Archive for the ‘Camp Abubakar’ Category

January 6: Amon Jadid and an Incongrous Greeting

January 6, 2009

Yesterday, January 6 was the first day of Muharram, when the first month of the Islamic lunar calendar started, hence the connotation of being the Islamic New Year. However, Muslims around the world are divided on its signifance and on the way they celebrate it.

However, Mrs. Arroyo greeted the local Muslim community ‘Happy Amon Jadid’, which corresponds to ‘Happy New Year’. However the message after the greetings immediately turned controversial. She said and I quote portions of it:

“Amon Jadid…gives Muslims the oppurtunity to look forward to a better future and to live in peace and prosperity….I ask our Muslim brothers to support our resolve in turning the fragile peace in Muslim Mindanao into a genuine and lasting one…”

I am astounded by the disconnect of the greetings to reality. I do not even know if this already amounts to an insult. It is as if Mindanao is not enveloped in war right now. And as if there are no refugees who are mainly Muslims.

Fragile peace? All I know is there’s a lull in the fighting because of the holidays. But I am also aware Field Marshal Teodoro is asking for additional budget in order to continue the war. And as if the peace treaty has not been flushed down the drain and the OIC International Monitoring Team and Mindanao aid donor countries leaving and suspending aid.

As of today the Philippine military has already attacked and overran nearly all the MILF camps in Mindanao. But it has failed in its avowed purpose–to bring daw to justice the three MILF ‘rogue’ commanders.

Did the military “win”? If the yardstick of guerilla warfare is used it seemed it is the MILF that has won because they were able to preserve their forces. Will the military be able to hold on to the territory they gained? Probably not except for selected showpieces (like Camp Abubakar before) because they simply do not have troops for it. And it is occupying hostile territory where the population is nearly 100% Muslim. In fact, the MILF has already stepped up harassment attacks.

The derisive comment of Marines commanding general Allaga that Camp Bilal is wherever Commander Bravo is might ironically turn to be true. MILF camps are much like ordinary villages where the population is the family and relatives of the MILF forces. It moves according to the demand of the situation.

As it is there will be no peace in Mindanao. And it is generally conceded by observers that no peace treaty is possible until the end of Mrs. Arroyo’s term in 2010. So I’m really wondering where she picked up those words. Hey, do liars care?


The True Story of the Start of the 2000 Mindanao War: A Recollection and View from Lanao del Norte

January 5, 2009

Approaching the end of 1999, the non-technical end of the last century, there was a certain disquiet in Cagayan de Oro City. For some months already troops from Luzon and Visayas kept arriving to be hosted temporarily in the Army’s divisional camp there before being sent to Muslim areas. Of course there was already intermittent fighting in Cotabato and Lanao del Sur.

Soon there were whispers of war. Then President Estrada came. In a war-like tone he said he gave the MILF his personal guarantees that “he will treat them fairly” if they will give up their struggle but its leadership has been rebuffing him. He said he is ready to launch an “all-out war” to resolve the Mindanao problem.

When asked if it is true that there are already 36 battalions in Mindanao, President Estrada replied, “38!” And soon after that another two battallions arrived (and more after the war began).

Sometime early March the commander of a newly-arrived Army batallion near Kauswagan, Lanao del Norte sent a letter to Commander Bravo, commander of the MILF-BIAF’s then-2nd Division, demanding the return of an abandoned schoolhouse which Bravo was occupying. Reportedly a man of few words and having a short fuse, Bravo refused.

It must be noted that in 1997 the government and the MILF signed a ceasefire agreement and in 1999 the two sides held formal peace talks. In the process, the MILF submitted a list of 13 major and 30 satellite MILF camps for verification and recognition. However, when the count reached 7 major camps “noted”, hostilities started.

When the Army commander threatened attack, Bravo declared his “green line” and said he will fire upon any government forces that breach it.

Soon two tracked Army armored personnel carriers (M-113s) came. A Chinese B-40 rocket launcher was fired breaching the two sides of the APC and killing all the crew. The second APC beat a hasty retreat. All these were captured on video and shown uncut on Iligan City TV.

Soon a full-scale Army assault ensued. Unable to hold on to his camp, Bravo launched an attack on Kauswagan, Lanao del Norte. He was able to occupy the who town for 12 hours on March 17, 2000. This is the part of the war which the government highlighted as the “start” of the 2000 Mindanao war.

The MILF ransacked the police headquarters but they spared the municipal hall. Bravo withdrew from Kauswagan before the Army came (but medals were handed out for the “liberation” of the town). A handful of Muslim homes were set on fire by Christians in the aftermath.

For one week the private TV station in Iligan City covered the war uncensored, showing video footages from both sides including the Army’s “clearing” operations (all I saw of this were soldiers blanketing by gunfire any possible hiding space and animals running in all directions).

The radio stations of Iligan and Cagayan de Oro cities gave free rein to partisans of both sides. Exchanges readily escalated to the level of insults, taunts and threats. But I noticed that the Muslim partisans were more level-headed. The most searing was the question, “How can you call yourself Christians if you burn and ransack houses of your neighbors?”.

