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Fallout from a tragedy

/ 12:10 AM October 20, 2014

Last week two German hostages being held by the Abu Sayyaf since April were released after full payment of a P250-million ransom demand. This according to Abu Sayyaf sources.

On the other hand, Palace officials would not confirm any ransom payment. AFP Public Affairs Office chief Lt. Col. Harold Cabunoc described the so-called payoff as “propaganda,” claiming that increased pressure on the kidnappers by military and police units led to their release. The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) had earlier dispatched five additional battalions and K-9 (dog) units to Sulu for this purpose.

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Additional battalions and K-9 units don’t mean a thing to the Abu Sayyaf. Otherwise, why are they still holding on to 10 other hostages? And why do we see all these massive deployment of troops only when foreigners are taken hostage? It is because we are the ones under pressure from foreign governments. They urge us to do something, and so we oblige by sending more troops and dogs. We care less when our own citizens are the victims.

This is my take. Ransom was paid. Not P250 million but enough to cover “board and lodging” expenses, plus some surplus to keep everyone happy until the next hostage payment is made. Who paid? How much?

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Until the government shows that we mean business, business as usual will continue for the Abu Sayyaf. For one thing, the “revolving door” policy of the AFP will see the replacement of key officers who will have warmed their seats just long enough to prepare for retirement. Nothing changes, nothing is solved, the problems remain. The same scenario will be played out again—sooner, not later.

* * *

Seven years ago in July 2007, an Italian Catholic missionary, Fr. Giancarlo Bossi, was abducted by the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) in Basilan. While returning from a search-and-rescue mission to recover Father Bossi, a Marine unit was ambushed by MILF-Abu Sayyaf elements at Al-Barka, Basilan. Fourteen Marines were killed; some were beheaded with bodies showing signs of torture and mutilation.

The response of government at that time was to launch an offensive, even bringing in elements of the Presidential Security Group. The Army commander was ordered to move his headquarters to Zamboanga City, for closer supervision of the operation. We were treated to the sight of PNP officers attempting to serve warrants of arrest in Al-Barka. As expected, what they found was a deserted village, except perhaps for some women and children. Nothing much happened and, after a while, Al-Barka was forgotten.

In October 2011, Al-Barka was once again in the news. This time, 19 Special Forces troopers were massacred by MILF-Abu Sayyaf elements. They suffered the same fate as the Marines in 2007. No offensive operations were carried out, presumably because of ongoing peace negotiations.

This week marks the third anniversary of the second Al-Barka tragedy. The criminal elements responsible for the massacres in 2007 and 2011 remain at large.

When Mother Nature strikes, the entire nation responds with an outpouring of assistance and support for the affected communities.

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When our soldiers die, we only ask that you remember them in moments of prayer. We remember and we pray.

* * *

After the second Al-Barka massacre, four senior army officers were court-martialed for operational lapses in the deployment of troops. One of the officers, Col. Aminkadra

Undug, was commander of the Special Forces at the time of the incident. Undug, a Muslim, belongs to PMA Class 1982. Among his distinguished classmates are Lt. Gen. John Bonafos, the AFP vice chief of staff; Lt. Gen. Jeffrey

Delgado, commanding general, Philippine Air Force;

Vice Admiral Jesus Millan, flag officer in charge, Philippine Navy; and Vice Admiral Rodolfo Isorena, commandant, Philippine Coast Guard.

Recently I received an e-mail from Colonel Undug’s son, Ahmad Rais T. Undug. Although it was sent to me, perhaps it was meant more for the AFP hierarchy.

“I write this as a child deeply troubled by the world we live in.

“My father is about to retire from the military service. He gave the better part of 30 years to his career, every action geared towards leaving each assignment he was given better than it was before he touched it. There were times when he sacrificed his time with us, his family, to make sure that he did his job well and that his loyalty to his calling was never found wavering. And while we did not comprehend that completely at first, we grew to understand that he was looking at the bigger picture—the wellbeing of the country and of its people.

“I know any child would say the same about his father regardless of his line of work. But I say this with all the objectivity I can muster—my father was different. He was more than your run-of-the-mill soldier. Ask anyone he has worked with, whether a former superior or any of the personnel assigned under his command and they would say the same thing—that he was a military man who served with passion and loyalty.

“When my father served as regimental commander of the Special Forces, I saw firsthand how he spared nothing to boost the morale of those under him. But what he got in return was inconceivably distressing. For some reason, he was charged with wrongdoing during the incident in Al-Barka. Those of us who knew him personally and professionally knew that he was not guilty of the allegations against him. But like the gentleman and soldier that he is, he accepted everything that was thrown at him. He took responsibility for a fault that wasn’t his in the name of showing those around him what true leadership was all about.

“. . . the powers that be continue to punish him. . . What has made it even more disappointing is how his former superiors, the ones he used to serve with utmost respect and loyalty and who are now in a position to help him at least retire on a good note, have done absolutely nothing to forward his cause. While I have felt betrayed a few times in my life, nothing I have experienced compares to the betrayal that he has had to swallow from his former colleagues and friends.

“I don’t know if the injustice that my father has gone through can still be corrected but one thing is for sure—those of us who know him personally are bound to become disenchanted with the world and how it treats honest, hardworking people.

“Sincerely,

“Ahmad Rais T. Undug”

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TAGS: Abu Sayyaf, Global Nation, kidnapping, news, Sulu
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