Archive for the ‘Kauswagan’ Category

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]

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.