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Roxas and security execs should resign now

If they have any moral fiber left, or the slightest sense of decency, Interior and Local Government Secretary Mar Roxas, Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin and Armed Forces Chief of Staff Gregorio Catapang must resign. Now.

Whichever way you look at it, however they try to justify themselves, the blood of the 44 Special Action Force commandos are on their hands, as much as it is on this incompetent, foolhardy President.

In their testimony at the Senate, they were wriggling in their seats over the question on the time they informed the President of the impending carnage of the SAF troops. Worse, they didn’t really do anything to order a full-blown operation to rescue the SAF troops.

The key condemning data, according to the military report itself is this: the Army artillery shot their white phosphorus markers on the MILF – which immediately sent them scampering as they knew it could be followed by explosive deadly fire – at 5:30 p.m., more than 12 hours after SAF head Getulio Napeñas alerted the Army’s 6th Division commander on the operation, and most probably five hours after the SAF commandos were massacred. The killing field was not in some distant mountain stronghold. It was just 5 kilometers from the Pan-Philippine highway, a distance similar to that between the Manila Hotel and the Cultural Center of the Philippines.

Both Roxas and Gazmin told the Senate that yes, they were informed “around midmorning” but they didn’t get a “sense of urgency” about the reports.

Roxas even said that the reports were in the “ordinary course of business,” and that he routinely gets reports of “encounters there, encounters here.” What?

Has he become unhinged because of the pressure that he puts a firefight between the SAF and the MILF in the same category as an armed robbery in some mall, the kind of crimes his department has also failed to address? The last time there was such a firefight between the MILF and government troops, whether military or police, was in 2012 in the al-Barqa incident in Basilan, in which 19 Army Scout Rangers were killed.

Why did they let it grow? MILF at their Camp Darapanan. Inset: Security officials – Secretaries Mar Roxas and Voltaire Gazmin with AFP Chief Gen. Gregorio Catapang
Why did they let it grow? MILF at their Camp Darapanan. Inset: Security officials – Secretaries Mar Roxas and Voltaire Gazmin with AFP Chief Gen. Gregorio Catapang

Whichever way you look at, the three top security officials should be sacked.

If they are telling the truth – that they had not received reports of the seriousness of the Mamapasano incident so that they didn’t tell Aquino — they are not fit to be heads of such crucial agencies in charge of the security of this Republic.

They have utterly failed in the most rudimentary management skills of establishing an information system by which crucial data – such as the impending massacre of troops – are relayed to them, with their subordinates emphasizing the urgency of such matters. They didn’t even bother to ask their aides to find out what’s happening and report to them if it was serious enough to merit their attention? It is the height of incompetence both on their parts and that of their subordinates that they weren’t informed of the seriousness of the Mamapasano incident that started in the wee hours of the morning.

Afraid to be bawled out?

Another explanation why they decided not to even talk to the President after they got wind of the incident is that they were afraid to be just bawled out by him, as they knew Mamasapano was his and his favorite security officer Alan Purisima’s project. Indeed, a Philippine Daily Inquirer’s web version reported Feb 8 that Aquino arrived at Zamboanga airport at 10 a.m. very obviously in a foul mood. And this wimp intends to be president?

If this was what happened, more so they should admit that their acquiescence was such a gargantuan error that cost the lives of 44 commandos. It is a part of their job description to inform the President of the truth even if they suffer the worst humiliation a superior can impose on them.

And if they were lying, and briefed the President as soon as they assembled in Zamboanga or even in Manila before they boarded their flight, they were not just committing perjury when they testified so in the Senate last week. They were violating their oaths of office to defend the Constitution, and spitting on the graves of the fallen 44 heroes.

Catapang should be court-martialed. His testimony in the Senate shows the cavalier attitude he had after Purisima reported to him at 5 a.m. that the SAF commandos had undertaken their operation in Mamapasano. He gave orders to his subordinate, he said, but obviously didn’t think much of it and probably even returned to sleep.

That he didn’t care much about the SAF operation and the commandos’ survival after it since it lacked, as he kept on repeating “proper coordination,” is obvious in the fact that he accompanied the President in his tour of Zamboanga as if he were a bodyguard and there was no major military incident occurring all that time in another part of Mindanao.

Catapang did not mention at all in his testimony at the Senate that he was closely monitoring the firefight, or checking on his commanders, Western Mindanao Unified Command head Gen. Rustico Guerrero and 6th Infantry Division head Gen. Edmundo Pangilinan, whether they were following his orders and were on their way to rescue the SAF.

For chrissake, it was a battle, nearly a classic positional one in a battlefield lasting the whole day, between as many as 2,000 Islamic mujahideens and the same number of government troops if one includes the alleged Army reinforcements. This wasn’t just a skirmish but a battle!

Yet Catapang didn’t even set up a command or crisis center, and just waited for text messages from Guerrero and Pangilinan while he spent the whole day in Zamboanga chit-chatting with local officials, and nodding at the President’s remarks. And his boss, the Defense Secretary, didn’t ask him to?

There is another reason – more importantly in the long run – why Roxas, Gazmin, and Catapang should resign immediately.

Only because of the massacre of 44 commandos that we, the Republic’s citizens, are learning that the MILF since 2011 — when Aquino met with MILF chairman Murad Ibrahim in Tokyo to start peace negotiations with them — indisputably and clandestinely has expanded and strengthened their territories and military forces.

A regular army now?

The terms we hear now — MILF 105th Base Command, 118th Base Command, 106th Base Command, Inner Guard Base Command – why, these are nomenclatures for a regular army already, and I thought the mujahideens were just farmer-guerillas in the classic mode.

A factory for 50-mm M107 Barrett sniper rifle. The international bombing expert conducting regular training in MILF territories. Camp Abubakar was captured by Marines during President Estrada’s regime. But now there’s a Camp Darapanan, the headquarters of its Jihad Central Committee, where MILF videos show whole battalions in a military parade review, the kind you can only see in Camp Aguinaldo during Army day.

Peace adviser Teresita Quintos-Deles keeps saying that since the peace talks started, there have been no clashes between the MILF and government troops. Even granting that (which is inaccurate since firefights between the Moro guerillas have become frequent, although these were always reported to be Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters), what does she think the MILF has been doing all the while, just lounging in their camps?

The classic example here is that the number of firefights between the Vietcong and the South Vietnamese-US troops plunged to near zero right after the Paris Peace Accords of January 1973. The Vietcong and North Vietnamese troops, of course, used the ceasefire to strengthen their armies and build their notorious tunnels towards Saigon. On April 30, 1974, North Vietnamese tanks stormed the Presidential Palace in Saigon and surrounded the pathetically helpless US embassy.

Our officials in charge of the Republic’s security, Roxas, Gazmin, Catapang, and even National Security Adviser Cesar Garcia, have failed in pressing Aquino to act on the clear and present danger resulting from the exponential growth of the MILF since the peace talks with them started.

They have put the Republic in jeopardy, and betrayed the nation. The only honorable thing for them to do now is to resign.

Because of the incompetence of this President, and his greed to win the Nobel Prize that had eluded his mother, combined with the servility of his security officials to him, our nation is now in the gravest situation ever in its post-war history.

There will be bloodbaths worse than Mamapasano, until we achieve real principled peace without giving up Mindanao and keeping the Republic intact the way it was conceived since 1898.