Carlo's Think Pieces

Reflections of a Filipino in the Netherlands

Posts Tagged ‘MILF’

Mamasapano Revisited

Posted by butalidnl on 24 March 2015

It is two months after the 25 January 2015 events in Mamasapano, Maguindanao. The hype and mass hysteria on the ‘SAF44’ is a bit less now. It may now be a good time to take another look at events of that fateful day.

It is now known that the plan and timing of ‘Oplan Exodus’ (the plan to capture Marwan, the Jemaah Islamiya bomb maker), was drafted together with US ‘advisers’ and approved by President Aquino. While people continue to debate about who is responsible for what, it seems that certain basic questions have been overlooked. e.g. : was it a sound plan? and did the SAF violate the GRP-MILF ceasefire?

Setting
Mamasapano is a small town in Maguindanao (with population just over 22,000 people), at the edge of the vast Liguasan marsh. During the rainy season, parts of the town become part of the marsh (including the site of the battle). The area is mostly flat, and it is crisscrossed by streams. In order to move 500 meters, one would usually need to cross about 3 streams, either by using makeshift bridges, by small boats, or by wading through them.

The MILF and BIFF have ‘camps’ (communities) near the edge of Mamasapano. While the politics of the two groups were different, there was no real animosity between them – the groups were separate but not mutually hostile. This makes sense: it is best to have a ‘live and let live’ attitude towards a heavily armed neighbor. (similarly, the AFP have an outpost in the area, and they also coexist with the MILF)
The two groups were separated by a couple of kilometers. Given the number of streams people would have to cross to traverse this distance, this would seem farther than it sounds..

Marwan made use of these conditions when he chose where to stay. His house was in this border area(between the MILF and BIFF camps), where neither the MILF, the BIFF, nor the municipal government exercised authority. On the third side was the Liguasan marsh, which was practically impassable. This meant that his house could only be approached from one direction.

SAF84 (PNP Special Action Force 84th Seaborne unit, with 37 men) and SAF55 (PNP Special Action Force 55th Special Action Company, with 36 men) passed through this strip of no-man’s land under cover of darkness. SAF84 proceeded to where Marwan was, in order to arrest him. SAF55 was left in a cornfield some 500 meters behind, as a ‘blocking force’. When SAF84 tried to arrest Marwan (at 4 am), a firefight broke out, with his armed escort. Marwan was killed,  Less than 30 minutes later, SAF55 was in battle with MILF soldiers at the cornfield.

People assume that the MILF fighters crossed numerous streams and fields in darkness, and correctly zeroed in on SAF55 in that fateful cornfield in record time. One explanation why they were so fast, could be that the fighters were praying together at the mosque and immediately went to the spot. But the question that nobody seems to ask is: how did they know where exactly to go? and how did they do it so fast? (the story of running together from the mosque does not explain the story of some MILF widows that their husbands were sleeping in their houses when they were awoken by gunfire.

I read a more plausable explanation in an article The Mourners of Mamasapano , written by Rappler. According to Nadia Kasim (one of the MILF widows):
The last she saw him alive was before dawn, when he left with the other rebels to avoid the fighting. It was what the rebels were ordered to do, what they always did at the sound of gunfire. Ever since the ceasefire, even before it, they were told to run with their guns when battle came to the community.
There was a gathering place, said an MILF leader. They were to remove themselves as targets and avoid involvement. The trouble, he said, was that the police beat them to it.

The men of the two other MILF units in the area had also responded to the gunfire by running to regroup positions outside their communities, giving further credence to the above account.

Thus, the MILF fighters were not running to intercept the SAF, but to regroup and  await further orders. The problem was, the SAF was already at the regroup location. And shot at them as they were running to it.

SAF Fired First
I think the SAF55 were the ones to fire first at the MILF fighters. The MILF fighters were in no position to do so; they were just a group rushing to their regroup point. Those ahead were few, and their orientation was to avoid combat.On the other hand, SAF55 were stationary, with all the time to position themselves to fire, while the MILF fighters were running towards them. The approaching MILF fighters were exposed as they ran, while the SAF men were sitting or crouching, hidden by the corn.

