far, no casualties on our side,” the rebel spokesman told AFP.

The rebel group is observing a ceasefire amid peace talks with the Philippine government, and al-Haq accused the military of violating the truce.

Cabangbang, however, rejected the ceasefire violation charge.

In a text message sent to media earlier in the day, Cabangbang said the firefight began at around 5:30 Tuesday dawn between elemements of the Army’s Special Forces and an undetermined armed group.

No other details were made available.

The Philippine Air Force’s 3rd Air Division deployed aircraft, including UH-1H helicopters, to bring out the casualties.

“Apparently, heavy ground fire is delaying the efforts of the Air Force to evacuate the wounded soldiers,” Cabangbang said.

Unconfirmed reports say a certain Kumander Hajirik, a notorious rebel leader in the area, was also killed in the clash.

Al-Barka is a frequent flash point of a decades-long MILF armed insurgency that has claimed about 150,000 lives across the south of the mainly Catholic Philippines.

The rebellion began as an independence bid but now seeks self-rule for the region’s large Muslim minority.

In recent years Basilan has also become a hotbed of the Abu Sayyaf, Islamist militants that began operating two decades ago.

The military said the group was set up with seed funds provided by a nephew of Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden. The militants often resort to kidnappings, mainly targeting foreigners and Christians, to raise funds from ransoms.

The group was blamed for the bombing of a ferry in Manila Bay in 2004 that claimed more than 100 lives and was the nation’s worst terrorist attack.

Two UH-1H aircraft and an MG-520 helicopter have been sent to the area to reinforce the troops. – reports from Jewel Reyes, RJ Rosalado and David Santos, ABS-CBN News Zamboanga; Agence France-Presse

 

Unlike in usual military press releases, this time they (the AFP officers) focused on the military LOSSES. Obviously, they were not looking for a “Victory framing” in the media. They were gunning for the “victim frame”, i.e., portray themselves as the victims or underdogs. The press releases came even while fighting was going on. That is not normal procedure.

In the first story, the AFP statement says the soldiers were fighting “bandits”. In the second story, the AFP was fighting “rebels”, either “rogue” MILF members or Abu Sayyaf. Only in the third story did the AFP admit that it was battling MILF. That is because MILF had already made statements that the Bangsa Moro camp was attacked. The reason given by the AFP for their presence in that town, Al Barka in Basilan, was: “We were reacting to reports by civilians about the presence of armed men in the area”

Even in the news report below, 13 soldiers killed, 10 missing in Basilan clash, updated as of 10/19/2011 at 10:19 AM, the military was still claiming that they went to the area because of reports of the presence of armed men. But this time, they claim that there could be hostages.  Apparently, they were laying down the premises for a story of a shoot-out with the Abu Sayyaf, who are known for taking hostages for ransom.

First of all, al Barka is MILF territory. Everybody knows that, especially after the 2007 beheading incident. In the GPH (Govt. Of the Philippines)-MILF agreements, Al-Barkah is designated as MILF’s ATS or Area of Temporary Stay.

A day or so later, after the MILF had given its side of the story, which was very logical, the AFP changed the rationale for its presence in the area. All of a sudden, the military was not there just because of “reports of the presence of armed men” but because the soldiers were on a mission to “arrest” a fugitive, Dan Laksaw Asnawi, who also happened to be an MILF commander.

 

DISMEMBERED COUNTRY

The military propaganda pictures the whole Mindanao as AFP territory and that it can enter any territory if it so desires, with no “by your leave” from anyone. But that is only propaganda. The reality is that MILF controls some territory. And by agreements of both parties, entry into each other’s territory needs permission from the other. There are protocols that both parties had agreed upon. The consequence of not abiding by this accord can be disastrous such as what happened in 2007 and again, on Oct. 18, 2011. Both occurred in Al Barkah, Basilan.

As MILF’s Mike Pasigan said in the National Solidarity Conference on Mindanao at UP-Diliman last year, “The Republic is already dismembered.” He is, of course, correct and it is of no use to pretend otherwise. And as Pasigan emphasized, peace with the MILF is a way to make the Republic whole again.

The MILF stated in its website and cited in a news report: “We were the ones attacked and the Special Forces, who are highly-trained, were in full battle gear and their mission was to kill as many MILF forces including Commander Dan Laksaw Asnawi”. Indeed, did the AFP expect the MILF to welcome the Special Forces to their camp and gleefully hand over anyone to the AFP?

 

DÉJÀ VU or COPYCAT?

