“No law shall be passed abridging the freedom of speech, of expression, or of the press... (Sec. 4, 1987 Philippine Constitution)”
I was in General Santos City over the past few days. While there, I met my friends in the media. One of my reliable contacts in the Maguindanao area (about an hour away) sought me out to brief me on the latest incident involving the forces of former MILF base commander ailing Ameril Umbra Kato (who is still recuperating from a recent near -fatal heart attack). The recent attacks on AFP positions and civilians caused the closure for several days to the public of a vital highway between Shariff Aguak, capital town of Maguindanao province to the outside world.
One informant said the forces of Umbra repelled initial military operations to clear the highway. The assembled fire power of the rebels even forced AFP ‘s advancing armored attack SIMBAs or APCs (armored personnel carriers) to hastily retreat in the initial salvo. It’s now a favorite story among the locals that they found out that the APCs were faster in retreating than in advancing: ” Mabilis pala ang SIMBA. Mabilis umatras kaysa abante” is now a joke going the rounds.
CEASEFIRE —Recent firefights centered in Guindulungan town. I am a bit familiar with the area during my Mindanao work for Malacanang several years back. I recall traveling there deep towards the mountain area where a so-called “38th parallel” point was established for ceasefire purposes marking on the ground “no cross” zones and dividing lines between MILF forces and the AFP. The Malaysian-led international monitoring team had its command base on a high point overlooking the town at that time near the highway. I always dropped by because they had good Malaysian coffee and snacks there.
I remember one visit to attend to the thousands of evacuees. In the town proper, hundreds of makeshift shelters housed the evacuees due to firefights between the MILF and the military. Even with those incidents, the ceasefire mechanism was working and holding well at that time and Umbra Kato was still a regular base commander of the MILF.
HELICOPTER –That evacuation center brings me unforgettable memories. It was during one of my visits there when a Huey helicopter conked out forcing a return to the Cotabato airport. I remember some foreign government embassy and UN representatives were so scared to re-board the Huey after it was quickly repaired and had to take off again due to the thousand evacuees expecting our arrival. Those foreign reps were not only risking lives but more. Their insurance coverage would have been suspended if something happened to them. They violated their own travel advisories including instructions not to board government aircrafts, much more riding on Vietnam war- vintage Huey helicopters. But I guess they had no other choice since this was ordinary, standard travel assets for me in my work and they joined me wanting to see for themselves actual situations on the ground to report to their respective capitals abroad. As it turned out, it was far from being a “joy ride” as some of my guests perhaps originally thought.
Looking back, now that I am back to private life, I will still board any Huey helicopter anytime, knowing that our Air force pilots are considered “the best in the world” — daring if not creative ( for fixing air assets in a jiffy by sheer ingenuity under trying conditions.) I have so much to tell about this but I will keep that for another time.
WHY THE ATTACK? — Many of us must be wondering why on earth would Ameril Umbra Kato, known as an Islamic religious leader launch an attack during the holy month of Ramadhan. In fact he is roundly condemned by his fellow Muslims for his “satanic” and un-Islamic action. We must also be wondering how come his forces were so well equipped and had stocked on ammos that lasted them for several days. And how come they attacked several AFP positions when they knew they could not defeat the AFP nor even maintain long control of harassed areas? Why did the attack coincide to the very day the MILF and GPH panels were getting seated to resume talks in Malaysia?
INSIDE STORY — My “deep throat” informant told me an interesting story. Just several days before the attack, some emissary from the MILF or GPH went to see Umbra Kato in his marshy hideaway in Maguindanao advising him: COME BACK AND REJOIN MILF OR ELSE THEY ‘LL ”TAKE YOU OUT” The timeline: this was to take place after this new round of talks. Evidently, on the verge of signing milestone agreements, the scenario seems to show that the GPH negotiators want an assurance from the MILF that renegade rebel Kato will also be restrained and that MILF has the capability to control the area. It is also to prove to the government that any agreement will bring peace including mainstream armed groups including Kato.
My source also said that another factor floating around is that Kagi Murad‘s MILF panel is already in the verge of accepting formally an enhanced autonomy setup and short of the bangsamoro expectation of a “substate”, to the disappointment — and even anger — of so- called fundamentalist Islamists.
Hence, the attacks. To show defiance, anger and a preemptive strike to send strong messages to both GPH and MILF, and to the international community as well. We all can decipher those other intended messages.
Sounds like old times; the never ending story. So, what else is new? To me, what is important now is to tend to the unfortunate, innocent and suffering victims of conflict.
Comments are closed.