Blaming the Sayyaf

Posted on Thursday, April 12th, 2012 and is filed under Opinion. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

12 April 2012/by Frencie L. Carreon—While the US forces claimed Basilan as its model for a successful counter-insurgency operation in the early years of this millennium, the Filipino soldiers deployed in the island-province continue to battle for the island residents’ security and safety.  Or, so it seems.

Most of these soldiers are not from Mindanao; they come from Luzon or the Visayas, a military source from the Western Mindanao Command who requested anonymity, said.

But the plight of our soldiers do not seem to have much impact anymore, and the twenty-two soldiers who were either severely or slightly wounded and the one life lost in Sumisip’s outskirts cannot draw the expected and hoped anger-for-the-rebels from the residents in the region, and the rest of the country.

We have become used to these military reports—the soldiers are either heroes or victims; hence, the rebels should be crushed. We have borne witness to military officers living in luxury, while soldiers in lower ranks risk lives for the country.

But must we win the conflict in southern Philippines through arms?

I opine that the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) needs to advance from its compartmentalized approach in operations. After years of futile efforts in crushing the rebellion and diffusing the banditry in the three Muslim-dominated provinces, the AFP should rethink and re-strategize its operations; perhaps, try a holistic approach to spare more lives, thus enabling peace to be less elusive.  Perhaps, the generals deployed at Western Mindanao Command and all its area of responsibility could consider the better option of resolving the conflict in this part of Mindanao without having to draw blood and tears.

It is easy for military leaders, whose families are safe in Luzon, to order an attack in Mindanao villages; and reap the media attention if not promotion at the expense of suppressed voices, silent tears, or wailing families. War nurtures hatred, vengeance, and trauma.  Dialogue works.  War spells destruction of lives and property.  Humanitarian programs work.  War leaves a legacy of pain and even revenge—breeds child warriors and clones rebel cells. Addressing issues on education, health, and economic sustainability work.

Our military leaders, most of whom are products of the state-owned Philippine Military Academy, know these, but it takes a leader—supposedly a commander-in-chief—to give the order for the reengineering of the military’s plan of action to ultimately quash the insurgency and address the Lumad-Moro’s fight for identity.

But these domestic clashes at times confuse the ordinary citizen with the conflict in data—if not logic.  There are 80,000 trained fighters of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, and about a third are deployed in Mindanao.  The contingent forces in Basilan outnumber the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG), who was said to be reducing in number some years back.  {Meantime, no one in the ASG speaks up to present their side.  Unlike the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, or the Moro National Liberation Front, or the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army, the ASG no longer has an organized system of conveying information nor confirmation to media since the days of the ex-AFP asset Abu Sabaya.)

Why is there difficulty for media to get a statement from the ASG, to provide a bit of balance in journalistic reporting?  Could it be because journalists here in fear of their lives and security, refrain from seeking out the Sayyaf rebels’ statements to avoid getting arrested for abetting and aiding terrorists?  On the other hand, could it be because the so-called ASG no longer formally exists save for members who have splintered into smaller cells in fear for their lives?  If so, could there be truth in the speculation that the so-called Sayyaf are trained and infiltrated by former members of the Philippine Marines?

Is this a ploy to elicit an increased appropriation for military expenditures?  Is this an operational tactic to claim medallions or be heroes and earn a bloody promotion?  Or is this a wily, underhanded strategy to draw more support from the US government while providing the alibi to let the US forces stay, basking on the claim that the AFP is weak and defenseless?

The Abu Sayyaf Group, an armed group organized in Mindanao for more almost two decades now, seems to increase in strength, and from the media reports alone, one imagines the group as the most feared, if not most hated, as it continues to disrupt peace and order in southern Philippines.

The recent incident in Sumisip, for instance, draws a flak:  weeks ago, the ASG camp has been overrun, and the WesMinCom chief admitted that the ASG had designed the camp to be “impenetrable”.  Yet, the AFP did it in March—an act of heroism without doubt, that should have sent the media to flag a story on AFP heroism as, “Impenetrable Sayyaf camp overrun”.  This week, on 10 April, however, said area has been surrounded by landmines that have been planted to “strengthen the defensive position” of the Sayyaf.  Why had these landmines not blown off last month when the area was completely surrounded by Army soldiers?  The Sayyaf do not return to overrun camps, or did they?  Or, had the unschooled rebels simply outsmarted the Philippine Military Academy’s alumni as well as members of the alleged US-trained elite forces?

Even among Mindanao media, the questions keep pouring in—and the answers never given, hence, the doubts on the sincerity as well as the ability of the Philippine military continue.

We need at this point their commander-in-chief to sit down with the AFP’s top brass and strategize on defense matters:  from oil-rich Sulu and Tawi-Tawi in Mindanao, to the controversial oil-rich Spratly Islands in Palawan in Luzon. We need to analyze if there is an invisible hand orchestrating the armed conflict, relegating our soldiers from being our defenders to becoming pawns in the so-called games of the generals, and the aspiring generals.

Because until the “80,000-strong” AFP shows that it can be a strong force, the Sayyaf might win the sympathy of Mindanao residents for simply being the quick scapegoats for the inadequacy if not incompetence of the Philippine military in curbing lawlessness and acts of terror.  (Frencie Carreon, The PhilSouth Angle)

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