The SAF fired at the MILF because they thought the MILF were out to get them. The fact that there was a ceasefire was not in their minds. They thought that the MILF was in cahoots with Marwan, and were out to defend him. Cooperating with the MILF was not among the possibilities they considered

This brings us back to the plan that was drafted by the Americans and approved by President Aquino. While they realized that there was only one way in and out of Mamasapano if they went to Marwan’s hideout; they apparently assumed they could do this quietly.  Or, they naively assumed that the BIFF and MILF will not move against them. Or, they assumed that they could successfully block any response. The plan was terrible, with an extremely high chance of failure. To make matters worse, the SAF had no intention of respecting the ceasefire, and assumed that the MILF forces were hostile.
President Aquino is responsible for approving a mission with such a high chance of failure, at the time when the Bangsamoro Basic Law was being considered in Congress. The whole mess he finds himself in today is all his doing. Just telling Napenas to ‘coordinate’ would never have been enough; the AFP’s participation in the mission would not have helped. What would have helped would have been if Aquino himself coordinated with the MILF ceasefire committee (through the AFP) to restrain their forces during the operation.

Given the relatively narrow corridor between the MILF and BIFF areas, successfully avoiding both groups after they were alerted by the sounds of gunfire would have been difficult, to say the least. It didn’t help that SAF55 started the firefight with the MILF at such a terrible location. It is logical to expect the BIFF to approach them from the opposite direction, cutting off their retreat. SAF55 was trapped in an unintended ‘kill zone’ which they had chosen. (To be fair to them, I don’t think there was much of a choice – most positions there would have been as bad.).

The plan was terrible because it could only have succeeded if no shots were fired when they tried to arrest Marwan. It was bad because it assumed that the MILF was hostile, and the plan did not properly consider the ongoing ceasefire with the MILF.

Wouldn’t it have been risky to notify the MILF? Perhaps. But doing that would have been a lot less risky than not notifying them. With the ceasefire in place, the biggest risk in informing the MILF would have been that they would inform Marwan about the plan. But this is much less of a loss than that of losing so many men. The ‘time on target’ approach could have applied here – the MILF local commanders could have been notified by the MILF ceasefire committee just before the SAF operation.  That way, the SAF could simply have exited safely through the MILF community. Or, if they didn’t like to do that, they could have gone back the way they came in, but only fight the BIFF.

Conclusions
Now to go back to the two questions we posed in the beginning:
Was the plan for Oplan Exodus sound?
No. The plan had an extremely low likelihood of success. If by ‘success’ we mean killing Marwan, then it had a 50% chance of success. If success included doing so with minimal casualties, then its success was minimal.
It was wrong for President Aquino to approve a plan that would most likely result in unacceptable casualties.

The participation of Purisima is irrelevant to this question; what is much more relevant is that President Aquino approved a fatally flawed plan. He could have chosen to order changes that would have ensured success. Simply ordering Napenas to coordinate with the AFP was not enough; the correct thing for him was to inform the MILF himself.

Did SAF violate the ceasefire?
Yes. They fired first at elements of the MILF who were merely running to their regroup position. The excuse that the PNP is not a military organization does not hold water. They were fully armed government personnel who shot at a unit which was initially not hostile to them. Besides, the ceasefire was between the Philippine government (which included the PNP) and the MILF.
Calling the incident a ‘misencounter’ is being kind to the SAF. What SAF55 actually did was to ambush the MILF fighters.

It is the Philippine government which needs to demonstrate its reliability and good faith to the MILF. The Mamasapano attack was a grave violation of the ceasefire agreement; especially since it was sanctioned by President Aquino himself.

Those who continue to believe the anti-Moro hype that ‘SAF44’ was massacred by the MILF would probably regject the points I raised in this blog. Hopefully, at least some people would be objective enough take another look at the events in the light of the additional points brought up here.

Advertisements

Posted in moro | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

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.

