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We keep repeating the same mistakes

/ 12:09 AM February 02, 2015

Let me refresh our memories.

In July 2007, an Italian Catholic missionary priest, Fr. Giancarlo Bossi, was abducted by MILF (Moro Islamic Liberation Front) elements in Basilan. While returning from a search-and-rescue mission aimed at recovering Father Bossi, 14 Marines were ambushed by MILF/Abu Sayyaf bandits (who knows?), with the bodies of the victims bearing signs of torture and mutilation; some were beheaded.

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These were my thoughts when I wrote, on Aug. 8 2007, about the tragedy:

As an ordinary citizen of this country, having retired from the Armed Forces many years ago, I am appalled and deeply saddened by the incompetence and inaction of our military leaders in the face of the recent Basilan tragedy. Two weeks after the massacre and savage mutilation of our soldiers, nothing has happened that would indicate our seriousness in dealing with the incident.

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Whatever happened to the much talked about AFP offensive?

After the slaughter, the AFP issued a one-week ultimatum to the MILF to surrender the criminals or suffer the consequences. This announcement was accompanied by a highly publicized movement of additional troops—including Presidential Security Group elements—to Basilan for what was supposed to be an offensive against the MILF in case of non-compliance.

After a week, the President announced an additional three-day delay in the offensive while waiting for some kind of report from monitors on the ground. These two deadlines passed and then we were treated to the sight of PNP officers trying to serve warrants of arrest in a ghost village, which obviously had been vacated by the inhabitants earlier.

In the first place, what did the AFP expect—the MILF/Abu Sayyaf would surrender the culprits without a fight? Even my barber Mang Dennis said he couldn’t believe that people could be so naïve. But he tried to console me by saying, “Kawawa naman ang AFP.”

For some reason during the encounter, rescue troops are unable to reach and support the Marine unit. Air support is not available because of communication problems.

* * *

In October 2011, 19 Special Forces troopers (military, not police) were massacred by MILF/Abu Sayyaf elements in Al Barka, Basilan, site of the October 2007 ambush. The men suffered the same fate as the Marines—mutilation and beheading. This time, no offensive operation was carried out presumably because of ongoing peace negotiations. Four senior Army officers were court-martialed for operational lapses in the deployment of troops. On the other hand, rebel commanders involved in the encounter were suspended for three months and made to undergo education on the ceasefire provisions, human rights and international humanitarian laws.

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Here were my thoughts on Nov. 7, 2011, when the second tragedy occurred:

At Al Barka, we lost 33 men and officers. It is time to move and restore firm and continuing control over our Al Barka. Once we have established authority over Al Barka, let us set up a fort for our Marines and Scout Rangers to honor the memory of our dead soldiers. In no other place in the country have we suffered so many casualties. It will take blood, sweat, and a lot of treasure, but we owe it to the men who perished here in such a brutal manner that this land will never again be desecrated by any similar atrocity. For the men and women of our Armed Forces, Al Barka is now sacred ground.

* * *

Last week, the Philippine National Police suffered its greatest setback since the establishment of the organization with the loss of 44 Special Action Force troopers in an operation that was aimed at capturing two international terrorists. Zulkifli bin Hir (alias Marwan) and Basit Usman, both bomb-making experts belonging to the Jemaah Islamiyah terrorist group, were reported to be in the vicinity of Mamasapano, Maguindanao. The after-action reports indicate that some of the wounded were finished off at close range with bodies being mutilated as in the previous encounters.

There are certain characteristics of these encounters that have to be reviewed and addressed immediately.

Obviously much is to be desired insofar as intelligence work is concerned. In each of the incidents mentioned, our units were caught unaware of enemy deployments resulting in ambuscades and surprise attacks.

There appears to be very little or very poor coordination among units that may be involved in operations. This led to a lack of support during critical moments of combat. The inability of rescue elements to reach their beleaguered comrades speaks a lot about the level of discipline and combat-readiness of our elite units.

We must also take note of the savagery of the enemy we face.

In all the incidents mentioned, mutilation, beheading, and killing of the wounded appear to be the norm of conduct of the other side. Contrary to their assumed role as honorable freedom fighters, they have adopted the tactics of terrorists determined to sow fear and revulsion in the community.

* * *

The Association of Generals and Flag Officers, headed by Lt. Gen. Edilberto Adan, has come up with its position on the current crisis as a result of the recent tragedy:

  • Suspension of peace talks, including all deliberations on the Bangsamoro Basic Law
  • Establishment of an independent commission to investigate the massacre
  • Greater resolve on the part of the national leadership in the pursuit of justice

* * *

An intriguing question.

Who gave the go-signal for this operation?

Interior Secretary Mar Roxas and PNP officer in charge Leonardo Espina have publicly declared that they were out of the loop. That leaves only three offices capable of giving out orders that would mobilize the more than 300 police utilized in the operation:

  • Camp Crame White House (whoever was occupying it)
  • Office of the Executive Secretary (antiterror czar)
  • Office of the President

Your guess is as good as mine.

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