Archive for the ‘Commander Bravo’ 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?

[photo credit:wri.org]

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 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 MILF Have Been Suckered Into War:The "Peace Agreement" As A Trojan Horse

November 19, 2008


During the previous year or so the MILF have been charging the GRP (Government of the Republic of the Philippines) that the latter is not interested in peace citing the lack of progress in the peace talks and the near-impasse in the substantive portions of the agenda. Earlier this year the Malaysian peacekeepers of the International Monitoring Team notified Manila that it will not be renewing its peace-keeping chores saying practically the same reason cited by the MILF. Mindanao-based peace advocates shared the same lament. It even led to the resignation of some personalities connected with the peace process. Even the very respected Fr. Eliseo Mercado of the Notre Dame University in Cotabato City broadly hinted of government’s insincerity in the peace talks.

Suddenly, nearing the end of Gen. Esperon’s tour of duty as AFP Chief of Staff the talks suddenly accelerated. Gen. Esperon was appointed as the presidential adviser on the peace process right after retirement and, lo and behold, suddenly a “breakthrough” in the peace talks was announced. Soon after a signing of the “peace agreement” in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia was announced.

When it became clear that the substantive portion of the agreement was about the “ancestral domain” and the Bangsamoro Juridical Entity (BJE), Christian politicians in three key localities in Mindanao made angry noises. Suddenly, there was major fighting in Kauswagan, Lanao del Norte and full-scale assault by the AFP followed. It was supposedly “to bring to justice” the commander of the BIAF (Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces) 102nd Base Command Abdulrahman Macapaar or Commander Bravo based in Lanao del Norte and Commander Ameril Umbra Kato of the 105th Base Command in North Cotabato who supposedly occupied 15 barangays.

Commander Bravo denied the charged atrocities in Kauswagan and pointed instead to the group of Alvin Canto as the perpetrators. This group immediately surrendered to the military after fighting started. Is this the same case as the “Polish” attack against Hitler’s Germany that started WWII?

Is Kato’s “occupation” true? For several years now the military has been charging Ustadz Kato with conniving with the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG). Is there more than a coincidence here?

After nearly four months of war all of the MILF-BIAF’s base command including those in western ARMM have been attacked by the AFP saying it would continue until the MILF surrenders the wanted commanders, a demand that was surely rejected by the MILF. Contrary to my expectations nearly all of the MILF areas have been overrun by the AFP. Feeling victorious, the current AFP chief of staff probably slipped when he boasted that:
1. “What we did in 2000 was to symbolically occupy areas and raise the flag. We have not accounted for much of their capabilities and even firearms”, thereby directly criticizing Erap’s “all-out war” against the MILF.
2. “Our objective now is not just to occupy lands…but to degrade the capabilities of the forces involved”.
3. “We have not only occupied some of their traditional areas which means we have constricted their area of capability, their space to maneuver…we have inflicted considerable damage not only to personnel but to equipment of the different groups we are pursuing”.

All in the disguise of “bringing to justice…” Looks like Gen. Yano mastered the Bush art of “truth-stretching”. What was really the objective was “to change the realities on the ground”, as preparation for “new peace talks”.

Looking at other quarters, there seems to be moves to rehabilitate Nur Misuari of the MNLF. Maybe as a substitute sparring partner if the MILF does not report to the peace talks?

Looking back, the GRP’s “concessions” in the peace talks looked too good and magnificent to be true. Maybe it knows that it won’t pass Supreme Court review anyway. “The right hand giveth, the left hand giveth”. A pretext (atrocities kuno) to a full-scale war was found. The “peace agreement” turned out to be just a Trojan horse.

Was The MILF Suckered Into War?

August 30, 2008

In 2000, I was a keen observer of Erap’s war against the MILF. I was then living in Iligan City and information was readily available because  to forestall accusation of bias the media in Northern Mindanao practiced real free press where all sides were free to ventilate their side unrestricted. Showing of “hot” videos of the fighting and destruction and free discourses became the order of the day. That happened for a week until the government can no longer take the heat and  clamped down on the media by threatening to file sedition charges against the TV and radio stations.

But comparing the 2000 war and today’s war I am amazed by the current speed and comprehensiveness of the military advance. It is as if they have been ready all along to take the offensive. In 2000 though the military has already 38 batallions in Mindanao (by Erap’s own admission) they had to wait for several more batallions before attacking headlong the MILF strongholds.

Or is this the case of the military taking advantage of advanced technology provided to them by the US like satellite imagery, GPS tracking and sigint (signal intelligence)  tracking? News reports of the recent past shows Moro fighters in Sulu and Tawi-tawi complaining about this and as a result they find themselves being outmaneuvered in their own lair. Even Ka Roger, the CPP spokesman became media-shy after his close escape where he charged it was due to his being monitored through his interviews by media through his cell phone.

The government knows knows very well the psychological profile of Commander Bravo of being a hothead and having a history of defying their central leadership. Lanao residents won’t be surprised by his show of force following the cancellation of the MOA signing. Was the government counting all along on this so that there will be a ready excuse? Is the order to capture Commanders Bravo and Kato just a ruse to attack the other bases as the MILF is now charging?