Posted in Philippine politics, Philippines, politics | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Church Should Focus on Corruption

Posted by butalidnl on 6 March 2011

The Catholic Church in the Philippines has been putting a lot of its energy on the question of the RH bill. I think that instead it should focus on the real moral question – that of corruption. Corruption is an evil in our society. It is so prevalent that we need everybody’s help in fighting it. Now that the government is starting to do something about it, it is time that the church also does its bit.

Isn’t the church going against corruption already? No, not really. If it was, I think that there will be a lot less corruption in society today. What can the church do then? Well, let us see some of the ways.

Declare Corrupt Money “Tainted”
The Muslims have a name for it: haram.  It is the opposite of halal. Haram means “tainted”, in the sense that if someone holds it, ingests it, or receives it, they commit a sin. Good Muslims avoid haram things like the plague.   Haram works: a few years ago, MILF imams declared kidnap ransom money haram. Now, the Abu Sayyaf has difficulty using ransom money, and consequently kidnap-for-ransom has dropped dramatically.

I suppose that the church could simply say that corruption money is cursed. While less emotive than haram it should serve as a dis-incentive to government officials and others to engage in corruption.

If money from corruption is “cursed”, then corrupt people will have a harder time spending their money. And this will greatly reduce the extent of corruption. The church should take the lead in this, by refusing money from known corrupt sources. They can do this by asking people who donate big money to the church to prove where they got the money, or they could set a limit on the amount donated.  If the church does this, it will indeed be brave; since it will be foregoing a lot of donations. But it is sure to have an effect. The church should also preach that knowingly receiving cursed/tainted money (from corruption) constitutes a sin in itself.

Revise the concept of Penance for Corruption
Corrupt officials often erase their sins by donating to the church, or to other charitable causes. They may even confess their sins, and get to “pray 3 Hail Mary’s” to erase their sins. If the Catholic church declares that the penance for the sin of corruption is that the money be returned, and that donations will not do anything to ensure a place in heaven, this will be another big thing towards reducing corruption.  (See: Catholicism Impedes Philippine Development)

Set a Good Example
The Church should institute internal reforms to ensure that corruption within its ranks is eradicated. It should require financial auditing of all church funds, the issuance of receipts for large donations, the publishing of financial reports on the internet.

Setting a good example is key in gaining the high moral ground in the campaign against corruption. When people see that the church is not corrupt, they will heed its calls to stop corruption.

Particular Forms of Corruption
Of course, before launching a campaign on corruption, the church should be clear exactly what kind of corruption it is campaigning against.  I suggest that it concentrate on the following:

Graft. This is the use of government money for personal gain. Or the theft of government money. It takes various forms. The most obvious would be when a portion of funds for a department or LGU are simply siphoned off. I think that what the Generals Garcia et al have done is a clear example of graft. But there are also more indirect ways. For example, Congressmen who refer projects to line agencies as part of their “pork barrel” get a kickback from that agency (e.g. Dept of Public Highways). Or, contractors are asked to shoulder an LGU executive’s “representation expenses” and in return they get some juicy contract in return.

The church should condemn graft in the strongest terms. It could even threaten (and impose) exclusion  from church services for the worst grafters.

Tax Evasion. This is rather straightforward. If you don’t pay your taxes correctly, you are guilty of corruption.  But taxes are not only income taxes. Importers often pay corrupt customs officials to under-declare the value of the things they import, in order that the tax assessment will be lower. This is called “technical smuggling”, and it is tax evasion. Or, medical doctors don’t declare the true amount of patient fees. And many people buy smuggled goods e.g. cigarettes.

The church should call for full tax compliance. And that people who evade taxes should confess this, and pay the tax due as penance.

Bribery. When you pay a policeman who caught you driving a car that should not be driven on that day due to number coding, this is bribery. When you pay a “fixer” to arrange papers for you at a government office, this is also bribery. Of course, this is small change compared to bigger cases of bribery, but they are significant in that bribery becomes the social norm if allowed to continue.

The church should condemn bribery whether it is small or big. People should pay their “number coding” fines instead of bribing policemen. Church workers could be sent to visit LTO and other such offices to “harass” fixers. The Church should also declare that both the one giving the bribe as well as the one receiving the bribe commit a sin.