When the story below (13 soldiers killed, 10 missing in Basilan clash ) appeared, anybody who knew about the 2007 incident could immediately see the connection. In 2007, Philippine Marines entered al Barkah in Basilan, supposedly in search of Italian priest Fr. Bossi. (Fr. Bossi was released a few days later in Lanao del Norte province, which is quite far from Basilan island.) Civil authorities had warned the Marines to ask MILF permission first. They didn’t. After an 8-hour gun battle, AFP announced that 14 Marines were dead. An hour later, the military said there were 10 or 11 missing. On the other hand, MILF announced it counted 23 Marines dead and 5 MILF men dead and that MILF was not holding any prisoners.

A day later, the military announced they found 10 decapitated bodies of Marines. And all hell broke loose in Manila with practically all Christian Filipinos, especially the Media, calling for an all-out war. See my post: MORO-MORO IN BASILAN

This latest Basilan encounter curiously followed the script of the 2007 clash, almost to the letter. The setting is the same town – al Barka in Basilan. The protagonists are the same – the MILF and the AFP. Instead of the Marines, the AFP’s Special Forces were sent. The same M.O. The AFP enters the territory allegedly in pursuit of “lawless elements” – the Abu Sayyaf in the 2007 incident and a prison escapee in the 2011 version. The same outcome – heavy casualty on the military side and reports of missing soldiers after the battle with the MILF denying taking any prisoners or “hostages” (as referred to by the military and the media).

Fortunately, the military script writers changed the scenario from beheading to execution. Perhaps they were afraid that people would suspect something if there would be another beheading. The comparison to the 2007 event would be inevitable. So, in the 2011 version, six “missing” hostages were found dead, allegedly executed by the MILF after capturing them. Fortunately, some of the missing soldiers turned up alive. They denied being held captive by anyone.

 

ABU SAYYAF GROUP

The notorious Abu Sayyaf Group finds itself again in the middle of things. In the 2007 and 2011 versions, the AFP alleged that it fought a combined MILF-ASG group. The MILF denied fighting with the ASG both times. The MILF also denied that AFP fought ASG forces.

In 2007, sketchy reports from the investigation revealed that after the battle cleared, somehow, the ASG came in and beheaded 10 Marine corpses. The findings of the impartial committee that investigated the 2007 incident were never released to the public.

Now, the AFP alleged that the 10 missing soldiers were captured by the ASG and then given to the MILF. Fortunately, the rescued soldiers belied such reports. But the AFP still insists that MILF “executed” the six soldiers. Why in the world would the MILF bother to capture soldiers and then kill them an hour so later when they could just kill them in the heat of battle? The MILF is not known to capture soldiers and hold them captive for possible prisoner swap.

13 soldiers killed, 10 missing in Basilan clash

abs-cbnNEWS.com

Posted at 10/18/2011 9:28 PM | Updated as of 10/19/2011 10:19 AM

ZAMBOANGA, Philippines (4th UPDATE) – Thirteen government soldiers were killed while 10 others went missing in a gunbattle with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) on Tuesday, the military said.

Fighting erupted at dawn between a military special forces unit and MILF troops on the southern island of Basilan, said the regional military spokesman, Lieutenant Colonel Randolph Cabangbang.

Cabangbang said the military suffered 13 casualties, while 12 were wounded.

He said the gunmen could have been led by Dan Laksaw Asnawi, an MILF leader who escaped from a Basilan jail in December 2009.

He had been on trial for the beheading of 14 Philippine Marine troops in a 2007 attack in the same area, and had since been implicated in kidnapping activities, Cabangbang said.
He also believes the rebels were with some members of terrorist group Abu Sayyaf during the encounter.

“Our troops were operating based on the information of the presence of an armed group, possibly (holding) kidnap victims,” he said without naming the supposed hostages.

He said the military was in contact with MILF representatives amid fears that the rebels could have taken the missing soldiers hostage.

Von al-Haq, spokesman for MILF, earlier acknowledged its forces were involved in the fighting, which both sides said took place near the town of Al-Barka.

“Yes, they (military) attacked our forces. So far, no casualties on our side,” the rebel spokesman told AFP.

He could not be reached for comment late Tuesday over the whereabouts of the missing soldiers.

The rebel group is observing a ceasefire amid peace talks with the Philippine government, and al-Haq accused the military of violating the truce.

Cabangbang however rejected the ceasefire violation charge.

“They did not intrude into MILF areas,” Cabangbang said.

The Philippine Air Force’s 3rd Air Division deployed aircraft, including UH-1H helicopters, to bring out the casualties.

“Apparently, heavy ground fire is delaying the efforts of the Air Force to evacuate the wounded soldiers,” Cabangbang said.

Unconfirmed reports say a certain Kumander Hajirik, a notorious rebel leader in the area, was also killed in the clash.

Al-Barka is a frequent flash point of a decades-long MILF armed insurgency that has claimed about 150,000 lives across the south of the mainly Catholic Philippines.

The rebellion began as an independence bid but now seeks self-rule for the region’s large Muslim minority.

