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Peace Talks and Bloodshed

How Can Peace Commence After a Tragic End?

The murder of several young Army officers and soldiers in Sitio Bakisung, Barangay Cagmun, Al-barka, Basilan on 18 October 2011 should merit a review of the current peace talks with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front. Unlike the spokesman of the Army, I can express my personal views without fear of being fired by SecurityMatters Magazine. My perspectives as a security risk management and protection professional compelled me to assess the situation and share with you the implications of this recent tragic military blunder and atrocity of the MILF. I am for peace, but not for this kind of peace talks with MILF criminals. I am against war and all-out war. I am for an all-out effort to eradicate the armed criminals first before talking of peace.

Hard to accept and sad to say, the military operation was a blunder. This was my first impression upon knowing of the casualty count. The more I know about the incident, the more I believe that it was a blunder. The Army’s Special Forces conducted a Military Scuba Diving course (Class 42-11) for its 44 personnel. Many SF battalions sent their young lieutenants and enlisted men to this course; that explains why the casualties were lieutenants and private first class (PFC). Young hearts and young blood died in a war that started before they were born. They died in a real shooting war, not the kind of games played on PSPs, computers, with paint bullets or pellets. They died shooting not steel plates or paper targets but at  targets who were shooting back.  Their targets were heavily armed and grew in numbers as the hours go by.

SF’s Scuba courses normally do not require test mission but somehow along the military’s way, they tasked the Scuba class to a test mission – to serve a warrant of arrest of a certain local guy – a job of the local police.  Why was the Special Forces tasked to arrest a local? The Special Forces, I assumed, knew that the local police will not arrest the local. But did they assume that the policemen and the locals will not tip off the suspects and all the armed people of the town? The subject of the arrest warrant is no ordinary local. He is the deputy commander of MILF’s 114th base command and responsible for the killing and beheading of 14 Philippine Marines in 2007. Did the military commander assume that the test mission will be successful and that the MILF will not violate the ceasefire by sitting and watching idly while one of their commanders is being handcuffed? Lapse in judgment? Gambled the lives of the soldiers? Why the high casualties? Did the soldiers wiggle their way out of the killing zone because they were observing the provisions of ceasefire during the firefight?

Obviously, the MILF is responsible for the murder and attempted murder of the soldiers. The MILF is again caught lying to their teeth. First, they denied that those involved were their armed members. After sensing that they killed more than their own casualty, they claimed responsibility by lying again that the soldiers of the Republic of the Philippines were in their territory and that the military attacked them. Such lies show how precarious it is to deal with the MILF liars. These lies also are symptoms of a rogue and disorganized rebel force. The MILF members are not like our educated and literate soldiers who are trained to respect the law. Our soldiers are disciplined since they are subject to the Articles of War and laws of the Republic of the Philippines. They are aware of the provisions on the ceasefire agreement.

The battle site is four kilometers from the MILF camp. Granting that the soldiers wandered into a real estate claimed by MILF as their territory, why murder the soldiers? Why gang up on the 44 soldiers with all the 400 alleged combatants of the MILF? What territory? Whose territory? I know a lieutenant who, way back in 1994, was the Company Commander of Bravo Company, 27th Infantry Battalion, Philippine Army. He was tasked to secure the outskirts of Parang, Maguindanao during a visit of then President Fidel V. Ramos. While clearing and securing the 5-kilometer radius, a Muslim rebel commander sent him a message, through a messenger, that the soldiers are entering his territory and the rebels will not hesitate to shoot at the soldiers. The lieutenant simply told the messenger that he will order his troops to shoot everyone (rebels and their relatives) who steps outside the rebels’ imaginary territory, especially those found in highways and roads funded by the people of the Republic of the Philippines. The rebels behaved while the Bravo Company was around their “territory” for more than a year. Tooth for a tooth?

If the military indeed launched an attack against MILF forces, wouldn’t it be with all the might of all the branches of services? Wouldn’t it be like Buldon again?

