Earlier this month, six soldiers including a newly-minted second lieutenant belonging to PMA Class 2014, were ambushed by Abu Sayyaf elements in Basilan. Three years ago, 19 Special Forces troopers were massacred by Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF)/Abu Sayyaf forces also in Basilan. Last week, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) suffered more casualties as five soldiers died in an encounter with Abu Sayyaf forces in Sulu. One was beheaded by the group. Also some 28 soldiers were injured in the latest action.
It is often difficult to distinguish between MILF and Abu Sayyaf elements. Someone mentioned they are MILF during daytime, and Abu Sayyaf when ransom payments are to be distributed. Today these same elements continue to hold as hostages a number of foreign and local individuals, demanding huge amounts as the price for their release. The MILF leadership that negotiates with the government for an autonomous Bangsamoro entity has not been heard from. They appear to be helpless and have no influence on the situation, or perhaps, they prefer not to antagonize friends and relatives in the community. Either way, this does not bode well for the future. Sincerity is always subject to proof.
In honoring the memory of our soldiers who perished in defense of the State, let us keep in mind the role of the soldier in our society.
Charles Michael Province, founder and president of the George S. Patton Jr. Historical Society, authored the following poem on the soldier.
It is the Soldier, not the reporter
Who has given us freedom of the press.
It is the Soldier, not the poet,
Who has given us freedom of speech.
It is the Soldier, not the campus organizer,
Who has given us the freedom to demonstrate.
It is the Soldier, not the lawyer,
Who has given us the right to a fair trial.
It is the Soldier, who salutes the flag,
Who serves beneath the flag,
And whose coffin is draped by the flag,
Who allows the protestor to burn the flag.
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The Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL), now under consideration by the House of Representatives, is currently on its third reading.
One of the position papers, submitted to the ad hoc committee on the proposed measure, embodies the stand of two organizations of retired officers of the AFP and the Philippine National Police.
One is the Association of General and Flag Officers (Agfo) and the other is the Board of Senior Advisers to the group of retired PMA graduates that make up the BIRCI Chapter of the PMA Alumni Association. BIRCI stands for Business, Industry, and Retired Cavaliers Inc.
The position paper was prepared by Dr. Cesar P. Pobre, a retired AFP colonel who has authored a number of significant studies and books on the AFP. His works have contributed to a better understanding and appreciation of Philippine military history.
In his paper, Pobre raised a number of issues that should merit closer scrutiny by lawmakers involved in the drafting of this important piece of legislation.
Let me dwell on three of them.
First, Pobre notes the “conspicuous absence” in the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro, as well as in the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro, of any official MILF renunciation of its separatist policy with the intent of establishing an Islamic State covering parts of Mindanao, Sulu and Palawan.
In a number of my earlier columns on this subject, I mentioned that during his lifetime, former MILF chair Hashim Salamat laid out clearly his position on the issue of independence. According to Salamat, the objective of the MILF is to establish a truly Islamic government in a Bangsamoro homeland. The configuration of the geographical territory of the new State may be subject to negotiation. But what is nonnegotiable is the setting up of an independent Bangsamoro in this homeland. He also believed that the renewal of Moro society and its transformation must be deeply rooted in Islamic principles and values.
It may now suit the present MILF leadership to change positions on the issue of independence and we may get a peace agreement on the basis of the creation of a new autonomous political entity to replace the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, or the ARMM. But as Pobre points out, nowhere in the two documents mentioned above can one find an MILF undertaking to renounce this goal of independence, as well as to affirm or acknowledge the Philippine Constitution.
Second, on Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration. In some foreign countries that dealt with militant separatist groups these three subject matters were dealt with in a rather comprehensive and detailed manner.
The agreement between the government of Indonesia and the Free Aceh Movement, or Gerakin Aceh Merdeka (GAM) is a case in point. It provided that GAM had to hand over at least 840 arms within three months after the agreement was signed, and this was completed. With regard to the covenant entered into between the United Kingdom on the one hand, and Ireland as well as Northern Ireland on the other, it clearly indicated that there had to be a total disarmament of all paramilitary organizations like the Irish Republican Army and the decommissioning of all arms in the possession of these organizations in two years—and this was done.
Third, on Decommissioning.
The MILF is directed to decommission its forces so that they are put beyond use. This decommissioning is to be carried out by a graduated and phased program. However, the program relates to voluntary registration of firearms and not handing over of firearms. No mention is made concerning high-powered guns, crew-served weapons, self-propelled guns, and the like. It becomes evident that the process of decommissioning is going to be slow and difficult, and only for small caliber rifles.
And since it will be implemented by the MILF alone, instead of in a joint manner with the Philippine government, there can be no telling when this will be completed.
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My position remains the same. We must strengthen our Armed Forces and be ready for unforeseen developments. In the end, it is the soldier who will pay the price for any miscalculation on the part of the political leadership.
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