Just my opinion
By Raïssa Robles
At least 50 members of the Philippine National Police Special Action Forces and eight Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) fighters, were killed in a clash that nobody wants to detail. The clash took place way before dawn on Monday January 26 (although some say Saturday) and went on for hours – some news reports say for 11 hours.
Did President Benigno Aquino know of the commando operation that went horribly wrong and resulted in dozens of needless deaths? The commandos were US-trained, had night vision goggles and heavy weapons.
There were a total of 392 raiders out to arrest . But they had no air support, no army back-up, no extraction procedure to make a safe and quick get-away presumably after collaring Zulkifli bin Hir, alias “Marwan”, and a certain Abdul Basit Usman who were reportedly hiding in the area.
Interestingly, the Jemaah Islamiyah bomber Marwan had already been declared dead three years ago in February 2012 after the military dropped bombs in Sulu. I wonder if someone had collected the reward for Marwan’s death then.
No official has owned up to issuing the mission order for the operation.
In fact, interior and local governments Secretary Mar Roxas said he wasn’t told that 392 members of the elite police Special Action Force (SAF) were going on a clandestine mission. Nor was the OIC of the Philippine National Police, Deputy Director General Leonardo Espina told. I wonder if the suspended PNP Director General Alan Purisima knew about it.
One explanation that some have offered is the attempted arrest of two terrorist bombers was a “freelance” operation – a form of moonlighting to earn the reward money being dangled by the US State Department for the neutralization of two of their most wanted men.
Fr. Eliseo Mercado, who has been actively involved in the peace process for over 20 years, suspects as much. He wrote on his Facebook account:
May they rest in the Lord. Now let us watch the investigation and there should be concrete actions to do justice…
1. Who authorized the said operation;
2. Who provided the intelligence report;
3. Why no coordination with the AFP that has operational control over the area;
4. Who gathered the SAF from all over yet failed to coordinate with 6th ID of the PA; and
5. What is the business of the 6 US Special Forces on the scene and helping on the identification of the casualties.. taking specimen for DNA testing.
The US is orchestrating this war against terror and our security forces have become the front liners by simply putting bounty. Marwan carries 5 million dollars bounty and Basit is one million or a total of 6 million dollars.
They thought it would be a walk in the park just like the case of Youssef when they collected a bounty of 15 million dollars…
Would the probe end in the usual ‘bury your dead; lick your wounds; and move on as if nothing happened..?
The probe has to be impartial and cannot be left to a “Board of Inquiry” inside the National Police Commission. We don’t want them to simply bury the bodies this time.
We need explanations. We need justice. We need people to take the rap for this tragedy, including an acknowledgment from the MILF leadership that they have to change their ways. They cannot just sit around and let a clash like this last hours.
I suggest that both the MILF chief and President Aquino be equipped with satellite phones dedicated to quickly calling each other to prevent such conflicts from spiraling into a slaughter. Unless they already have these and didn’t use them. Patay.
This time, the stakes are at an all time high. The peace process that successive Philippine governments have worked so hard to put in place is in danger of becoming the ultimate casualty.
There are some very old men – who should be wiser with age but are not – who are now clamoring for retaliation. Today I heard former Manila Mayor Alfredo Lim say on nationwide radio that the government should “retaliate” for the deaths of the SAF personnel and scuttle the peace agreement to teach the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) a lesson.
Today I also heard Lim’s successor, Manila Mayor Joseph Estrada warn ABS-CBN anchor Karen Davila that “the MILF cannot be trusted” and say “we have to wage war to earn peace.” Estrada recounted that when he was the President, “Six children were burned to death and two soldiers were beheaded. That is the time I put on my fatigue uniform. I went to Kauswagan. I looked at the children and the soldiers and that was when I declared all out war.”
Now I understand why under Lim’s watch the Mendiola massacre happened and the Luneta bus hostage tragedy took place.
As for Mayor Estrada, when Karen asked him why he chose to declare an all out war on the Muslim rebels but remained soft on the communist rebels, Estrada explained that it was because the communists merely wanted to overthrow the government but the Muslims wanted to dismember the country and he was against the latter. Ironically for Estrada, it was the left that helped overthrow him from the presidency.
The trouble with Estrada and Lim’s attitude is that the Muslims can also use the same justification. I remember that following the Philippine government’s signing of the 1996 peace agreement with the Moro National Liberation Front, a deadly war with the MILF was triggered by an army cannon firing into a rebel camp and killing a little girl. That girl should have been married with children by now if not for the Mindanao conflict.
I’ve also noticed that Monday’s killings have raised to the surface some very deep-seated anti-Muslim sentiments among the predominantly Christian population. I think we have been thoroughly brainwashed by the Spanish colonizers even though we aren’t aware of it. And part of the peace process would be acknowledging this and finding ways to bridge this.
Personally, my attitude is that Muslims are Filipinos and if you want them not to secede you must treat them – not as an other-people – but as Filipinos.
In closing, I’d like to share a short piece that fellow journalist Dana Batnag wrote in the aftermath of the tragedy. Like me, Dana is tired of covering a seemingly endless conflict. I’m sharing it with her permission:
“I’m at the point of wondering if we should have bombings all over the country and skirmishes every day and in every corner. If we should say goodbye to our loved ones every morning, wondering if they will be back. If we should have all our possessions packed in a bag, ready to go at a moment’s notice. If we should always be on alert for the sound of fighting, so that we can rush to the nearest evacuation center.
We have peace, now, but it is a temporary peace. So many people I know, rational, reasonable people, are willing to sacrifice the peace talks now, without finding out more what led to the killing in the first place. So many are asking for blood, instead of facts.
Let us have war, if you must. But may that war come to your doorsteps first. And when thousands die, I will remember your names and point my finger at you and say, as you weep for your homes and your loved ones and the peace that once was, YOU WANTED THIS.”