Usury. The practice of “5-6” is a clear case of usury. It is corruption in that it exploits the receiver of the loan; who has to pay such a high price just in order to have money for their business or for urgent family needs. It is exploiting the other person’s tight financial situation.

The church has a lot of funds. It should set up a system to provide proper credit facilities for the poor.  The practice of “5-6” should be clearly declared as a sin.

Posted in Philippine economics, Philippine politics, Philippines, politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Why Invest in the Philippines?

Posted by butalidnl on 11 July 2010

Why would foreigners invest in the Philippines? That’s a good question, especially since there are lots of other countries which are trying to attract foreign investors.

Here are some reasons.

Large Population, Big Market
The Philippines has a large population. It is the 12th largest country in the world, with a population of about 96 million people. This is a lot of people, and they can mostly be reached by advertisements in the media. So, this means that, whatever your product, it will probably pay to try selling it to Filipinos. And in turn, this would probably mean that they will need to open at least a sales office in the country. And, for many kinds of products, it will also pay to manufacture these goods in the country itself.

Large Pool of World Class Labor that Speaks English
This is going to probably be why foreign companies would like to set up shop in the Philippines. If they do, they only need to import a few foreign experts, and then avail of the local labor pool. And the labor pool is quite deep, with lots of universities churning out graduates every year, and lots of Filipinos experienced in almost anything (of course, some of these may be abroad).  And  all these have been educated in English. This is not simply English as a subject in school, but English as the medium of instruction in school. We can see this in the fact that we are one of the main countries for call centers; our accent is relatively easy to neutralize.

This means that the Philippines will make a great center for their customer service (as shown by the growing call center industry in the country), and also for things like accounting back-office, or as regional office. The fact that you can source practically all your personnel locally makes it quite attractive. And salaries are still relatively cheap.

Good Infrastructure
The Philippines has relatively good infrastructure. We have a good system of airports  and ports. Our roads are quite good. We have urban mass transit (i.e. LRT, MRT). Electricity supply is regular, with some outages especially during the summer.

The IT infrastructure is also good. High-speed internet is available in our major cities. It is affordable for a lot of middle class families. Mobile telephone availability is practically universal.

Politically Stable
Believe it or not, the Philippines is politically stable. It only looks unstable, specially for those living in the Philippines – with all the rumors and other things you read in newspapers. For one, the homegrown communist movement is more of a nuisance rather than a threat. [See CPP-NPA Helps Maintain Status Quo in the Philippines ] As for the Moro rebels, the government is constantly having a ceasefire with the MILF, while they negotiate a peace agreement.

Military rebels? Kidding? What kind of threat to stability do they pose, when they mostly resort to occupying hotels when doing a “coup de etat”. What kind of coup is that? Besides, the present Aquino government has good relations with a number of military rebel leaders; I don’t expect them to go against the government now.

No major threat to the interests of foreign investors are on the horizon. It is safer to invest in the Philippines, than to do so in places like Thailand or Indonesia. Of course, this doesn’t cover all the country – take the case in point of Western Mindanao, with its Abu Sayyaf – but it is generally peaceful, and stable in the rest of the Philippines. So, for foreign investors: just keep out of the Abu Sayyaf areas, and it’s alright.

Posted in NDF, Philippine economics, Philippine politics, Philippines | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

On the Philippines’ Claim to Sabah

Posted by butalidnl on 22 April 2010

The Philippines claim to Sabah seems to be picking up support again. Lately, President Macapagal-Arroyo hosted a meeting with the various heirs to the Sulu Sultanate in order to discuss the Sabah claim. And there seem to be groups in the web which advocate pursuing this claim.

Well, I am a Filipino; but I do not advocate the Philippines claiming Sabah as part of our country.

Let me explain.

