POSTSCRIPT / March 6, 2005 / Sunday


Philippine STAR Columnist

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GMA is right: Sock it to the Moro rebels

IT’S A DUTY: To President Arroyo, to fight back to uphold the majesty of the law in Southern Philippines is not a choice. It is a duty.

As Commander-in-Chief, she had to order the troops to hunt down the cocky rebels who had attacked government outposts, killing two colonels and some 30 soldiers, in open defiance of duly constituted authority.

The President had to reject belated calls for a ceasefire in the battle zones on Sulu. It is crazy to agree to a truce — after government troops had suffered heavy casualties in treacherous attacks.

The self-appointed peacemakers should have talked to the rebels instead, and much earlier — before the misguided elements went on a killing rampage, actually a revolt, to force the release from jail of their discredited chairman.

Let us just call them all rebels. There is no point in distinguishing between those who belong to the Moro National Liberation Front and the Abu Sayyaf. There is actually no difference between the two gangs. They have the same violent agenda.

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ROOT CAUSES: This is not to say that the problem on Sulu is best met with a military solution. Far from it. We are all aware of the need to sort out and extirpate the root causes of unrest.

But while going about the awesome task of building a nation, we have to have peace as bedrock foundation. Without reasonable peace, whatever else we try to do will fail.

Unfortunately, sometimes we have to fight a war to catch an elusive peace.

Aside from winning battles, however, a commander has a parallel mission that is just as important as attaining the military objective — and that is to accomplish his/her mission to the men.

The commander must look after his/her men. And it will follow that the men, without need for reminders, will look after their commander and the accomplishment of their primary mission.

That is the only way to fight and win battles.

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HUNT PSYCHOLOGY: Government troops are in hot pursuit of the rebels who have broken up into smaller squads. Do we now call back the soldiers just because some quarters want a ceasefire? That is crazy.

The rebels and the assorted bandits who had chosen to fight with them should be prevented from regrouping and gaining enough strength and positional advantage to resume their harassing attacks.

The pressure must not only be maintained; it must be stepped up. That is the psychology of the hunt — the hunter relaxes and the quarry escapes.

A relentless pursuit can also have political value in that it could flush out the allies of the rebels. They would show their color when they speak up or move in sympathy with the rebels.

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JUST BARK THE ORDER: But I would have felt better listening to the fighting statement of President Arroyo had she not prefaced it with “Upon the recommendation of the Secretary of National Defense and the (Armed Forces) Chief of Staff, I have directed our forces to continue operations….”

When you are Commander-in-Chief, you just give orders, period. The impact of your order is diminished when you make prefatory excuses or hide behind the recommendations of your staff.

Dragging into the picture the defense secretary and the AFP chief of staff, both of whom are presidential subordinates, will not lessen the collateral damage to the presidency if the decision to fight is not well received.

That was a good decision and the President should stand by it without having to lean on anybody.

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PERSHING TALE: My Pinoy55 brod Jorge B. Navarra sent a clipping on US General John J. “Black Jack” Pershing and his handling of Muslim terrorists during his assignment in Mindanao in the early 1900s.

“Forwarding with no comments — not endorsing the idea at all,” Jorge said.

Since I cannot find historical proof that the incident actually happened, my hunch is that this could be another urban legend. Nevertheless, I am reprinting it, also without comments or any implied endorsement, as a footnote:

“Just before World War I, there were a number of terrorist attacks on the United States forces in the Philippines by Muslim extremists. So General Pershing captured 50 terrorists and had them tied to posts for execution. He then had his men bring in two pigs and slaughter them in front of the now horrified terrorists.

“Pointing a gun into the face of Islamic terrorists won’t make them flinch. They welcome the chance to die for Allah.

“Muslims detest pork because they believe pigs are filthy animals. Some of them simply refuse to eat it, while others won’t even touch pigs at all, nor any of their by-products. To them, eating or touching a pig, its meat, its blood, etc., is to be instantly barred from paradise (and those virgins waiting for martyrs) and doomed to hell.

“The soldiers then soaked their bullets in the pigs’ blood, and proceeded to execute 49 of the terrorists by firing squad. The soldiers then dug a big hole, dumped in the terrorists’ bodies and covered them in pig blood, entrails, etc.

“They let the 50th man go. And for the next 42 years, there was not a single Muslim extremist attack anywhere in the world.”

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.45 CAL. PISTOL: General Pershing was born Sept. 13, 1860, near Laclede, Mississippi, and died July 15, 1948, in Washington, DC. Highlights of this West Point-educated soldier’s career include: 1906, promoted to Brigadier General; 1909, appointed military governor of Moro Province, Philippines; 1916, made major general; 1919, promoted to general of the armies; 1921 appointed chief of staff; 1924 retired from active duty.

After President Theodore Roosevelt elevated Pershing to brigadier general, the latter took command of Fort McKinley near Manila and then became governor of the so-called Moro province. He was said to have defeated the Moros by 1913.

Pershing is also said to have asked for the development of the .45 cal. semi-automatic pistol precisely to stop a Moro juramentado on a rampage. At that time, US sidearms, revolvers in the tradition of the Wild West, were not powerful enough to stop a warrior running amuck.

Another legend? Will those in the know please help us sort out the myth from history.

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U.S. PRESENCE: Still on Mindanao, and the side topic of American presence, an interview by Carolyn O. Arguillas of MindaNews last Feb. 27 with US Ambassador Francis Ricciardone is interesting.

Concurrently ambassador to Papua New Guinea, Ricciardone, 53, is credited as the most frequent visitor to Mindanao among the US ambassadors assigned here. He has visited Basilan four times in three years.

Arguelles: Why Mindanao? US presence in Mindanao has been raising questions on motives.

Ricciardone: I go back to why we’re in the Philippines. The fact is after the bases, we turned our backs on each other. For 10 years, it seems our relationship with the Philippines kinda drifted. We weren’t paying much attention to each other. And there are costs to that… Like it or not, we’re linked to each other, we have lots of human ties, trade and travel, history and culture. Manila (became a) great jump-off point to attack the United States and we weren’t paying attention. Before I came, for a year and a half, there was no ambassador.

That’s how little we cared for each other. From July 1999 to February 2002, there was no US ambassador. And in Washington, you did not have an ambassador. After 9/11, we kinda looked around the world and saw that our security really did depend on other people’s security. We could no longer ignore that the Philippines was suffering from lack of control (and was becoming the) happy hunting ground for Al Qaeda and Al Qaeda affiliates.

When President Arroyo came up after 9/11 and said, ‘we’re in this together,’ we paid attention and the two presidents talked and so we started to pay attention to each other again. They rushed to get me out here. And our relationship has prospered ever since.

Now why Mindanao? Because that’s where the poverty is. That’s where you get both insurgencies going on down here. You have all the statistics, all the human development indices.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of March 6, 2005)

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