That’s the term the President thought he was clever in coining to replace “all-out war,” as his strategy in dealing with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front’s massacre of 19 Special Forces troopers, including a captain, in Al-Barka, Basilan, on Oct. 18 last year.
In a televised address a week after the carnage, Mr. Aquino said: “We will not pursue all-out war; we will instead pursue all-out-justice.” He also boasted: “There is no question the state will find [the attackers]; the only remaining question is when.”
Eight months since, not a single perpetrator of the massacre has been arrested, killed, or even summoned to court. The military’s move a week after the firefight to officially file murder charges against eight leaders of the attack has inexplicably been abandoned.
Mr. Aquino initially even tried to shield the MILF from blame. He claimed that the perpetrators of the massacre were not MILF, but “Abu Sayyaf bandits led by their commander Dan Aswani.” He said this on Oct. 24, when the MILF had already issued a press release claiming responsibility for the attack. It even posted on its website a blow-by-blow report of the firefight by “the Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces General Staff,” which crowed that even if they were outnumbered, the 70 fighters of its “114th Base Command”—led by its deputy commander Aswani—routed the Special Forces troopers.
It gets worse. Instead of condemning the MILF for the massacre, Mr. Aquino’s military brass blamed its own commanders. Two Special Forces full colonels and two lieutenant colonels were charged with “willful negligence” and court-martial proceedings started last month.
The most senior of those charged is Col. Aminkadra Undog, commander of the Special Forces Regiment, of which the massacred platoon was part. Undog, a Muslim from Sulu, has had a distinguished career, credited for capturing in 2003 the country’s public enemy No. 1 then, “Commander Robot.” The other full colonel charged is Col. Orlando Edralin, head of the Special Forces Training School.
Then Chief of Staff Eduardo Oban Jr. ordered the court martial for the officers, just four days before his retirement last December. Sources however alleged that Oban ordered the committee that investigated the ambush to change its recommendations, and instead charge the officers—on orders, sources claimed, “from above,” and “for the sake of the peace process.” A few months after his retirement, Oban was given by Mr. Aquino the lucrative post of chair of the Clark Development Corp.
The MILF was elated, since it had been arrogantly demanding since January the court martial of the Special Forces commanders. It claimed that for its part it had already meted out punishment against three MILF commanders involved in the ambush: three-month suspension of their commands and attendance in seminars on the peace process.
The court martial of the four colonels has triggered a wave of demoralization in the Army. “With that court martial, this administration spat on the graves of our brothers-in-arms massacred in Basilan,” an Army colonel said. Another cried: “Why aren’t our senior ‘mistahs,’ like Senators [Gregorio] Honasan and [Antonio] Trillanes and Gen. Danny Lim not taking up the fight against this travesty of justice? Are they so afraid of P-Noy?”
But at least Mr. Aquino made threats against the Islamic insurgents, even if these turned out to be empty.
In the case of another massacre of soldiers by a different group of insurgents, second in scale only to the Basilan carnage, the President didn’t even bother to respond. This was the ambush and killing of 11 soldiers, including a captain, of the 86th Infantry Battalion and two civilians on April 25 by the communist New People’s Army in Tinoc, Ifugao.
“Victory! Ambush on 86th Infantry Battalion, People’s Punishment against the Enemy!” the press release of the NPA’s Ifugao Nona del Rosario Command declared. “Tactical offensives will be expected from the revolutionary army as development aggression in the Cordillera intensifies,” the NPA spokesperson of its Cordillera front threatened.
Mr. Aquino left it entirely to his spokesperson and to an unsigned peace process office press release to say something in response to the massacre. Both sent the same message to the Communist Party, which runs the NPA: “Please kindly return to the peace table.”
But peace hasn’t been in the NPA’s mind. It has stepped up its attacks on mining firms and their nearby Army detachments in Abra, Surigao and Agusan provinces. Last month, it even destroyed the construction facilities for the Southern Luzon International Airport in Daraga, Albay.
“What’s happening to our country, General?” I asked a much-respected, former Armed Forces chief of staff. He shook his head and explained: “Look, generals usually have only two to three years to retirement. If you were assigned in a rebel-infested area now, you won’t really go after the NPA as you’d be afraid that you’d be the next [retired Gen. Jovito] Palparan. He was so effective against the NPA, yet Aquino’s justice department doggedly pursued charges against him. Now, he’s a fugitive not only from NPA hit squads but [also] from government which he had served and risked his life for.”
“And we don’t have soldiers anymore,” he said. “Their Commander in chief told them they’re now ‘peace warriors.’ So it’s all-out justice for the MILF, and all-out peace for the NPA.”
“But apparently all-out war against China,” he said, smirking.
If Mr. Aquino doesn’t change tack, MILF and NPA checkpoints requiring ingress permits or revolutionary taxes will soon be dotting his daang matuwid.