In recent years Basilan has also become a hotbed of the Abu Sayyaf, Islamist militants that began operating two decades ago.

The military said the group was set up with seed funds provided by a nephew of Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden. The militants often resort to kidnappings — mainly targeting foreigners and Christians — to raise funds from ransoms.

The group was blamed for the bombing of a ferry in Manila Bay in 2004 that claimed more than 100 lives and was the nation’s worst terrorist attack. – with reports from Jewel Reyes, RJ Rosalado and David Santos, ABS-CBN News Zamboanga; Agence France-Presse

 

CALLS FOR ALL-OUT WAR

Ever since the report of the al-Barkah encounter resulting into the death of 19 soldiers, the Philippine media  has been grinding non-stop the call for an all-out war. Former President Estrada, Senators Lacson, Jinggoy Estrada, Ponce-Enrile are leading the call for an all-out war against the MILF.

The mass media and the social media internet networks are flooded with calls for an all-out war.

The mass media portray the AFP as the “victim” with young soldiers dying for God and country. The dead soldiers are hailed as heroes. The MILF is demonized and equated with the Abu Sayyaf. President Estrada’s “all-out war” against the MILF in 2000 is hailed as a great political and military strategy.

 

ESTRADA’S ALL-OUT WAR

Impeached president and convicted plunderer Joseph Estrada is again the hero of most Christian Filipinos. In 2000, when he declared his all-out war vs. the MILF, his popularity rose sky-high. Ironically, only a few months later, he was impeached by the House of Representatives, tried by the Senate and overthrown by popular uprising because of corruption charges.

Erap’s all-out war was only a success in terms of propaganda. Otherwise, it was utter failure. As former President Fidel Ramos said recently, Erap’s war created one million refugees. It also cost the government so much money – estimates were around one million or more dollars a day.

Militarily, it did not amount to much. Can anybody recall how many MILF warriors died?  But there was huge collateral damage – done to Moro civilians, especially the women, the children and the elderly.

What it looked like was that the military would bomb an MILF camp with cannons, howitzers and mortars, advance a few kilometers and the MILF would retreat a few kilometers  and then the AFP would declare victory for that particular camp. It was done camp after camp. What actually happened was, the MILF merely changed camps. And instead of putting up huge camps with civilian communities, the MILF reverted to having smaller camps befitting a mobile, guerrilla army.

Erap’s war “succeeded” in making MILF revert to guerrilla fighting instead of a conventional fighting unit with headquarters and base camps. In military perspective, it is easier for a national army to engage in conventional fight against easily targeted huge enemy camps rather than fight small, mobile guerrilla units.

Proof that Erap’s war was a total military failure is the present strength and popularity of the MILF.

 

WAR WITH MILF TO STOP SUB-STATE

MILF’s sub-state proposal is very unpopular to the Christian majority. They are afraid that the Moro sub-state will eventually become a sovereign state. The AFP is also very suspicious of the sub-state proposal. Most of the political and economic elites are also against the sub-state idea.

It looks like the Basilan encounter version 2011 was a way to stop the momentum of the peace talks and demonize the MILF all over again in the media.

If the AFP simply wants to capture “rogue” (according to the government) MILF commanders, they could very well have gone against Commander Kato, whose camp has been removed as “official” MILF camp under the ceasefire accords. Attacking Commander Kato; therefore, would not involve the MILF main force.

Under the 2009 ceasefire agreement, the camps of Commander Bravo of Lanao del Norte and Commander Alim Ali Panglian of Sarangani are also not recognized as MILF camps.

Commanders Kato, Bravo and Panglian are classified as “rogue” MILF elements by the government. Kato and Bravo have a P10 million price tag each and Pangalian has a bounty prize of P 5 million.

Of course, attacking Bravo, Kato and other “rogue” MILF commanders would not be an easy task.

 

PNOY FOR PEACE TALKS

So far, President Aquino is principled enough to stand by his promises for more peace talks. He did not let the sentiment of the people, fanned by media, sway him.  Instead, he has relieved from their posts Special Operations Task Force commander Col. Alexander Macario and Army spokesperson Col. Antonio Parlade Jr..

But can he stay the course?

 

PAWNS IN THE GAME OF THE GENERALS

But what is tragic here is that the lives of  young soldiers, barely out of school, are, yet again, sacrificed for some agenda of the top brass.

 

One thought on “AFP young soldiers – Pawns in the Philippine Game of the Generals

  1. Nice post! I like the way you have chronicled the events, Very interesting, thorough and informative, yet costly mistakes are repeated, unfortunately. I have the feeling sometimes that it is the cockiness of our high ranking officers that puts the foot soldiers in harm’s way. Missions like these needs brilliant strategists, who won’t take things for granted and who sees where others can’t and whose main objective is to complete the task with the least casualty or minimal lose of lives.

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s