POSTSCRIPT / June 5, 2001 / Tuesday


Philippine STAR Columnist

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Enemy escaping via back door is a PMA trademark

BY this time, water service should be “back to normal” in wide areas of Metro Manila that had to endure a dry weekend while new water lines were connected.”Back to normal” means back to dry taps for most of the day or water dripping into waiting pails for brief periods during the night. Every day, every night.We are, if we may remind everybody, not in the Sahara but in the heart of the nation’s capital often drenched by rain and visited by flash floods.

Meantime, the sadistic water company is poised to raise its service rates, pricing the precious liquid far higher than gasoline.

* * *

A FAMILY of six in Metro Manila needs P505.17 per day to meet its food and non-food requirements, according to data analyzed by the IBON Foundation Inc., a research think-tank working on April 2001 data.

Multiply that daily budget by 30 days, and it adds up to P15,155 a month as minimum requirement of the sample household. To get the dollar equivalent, use the current exchange rate of P50.50=$1.

IBON reports that in areas outside Metro Manila, daily cost of living as of April 2001 is pegged at P383.74 (agricultural areas) and P403.74 (non-agricultural areas).

Those not earning that much, in Metro Manila and elsewhere, are presumed to be languishing below the poverty line.

* * *

WE have to be kinder to our soldiers, who just lost more than a dozen of their comrades trying to prevent the escape of fierce Abu Sayyaf terrorists who held a hospital and a church in Lamitan, Basilan.

Foot soldiers move and fight according to the orders of their commanders. If somebody bungled the planning and execution of the attempted recovery of the premises and the hostages, blame the officers, not their men.

When we heard of an officer blaming a communication failure for their forgetting to seal the back door that was eventually used by the Abu Sayyaf in escaping (again), we were left speechless with such incompetence.

* * *

MAYBE this is one battle contingency whose handling is never taught at the Philippine Military Academy. We’ve heard too many stories of the cornered enemy slipping through the cordon, usually through some unguarded rear section.

The classic story is that of Camp Cawacawa in Mindanao that rebels grabbed from the military. The raiders held hostage several officers, including a general whom they executed before they jumped over the fence at the back.

With no less than Gen. Renato de Villa, then AFP chief of staff, overseeing the campaign to recover of the camp, ground forces, the air force and the navy rained fire on the rebels preparatory to assault.

As is usual when PMA officers are in charge, somebody forgot about the muddy backyard where no manicured “mistah” would dare venture and soil his polished boots and break his swagger stick.

* * *

THE enemy’s invariably “slipping through the cordon” would be funny were it not so pathetic – and if we had not been losing our men, materiel and military machismo.

The Commander-in-Chief, President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, has been threatening on television that all that she needed to crush the Abu Sayyaf was one bullet (“isang bala ka lang”). Maybe she means one million bucks a day.

But never mind the money. We can always hock our children’s future with the IMF-World Bank and get more multimillion-dollar loans to waste. But it’s the inexcusable loss of lives that makes taxpayers’ blood boil.

* * *

WE set out to rescue 20 hostages. At the rate the campaign has been going, we might end up losing several times that number in dead soldiers and civilians.

We have put up a reward of P100 million for the capture of the Abu Sayyaf terrorists. At the rate we are expending resources and destroying the environment, the war is likely to cost much more than that bounty.

But then, as they say, we cannot put a price tag on war or peace (what’s really the difference?). If it has to be done, we just plod on and do it, whatever the cost.

That is, if we don’t bother about planning — as it seems in many of the things the government does.

* * *

SOME readers have expressed impatience with the military’s running of the war in Mindanao. A reader identifying himself as jejora888 said the “politically oriented” military officers, all products of the PMA, are handling it like amateurs.

He deplored many officers’ being “politicians, businessmen, smugglers, and protectors of criminals… loud-mouthed, publicity-hungry and corrupt officers not capable of handling large-scale military operations.”

He said many of them, like two celebrity officers in the news he cited, just want to survive and be senators of the land.

* * *

TO jejora888, we sent this rejoinder:

Your email sets one thinking: Is this the military that the Constitution says is the “protector of the people and the State?” (Sec. 3, Art II)

Who will protect us from our protector?

Also, we think there ought to be a law banning military officers from running for public office until five years after they retire or are discharged from the service.

* * *

A MILITARY leader has two serious responsibilities. One is to accomplish the mission. The other is to look after his men.

Whoever was in charge of that Lamitan operation failed miserably in those two responsibilities.

He lost more than a dozen men and had scores of others wounded, not counting the civilian casualties. He failed to kill any enemy fighter. He expended a considerable amount of resources and damaged private property. To top it all, he failed to accomplish his mission.

The debacle has the PMA trademark: The enemy skipped through the backdoor laughing.

* * *

WE must stress that in saying this, we are not belittling the heroism of our foot soldiers.

On the contrary, our soldiers should be commended and rewarded for fighting despite the obvious inferiority of their armaments, the inferiority of their training and the gross inferiority of their leaders.

The spouses and children of all the dead soldiers must be given sufficient state subsidy, including housing and quality education up to college, for as long as they want it. They deserve no less.

* * *

OTHER things we must do immediately if we have to do justice to our fighting men and salvage our national honor:

  • Speed up the cases of military officers-turned-businessmen who raided the soldiers’ pension funds for use in their business and political ventures. We should see at least one general in jail before GMA steps down in 2004.
  • Locate and use the missing P8-billion trust fund taken from the sale of Fort Bonifacio and earmarked for the modernization of the armed forces. If anybody, even if he was a former president and an ally of GMA, is liable for the fund’s disappearance, he should be exposed and jailed.

* * *

SOME officers foisted the excuse in Lamitan that the terrorists used the hostages as human shields and that there was a breakdown in communications, resulting in the military’s failing to plug the rear.

Gentlemen, it is unmilitary to offer excuses. The nation wants results, not excuses. No excuse is acceptable.

At the end of the fighting day, the military leader must answer these questions: Did you accomplish your mission? And did you look after your men?

If a leader succeeds in these twin objectives, his use of exaggerated force and extravagant means is easily rationalized.

* * *

(First published in the Philippine STAR of June 5, 2001)

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