President Aquino has sacked three military officers following the encounter between the Philippine Army Special Forces and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front rebels in Al-Barka, Basilan that left 19 soldiers dead and 14 others injured.
In an interview Friday night after visiting the wake of the slain soldiers at the Libingan ng mga Bayani, Aquino said two military officials, without identifying them, have been relieved from their posts. Prior to this, Lieutenant Colonel Leo Pena, the commanding officer of the 4th Special Forces Battalion where the slain soldiers belong, was replaced by Philippine Army Chief Lt. General Arturo Ortiz.
Ortiz later announced that Special Operations Task commander Colonel Alexander Macario and Army spokesperson Colonel Antonio Parlade Jr. have been relieved from their posts.Ortiz later announced that Special Operations Task commander Colonel Alexander Macario and Army spokesperson Colonel Antonio Parlade Jr. have been relieved from their posts.
Colonel Ramon Yogyog will replace Macario as Special Operations Task Force commander. Macario allegedly committed “operational lapses” that led to the clash.
Parlade, on the other hand, has been very outspoken over television, urging the government to suspend a ceasefire with the MILF in Basilan and allow the military to pursue the rebels behind the deaths of the 19 soldiers.
Sources confirm that President Aquino was not pleased with Parlade’s statements.
Aquino has maintained that he will not call for an all-out war against the MILF as this will only result in a terrible toll on human lives, particularly among the people of Mindanao. He said he would wait for the results of the ongoing investigation on the Basilan clash this week.
Military officials admitted that many of the soldiers were first-timers in the town and were not familiar with the terrain at all.
Lieutenant Colonel Randolph Cabangbang, Western Mindanao Command Spokesperson admitted that 20 of the 41 soldiers sent to Al-Barka were strangers to the place, having been plucked out of their scuba-diving training program.
Cabangbang said the soldiers were to hunt down rebel leader Dan Asnawi, who was involved in the mutilation and beheading of Marine soldiers in Al-Barka in 2007. Asnawi was arrested in the aftermath of the beheading but he escaped from the Basilan provincial jail, along with more than two-dozen other inmates, in December 2009.
The soldiers were under the 4th Special Forces Battalion.
Reports have quoted Lieutenant General Raymundo Ferrer, Westmincom commander as saying that the Al-Barka operation was not clearly coordinated with his office.
The results of the investigation are set to come out this week. It would be interesting to know its outcome. While we now have an idea on who might have erred, it cannot be denied that the consequences of these officers’ actions are very significant.
Without discounting the possible culpability of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front on what happened, the government should also look into the motives of these officers as their actions might have hijacked the ongoing peace negotiations with the MILF.