First, a word on the elderly.
In a recent message to Italian Catholics in Turin, Pope Francis said, “A population that does not take care of the elderly and of children has no future because it abuses both its memory and its promise. The future of society is rooted in the elderly and the young. The latter because they have the strength and vigor to carry history forward and the former because they are the source of living memory.”
Last week, the largest foundation in the country engaged in preparing the population for the ageing process that is both satisfying and productive for the elderly—the United Bayanihan Foundation (UBF)—held its first “Active Ageing Congress.” Some 2,000 participants from senior citizen organizations all over the country gathered at the Bayanihan Center in Pasig City to engage in discussions aimed at enhancing their quality of life. UBF executive director Lamberto Lara opened the dialogue with a talk on “The Impact of An Ageing Population” on the nation’s development and future.
Unilab’s initiative on the care of the elderly is a reflection of what Abraham Heschel, a noted theologian and religious leader, wrote: “A test of people is how it behaves toward the old. It is easy to love children. Even tyrants and dictators make a point of being fond of children. But the affection and care for the old, the incurable, the helpless are the true gold mines of a culture.”
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When everyone’s focus was on pork, approximately 200 followers of Nur Misuari, remnants of his Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) organization, entered Zamboanga City and quickly took control of several barangays, holding villagers as hostages and human shields. News reports say that the MNLF elements wanted to raise their flag at City Hall to complement their announcement of independence from the Philippine republic. We are now on the seventh day of the crisis with no end in sight even as the casualty toll climbs to 53 dead and 70 wounded.
My civilian friends, knowing my military background, have asked me some questions about the situation. I wish I knew all the answers, but I don’t. But allow me to share with you some thoughts that may provide insights on what is taking place in Zamboanga.
My friends ask: “How were 200 MNLF fighters with high-powered firearms able to move into Zamboanga City, an urban center in Mindanao, without prior detection by the Armed Forces of the Philippines?
Our legislators have their pork. The AFP has its intelligence funds. We must look into a more effective utilization of these funds. Human intelligence is probably the most accurate, but it comes at a high price and is the product of a continuing program of surveillance of suspected targets. Knowing that Nur Misuari was a disgruntled man who felt left out of the current peace talks, all his movements and activities should have been monitored closely. Perhaps this was done, or maybe we didn’t know where he was. At any rate, the effort was not enough and now we are paying the price. In the past, Misuari headed two rebellions against the government. To scuttle the ongoing peace process, he was prepared for a third. And his timing was impeccable.
My friends ask: “Who is in charge, Interior Secretary Mar Roxas or Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin?”
Most of the announcements indicate that Roxas is in charge. The AFP chief of staff, Gen. Emmanuel Bautista, has not been heard from. Perhaps he believes in the saying “Big talk, big mistake; small talk, small mistake; no talk, no mistake.” Unfortunately, AFP units are in the forefront of the crisis. With Secretary Roxas doing most of the talking, Vice President Jejomar Binay does not wish to be left out and so even in a crisis situation, politics is not far behind. The Vice President claims to be a classmate of Misuari.
My friends ask: “Who is the head of the Western Mindanao Command (Westmincom)?”
This is interesting. The Western Mindanao Command is located in Zamboanga City. It is headed by Lt. Gen. Rey Ardo, who has under him the 1st Infantry Division, 6th Infantry Division, Joint Task Force Sulu, Naval Forces Westmincom, and elements of the 3rd Air Division. Obviously, the MNLF forces were not awed by the presence of Westmincom HQ at Camp Basilio Navarro, which is located right in Zamboanga City. They went straight into what was for all practical purposes the lion’s den. What audacity!
General Ardo took over from Gen. Noel Coballes (now Army commander) in October last year. He retires this November. The tragedy of our Armed Forces is the revolving- door situation not just at the top but also at the lower levels. General Ardo has barely a year in office. Right now, he probably was thinking more of retirement rather than keeping an eye on Misuari and his cohorts. If we check on his predecessors, you will find out that they were all short-lived commanders averaging a year, plus or minus several months, on the job. As I have said in the past, we are a short-term organization aspiring to be professionals.
My friends ask: “Is the AFP trained for urban guerrilla warfare?”
I do not know, but I understand where the question is coming from. When you see pictures of our soldiers firing at the rebels, it makes you wonder if they are properly trained for urban, house-to-house fighting. In terms of protective equipment, some have helmets, some are without head gear, some have bandanas, and some have ranger hats. They look like a band of irregulars.
My friends ask: “Yesterday the Inquirer reported that ‘our soldiers are fighting on empty stomachs… government troops are getting hungrier by the hour.’”
This report is difficult to understand and accept. The AFP spokesman must address these concerns. If they are false, he should speak up loud and clear. If they are true or even just exaggerations, I am sorry for the AFP. Where are the rations or the meals-ready-to-eat? Or am I dreaming? A soldier moves on his stomach. Somebody must have been goofing on the job. He deserves no less than the firing squad. These reports are very discouraging and do not paint a good picture of the Armed Forces. What is the high command doing?