If this is true then it means the MILF was suckered into war, a war that they cannot win. Will this mean that they will again lose territory like in 2000? The irony of this is that they are now at the losing end of the propaganda war and a perfect excuse was found to raise new paramilitary units.

It seems that GMA’s government promised the MILF something that really cannot happen if the reaction of the Supreme Court and the Christian body politic will be the gauge. And what the MILF got was not a signed document of peace but war.

A New Outbreak of Fighting in Mindanao

August 26, 2008

In Mindanao violence lurks just below the surface. Scratch it a little and violence will flare out. The government promised the MILF and when it seemed it cannot deliver tension emerged. Mindanao has simply too many unresolved conflicts for this not to happen.

Knowledgeable observers say the current Moro response is a show of frustration and a show that it is still a fighting force. I will add that a sizable portion of the Moro fighting groups is not comfortable with the peace talks thinking they will just be playing into government hands and that government cannot really deliver after all. 

Many know that Abdurahman Macapaar alias Commander Bravo belongs to this mold. A former commander of the MNLF-BMA’s 2nd Division based in Ranao (their preferred named for Lanao), he transferred his forces in bulk to the MILF when Nur Misuari signed the peace deal in 1996. Known as the fiercest among the Moro commanders in Lanao, his territory, the mountainous boundary of Lanao del Norte and Lanao del Sur remains unconquered up until this time, Erap’s war in 2000 notwithstanding.

If Kauswagan is the flashpoint in 2000 it remains so to this day. It was in Kauswagan where the Tacub Massacre happened in 1971 when a convoy of Muslim voters were waylaid in an Army checkpoint in Tacub, a big barangay of Kauswagan by suspected Ilagas, a Visayan paramilitary group. The number of dead is estimated to number as high as 60 and most were women and children, a crime that remains unsolved until today. As a consequence no Tacub resident will ever admit that he lives or he grew up in that place if Muslims are in the vicinity.

When MILF-BIAF forces occupied Kauswagan in 2000 in response to the AFP attack on their base camp (which the government subsequently edited so that it won’t show that it started the fighting) the homes of the Christians and government properties were left untouched except that they ransacked the police HQ. But when government forces retook the town after the MILF withdrew Christians burned some houses that belonged to the Muslims. Video showed in Iligan TV showed soldiers using blanket fire as they moved forward thus giving precise meaning to the term “clearing operations.” Thereafter, the 2000 Census will bear that a few Muslim barangays in Kauswagan showed zero inhabitants.

Christians in Luzon and Visayas will grit their teeth when news reports indicated that barbaric acts were done on the Christian population in Kauswagan. But knowledgeable, non-partisan observer in Mindanao will wonder who started the barbarism after all.

The military will claim that Muslim fighters occupied Muslim villages like what happened in Aleosan, (North Cotabato). But before we grit our teeth a word of caution first. We do not really know if those lands were Muslim land before Ilagas drove them out in the ’60s or when Muslims left their land during the war of the ’70s to find in the ’80s that their farms no longer belong to them and this is the usual sad story of Cotabato. Herein lies the reason why violence and fighting never really cease in Cotabato like what the singing group lamented in the ’70s.

They say that the MILF has no hold on their commanders. Partly true since basically Moro forces raise their own budget when OIC funding dried up. And maybe almost half of the Moro fighting forces are clan armies and not regulars. 

Christians in Mindanao will say that they will arm their own militias as if Christian militias didn’t exist before in the guise of the Ilagas, the CAFGUs and the CVOs. But most Christian militias are of platoon-size only and bearing light machine guns at the most while most Muslim clan armies fight at company- and batallion-level and heavy machine guns, mortars, recoilless rifles and rocket launchers are common in their inventory. In Mindanao it is known that Muslim clan armies can make mincemeat of Christian militias save for a few. In fighting between the two the AFP in all cases have to intervene in favor of the Christian militias. And if this happens it is natural that regular Moro forces will join the fray because after all they have relatives in the clan armies and Muslim clan armies are their force multipliers. And so the level of violence escalates. 

But this is not to say that all Muslim clan armies fight alongside the MILF and MNLF ranks. The Ampatuan, Dimaporo and Mangudadatu are among the big Muslim clan armies that fight alongside the government forces. But of course the goverment has to “pay” for these services with government positions, cash and arms.

They say in Iligan that if those 8 non-Christian barangays are included in the expanded ARMM they will lose over 80% of their territory. But in 1898 Iligan only consists of the present city proper now, being a mere Spanish fort and a part of Misamis Oriental. It was appended to Lanao so that Lanao will have a Christian port and site of government. Over the decades municipal districts emerged from the logging concessions when “peace” was established. Later these municipal districts were adhered to Iligan. But they never asked the non-Christians then if they want to be part of Iligan. But here comes “modernity” which says that all of Iligan must be asked now if they want out of Iligan. And there is no way that a minority (but once a majority) people will ever win a plebiscite. 

As long as Christians wave to the Muslims the Constitution and Certificates of Titles (Original and Transfer)  as their claim to “legitimacy” and “rule of law” there will be no peace in Mindanao. The peace that they chant is simply the peace of the conqueror. And the cycle of violence will just go on and on.