After one week the government threatened to close the stations. It was losing the propaganda war. The vivid coverage stopped but not the fighting.

The military assault spread throughout Mindanao. The famed Camp Abubakar and the Buliok complex (the MILF’s biggest camp) fell to government soldiers. President Estrada claimed victory when he was able to raise the Philippine flag in Camp Abubakar, the MILF’s central base.

And the Filipino people believed the war started with the MILF’s attack in Kauswagan. In the same way the people believe now that the recent war started with the MILF’s attack (again) in Kauswagan.

[photo credit:christusrex]

The ICG On The Mindanao Conflict

November 19, 2008

The ICG is the “International Crisis Group”. According to Wikipedia:

“The ICG is considered the world’s leading leading independent, non-partisan source of analysis and advice to governments and intergovernmental bodies like the United Nations, European Union and World Bank, on the prevention and resolution of deadly conflict. Its primary goals are a unique combination of field-based analysis, sharp-edged policy prescription, and high-level advocacy, with key roles being played by a senior management team highly experienced in government and by a highly active board of Trustees containing many senior diplomats….

“The ICG maintains teams of analysts in 17 field offices worldwide, who are dispatched to areas at risk of outbreak, escalation, or recurrence of conflict.”

The ICG was organized in 1995 and currently it is co-chaired by Chancellor of Oxford University and former European Commissioner for External Affairs Christopher Patten and former US Ambassador to the UN Thomas R. Pickering. Its president and chief executive is Gareth Evans, the former Foreign Minister of Australia. Its international headquarters is in Brussels, Belgium. In 2006, 40% of its funding came from governments, 32% came from philanthrophic organizations and 28% came from individuals and private foundations.

In May 14, 2008, ICG issued its Asia Report No. 152 titled, “The Philippines: Counter-Insurgency vs. Counter-Terrorism in Mindanao”, days before the start of the current AFP-MILF war in Mindanao. Having analyzed the interplay of the GRP/AFP, MILF and MNLF since the ’90s and its different responses to terrorism, part of its report might have bearing on the current war and its possible consequences. I quote (and be chilled by its cutting perspective):

The seizure of the MILF’s principal bases on Jolo [in 2007] recalls the MILF experience from 2000 to 2003. Relatively disciplined and hierarchically accountable guerilla formations have again been dispersed into an anarchic environment where there are many possibilities–and even imperatives–for them to deepen collusion with terrorists.

In counter-insurgency terms, capturing guerilla strongholds may be seen as a victory. But from a counter-terrorism perspective, anything that drives mainstream guerillas and jihadis closer together is a defeat. On Mindanao, the AFP’s occupation of the MILF’s Camp Abubakar, from July 2000, did impede the JI training facilities–though this was not presented as an objective at that time. But smaller groups of freelance foreign jihadis have continued to seek partnerships with militants inside, as well as outside, the MILF and MNLF.

The most dangerous of these liaisons came about as a direct result of Balikatan’s [the joint RP-US military exercises] “success” in Basilan. As described above, driving the ASG core group onto the mainland [because it too “hot” for them in Basilan] had the unintended effect of cementing its alliance with radical MILF commanders….Though the story remains untold in the official account, it holds important lessons…for many situations where terrorists are embedded in popular insurgencies.

Where distinguishing between insurgents and terrorists is possible, encouraging the first to cooperate against the second, rather than collude with them, must be a central pillar of government terrorism programs. Moreover, in the longer term, such cooperation helps build mutual trust necessary for a durable peace agreement. Quiet MILF cooperation against ASG and foreign jihadis continued until shortly after…21 June 2007. An ASG plan to re-infiltrate mainland Mindanao [Note: the report earlier acknowledged the late Chairman Hashim Salamat’s cooperation in the expulsion of the ASG in mainland Mindanao], due to intensifying pressure from Oplan Ultimatum in Jolo, was frustrated in November 2006. Bashir Takasan, an MILF member…from Davao Oriental, where the jihadis had hoped to land, “died in the line of duty preventing their re-entry.

A chilling observation of the conflict, indeed. Does this forecast the long-term defeat of the government’s strategy of “all-out war”?

[This article is a response to my article, “The MILF Has Been Suckered Into War: The Peace Agreement As A Trojan Horse”, 11/19/08]

Yes, It Seems The MILF Was Suckered Into War

September 1, 2008

Now, here comes the chief government peace adviser, Hermogenes Esperon, the just-retired AFP chief of staff saying that if negotiations resume, “the matter of DDR–demobilization, disarmament and rehabilitation–will immediately be tabled.” He added: “After discussing upfront the DDR, we can go addressing other matters including the aspirations of the group.” The GMA News said Esperon was referring to the MILF’s desire to give the Bangsamoro people their own territory.

Now, pardon me, isn’t that a call for a surrender? As in “Lay down your arms first and then we will talk”?

