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Students sent to slaughter at Al Barka

In 1977, my elder brother of PMA class ’77, was a casualty in Luuk, Sulu, from an explosion that threw the armored personnel carrier (APC) he was riding to the air. Initially, it was a landmine planted by the rebel Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) guerillas. It turned out it was a wayward but “friendly” artillery fire.

Two of his men were killed while he was seriously wounded and had to be airlifted to Zamboanga.

Initially, our collective reaction was to cry revenge and pray that god almighty wiped out “all Muslims, traitors that they are”.

A similar, even worse, incident occurred lately, in Basilan, an island in the vicinity of Sulu,  but we hesitate to join the hysteria of crying vengeance against the Moros.

The soldiers of the Army Special Forces ambushed by Moro rebels last October 18 in Al Barka town, Basilan were mere “students” and their deployment to the combat mission “unauthorized”, a leaked report posted in<interaksyon.com> reads.

The soldiers, members of the 13th and 19th companies of the 4th Special Forces Battalion, were students of the scuba diving course “batch 42-11” and their mission to Basilan “was without proper authorization from higher headquarters” and carried out “without deliberate mission planning,” added the report.

Their “unauthorized mission” was to arrest Nurhassan Jamir, alleged leader of the Abu Sayyaf, and Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) commander Haji Laksaw Dan Asnawi, the suspected leader of a band of MILF guerillas who in 2007 ambushed and killed 14 members of the Philippine Marines, 10 of them beheaded.

The scene of the 2007 armed encounter was, incidentally, also Al Barka town.

Asnawi was arrested two years ago but escaped from prison. The full length of the news on the leaked report may be surfed at <http://interaksyon.com/article/15913/disastrous-basilan-mission-unauthorized-badly-planned—leaked-report>.

The latest bloodshed at Al Barka is the worst military loss since the Marine ambush in 2007. Commentators, since the ambush, call for “all out war” to “pulverize” the MILF. One Iloilo radio station even urged President Benigno Aquino III to replicate the feat of his predecessor Pres. Joseph Estrada who ordered military offensives that penetrated the main MILF complex in Buldon, Maguindanao Province, known as “Camp Abubakr Complex” an unwalled lair dotted with jungles and farms.

We cannot call the occupation of Camp Abubakr in 1999 by Joseph Estrada military victory. It was at best a mere photo-ops charivari replete with a “boodle fight” with the President scooping food spread on banana leaves with bare hands. The MILF guerillas merely disappeared to the jungle to preserve their forces to fight for the next day. The “victory” attained by Estrada and company was his photo published to insult Muslim religious sentiment: he was gorging himself with pork chops inside the abandoned camp with a mosque at the background.

Armed Forces chief-of-staff Gen. Eduardo Oban, Jr. created a board of inquiry and named AFP Inspector General Maj. Gen. Irineo Espiso to head it.

The leaked report that the mission of the scuba diving students to Basilan was unauthorized by the 1st Division, Western Mindanao Command, and the General Headquarters.

Heads rolled in the aftermath of the debacle starting off with Lt. Col. Leonardo Pena, 4th SF commander. So was Special Operation Task Force Basilan commander Col. Alexander Macario and Col. Antonio Parlade Jr. as Army spokesman. The last was relieved for calling on the government to suspend peace talks and the ceasefire with the MILF and to run after the Basilan rebels including their alleged cohorts the Abu Sayyaf.

The report in sum, notes that due to poor preparation and lack of coordination, artillery, reinforcement and rescue operations by other units were delayed.

Macario, relieved Task Force Basilan commander, was informed of the SF mission only the day before their deployment. He briefed them and warned them of possible MILG presence and engagement with them but the operations still pushed through.

The boys were needlessly sent to their slaughter, to use a cliche, like sheep.

We don’t want to add further to the hysteria being fanned obviously to save the butts of higher ups responsible for the misjudgment of sending mere trainees without given the opportunity to familiarize themselves with the terrain.

We don’t want to add further to the hysteria of barking at the wrong tree when the internal investigation by the Armed Forces itself sees the guilt lying elsewhere responsible for fielding mere trainees to engage with seasoned guerillas in a 10-hour combat in a terrain the latter fully control.

We condole with the families of the young officers and soldiers slain and wounded in the Al Barka ambush.*


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