The MILF is a rogue organization, disorganized and composed of illiterate combatants. Their so-called fighters are not governed by laws and regulations. They are loose and factionalized. Regardless of what their leaders say in press releases or that they have the feeling of belligerency after the secret Tokyo Tea and Sushi meeting, the ground troops of the MILF are dangerous, trigger-happy, and brutal terrorist copycats. The MILF lost commands and rogue elements misconstrued the Basilan incident as the go-signal to launch more attacks. More army and police blood were spilled and wasted in Zamboanga Sibugay and Lanao areas. Do we expect Ombra Kato to join the fray as the MILF criminals were emboldened by the tepid actions and perfunctory statements of Malacanang?

How do we bring justice to the atrocious death of all soldiers under the hands, machetes, grenades, and bullets of Moro criminals? By charging each one of them in court and serving their warrants of arrest using the Rangers, SEALS, SAF and Special Forces again? The Chief PNP who recently ordered 80 provincial units to arrest 200 wanted criminals each month may have to redo his math with the inclusion of the MILF members. The MILF can be charged of multiple murder, attempted murder, mutilation, obstruction of justice, and harboring criminals.

If a significant number of MILF members are considered criminals, why should the Government of PH negotiate peace talks with them? Why not serve the warrants of arrest while the leaders are in the territory of the Republic of the Philippines, not in the 5-star hotels of Kuala Lumpur and Tokyo?

What to Do with the MILF?

Simple. Reduce the ATS or area of temporary stay of the MILF and put demarcation lines so the military and police are guided on where and how to serve the warrants of any MILF criminals. Then deal with the stragglers accordingly.

Since PNoy’s bosses are the civilians and not the soldiers, he will not launch an all-out war. A retired general asked if such concept exist in shooting ranges and video games. A journalist friend hinted that an all-out war will scuttle the dream for a Nobel Peace Prize. Shall we let more soldiers’ blood spill in the jungles and in the highways of Zamboanga, Lanao, and Maguindanao just like the days after the Basilan murder?

I suggest then that the courts quickly issue all the technically and legally correct warrants against the members of the MILF. The civilian advisers and lawyers of Malacanang, especially those in the Anti-Crime and Anti-Terror councils, should be embedded with the military units serving the warrants or conducting hot pursuit to escaping criminals (MILF) so that they will have the sense of realities in the ground, and with the troops. This may be difficult for those who dodged ROTC during college days but they will understand that in protecting democracy, the soldiers don’t live a democratic life. Will these councils be more effective if they experience the atrocities of crimes and the terror of combat? In combat, one does not think of the penal codes, he shoots without ear muffs and eye protectors.

Will Malacanang also charge the officers in Basilan under the Articles of War before a court martial? This is a possibility since they are appeasing the MILF also.

What to expect?

Based on the MILF’s past and recent statements and series of atrocities, they will continue with their acts of impunity. Can we sense this time that the peace talks is a done deal already? Doesn’t it appear that the government is in a bind? Consider the statements of PNoy, Deles, Leonen, and Carandang when they defended the peace talks and publicly humiliated military officers. Compare them with MILF chief negotiator Mohagher Iqbal who reportedly claimed that the encounter in Al-Barka showed that the military had no regard for the peace process and the agreement on the cessation of hostilities which the Philippine government and the MILF have signed.

Their hands tied behind their backs, military and police ponder on the wisdom that all-out war is not an option in seeking justice. They suffered heavily, death from MILF criminals and humiliation from Malacanang. Is the release of 10B pesos of modernization funds aimed at appeasing the military? Too late. Money cannot bring back the dead sons, husbands, and fathers.

Dwindling international support and existence of factions force the MILF to resort to extortion and kidnap-for-ransom. The military and police cannot pursue and rescue the hostages because kidnappers harbor within a few meters from MILF imaginary ATS.  Expect the MILF and other bandits to conduct more ambushes and other terror attacks in provinces where they have presence. They staged ambuscades to gather more weapons and ammunition.

Shall we prepare for war to attain peace then?