I thought the peace talks have been going on for the last 6 years. The Supreme Court issued a TRO (not yet an injunction, mind you) and the signing of the peace treaty was held in abeyance. Some fighting ensued (which happens yearly, anyway, or several times a year when tempers get hot) and now here comes the chief peace negotiator completely changing the framework of the talks!

Now I do not wonder why Malaysia as the IMT (International Monitoring Team) for the ceasefire wanted to withdraw earlier this year and undiplomatically charging that they doubt if the government really wants peace. Later Malaysia threatened not to sign up again as IMT when its term expired.

Now I understand why a highly-respected priest-peace advocate who is trusted by all contending forces in Mindanao, Fr. Eliseo Mercado of the Notre Dame University, personally withdrew from his position in the peace talks several years ago charging the government is not sincere in pursuing peace in Mindanao.

Everybody in Mindanao knows that the MILF is weaker now than they were in 2000 before Erap’s war. They lost territory and they lost their central base, the Camp Abubakar and several other satellite camps. Even the completion of the Narciso Ramos Highway [see my previous post] is proof that they have been weakened.

In the past and in recent days Erap has been quoted saying that if he was not deposed “the MILF will be wiped out by now”. Is this a case of the military’s slip showing through? That if they are “unleashed”, they can “crush” the MILF?

Is this the whole plot behind the “peace-signing”? That like Hitler a Polish “border incident” must first be created? Yes, I remember now. The Philippine-American War of 1899 started with a “shooting incident” in a bridge in San Juan.

The Narciso Ramos Highway:A Highway Of Peace Or A Highway Of War?

August 30, 2008

Last summer I went to Zamboanga City for a vacation. Upon the advice of my brother I took the long overland route via Lanao del Sur passing by the renowned Narciso Ramos Highway, named after the former President’s father. This is the new highway connecting Cotabato City in Sultan Kudarat and Pagadian City in Zamboanga del Sur. Before the opening of this highway one has to backtrack to Bukidnon, Misamis Oriental and Lanao del Norte before one can proceed to Pagadian City. The new highway cut travel distance by more than three-fourths. The alternative was to take the non-scheduled light plane or the overnight motor boat (when the fastcraft suspended service).

An offshoot of the opening of the highway is the opening of the Cotabato City-Marawi City-Iligan City van route which before did not also exist. Several new jeepney routes also came into existence serving the small Lanao del Sur towns.

I undertook this travel also as a present to myself because I will viewing sceneries and places that were formerly closed to the outside world (meaning Christian world). It means passing through Campo 1, the gateway to fabled Camp Abubakar of the MILF which they lost in the 2000 war. The highway also passes through Malabang, Lanao del Sur and Sultan Naga Dimaporo (formerly Caromatan), Lanao del Norte, two places that heretofore needs a “visa” (an unofficial permission by some powerful person) to be visited. Christians in Lanao del Norte normally spend their whole lifetime not being able to see these places.

The van I took in Cotabato City took an eternity to fill . There were only a few Christian passengers but the Muslims, just like my experience before, were courteous and non-threatening. Upon reaching a certain point they mounted their red roof light, an indicator they paid the right “taxes” and has the “proper” authority to travel. They turn on these lights during night travel to prevent strafing. No wonder that the fare was unusually high.

Along the way we passed through the known MILF towns including the town whose former mayor employed MILF fighters as security when he ventures into Iligan City. He was the first town executive to receive the symbolic key as the government’s gesture of “returning” the town to the “fold of law” during the 2000 war. And he was teary-eyed in the local TV when this happened. But I do not think it was from joy since he is generally known as a MILF mayor.

Many in Luzon and in Visayas do not know that the completion of the highway is one of the proximate cause of the 2000 AFP-MILF war. The government rerouted the highway so that it will pass through higher ground to which the MILF opposed since it will be cutting through the entrance of their central base, the Camp Abubakar. The AFP general in charge said they do not want to be passing in the lower ground as possible sitting ducks for ambuscades. The war “settled” who was “right.” The road passed through the higher ground.

Between Cotabato and Malabang and especially after Barira, Sultan Kudarat the terrain was generally hilly and forested. After Malabang it was generally flat and the land was obviously rich and not over-utilized. Crossing over to Zamboanga del Sur we passed over the legendary tunnel built by the Japanese during World War II. Afterwards we came over to Tukuran, seat of the former Iranun (a linguistic group related to the Maranaos) sultanate but now a half-Christian, half-Muslim municipality and then to Labangan, seat of a Muslim sultanate in earlier times (Pagadian City is a former barrio of Labangan). But in Tukuran and Labangan the Muslims are already a minority. And that is the long history of Muslim Mindanao. Once opened in a few decades time the Muslims become a minority in their native land.

A month ago a van carrying passengers along the Narciso Ramos Highway was waylaid. The gunmen let the Muslim passengers off but hijacked the van along with the 5 Christian passengers. The next day the 5 were found executed in a not-so-distant place. Together with the ongoing war I suspect that possibly civilian travel along the Narciso Ramos is now stopped.

That highway will be a marker in the future if it is again “peacetime” in Muslim Mindanao.