Carlo's Think Pieces

Reflections of a Filipino in the Netherlands

All Out War?

Posted by butalidnl on 23 October 2011

After the death of 19 Philippine Army Rangers in Basilan on 18 October, there are calls for the government to abrogate its ceasefire agreement with the MILF. After all, the 19 Rangers were killed in a treacherous attack by MILF fighters…

PNoy has decided to keep to the ceasefire, and to further investigate the matter, and file a complaint with the ceasefire International Monitoring Team.  He has also sacked some army officials in Basilan – the commander and the spokesperson.

In any case, the call for ‘all out war’  is totally out of proportion. Do the proponents know what they are talking about? I suspect that those calling for this know war only from movies like Rambo, or from playing video games. They don’t know that real war brings massive suffering to large numbers of civilians, and terrible economic damage.

Let us go back to that Basilan incident. It has been terribly hyped in the media, who agitate the masses to call for war in revenge against MILF ‘treachery’. But was the MILF really treacherous? The clash occurred 4 kilometers from a known MILF base, a base clearly demarcated in the ceasefire agreement. The army claims it was four kilometers away (though, in reality, they could have been closer). What was an undersized company (army claim, it could have been a full company) of heavily armed elite Army Rangers doing so close to an MILF base? And why did they not take the effort to notify the MILF that they were entering their area (as would have the been proper procedure) to chase after criminals?

Then there was the 8-hour clash in which 19 Rangers died, as well as 6 BIAF (Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces) fighters. This does not look like a ‘treacherous massacre’ to me. It looks like a clash of two well armed forces of roughly equal strength, which happened to end in a 19-6 death toll.  Why did the papers not report that the BIAF suffered 6 dead?

The military claims that they faced 500 BIAF fighters, while they were only 55. Fat chance! The BIAF fighters were probably not only 30 (as the MILF claims) but probably 60 to 100. If they were 500 facing 55 Rangers, the Rangers would have been overwhelmed, and all of the Rangers would have died. Rangers are good fighters, but not that good. They couldn’t survive a 10:1 battle against an enemy who is native to the area, and fighting to protect their homes.

Zamboanga Sibugay
What  about Zamboanga Sibugay? True, there were 6 PA who died there, but these died while attacking the MILF base in Payao. And the MILF says that they lost two BIAF fighters. The media did not only mentioned the BIAF casualties, they also failed to mention the artillery bombardment of Payao before and after the clash.

The pattern is clear: these ‘incidents’ happened near MILF camps, and the MILF/BIAF also suffered casualties. The only reason the AFP suffered more casualties is that the MILF were defending their home towns, and knew the terrain intimately. There are clearly elements in the AFP trying to provoke the MILF to break the ceasefire, to get them to attack AFP bases. So far, the MILF has not done that, and have limited themselves to defensive actions around their camps.

PNoy’s decision NOT to declare ‘all out war’ is correct. Nobody will gain from the resumption of hostilities. Let the ‘armchair generals’ rant in Facebook, Twitter and in traditional media. It is easy for them to call for war, when they are far away in Manila, and nobody they love or care about may end up in the line of fire.  But those who do have the responsibility should show their strength in upholding peace.

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