Sabah?
The basis of the Philippines’ claim to Sabah is that the Sulu Sultanate owns this land, which was merely leased to the British East India Company in 1878. Let us take a look at this agreement, when it defined what exactly was being leased:

“Pandasan River on the east, and thence along the whole east coast as far as Sibuku on the South, and including all territories, on the Pandasan River and in the coastal area, known as Paitan, Sugut, Banggai, Labuk, Sandakan, China-Batangan, Murniang and all other territories and coastal lands to the south, bordering on Darvel Bay and as far as the Sibuku River, together with all the lands which lie within nine miles from the coast…” from manilabaywatch

Well, I looked it up. The Pandasan River is just to the west of the northernmost point of Sabah, and the Sibuku River is the boundary between Indonesia and Malaysia.  Thus, the area covered is roughly the eastern coast of Sabah, and extends up to 9 miles inland.
This is less than half of present-day Sabah. Worse (for many people, at least), all the oil and natural gas reserves are on the WEST coast, where Kota Kinabalu, Labuan etc are. So, for Philippine politicians who think that they are claiming an oil-rich land, I’m sorry to say that it is not true – the Sabah they are claiming has no oil at all!

Sulu Sultanate’s Property
And then comes the question of whether Sabah (which I use here to refer to the Eastern Part of Sabah which was part of Sulu)  belongs to the Philippines or just merely to the Sulu Sultanate. Sulu was incorporated into the Philippines on the basis of the Treaty of Paris of 1898. I cannot find any piece of paper that says that the Sulu Sultanate itself (which included Sabah) became part of the Philippines. Thus, the Sultanate, by virtue of a treaty of which it had no part in drawing up, got split – Sulu went to the Philippines, and Sabah went elsewhere.

It is probably for this reason that to this day, Malaysia continues to pay the Sulu Sultanate the “rent” (equivalent to 5000 Malayan dollars).  The Sultanate continues to “own” Sabah, and its rights to it are upheld by Malaysian practice; but this does not mean that the Philippines inherited this right. Of course, normally, when Sulu became part of the Philippines, it would mean that everything the Sultanate owns became part of the Philippines. But in the case of Sulu, its lands were divided arbitrarily by those who wrote the Treaty of Paris; so it’s not the Sulu Sultanate’s fault that its lands have been split up.

During the term of Diosdado Macapagal, the heirs to the Sulu Sultanate authorized the Philippine government to pursue the claim to Sabah. But this authorization has since then been withdrawn; and the present government tried, in vain, to get authorized again. So, without this authorization from the Sulu Sultanate’s heirs, the Philippine government has nothing to pursue the claim with.

And then there is the question of whether the Sulu Sultanate still exists. After all, if it no longer exists, then there is no more claim of ownership of Sabah. I think that the Sulu Sultanate’s heirs continue with the myth of the Sultanate, in order to continue receiving their “rent” (or even to ask for more) from Malaysia, and also so that the Philippine government will continue to recognize the Sultanate’s existence.

MILF
It is MILF policy to work for Moro autonomy in places where Moros are now the majority. They don’t want to pursue claims to lands where Moros historically were the majority (which will be a very big chunk of Mindanao, and even Sabah). Besides,  the MILF is not eager to recognize or raise the status of the Sulu Sultanate’s heirs – to them the Sultanate is a feudal institution that they would rather not deal with.

If the MILF gets the autonomy that it is fighting for, the issue of Sabah will probably also go away.

Regional Cooperation and Malaysia
And there is of course the point that Sabah is now an integral part of Malaysia.  Pursuing the Sabah claim would mean conflict between the Philippines and Malaysia. This is not good, to say the least. Especially since Malaysia seems to be doing a good job at ruling Sabah.

Philippines-Malaysia border problems are lessened by increased barter trading, and of course lax border crossing rules. Now, Tausugs from Sulu and Sabah could behave, more or less, as if they were in one country. Increased cooperation between the two countries would be good for development at both sides of the border.

All in all, I think that the “Sabah question” should be laid to rest. There is not much to gain for the effort, and the basis for the claim is getting more and more vague as time passes.

Posted in Philippine politics, Philippines, politics, World Affairs | Tagged: , , , , | 67 Comments »